Gaping Gill, Far Waters: Ian and Simon (16th February 2008).
“Sounds like Lord of the Rings”, said my wife when I was arranging the call-out – and so it is! Fortunately, with the aid of expert guide Simon, I was able to enjoy this fine trip with the minimum of frustration in this complex system.
With the dry spell continuing into its second week, I was keen to take advantage and get a big trip in. Simon had been this way a couple of times before, but had never found the water levels low enough to reach Hallucination Aven, whilst my only GG experience had been a trip around the grotty dry passages around Bar and a wander around the Main Chamber with my family at the Whit winch meet.
With the aim of maximising the amount of stream passage, we decided on Disappointment Pot for our entrance into the system, following Mike’s guide for rigging. On a beautiful blue-sky day again, we decided to walk up in civvies and get changed into wetsuits at the entrance, making the walk up much more comfortable and after a quick chat with the chaps at the show cave we were at the entrance just before mid-day.
Free-climbing down the entrance pitch we stashed our clothing bags in a small chamber and carried on down the superb twisting stream passage until a lowering of the way brought us to the obstacle of the Portcullis duck. Despite the dry spell, there was not much airspace here and with helmet off and hood on, I was through first, pulling the bags through the hole and continuing on down the superb stream passage beyond. Much of the going here is quite narrow and I noted that it would not be easy to carry a bag out on the return.
As usual, I had minimised the gear for our trip, reasoning that we could free-climb the traverses to the pitch heads using slings for protection. So it proved at the pitch down to Hensler’s Master Cave, where we got by with a 20m rope. The Master Cave is superb – big enough for a double-decker bus, with a slight stream flowing along the cobbly floor, unfortunately ending with the climb up the wobbly ladder to Far Country and Far Waters. This section is the only grotty part of the trip, enlightened by the squeeze through The Blowhole, but for me these dry, mucky passages, showing all the signs of human passage, are best avoided. On the way out we picked up a few bits of rubbish, including a vintage carbide tin, to clean things up a bit, but on the journey in the filthy Echo Rift pitch was thankfully soon passed, SRT gear dumped and more attractive passage regained.
After some fun passing the low section of passage including the Southgate duck, a fine series of well-decorated passages were followed, again with faultless navigation from my companion and Simon allowed me the lead when the clear, deep water was encountered, to fully enjoy the experience. After a side-trip to enjoy the superb Rivendell Passage, we were at the start of the canal leading to Hallucination Aven.
Surprisingly, given my experience of the frigid Clapham Bottoms, the clear, deep water here felt fine and with hoods on and helmets in hand, we passed several ducks in the neck-deep water, until faced by a section with only 1 to 2 inches airspace. Simon went through and found a better section beyond, so taking a few breaths and holding my nose, I followed. After a couple more, easier ducks, we arrived at the sump, with its line reels and I climbed up into the aven to examine the old electron ladder hanging down – a brilliant spot!
We fairly motored out and I was pleased to regain the fine Master Cave passage, in order to wash off the muck from Echo Rift and I was again amazed by Simon’s ability to pick out the climb up to the DP inlet. I couldn’t resist free-climbing the short second pitch and after a bit of a struggle on the final section with the bags, we emerged to view the remnants of the sunset after a trip of about 6 and a half hours.
Removing my helmet, I couldn’t understand why my hair was full of twigs, until I realised it was frozen! The equally hirsute Simon laughed as he encountered the same phenomenon. At least there was no wind and after a rapid change, the walk down was comfortable in dry clothes.
Far Waters is a fine trip and I guess that my next visit will involve a climb to the top of the aven. Mind you, finding the way without a good guide could make this a very frustrating trip, so special thanks to Simon for showing the way.