Black Sheep Sink by Ian Cummins and Steve Warren

Black Sheep Sink: Ian, Emma, Jane, Steve (15 December 2012). 

Ian Cummins:

Hands up all of you who have visited this cave.  Not many…thought so.  Unless you have a copy of WRPC Journal 2001, then you are unlikely to know where it is, although this fine record has exploration details and surveys of this little gem.

I’d done this trip as a solo effort to the top of the last pitch without tackle during a dry spell back in 2009, wandering over from our excavation of Hole in Floor and completing the trip in less than 1 hour of pure fun.Being almost dry back then, the climbs and crawls were a piece of cake, but the very wet winter conditions prevailing on this trip made it rather more hostile.  Steve walked up with us to remind me of where the entrance was, although Phil Ryder’s e-mail instructions jogged my memory enough to ensure success anyway.

On a miserably wet day, with water the temperature of ice running off the frozen ground, it transpired in our discussions in the diggers’ van that no-one had been down the cave in winter in wet conditions…well now they have.

The tight crawl from the base of the entrance shaft was half full of frigid water – not too bad for my neoprene-clad form, but unpleasantly cold for Emma and Jane.  The first pitch is a short chimney and was well watered for the quick slide down.  Pushing a ladder and tackle sack for the last pitch, I was soon ponding water ahead of me and shoving this lot past the infamous ‘Death’s Door’ obstacle was a proper pain.  My hands were numb, but my discomfort was nowt compared to Jane’s suffering behind me in the long crawling section to pitch 2 and after passing a section of deeper water to a space allowing turning, I decided it would be safest to get out asap.

The crawl in Black Sheep Sink.

Reaching the aven below pitch 1, I was greeted by the sight of Emma and Jane dancing on the spot to warm up and whilst my body was warm, I knew I would need to warm my hands to climb up and rig a ladder to get out.  Shoving my frigid appendages into my armpits brought back some feeling with accompanying agonising hot-aches, allowing me to climb up and rig a ladder for my chilly companions.  Stuffing the gear onto the ledge for retrieval later, we made a final chilly crawl to the base of the entrance shaft and exited to the windy, wet grimness of this filthy day.

After a change in the car, I waited for the equally frigid diggers to return, followed some time later by Steve, back from sink-hunting.

Well done to all for making the effort on this grotty day.  We agreed to try again in more pleasant conditions anyway.

Pic by Emma.

Steve Warren:

If we had thought about it this meet was doomed before it started: mid-December is not a good time for such a place.

Have a look at what Nigel Easton wrote about the original exploration in the 2004 WRPC Journal:

“The passage ahead continued in a classic shape and although a few feet high was only passable along the floor so Hucky pushed forward once again flat out in water. A lot of coughing, spluttering and swearing followed and then an appraisal of the situation was sent back. He was flat out in freezing water which was getting deeper and a low squeeze was just ahead with the passage still open and what appeared to be another bend beyond which he could not see. “Definitely a wetsuit trip” he said and try as he might he could not persuade us to go the extra 10m to have a look. Having great difficulty in turning around he finally returned a shivering wreck… a rapid return to the surface was made in an attempt to get warm, this short section having mutilated our oversuits.”

That was in the Spring of 1995 but the recent meet was in mid December with a heavy snow melt on the fell. Well done to the Ian, Emma and Jane who did have a go and had to turn back because of extremely cold water.

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Ian, Emma and Jane raring to get down Black Sheep Sink.

Pic by Steve Warren.