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Marble Steps Pot

Saturday September 4th 2021

Members present: Adrian Turner,  Jacob Podesta,  Liam B,  Paulina Poterlowicz,  Rosie Marshall

Report by Rosie Marshall

Marble Steps has turned out to be a new favourite cave!

The day started somewhat painfully, having only managed to achieve about three hours of sleep the night before. Breakfast was grotesquely burnt pizza that I had made the previous evening before standing around in the kitchen trying to find some motivation. Gear collected from my haunted cellar, Paulina and I jumped into Ade’s car ready for a long day of caving. We collected Liam and were waiting for Jacob when Paulina suddenly realised that she had left her keys at mine. Unfortunately, she wasn’t made to use club gear, since the laminator was also in her house and our drunkenly handwritten descriptions required protection. A plan was formed: Liam and I would grab the key to the store and amble over whilst Paulina’s keys and gear were retrieved. Luckily, I had packed the bags the day before and was also able to grab some descriptions from the store, thus eliminating the need for lamination.

For the second weekend in a row, Inglesport was open! This is still deeply exciting to me and Paulina, though Liam was less bothered, not having been before and therefore devoid of first term memories.

The walk to Marble Steps was a great deal more pleasant than Ireby, and we soon arrived at the entrance. A really beautiful, steep gully with mossy sides and trees overhead – by far the most stunning cave entrance I’ve ever come across. A perfect picnic spot, Liam pointed out. Unfortunately we had no picnic and instead had to go caving.

A bit of old blue rope was still strung across the descending traverse (which in Saturday’s bone dry condition did not really need to be roped), which set the tone for the cave, in which there was a lot of random in situ rope. Paulina went off to rig the first traverse around the gully, which then steps up into a side passage leading to Sidewinder and the rest of us sat down to watch her deal with the mild exposure and discomfortingly slippery footholds. I followed and watched as she rigged the final rebelay to the chamber that the wet route joins. Perhaps this would be needed on a wetter day, but when we were there it was easily free climbable, both on the way down and up. But although it wasn’t necessary, this bit of rigging had the fun of leaning around a block in order to access the y-hang – which was interesting to watch from below.

From here, I went forward with the next bag to rig Sidewinder – probably my first bit of significant rigging in a cave. I don’t remember much about the traverse leading to the pitch head, except that each bolt was higher than the last – but thankfully not too exposed! The pitch itself is magnificent as you emerge into a splendidly large chamber. The rebelay (being a single hang rather than a y-hang) was negotiated relatively quickly, but I then thoroughly confused myself with the next section. Really it was quite simple and intuitive rigging, but I was looking for a natural before the hummocky ledge that didn’t seem to be there or be necessary. Eventually I just swung across to said ledge (this took a fair few attempts and a lot of “I really thought I had it that time!”) and started on rigging the y-hang around the corner whilst Paulina monitored me from the rebelay above. At some point she started commentating my rigging for the waiting cavers above, which I found off-putting only to realise after I asked her to cease that being scrutinised in complete silence was far more unnerving! Still, I definitely appreciated having someone in sight to tell me if I was about to kill myself. Two deviations then got me down onto the floor of the main chamber next to an impressively large bit of tree that must have been washed down at some point.

I waited for Paulina to alight next to me and then went off to rig the next bit in the 240 foot traverse. This is a really spectacular section of cave, I can’t sing its praises highly enough! The easiest way is to climb down just before a large boulder with some old in-situ rope and duck under the boulder to reach the first bolt. The traverse across to the next bolt, whilst not very high, was lacking in footholds – or anything really that wasn’t just an unpleasant slippery mess – and the distance was a good two metres, so obviously lacking in protection. Suffice to say, I was glad for the old in situ rope handline!

I must have been kneeling in front of the second bolt for quite some time doing and redoing the fig of eight to get an optimum traverse line, but thankfully the others were all assembling in the main chamber before moving on, so nobody witnessed my fumblings. (I think this must have been at the same time as Ade surprised the others by bypassing the last part of Sidewinder by going down an alternate boulder choke!) I lay on the floor with my light off, happy to be free of tacklesack and listening to the noises of conversation gradually heading my way. This turned out to be a good decision, because the interplay of light and shadow as the Paulina and Liam came down the rope and Ade and Jacob attempted the free climb was stunning.

The character of the cave changed on the way to Stink Pot, becoming much tighter and enclosed, although it was still very pleasant to move through. We decided that Paulina would rig Stink Pot and I’d have a go at the Ninety (no Intestines for us today!).

