A couple of reports from 2009 – a trip that became a repeat solo, having a nice combination of caving and diving, with a bizarre animal encounter too!
Acknowledgements to Simon who accompanied me on the first trip and loaned gear for the second.
Winshaw Gill Pot – Ribblehead (31st May 2009)
Winshaw Gill is one of those caves that I’d looked at a couple of years back in the guide and thought- great, let’s do it, until I noticed the entrance led to an immediate sump, with more further in. Fast forward to the present and I was looking forward to getting down this Ribblehead obscurity.
The day dawned bright and sunny – unfortunately bringing out the biker hordes, who were probably swarming prior to heading off to the TT races, but it made me wonder, if there’s such a big recession, how come so many people can afford 9-grand toys? Parking near Gearstones Lodge, we first walked over the fell to try to find the entrance, which took us about 30 minutes of rambling and meandering, before anchoring the ladder from a rope tied to a distant block. Curiously, as we dropped the jangling ladder down the hole, we could hear a yapping from the depths! ‘Sounds like a fox’, I suggested and we returned to get kitted up in diving gear by the cars.
Back at the hole, I went down first, hearing the yapping again, turning round at the bottom of the ladder to find a fox cub staring at me from the top of a slope adjacent to the sump pool. Rather than being scared, the feisty little critter actually walked towards me and I attempted to shoo it away to where I assumed it had crawled in from the apparently un-navigable (to humans) Winshaw Cave connection.
With Simon down, together with a load of spoil from the rim of the shaft, we were surprised to see Reynard junior swimming in the pool and then getting stuck in the mud in an impenetrable crack. Seeing no way out for the little beastie and hearing nothing of any other family members, I managed to catch the cub by the scruff of the neck, stuff it into a tackle sack and haul it up to the surface, where it gave me a look of surprise and ran off into the rushes. Considering that the Pot probably hadn’t been entered in years, that was one lucky cub, either that or it just made total monkeys of us if it squeezed back into its lair after our departure!
Back to the caving and finding the dive-line intact, we were soon through the short, but flat-out sump 1 and heading off down the rugged, dark passage to the tricky sump 2. A nice bit of aqueous going led through a duck into a chamber where we kitted up for the dive. This sump is about 20 m long, but requires a squeeze down for 2 or 3 metres at the start. Going first, I certainly found this to be tight, having to work my helmet through as I slid down – this was almost like caving underwater!
More spacious going led to a squeeze over a gravel bank, before fun finning along through some arches to emerge in a large air bell. Finding the air to be nicely fresh, I waited for the signal from Simon following, but was not too surprised when I got the ‘not coming’ signal, as I wondered how he would get all his kit down the slot. Rather than do the second half of the cave alone, I dived back, taking my time to get up the squeeze back to the chamber, where Simon told me that his harness set-up was just too bulky for the dive, compared with my minimal side-mount.
We retired to The Station for a drink and a pie, resolving to return with a lid for the shaft to rule out any more drop-in surprises.
Winshaw Gill solo trip (13th September 2009).
After doing the bulk of this Ribblehead obscurity on a previous trip with Simon and rescuing a fox cub from the entrance chamber, I was looking forward to getting to the end of the cave. I was going for a solo trip, although Simon loaned me a 3L bottle for a back-up on the dives and he left it for me in a shakehole near the cave.
Arriving at about 11, I noticed a note under a stone in the Gearstones lay-by and I picked it up. Sure enough, it was from Simon, telling me where to find the kit – cheers mate! I wandered over to the cave with a rope, my 5L bottle and some bits of climbing kit to make a belay. A couple of cams (Friend 2 + 2 1/2) made a bomber anchor, although I later tripped over an old stake in the long grass, the cams made for a nice hang.
Back to the car and the squeeze into my semi-dry was performed before the short walk back to the pot. Lowering the kit down was carefully performed and I slid down the shaft, which is very slimy, but otherwise free-climbable, to wash off the muck from the entrance and gear up for the short dive from the entrance chamber.
Pushing a tackle bag ahead of me through the sump, I emerged to have a sort out, electing to carry a bottle and reg. in each hand, with fins and mask clipped to my waist. Making steady progress I was soon at the main sump and kitting-up again, electing to clip my boots together with a ‘biner, as I would be wearing fins for the dive.
Making the tight squeeze down for a few metres, horizontal passage was attained and the short gravel squeeze was passed as I remembered. I was a tad buoyant, but not overly so and passed through the arches with a few pushes from my hands to rise in the big air bell – still holding 2 boots! A crawl over a shingle bank leads to the short sump 3, which turned out to be very murky indeed and I rose onto another shingle bank with only 1 boot! Disregarding any chance of finding it in the deep, mucky water, I elected to carry on with 1 boot on my left foot and double wetsocks on my right. Fortunately the passage continued as a superb canyon, in contrast to the grim black passages before and the fine cascade mentioned in NC2 was in fact a fun climb down, also having a nice lip on the longest drop for the returning mantle.
I carried on along the streamway until the more rugged breakdown areas near the final sump were encountered and not wishing to crush my already sore foot, I turned back.
Arriving at the sump squeeze, I elected to turn myself to look back downstream, finding this to be the best way to make the vertical moves – after this was performed, I merely had a bit of portering to do before passing sump 1 and ferrying my kit up the rope.
Back at the car I had a snack and a coffee before carrying some boards over to the cave to cover the entrance as I had promised on my last trip. What a superb experience – another dose of madness, until the next time!