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Gaping Gill (Dihedral) - 12th Sep 2009

Saturday September 12th 2009

Members present: Chad B,  Jonathan Booth,  Matt Gosling,  Mike Rippon

Report by Jonathan Booth

On a fine September morning, as the sun was just beginning to rise over the Vale of York and the blurry shadows formed by the trees were rapidly shortening, four of the nation's greatest adventurers were gathering for a quest that would push not only their limits, but the limits of what was humanly possible. They would boldly go where no man had ever gone before. This is not their story.

On a differant, but still pleasent, autumn morning in York, Matt G, Chad, Mike and myself were loading tacklesacks into the car and preparing to embark on a quest that sounded quite difficult, and if sucsessful we would boldly go where no member of YUCPC had been for quite a long time (some ten years). The journey passed uneventfully and by midday we were on the path up to Gaping Gill. Our plan was to descend dihedral and then make our way to the far country, and ultimatly echo rift, but having read the route discription I felt a growing aprehension as we climbed the hill, flat out ducks and tight squeezes seemed to be the order of the day and with one duck apparantly consisting of a three metre passage with only three or four inches of air, I secretly hoped the difficulties had been exagerated.

Eventually we arrived at the top of the shaft. The beck splashed on inocently below us, blissfully unaware of the black abyss into which it would soon descend, condemmed to flow through an underworld of silent passages and torturous falls, far from the mellow September sun which warmed our backs as we geared up. A crowd of confused walkers watched us as we entered the entrance crawl and were lost to the beauty and the light. Chad went first to rig, followed nervously by me,then more confidently by Mike and Matt. As Chad rigged I tried to sort out the kinks in the new rope but to no avail, for every twist taken out one appeared elsewhere so eventually Chad set off down and I watched as he wrestled with the deviations, eerily sillouhetted against the blue light rising from below, like an upside down heaven. Rigging proved difficult as Chad had to struggle with an ever increasing Gordian knot of kinks below him, but carried on steadily. Suddenly there was a sickening crack which, apmlified to a boom by the chamber, gradually died away. Cursing myself for what I thought was my mistake I looked down at Chad and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw he was OK, while I was watching there was another bang and I saw Chad looking round, probably not feeling too happy. Matt went out to see if people were throwing rocks down, and soon enough he was talking to a person on the surface holding on to a large rock, readying himself to throw it down. He seemed supprised that anybody would be down there, and apologised for throwing the stones. After that was sorted it wasn't long until the cry of 'rope free' could be heard above the dinn of the water and I set off.

As I descended the pitch I was absorbed with the first two deviations, and on looking behind me I was speechless for a few seconds, as I continued to abb an awsome scene was unfolding above me. On reaching Wingfield's ledge I looked up and was amazed to see the gentle beck transform into an angry beast, streaking down the shaft to hit Birkbeck's ledge where it briefly became a swirling, boilling pool before falling again into unknown depths below me. I couldnt believe that what I could see was only half the waterfall! Soon after Chad and I were on the floor of the main chamber, we walked over to the left (as you look at the falls) where from a muddy platform if you look back at the falls, you can see a breath-taking sight. Below Wingfield's ledge a huge face sticks out into the chamber, water flowing each side of it's stern face likea streak of hair greyed by the passage of countless millenia. Mike's light danced around as he left the ledge, an ant crawling on the face of a mighty Titan, frowning down on the mortals below.

Leacing the chamber through a crawl we came out into mud hall, a large cavern where a steep slope of muddy scree thrown from the roof becomes a yawning drop, a deep black trench down the middle of the hall, passage is gained by traversing a narrow ledge above the trench. We ventured on in silence, the only sound the muffled snap of krabs as cowstails
were transfered and the occasional call of 'rope free', all noises dulled by the vast world of mud, the heavy atmosphere and dramatic landscape making this place almost as impressive as the main chamber. We hadn't seen the last of mud, not by any meens, an entertaining boulderchoke was passed to a crawl that grew wetter, muddier and tighter as we shuffled
along it. The duck was reached and it was my turn, wallowing up to my stomach in the gloopy mud as the ageless water seeped in and the tacklesacks held me back, unwilling to be dragged through the vile treacle, and with breath held I was through and before too long we were sat in a small aven. Another crawl led us to the Henslow master cave, a large streamway. We memorised waypoints as we stomped on until the water left us and we were up in a small chamber, a ladder leading up into the roof like a trapdoor into a loft. Matt and Chad went on to check the way ahead, Mike and I stayed behind as we didnt fancy any more ducks. We listened as the sounds of thumping tackle sacks grew fainter and then an oppressive, heavy silence blancketed us like a black fog. Walking round and peering at a few straws, we wondered how long they would be, but after only a few minutes we could hear the sounds of a struggle, and then the other two were back with us, after not wanting to go through the very tight blowhole without more people and not wanting to leave Mike and I alone for long.

The journey back was easier, we passed the landmarks and were quickly back in the aven, ready to go back through the ducks. On the way back they wern't so bad now that I knew how they were and was free of the sacks, and before we realised it we were back in mud hall. Traversing this in silence we emerged into the main chamber once more and I was glad
to see some daylight, allbeit a pale, ghostly light that only just illuminated the glistening boulders on the floor. Sharing some water around that we had left at the bottom of the pitch on the way in, we rested and prepared ourselves for the siege. Mike set off, soon followed by Chad then it was my turn. On reaching the ledge I sat down as best I could and waited
for Matt. What had been an awesome place earlier on was now growing ever more cold, harsh and lonely as the light faded from pale blue to dark purple to an inky blackness. The water surged on unseen in the nothingness around me, not caring for the fears of insignificant people. I was pleased to see Matt join me on the ledge and we shared some water before I set off again, warmed by the brief human contact. The going was tough, I had to fight for every inch of ascent and none of the deviations gave up without a fight. Personally I found it significantly harder than Titan, which is longer but more straightforewards, the never-ending seriese of rebelays and deviations and the clouds of spray making for a tough climb up. My mind dwelled on trees, walm showers, cups of tea and other delights of the surface as I prussicked on, eventually reaching the Y hang and then the safety of the pitch-head and the traverse line. Matt joined me and we emerged into a perfect night, heat rising off the still warm grass as we stared up at a pristine sky with an unbelievable array of stars, was this whole epic day to remindus of our place, both above and below the ground? Either way, it was a good, hard day's caving.