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Sell Gill Holes -Wet/Dry Exchange (Did you know letterboxes are horizontal?)

Sunday June 27th 2021

Members present: Amber Mitchell,  Jacob Podesta,  Liam B,  Oliver Forbes-shaw,  Paulina Poterlowicz,  Rosie Marshall

Report by Rosie Marshall

The story of Sell Gill Holes really starts the night before in Paulina's house where, her housemate having taken the printer, we were reduced to handwriting descriptions and drawing topos. I even witnessed Paulina's legendary nail varnish method in which the application of said chemical mixture to sandwich bags takes off the labelling. Always looking out for the easy job, I cooked whilst Paulina faced the task of deciding what rope to pack in how many bags.

The day got off to a reasonably efficient start and Liam, Amber, Paulina, & I all clambered into Jacob's car for a companionable ride into the Dales. Upon meeting Forbes in the car park in Horton in Ribblesdale, the conversation mainly revolved around his shiny new gear (as well as the inevitable portaloo vs. bush discourse). We didn't manage to beat Chris's 25 minute walking time to Sell Gill, but it was pretty nice not to have to worry about navigation.

Having spent most of the week worrying about the weather, it was a pleasant surprise (though it really shouldn't have been much of a surprise) to find that the wet route was bone dry. I rigged the handline anyway, but it was very much on the unnecessary side of things. A warning in the way of ropes already rigged on the dry route hovered in the back of my mind.

It was me, Paulina, and Amber on the wet route and it started pretty well. But soon I found myself on the traverse, thinking that it was all a bit more exposed than I was expecting. A bit too late to bother rerigging we noticed that I had skipped several bolts in a dry oxbow. "They can probably get off that," I decided, peering down into the shaft. My incompetency ensured, I clipped myself into one of the traverse bolts I had missed, and Paulina took over.

I had expected to be showed up immediately, but in a touching gesture of friendship, Paulina decided to get herself into a bit of a nightmare. For some days beforehand, when looking at the topo, Paulina had been repeatedly declaring that she was bound to miss the letterbox traverse and end up at the bottom of the pitch instead. "I'm sure you won't," I had said at the time. "You'll be looking out for it."

Naturally, Paulina completely missed the letterbox. For about half an hour, me and Amber sat at the top of the pitch listening to Paulina's wails, exclamations, pleas for help etcetera. Finally, it transpired that she was executing a mid-rope changeover and was coming back up. The letterbox identified and the traverse beginning to take shape, I had just about said to Amber that she could start heading down when Paulina requested that I join her.

"Um, okay," I said. "Do you need me for something?"

"Nope, just moral support!" she replied, sounding harrowed.

I disagree strongly with the concept of ""moral support"", so instead proceeded to mock her thoroughly, the letterbox seeming extremely obvious from my descent.

Several weeks later, it transpired that Paulina had been envisioning a vertical slit in the wall, despite the feature being named after a letterbox and being vey clearly displayed as such in the topo. It was this discovery that inspired this trip report.

Nevermind. The rigging from hereon was completed speedily and confidently by Paulina -- and we could hear the other team at the bottom, which made the cave seem very welcoming. But as I came down the last two rebelays, it became clear that in front of me Paulina and Amber were joining a very spirited discussion and I hurried down to hear what was going on.

It turned out that on the way down, the other team had bumped into the group whose ropes we had spied, and our gear had been subject to their Expert Judgement -- and found lacking. A picture of Liam's gear had even been taken and emails threatened to be sent. I don't know that our gear really deserved the mocking that it received, but it provided entertainment at the very least.

We made a foray into the horizontal section leading to the 'large active dig site' -- quite a fun mix of crawling, rifty stuff, and some scrambling. Unfortunately the duck was too low in water when we went to really qualify as such. One of the crawls is over cobbles and flat out for sections -- looking at Paulina wriggle through it enthusiastically, Liam commented that she was a 'caver's caver'. "We're cavers," he said. "But Paulina is a caver's caver."

At some point during this section -- although I didn't witness it -- Jacob spotted a tiny frog that must have been washed down earlier in the week and put it in his water bottle to take out. Cave rescue at its finest.

The way out was relatively drama free. Liam had his first time derigging in a cave, and on our side Amber speedily disassembled Jacob's rigging on the dry route, which included perhaps the most beautiful, most perfectly spaced traverse that I have ever laid eyes on. It only took us an hour or so to get out which was a bit of a shock.

Not long after, the guys rejoined us and we sped off down the hill where we got stared at by walkers in the Craven Arms. Luckily for us, we were spotted by the Halliwells, who offered us tea and a chat in front of the Craven -- a lovely end to an eventful day.