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Pippikin Pot - Top Sink - A wrap fuelled birthday venture

Friday July 2nd 2021

Members present: Jean-luc Heath,  Paulina Poterlowicz,  Rosie Marshall

Report by Rosie Marshall

My first impression of Pippikin was a particular sort of bemused relief, having stumbled around the hillside for over an hour attempting to find it. The CNCC description did not detail what side of the wall Pippikin was located, but the cave map placed it just to the right if coming from Bullpot Farm and Jean-Luc had vague memories of it being on that side too. By the time we had thought to check the other side, the sun had burnt through the early morning cloud and we were getting overly hot and increasingly demotivated. Even Paulina, usually impermeable in her enthusiasm, was beginning to slide towards practicality.

For future reference, the Black Book description and map do place it correctly, so use that. Nippikin ought to become visible soon after crossing the wall as a fenced off and tree fringed shakehole, and going up the hill is a series of hollows in a dry riverbed with the entrance to Pippikin pretty visible. It’s worth noting as well that the CNCC cave map does label Nippikin correctly so it can be used to locate Pippikin as long as you remember the relation between them.

Paulina and I had been wanting to go through Pippikin since pretty much our first term in the club, having heard quite a lot of talk about it, and it didn’t disappoint: lots of interesting, primarily sideways squeezing interspersed with brief but fun pitches. I much prefer this sort of caving to the muddy crawling of the Link/Mistral series, so I tried to take as much enjoyment from this hour as possible – though perhaps not as much enjoyment as Paulina, who found the Stemple Squeeze extremely exciting.

After a while we emerged energised and eager into the Hall of the Ten for some chocolate and hydration. Next: the Link Pot crawling. The Lancaster to Mistral trip in mid-April had been my first trip after the second lockdown and my memory of it comprises largely of getting lost, bad but eventually validated decisions, mild bouts of hysteria, and a lot of crawling. A lot of endless muddy crawling, to be more specific. This time the crawling seemed more reasonable and even the Muddy Wallows weren’t disheartening, although putting a hand down only for it to sink slowly into the earth is always a strange sensation.

It was very nostalgic to sit down in the chamber above Echo Aven and remember my feeling last time of being hidden very far into the earth. Echo Aven itself on the way down was unexpectedly strenuous: the rope was so coated with mud that on the first rebelay I took out a bar on my rack to encourage movement – only to find far too much movement! On the main part of the pitch I threaded through all of my rack, but this meant about five minutes of forcing rope through an inch at a time.

I felt very fond, too, of the Wormways connecting Echo Aven to 88 Foot Pitch – winding and stooping and not requiring much thought in the way of navigation. We were in for a surprise, however. Far up on the top of the left wall, Jean-Luc spied a damp piece of description. It turned out to be the same bit of description that “we” (meaning: Jean-Luc) had lost on the traverse leading up to Rat Pit only a few weeks before. Onwards we went, up 88 Foot Pitch and the Rat Pit climb and traverse and Brew Chamber and Canuck Climb and so on. We made sure to consult the descriptions, having been lost here before, but it was reasonably straightforward and soon we were at Stake Pot.

Here I must mention perhaps the most revolutionary development in the history of caving: cheese wraps. It may sound underwhelming, but it turns out that a third of a block of chilli cheddar in a wrap is extremely calorie dense. By the time I got to the chocolate spread/peanut butter combo I was feeling rather ill and had to force it down – but I had plenty of energy which of course is more important than my comfort. I had learnt this from two mornings of forcing down repellent porridge even as my gorge was rising. But the less said about that the better.

From Stake Pot navigation was passed on to Jean-Luc who led us into a short (and unnervingly low) streamway section and then into the Easegill mainline: a big stomping passage with its trademark slippery slopes and endless boulder field. I quite enjoyed this and having just eaten, our morale was very much riding the sugar high.

Soon we were making our way down the ladder into Stop Pot, one of my favourite chambers. Ladders in caves are still a novelty to me and this one is particularly good because of all the empty space around it and the white-veined ceiling. We took a belated hydration break and powered on, with navigation to Holbeck Junction passing to Paulina.