On the approach to Stink Pot, I remarked that there were black carbide marks on the ceiling above us, but failed to follow this up by actually climbing up to the correct level. This made for an entertainingly squeezy chimney up a little later while Jacob, Ade, and Liam watched us from above. The traverse to Stink Pot was made interesting by Paulina blithely going past the first bolt (which, for future trips, is only really visible when looking back and is at roof level). I rigged this bolt whilst Paulina put in the second, and she was soon heading down Stink Pot.

Unfortunately for her, as she rigged the traverse over the Intestines, she dropped the end of the rope (not in the bag at this point for reasons I cannot quite remember) which swung right back and pooled below the previous bolt – cue several minutes of laughing. It seemed that it was my turn to make an unprotected traverse, as I shifted along to hand over the end.

After a good bit of horizontal scrambling, we reached the Ninety, a very smooth sided, beautiful pitch head that also happened to be quite narrow. The bolts were quite close together so it was well protected rigging, but in order to reach the far side of the y-hang, I needed to lean over the sheer dark void below. I couldn’t do this with both hands without overbalancing, due to the tightness.

“Guys…” I said. “I don’t think I’m very good at rigging.”

Given that I couldn’t really adjust the y-hang easily after it was put in, I made a rough calculation of butterfly length, rigged it, put my rack in, and put my weight onto it. Luckily, it didn’t seem to need adjustment. I put my hand jammer in and simulated getting off the pitch, aware that the description had suggested this could be difficult.

“I think that’s doable,” I said, unconvinced. Paulina promptly tied a sling onto the traverse line. Great pitch, although sadly Ade baulked at having to come back up it and stayed put.

The final two pitches were speedily achieved and we found ourselves at the bottom of Marble Steps. This streamway had been condemned as ‘disappointing’ in the description, so we weren’t expecting much, but it was still bewilderingly underwhelming after so much impressive cave. I had been expecting it to be a “regular” streamway but short and devoid of much interest. In reality the disappointment was as a result of it being crawling height.

After a little bit of squirming around and looking at tiny sumps, Jacob found the muddy tunnel bypass to the last pitch and we followed him up to the pitch head – this was very entertaining and made up for Disappointment Streamway. Liam tied the bag to the end of the rope before going through the bypass, and Jacob and Paulina made a start on derigging. I sped off to rejoin Ade at the top of Ninety, where we listened to the comforting derigging noises from below – which, bewilderingly, included Paulina singing Intsy Wintsy Spider to Liam as he prussiked up towards us.

Liam, Ade, and I set off to the main chamber as the derigging continued. Instead of prussiking up the rift, I had a go at the free climb, which was hugely enjoyable and much more approachable from this direction. Meanwhile, Ade guided Liam through derigging – a sketchy bit of cave for somebody’s second time derigging anything, but quickly accomplished. Paulina and Jacob now had little choice but to make the climb!

At the bottom of Sidewinder, we split up, with Paulina heading up the ropes and Liam below waiting to derig whilst the rest of us shimmied up the boulder choke. I love a boulder choke and this was no exception, I recommend it, although it turned out that Jacob and I had not gone up Ade’s obviously superior route.

I had offered to derig the last bits, so I waited below the unnecessary y-hang, with one ear listening to Jacob and Ade talk out in the daylight and the other ear listening to Liam and Paulina handle Sidewinder. Very relaxing.

Derigging, a favourite cave activity of mine, began smoothly and happily enough, close enough to the others to join in the conversation (largely about how we could go about building a café in the cave entrance). All seemed to be going well.

After packing rope before the daylight traverse, I checked that the tacklesack was tied into my central maillon. Yep. Awesome. I pushed it over the edge so that I would have the shock of the weight while in a safe position. It sailed right off the edge and into the darkness below. Oh dear. The lead may have been attached to me, but it wasn’t attached to the bag.

As Liam and Paulina laughed at me, I scrambled down to the traverse, where it turned out that the tacklesack had been stopped on one of the main gully’s ledges and not plummeted down to the bottom of the main chamber as I had initially thought. All it took to retrieve was a shamefaced abseil to the bag and back up.

The last bits of derigging were much less eventful and we were soon heading down towards the car for a leisurely change. Magnums at the Co-op were followed up by takeaway in Skipton and Jacob’s increasingly complicated pizza optimisation calculations. A pint in the Rook and Gaskill rounded off the day nicely.

All in all, a highly spirited day of patchwork team caving, in which everyone did a bit of rigging or derigging – except for Ade, who go to judge us all instead!