Marble Sink (The Allotment): Ian and Simon (13th January 2008).
After using Northern Caves for a while, one becomes used to reading between the lines, searching for reality beneath the veneer of understatement. Hence when studying the description of Marble Sink, words such as ‘tight’ and ‘strenuous’ might suggest something of an ordeal. In fact I can almost hear the sadistic chuckles emitted by the authors as they put finger to keyboard. Curiously, Mike Cooper’s book does not suggest the cave to be particularly gnarly either, but when Simon and I emerged from the entrance after a 5-hour trip, we felt thoroughly exhausted, battered, bruised – and also elated
Following a wet night and with rain possible by dark, we had decided to be cautious and retreat if water levels were at all unpleasant, although arriving at the entrance, the crawl was dry and the flow down the nearby sink didn’t sound too full either. After a few feet of stooping, the passage narrows and lowers into a trench, requiring sideways going in the knobbly, black limestone, with a floor of gritty cobbles. In the lead, I decided to go feet-first, since the head of the first (Pillar Pot) pitch sounded very tricky, dropping off abruptly from the tight going. We also removed our harnesses, attempting, as usual, to reduce bulk and wear and tear in tight passages. I wouldn’t recommend this here though, as after passing a nasty bend, with a slight drop, my feet were suddenly in space over the edge of the 8m pitch, with little room for manoeuvre. Bridging out and having a decent handhold, I felt safe enough, but had no means of securing myself to rig. After a few contortions, the head-first Simon pulled out a sling for a waist belt and a loop of 5mm rope to tie-off the big, chunky bolt here and I was also able to put on my harness for the descent of this nice shaft. Beware though – the old bolt was the only belay point we could find, with the adjacent spit being stripped and no decent flakes above the edge either! Some easier going below leads to a big flake jammed in the rift – easily enough descended and below is the clean, creamy rock of ‘The Bastard Hole’, taking only a little water. In fact for cavers our size, this is not bad at all – much easier than ‘The Letterbox’ in Car Pot, for example.
Easy climbing down leads to the top of Razor Pot, rigged from a couple of spits and the stream was met below. Ahead looked like easy going, but this being Marble Sink, the way on was a nasty piece of wet crawling and squeezing through the intimidating Grand Gallery Crawl, ending at a narrow, right-angled bend/squeeze (Speaker’s Corner). The contortions through here led to dry ledges above the water – much more flow here and it would have been very unpleasant indeed! Ahead is the top of Split Pot, with 1 decent spit and a trace-scarred flake for a belay, leading to the nastiest part of the cave. The strenuous and tight roof-level passage has the rather innocuous name of David’s Traverse. We thought of several other names for it, none beginning with D! After a particularly tricky squeeze at a bend, relief was in sight at the head of Discovery Pot, bearing fixed hangers as evidence of its cramped, unpleasant nature. With only a 10m rope, we down-climbed the final section of narrow rift to rejoin the stream, where an easy short section leads to the head of the final pitch, rigged from spikes and landing close to the impressive chamber of the Devil’s Kitchen.
This big chamber is in fine contrast to the preceding passages, soaring upwards and having a proliferation of flowstone and stals. We took a while to explore using a fixed line on a muddy traverse and feeling satisfied with our progress, decided to head out. After the strenuous work we had done, we were both parched, but having forgotten to bring the water bottle or chocolate and not daring to drink the stream water, we just had to suffer on the way out.
Simon had the tricky job of de-rigging the top of Discovery Pot and we had a real fight with the bags along this tight section. Passing Speaker’s Corner was also a relief on the way out, particularly as this looks to be way too narrow to pass at first glance and after heaving the combined bag along this wet section, we were feeling that the work was done.
Exiting the Bastard Hole was not a problem, whereas I had a struggle at the top of Pillar Pot, getting my chest jammer sling caught around a boss as I tried to get into the crawl, before finally managing to contort myself at the pitch head to haul up the bags. Simon again did a top job in getting up and de-rigging and we gritted our teeth for the final crawl. Passing the bend was hard work and a few feet further on, I got my bag jammed in the bottom of the trench. I decided to go to the entrance, turn around and pull it as Simon pushed. Returning, I found that Simon had freed it, so I reversed with it to the entrance again, only to have to go back to help Simon out when his bag also got stuck!
With very sore elbows and craving the coffee in my flask at the entrance, we emerged after a very tough trip.
The rain was gently falling on a very mild night and we were very happy with the day’s efforts – a top day out, with the long walk to Clapham feeling pleasant after all the exertions below ground.