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New Rift Pot

Sunday April 10th 2022

Members present: Adrian Turner,  Christopher Edgar,  Paulina Poterlowicz,  Rosie Marshall,  Viki Smyth

Report by Rosie Marshall

Very exciting to be potholing again after Wales Week! This was the fourth proper “Masongill Event” trip since the project was coined, Marble Steps being the first, the Large Pot fiasco being the second, and Ireby Fell – Duke Street II the third. In the last of those trips we thought we had identified where the start of the Ireby Fell/Coates Cavern connection was (as well as the start of the Cripple Creek series), although the Large Pot had been a failure r.e. scoping out connections. We were hoping to have some time at the bottom of New Rift to have a proper go at that.

It began very nicely, the weather being mild and the squirrels being entertaining as I sat waiting on the doorstep for Paulina to turn up (relatively on time), her existence being essentially nomadic. We picked up Ade and Viki (who gifted us some Scottish fudge!!) and headed to the store, where I had packed rope the day before. I’d worried a bit about rope lengths, having packed for the (current) CNCC topo and having found that the topos in the store listed longer ropes. We decided that it was probably due to a change in anchors (plus stuff like rigging one less bolt on the traverse) and landing further up in Coates Cavern – and probably fine. Though I kept thinking back to It’s a Cracker last term and nearly having to do a knot pass. Not an experience I’d like to repeat. Paulina started driving us to the Dales on autopilot before we realised that we were lacking a Chris and turned back towards Fulford, where he was hopefully not too offended.

The drive otherwise passed very quickly, even with Paulina and Ade’s impenetrable medical jargon and some entertaining driving, perhaps affected by Ade’s Superior Driver Presence in the backseat. He was heading towards an entirely “tourist” trip – no rigging, no derigging, no tacklesacks, and not even any driving… A good breakfast in Inglesport followed and I made the decision yet again not to buy a footloop and to persevere with the mid-length sling I have been using since my own snapped suddenly in JH last term. This short-term fix is threatening to be a permanent fixture… I’ll get one for the Vercors, I keep telling myself dishonestly. Anyway, I hadn’t bothered to print or even look at the surveys or descriptions of the connections/horizontal aspects of Masongill the day before, so I commandeered Paulina’s phone (I should probably start doing less of that but it’s difficult not to) and tried to memorise what we might like to do at the bottom.

Shortly afterwards we were at the familiar (and beloved) abandoned waterworks. It truly is Spring caving now and the change was even pleasant in the sun. Less pleasant when everyone (except Viki who is actually a good person) took turns hoisting me up by my maillon as I tried to sunbathe. I’d rinsed my undersuit, socks, and gloves since Wales, which I was feeling very smug about (Paulina hadn’t) until I realised my buff was unwashed and incredibly muddy. Oh well! The water levels had seemed low as we’d passed Gargrave.

Chris took it upon himself to carry both the tacklesacks up the fell, despite nobody asking him to do this, and asked if it excused him from contributing to the rest of the trip, or even caving at all. Yes, we said. No cars or anything else on fire today and we were soon at the obvious shakehole and the cave entrance, which was very scenic, being a fenced off descending rift in one side of the depression (as you might expect given the name). We all sort of hung around the fence for a bit not doing much and not making any move to enter the cave. Paulina soon hopped over the fence, sans tacklesack, wandered down the rift, and started complaining about spiders and asking who was going in first and who was rigging what etcetera. Looks like you, I said.

She didn’t bother rigging off whatever natural were supposed to begin the traverse down the pitch and just started at the Y-hang, which is safe enough to be fair (a bit less so on the way out but there’s a convenient iron bar for rigging/derigging). It was a very short pitch, so in the future I wouldn’t bother packing 30m for it if you’re going to rig it that way… 20 or 25m would probably be more that adequate. Me, Paulina, and Viki waited at the bottom of the pitch for some time for Ade and Chris to bother to enter the cave (they were not exactly excited about the inter-pitch crawling section) and Paulina after some time thinking put her car keys under some slings that had been rendered unnecessary by us not bothering to protect the pitch head. Chris and Ade descended down to us and Paulina in her usual fashion hared off into the crawl, which she rated 6/10 (10 being a nice crawl rather than the most intense or difficult as you might expect), without waiting for them to put their SRT kits away or anything.

Anyway the crawl started out harmless enough and then became aggravating, at least with a full tacklesack – not particularly tight but with an uneven floor with a slot that the bag fell into but couldn’t drag through – and then I heard two things: 1. that Paulina had apparently “been through the worst of it” and was now standing up, and 2. that Ade behind had balked at the crawl and was going back to the car for a walk. No rigging, no derigging, no bags, no driving – and no caving either! And then there were four…

We continued down a climb and into some more flat out crawling before rapidly backing up as Paulina had come across a drop she didn’t want to do face first. Squirming into it feet first on her back, looking like some sort of malformed worm, it would have been hard not to laugh so I didn’t bother to resist the urge. The climb itself was not too long and not entirely smooth sided but would clearly be difficult to get back up and would probably require a not insignificant number of contortions. Viki relayed this information back to Chris who made the decision to back out. And then there were three…

Another even smoother drop followed and then we were at the pitch head, which again Paulina started at the Y-hang without the natural back up, although I am not sure where the natural actually was. It was a pretty safe pitch head regardless. She rigged the first two bolts of the traverse, after which I was taking over with my 45m rope. It’s quite a lovely pitch, not daunting or impressive exactly but with a nice shape to it (and unadulteratedly a pothole!) and the traverse heading around the corner, entirely smooth with no footholds to speak of. It wasn’t unprotected because the bolts were quite close together and it was also quite short, but I faffed around for ages getting into a tangle at the point of moving from one rope to another, not having rigged anything like that before. Soon after the Y-hang was a rebelay, which I clawed myself over to for some reason instead of swinging or using the in-situ rope. There were about four bolts here and I used the two furthest down, which allowed me to get out of the way of the in-situ quite well, although they were close together and I wished that I could remember how to tie a bunny ears. If only Chris were there!

