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Short Drop Cave - Gavel Pot Sump

Sunday January 19th 2020

Members present: Christopher Edgar,  Jasmine Potts,  Jean-luc Heath,  Paulina Poterlowicz,  Rosie Marshall

Report by Jean-luc Heath

A trip recommended by both Matt Ewels and Clive Westlake is typically guaranteed to be worthwhile. Short Drop, through to the Gavel Pot sumps is no exception to this rule.

We headed off from the Leck Fell car park in good order, getting underground by around 1300. The entrance to Short Drop was easily found by following the right-hand side of the wall from the car park. I was surprised, however, to find that there was no pitch at the entrance (I had for some reason decided there would be?), instead just a rather 'Short Drop' into a low-ish streamway which was rapidly followed through a number of chambers, to the first pitch. This had an in situ line, however we still rigged our own, as it looked a tad dodgy. This pitch was passed with ease, and we continued down the wonderfully varied streamway to the start of the traverse towards Gavel Pot. In a slight adjustment to the recommended rigging, the rope was belayed to a thread on the left side of the passage, just before and below the start of the P-hangers, this provided at least a bit of reassurance for the less experienced of the two trips. Rigging of the somewhat exposed step-up/across was also assisted by a few pieces of in situ tatt (which were also useful in finding the traverse), as the thread below would do nothing for a fall here when rigging. The traverse continued on in a fairly exposed fashion, but with the p-hangers placed within easy reach of each other, the exposure causes no issues at all, instead, it plays a purely atmospheric role. Traverse complete, we were soon in the daylight of Gavel Pot, for some reason I expected this to be warmer than the cave - it was not. We were pleased to see our exit rope had been pre-rigged by the other team who were now beginning to follow us down Short Drop.

Some shivering ensued as the first pitch down into Gavel pot was rigged, worth noting that the approach to the pitch head is quite loose and will send rocks right to the base of the chamber. This was followed by the semi-free climb down stacked boulders, with significant scaffold engineering, again worth noting that some of this is a tad loose, and the base of the climb is quite constricted, so hard to dodge anything coming down - worth waiting around the corner.

From the base of the climb, some often well-decorated streamway is followed, this frequently changes in size and shape, with some areas having roof formations that need dodging. After some faffing around we found the crawl into Glasfurd's chamber, this was definitely worth the detour, with spectacular curtains, and staws that are almost translucent. After this, we headed for the third pitch of Gavel Pot. The climb just before this pitch was found to be a little too wet to be done with any enthusiasm, so the alternative climb accessed by the roof tunnel was used. This proved to be quite challenging, with a slight overhang and holds moving off at a diagonal requiring some smearing and tekkers - Chris of course just used his significant length to span across to the opposite wall and chimney down.

Climb passed, the third pitch ensued. The traverse to the head is a quite exposed affair, but was soon rigged and ready for the descent. This was when I noticed that the pitch was incredibly wet and very loud. Somewhat intimidated, I headed down and rapidly remembered the two rebelays. These are excellently positioned, moving you far enough away from the water to prevent drowning, but not so far as to spoil the atmosphere of abseiling next to a forceful torrent of water. There was a bit of wait at the base of the pitch as a few people had some issues on the rebelays. This reminded me to check the time, reaching into my pocket revealed that somewhere along our journey, my watch had ejected itself from my pocket - bollocks. Realising that we now had no idea how much time we had left, it was decided that Chris would head out immediately with Paulina and Jasmine, whilst Rosie and I headed to the final pitch, to reduce time spent stationary. Finding the pitch pre-rigged, and the rope in good condition, we headed down to the sump pool. After a brief change of batteries and a quick look at the sump, we raced out again, reaching the base of the third pitch, just as the last light disappeared from the top. Rosie headed up in front, and I began the de-rig. We soon found ourselves at the base of the pitch up into the bottom of the Gavel pot shakehole. In this chamber, we found a ledge, with a strange bone pyramid surrounded by tatt. Very much wishing to be out of the cave, and not miles away from call-out time, I decided to offer a devotion to the bone god, asking that the Gavel pot pitch still be rigged, thus preventing a need to go back through Short Drop. This was soon rewarded by our Skeletal deity, as I heard a shout from above saying "there's a rope here!". This meant that with only a slight adjustment to the frankly awfully positioned rebelay, we were all out safe and sound, in a shakehole, we'd never been to, in dense fog - great. Luckily, a path soon led us to the wall, and the wall led us to the car. A quick change was had, and the trip was finally over.

Overall, an excellently varied trip, ending with two excellent pitches.