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Lancaster Hole -Magic Roundabout

Saturday September 11th 2021

Members present: Jacob Podesta,  Paulina Poterlowicz,  Rosie Marshall

Report by Rosie Marshall

For clarification if anyone wants to do the Magic Roundabout route in the future: the old Northern Caves descriptions on the drive are not particularly helpful, since the reverse route has more recently become the established route and can be done as a pull through (since you are going down Aquarius Shaft). Therefore, if you are doing MR, don’t wait for Bob’s Boss to look for the passage to the right, start looking for a smaller stumpier stalagmite that precedes BB for the window onto Arson Shaft (still on the right though). The way through the Magic Roundabout is fairly intuitive. Everything is pre-rigged (and seemed in decent condition) except for Aquarius which requires 50m for a pull through. To emerge via the climbs rather than the bottom of Arson Shaft (which is not rigged to the bottom), keep an eye out to the left whilst in the narrow rift towards the end of the route. You should get to what looks a bit like a crossroads, with the forward/back being the narrow rift and the left/right being on an upper level. Take the left. The climb upwards towards the route out of MR is easiest if you duck around the corner to the left and choose a route up the boulder choke – the climb up boulders immediately visible is very exposed. Follow up the boulder choke and eventually a slippery climb up boulders with a chain is visible. After this a short ladder and a squeeze gets you out to Bob’s Boss.

As for Woodhouse Way... The old description talks about a bedding plane crawl, but as we found out by reading Jacob's newer copy of Northern Caves later that evening -- the new one no longer does. We are pretty sure the obvious inlet on the right immediately upstream of Fall Pot is the right one. Maybe not though!


That Friday, sitting in a mess of not yet laminated descriptions and deciding what rope we needed to take, Paulina had showed me a blog/forum post trip report that she had obtained, which was fairly recent and gave a good indication of what was prerigged and what was not, and suggested that Aquarius could be done on two 25m ropes. Slightly confused by this, we brainstormed as to why two 25m ropes would be needed rather than a 50m or a single 25m. Eventually, Paulina decided that only 25m must be needed for the pull through and that the other was a spare in case of something getting jammed. I’m sure that if we’d thought about this for more than two seconds we’d have realised that this did not make sense, but we didn’t, and packed 25m, 15m, and the 56m for Lancaster Hole – and were soon off into the night, suddenly aware that it had been well over a year since we had set off towards the Dales in the evening. I for one had not had a “weekend away” since Nenthead.

Arrival at Bullpot Farm was a little hairy, since the track coming towards it was choked with fog, visibility maybe 10cm. But we didn’t die! On entering the hut itself, we found out that some walkers were having a party in advance of a much bigger 40th birthday celebration the following night. After some introductions, we made off for the member’s room and scoured the Easegill survey for useful information, at which point it became clear that Aquarius was 22m long and we wanted to do it on 25m rope. I had also never done a pull through before, but Jacob and Paulina reassured me that we could just tie the 15m and some slings (slings I was now very relieved to have “unnecessarily” packed) onto the end. Okay. Luckily for us, a man named Toby, a Red Rose member come down from Scotland, appeared and offered to help with navigation to the Magic Roundabout, having done the trip once before and keen to go back.

Things started pretty smoothly the next day: we were up bright and early and were standing around Lancaster Hole well before midday, a novelty for any YUCPC trip. Paulina had to rig underneath the ropes for another party’s County-Lancs trip but did this speedily and soon we were all heading off to Fall Pot. This definitely should be navigationally simple since we’d done it a few times before, but in an effort not to embarrass ourselves we did check the description at a couple of points! Still, we were soon at the bottom of Fall Pot and then heading off towards Stop Pot via the upper level (after some initial confusion about whether or not we were heading down to the Main Drain). I must have known intellectually that this part of Easegill is extremely slippery but it had been a while since I’d experienced it and I was having a hard time of it just walking! Unable to hold onto the mud encased handline at Stop Pot, I had a semi-controlled fall down the first section and landed on my back and elbow. Embarrassed, I made my way up the other side of the chamber much more cautiously, with my hand jammer in for reassurance.

We headed on and soon came to a small stumpy looking stalagmite, then a much larger column which seemed like it must be Bob’s Boss, which was where the description said that the start of the climbs at the beginning of the MR diverged on the right. Nothing could be found that looked right to Toby, nor promising to the rest of us, and we carried on until we got to Painter’s palette (worth making a detour: it is very pretty!). Backtracking, Toby found a window onto Arson Shaft just next to the first stumpy stalagmite that we had seen. I became quite confused, because I had been expecting to exit via Arson Shaft – the description made no mention of starting by ascending it. But we were definitely in the right place, so Paulina headed up first, the consensus becoming that we started by ascending from this window and ended by ascending from the bottom of the shaft up to the window. This sounded reasonable.

Reasonable it might have been, but as Paulina reached the first rebelay and Toby started to attach to the rope, he noticed that the rope he was joining did not reach the bottom of Arson Shaft – clearly did not come at all close. And Paulina had the descriptions. Jacob and I waited for him to reach her and for a decision to be made – we did not have enough rope to rig the bottom of Arson Shaft and do a pull through at Aquarius. Eventually, Jacob was told to come up with the rope and without rigging anything. Okay. We were soon joining the other two, and it was explained to me that Toby reckoned that what we were doing (and what he previously must have done) was to the route in the reverse of what was on the old Northern Caves description. Okay… But how would we do Aquarius in reverse if it wasn’t prerigged? I was told that we would still be going down Aquarius, not up. Okay!