The pitch from here very suddenly opened out after a few metres into Coates Cavern, the vastness of which was thrilling after a fairly confined route down. It was a slightly offbeat chamber as well, with various heaps of mud and boulders, a bit like sand dunes in shape and not exactly the breakdown boulder chamber I had expected. I took off my SRT kit and had a poke about, lining it up with the survey in my mind. To my right seemed to be the low arch signifying the Ireby Fell connection and somewhere just to my left was supposed to be the Large Pot connection, although my attention was taken up by the boulder slope and passage just on my right, which was very worn and not dissimilar to the description of the LP connection even if it wasn’t exactly in the right place. After Paulina got off rope we disappeared up it – it continued for a bit and we didn’t reach an end before turning back, having without word abandoned Viki during her descent into Coates Cavern… Looking at the survey now, it seems to be ‘Marble Steps passage’, which doesn’t go anywhere.

We headed left and upslope instead, where a flat out slot soon opened out into decently big walking passage, going up and down mud slopes. Paulina hurtled down these at frightening speed! There were some good formations too and the whole thing gave me “Daren Cilau vibes”. Maybe wishful thinking.

After a short period of this pleasant caving, the passage came to an end, with a knotted rope leading up into some sort of continuation. Paulina headed up this but it felt quite dubious and I didn’t remember it from descriptions or anything! A bit dispirited and hearing that it looked quite undisturbed up there, I checked out the bottom left wall, which looked like it just went down into a choke but actually did continue down a long slot and was footprinted and worn. “I’ll just be five minutes!” I shouted back to Viki, now sat at the foot of Paulina’s dodgy climb coordinating our efforts.

I continued through increasing muddy and small passage, eventually down a very narrow, curvy slot and hit an extremely uninviting looking duck. This must be the place! I had half a mind not to tell the others that I had found the connection but felt obliged to go back and fetch them. Don’t know why. I launched myself into it so that the others would have no choice but to follow or be disloyal. Mutual assured destruction I suppose. Elbow deep sucking mud, but weirdly enjoyable because I could sort of float over the top of it. There was also plenty of airspace although the bucket on the other side suggests that this is not always the case!

Soon after we were at a squeeze, which I announced must be The Mousehole. Looking at the survey now it is actually called Mousetrap and I am not sure if it means that squeeze or that entire section. The Black Book description has Mousehole as the bit on the New Rift side of the duck, not the squeeze or the duck. Anyway – I was okay just sliding through (no SRT kit on definitely a boon for this one), but the others were forced into some entertaining and highly technical maneuvers. Head to the left! Hips to the right! Throw yourself this way! Breathe out! More to the right! Right – right! Hips over there, etcetera. Having been accused by Paulina of becoming "one of THOSE cavers" when she saw I'd taken my harness off, I was feeling extremely smug at this juncture.

After that we were out into Necropolis. This narrowed after some pleasant walking and we found a way up on the left, which led into a cleaner, drippy aven with some calcite. We decided this was the bottom of Colossus; I am still not 100% convinced, but it seems likely.
It didn’t take us long to get back to Coates Cavern but, being now entirely coated in shit slick mud, it now had the added challenge of attempting to stay upright. (Not one we excelled at!) A quick foray into All Fools Passage got us to what I think is the right climb up into Platt Bypass (the connection to Ireby), and then feeling very accomplished it was time to fuck off!

Prussiking was blissful after a few weeks without and a good size pitch too. I “supervised” (read: napped) while Viki derigged expertly, although I had a bit of scare at the top of the pitch series when I couldn’t get my light to turn out and had to implore Paulina to come back down the climb she had spent (apparently) twenty minutes figuring out and shine hers on me while I unscrewed and tightened the battery case.

Soon after that Viki was at the top and we were at the crawl climbs. Paulina had industriously built a rock pile at the foot of the first, which was an elbow heavy affair. The second one had footholds but proved more awkward.

“Why do I have the figure of a Slavic peasant?” Paulina despaired, flopping around at the top.

“There’s a very simple explanation…”

I didn’t fare much better – trying to force the tacklesack as far forward as possible meant that I lodged my thigh in an extremely inconvenient slot and became briefly stuck. A heinous flat out crawl led to a nicer climb and a short break before the rest of the flat out crawling, ten times worse on the way out and I was stuck with the full tacklesack – again!

Truly Spring caving now because it was marginally warmer outside and even pleasant. Me and Paulina bemoaned the sun having gone in and it took Viki to point out that it hadn’t – we were just in the shakehole!

Ade and Chris had apparently had a nice wander to West Kingsdale before napping in the car, and so we regaled them with stories of our grim muddy exploits in a leisurely change. I got to be indecently smug about having kept my bra entirely dry through the duck and the wet crawling – my only true caving skill. Then the obligatory Masongill Event baked goods – jam doughnuts this time – and a stop at the NPC for Ade to carry out a Top Secret Mission while Chris demolished an entire pack of custard creams in the backseat like a weirdo. It was still early (still light even nearing seven!!) so we cheated on Rehmans and went to Spoons for burgers and cider.

A good day!