I have a particular affection for Upper Easegill, having been in Pool Sink not long before and rigging in Top Sink on the Thursday. I like the streamway and all the oxbows and the climbs and scrambling – and I especially like the ‘finely decorated passage’ that follows a step up from the streamway. The second climb out from Assembly Hall proved unexpectedly dramatic: the rope had jammed between boulders near the top. Unaware of this, I put my weight on it halfway up the climb only to find myself dangling half a metre below where I had been! But it scared Jean-Luc so it was worth it really. The traverse beyond this second climb is really quite exposed and I was glad of the handline, because I was beginning to get a little tired.

The tiredness and the strangeness of the previous days of wild camping and scrambling and hiding from midges all coalesced into an exalted state of mild hysteria. There was much insistence on staying High And Left in Nagasaki – which I do recommend. From the end of Nagasaki we soon reached the ‘airy steps’. The first of these is very wide and very exposed. When rigging in Top Sink the previous day, I had done this but only just – and Jean-Luc completely noped out of it and found a diversion easy enough to make us question the description’s insistence on the step. On the way back we missed the first two steps without even meaning to, just by staying above them, which was unfortunate as I had really wanted to make Paulina do it.

After that it was Limerick Junction. The previous day we had forgotten that Limerick Junction was immediately after the ‘airy steps’ and had managed to get completely lost and even vaguely worried about callout (which was quite tight), but now it seemed very straightforward.
Not long after we were in the streamway and the section of No Oxbows At Any Cost and very rapidly we were at the foot of Penknife Pitch. The evening before, we had left my birthday cake in a tacklesack dangling off a natural, only to realise on the way out that there was a much drier chamber not long before the entrance to Top Sink that would have made a much better place to deposit it. I was convinced that the cake would be wet and borderline inedible – not that this would have stopped us from eating it – but it turned out to be encased in extra plastic packaging. I set the cake on my knees and cut into it with the rescue knife. I think eating a third of a carrot cave during an Easegill traverse must be an odd way to welcome in your twenties, but I don’t regret a minute of it.

From there I volunteered to derig, feeling only slightly guilty for avoiding carrying the tacklesack for the entirety of the traverse. The two pitches out of Top Sink were quite wet – I can hardly imagine how forceful they must be in bad weather – but fun and the pitch-heads provide interest on rigging/derigging without being overly difficult or dangerous. Though I was glad of the handline at the top of Walrus Pot – a big thank you to whoever put that in! This last bit of cave is narrow and winding, which is one of my favourite things so I had a great time here, although I was less keen on the fox shit coloured mud nearer the entrance.

After eight hours we emerged into daylight and the inevitable midges. A quick yomp up the hill brought us to our camp and we dispersed of gear quickly in order to dive into the tent. Tactical midge avoidance more or less sums up the entire holiday really! On the Thursday I had been made to learn that trying to get midges off yourself whilst changing out of wet caving gear will only result in smearing dead midge juice all over your skin -- and I'm not sure that this was a lesson I needed to learn! Hot chocolate followed by raspberry rum and lemonade concluded the day – not entirely without incident, as it turns out boiling water inside a tent with a clumpy, grassy floor is unwise.

At various points during the holiday, actually doing the Easegill traverse had seemed a little out of reach – we even managed to come close to breaking Paulina by making her carry all of the gear from the car to camp – but I’m very glad that we went. Besides, any moments of doubt were inevitable given the rollercoaster ride of our sugar controlled mood swings. But in actuality the Easegill traverse was a lot of fun – quite a bit of variation and much less strenuous than I had thought it might be. It’s still my favourite cave system!

Or, as KC & the Sunshine Band put it:
Everybody wants you
Everybody wants your love
I'd just like to make you mine, all mine
Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na-na-na now
Baby, give it up
Give it up
Baby, give it up
Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na-na-na, now
Baby, give it up
Give it up
Baby, give it up
Can you give it?
Can you give it?
Give it up
Come on, baby
I need your love (Give it up, give it up, baby, give it up)
Do you know I want you baby
Come on baby I want your love (Give it up, give it up, baby, give it up)
Give it up, some of your love
Come on and play the game of love (Give it up, give it up, baby, give it up)
Everybody, is it me, give it up
Come on, baby
I need your love (Give it up, give it up, baby, give it up)
Can I touch you, can I love you?
Come on, baby, baby
I love you (Give it up, give it up, baby, give it up).