Large Pot -To the Top of Colossus (the chaotic story of when everything goes wrong)
Thursday December 30th 2021
Members present: Paulina Poterlowicz, Rosie Marshall
I had just enough time to eat a croissant, make a cheese sandwich, and have my hair plaited to the chirpy voices of BBC Breakfast, before I hopped onto my first train to Vauxhall. I had been worried all week about last minute cancellations given the staff shortages, and indeed at Earlsfield it was announced that we weren’t going to bother stopping at Vauxhall. So it was train number two to Vauxhall from Clapham Junction and train number three to Kings Cross, then I was soon on train number four to Leeds station, on which I found out that somebody at the NPC had had Covid and everyone was going home. Our cave was therefore updated to a sort of mammoth day trip in which we would be happy to get back to York at about 2 or 3am. Still, soon I was at Leeds station (not a fan), where I had lunch. And then there was only one more train – to Morley, where Paulina picked me up, half her face still numb from her dentist’s appointment.
Things were not necessarily boding well, although to be fair as we all know coming up from London to do a trip down Large Pot in the rain never goes badly.
It seemed at some points during the drive to the Dales that we were never going to escape Bradford, but less than two hours later we were parked at the Ingleton Coop, trying to find somebody willing to be callout for 2am and hurriedly eating sandwiches.
A quick change by the abandoned waterworks in ominous fog later, and we were heading up the fell towards Large Pot with one last parting shot of “And I’m taking the knife with me!”
I don’t know how we managed to miss the shakehole on our first sweep, but on the second it was pretty obvious, the fenced off shakehole with Little Pot being a good landmark. The first pitch was much drippier than we had expected. Really quite drippy in fact. Sieve-like. It also triggered Paulina’s bolt blindness, although that is to be expected.
There was a little stream twisting down towards the second pitch. We had been anticipating trouble with this pitch, especially with the rigging, since it is quite constricted and awkward but Paulina seemed to enjoy it. The problems really began with me at the head of the pitch, where, just as Paulina was saying something at the Y hang below about her hand jammer, I discovered that my rack had twisted itself into the most mangled looking death knot I had ever seen. I’ve had minor death knots (or what I thought were death knots) before, but nothing this severe and I took about five minutes or so trying to free it before having to undo the maillon – and even then I struggled to liberate it.
Meeting Paulina in the chamber below it was clear something was wrong. She led me down a short climb to the third pitch, which had turned into a (minor) waterfall. There was a pretty visible stream at the foot of this pitch and the sound of the water was really quite loud. I suggested that we rig it and have a look to see what was going on down there. If following BB advice and not linking the second and third pitches, this third pitch is theoretically a Y hang or a single hang with a back up anchor, but one of the anchors seemed to be a few pebbles stuck in a crack – probably safe, but since it was a pretty short pitch with a safe take off we decided to rig it as a One Bolt Wonder instead.
At the foot of the pitch the noise was deafening and there was a sort of low rumbling sound that was making both of us feel on edge and uncertain. We followed through the short crawl traverse into the next chamber where the routes for the Red Herring Series and the Colossus pitch diverge. I was worrying that this junction might be easily missed but it is actually very obvious. We stood looking at the step up into the Secret Seven passage. It had been a while since I had skimmed the Red Herring series description and I couldn’t remember if it followed the streamway or not. If it did, perhaps that was the rumbling noise. Or perhaps the rumbling noise was Colosuss. Or some horrid mixture of both. We decided that it was probably a bad idea to carry on and retreated to the foot of the second pitch.
We sat there for a while. There was quite a lot to consider: the noise, the fact that the cave was often described as okay in wet weather up to Colossus, the fact that it was raining outside at an unknown volume and would continue to do so at least until morning, the fact that it would take us anywhere up to forty minutes to get to the Colossus pitch head and back, the fact that we didn’t know if the amount of water we had seen throughout the entrance series was usual, the fact that we hadn’t been here before and therefore didn’t have first hand knowledge of how it reacted to weather, and I think a shared feeling of not really wanting to just leave. Instead of deciding we had some chocolate.
We went back down the climb again to have another look at pitch three. I think the main worry at that point was that if we did go on for a bit, we might get back to this pitch and find it had become impassable. It was certainly clear that whatever we did, we weren’t going down Coloussus, so we ditched that bag. I suggested that we might find a natural for a deviation that would take the rope out of the water, and so started rerigging the One Bolt Wonder. Paulina spotted a perfect stalagmite for this only a little way down (and quite far out) that took us out of the waterfall quite nicely.
Once we had entered Secret Seven, the clamour of the water died back significantly and at moments during the rest of the trip it was eerily silent. At other moments we were all too aware that there was water coursing just under the rocks we were standing on. The Pit had quite a bit of water springing out of the far wall.
The route from the third pitch to Colossus was a mixture of crawling, stooping, and awkward thrutching that reminded me of the awkward step up around a boulder just before the climbing route out of Fall Pot in Easegill (on the way out). It required some exertion and was covered with a fine layer of slippery mud. Fun, although I was glad that we didn’t have a tacklesack with us.
It wasn’t too long before we found ourselves at the top of Colossus, a really beautiful pitch head with an almost golden calcite floor and a handline traverse leading out above the blackness. It also happened to have a river running down it.
We turned back here and had a fairly uneventful return trip – although I decided underneath the head of the second pitch that I wanted to have my tacklesack go up first and had to squeeze it past my body somehow (I don’t recommend doing this particularly). The actual derigging of this pitch was easier than expected though and soon we were out in the dark. In the shakehole it seemed a normal night, just quite wet, but once we were out onto the fell the full extent of the fog was revealed to us. Visibility quite low and the wind was driving rain right into our eyes. The derigging meant I was still quite warm despite being soaked through, so the walk back was more exhilarating than anything.
It was quite eerie back at the car and something on the electrical mast was making a scraping, scratching sound. We changed quickly and ate blueberry muffins in the car before heading back. The drive to York certainly made us glad that we hadn’t attempted to Colossus; it was raining heavily now and there was quite a lot of water on the road. One especially long stretch of water almost defeated Paulina’s car, but we made it back to York reasonably early.
I’d like to go back to Large Pot in drier conditions and actually achieve our original aim of scoping out the connection to New Rift. The Masongill Event lives on!