Eventually, we all got to the top of Arson Shaft and started off down a straw laden crawl traverse leading off to the left. We followed this passage as it made its way down, and descended the first short pitch (prerigged). After a bit more of winding passage, we found ourselves at the top of Aquarius, which was rigged quickly for the pull through by Toby. Paulina guided me through some adjustments (Toby found excess of our first rope at the bottom of the pitch… I think – I’m still not 100% on pull throughs) and I headed down to join him.

Not long after it was Jacob’s turn with the tacklesack containing the 15m rope, which ran out with about 6m or so left to go of the pitch. A thing of beauty was hastily constructed by Jacob, comprising of two long slings, various crabs, and the tacklesack itself. When dropped it reached the bottom of the pitch exactly! After a round of applause and hollering, we left it in place and went to check out the rest of the route, hoping that we would be able to make it out – a hope that almost died with a smooth sided climb down, which Paulina doubted she could get back up. After some cajoling she committed, and although she was right, it turned out that Jacob at least would be able to get back with the aid of being tall. So one of us could get back to the pull through at least!

The final pitch had two ropes, but it was narrow to get down to the first (and the maillons were quite rusty), so we all traversed over the pitch head to reach the second. The last section was very enjoyable narrow winding passage, which went on for a little while, until Toby seeing that above us was a chamber, climbed out of the rift and had a look around whilst Paulina and Jacob went on ahead. I joined him and had a poke around the right side of this chamber to no avail. I was just climbing back down into the rift, when I heard him shout that he had found the way out, via the two 4.5m climbs mentioned on our old Northern Caves description as the start of the MR.

I could see his Toby’s light at the top of what looked like a horrific climb, before he moved onto the next section, and tried several times to make a start, slipping down to the bottom each time and suspecting that he was a phantom that haunted Bull Pot Farm, luring unsuspecting cavers to their deaths on dodgy climbs. Paulina had a go and encountered the same problem and we were stumped until I ducked around the corner and found what looked like a much easier way on through a boulder choke. From here the way on was pretty simple and only a little exposed. Soon I found the chain assisted climb – mentioned on the description – and was very excited to realise that we must be in the right place. After this was a miniature ladder and a cruel squeeze to emerge by Bob’s Boss.

After a quick jaunt back to pull through the pull through, we made off towards Fall Pot. Here, Toby and Jacob departed, Toby wanting to go to dinner instead of three awkward and maybe sumped ducks, and Jacob still suffering from the side effects of his second jab. This left me and Paulina to have a go at Woodhouse Way.

Finding the way down the boulder choke to the Main Drain proved reasonably simple and we were soon standing in an eerily low streamway. We were looking for a small inlet immediately up on the right upstream from Fall Pot that would lead us to a low bedding plane crawl. Okay. Immediately as we turned to go upstream, a small inlet on the right was spotted. After an unexpectedly strenuous (for me anyway) climb up, we entered the inlet, crawled a little way and found our way blocked by a boulder. The squeeze through to the other side didn’t look possible and the way on was clearly a cobbled rift anyway – not what we were looking for.

So we backtracked and spent some time walking up and down the streamway, becoming more and more bewildered as we went. Everything that might become a bedding plane crawl up on the right was just silted up. There seemed no way on. At one point a climb up into the right led to a cobble floored rift situation that seemed unpromising. We eventually decided to have a last look at the first inlet, only approaching it from the Fall Pot boulder choke, rather than the dodgy climb after Paulina had a scary slip on it. From this angle it was clear that the boulder blocking us from the rift was easily bypassed, and Paulina climbed up into the narrowing rift. It was fairly deep and showed no signs of opening up – only of narrowing more. There was no bedding crawl. It also became apparent that we had also accessed this exact same rift from further on down the streamway as well. All routes led us here but it didn’t seem right.

Abandoning our attempt, we had a stroll downstream, exploring various inlets, sumps, and oxbows. It was on the way back, debating the Woodhouse Question, that I saw something moving in the streamway. A frog.

Having seen it, we now found ourselves faced with a moral dilemma. Frogs had been rescued from caves before by the club, many times. How could Cave Rescue: Frog Division abandon this creature to its cruel fate? And yet how could we retrieve it? It wasn’t far back to Lancaster but it would be difficult as a rescue operation.

We sat in the streamway watching the emaciated frog for over five minutes, discussing our options. I didn’t want to leave the frog, but had no confidence that our efforts to rescue it wouldn’t result in our ending his life instead.

Eventually a plan of action was formed: the frog would be held in my right wellie. Paulina would go ahead to Lancs and bring back the tackleack to the bottom of Fall Pot, where the wellie would be placed in the tacklesack and taken up with us as we prussiked. I was concerned that the prussiking would batter the frog to death, since the Fall Pot pitches are not exactly free hanging. Luckily, after making our way through the boulder choke by passing the wellie between us, Paulina decided that the climbing route up Fall Pot would be easier than the pitch. She made her way up the knotted climbing rope and I began the SRT route next to it, so that I could hold onto the wellie when she would need two hands. Success! The route back to Lancs was less intuitive than the way in, but managed once Paulina spotted the boulder that you can either climb over or crawl under and soon we were into Kath’s Way.

It was a nervous wait at the bottom of Lancaster Hole watching the frog containing tacklesack swing beneath Paulina, but in not much time we were heading back to the farm, unsure of where to deposit the frog that would be both wet and safe. We ended up setting him free at the pool by the farm, suspecting that he would end up down Bullpot of the Witches not long after. Nevermind! We had done our duty and there was pasta waiting for us at the hut.