Quaking Pot – the gloom of Gormenghast! by Ian Cummins

I’m not the greatest literary expert, but even the sound of the word ‘Gormenghast’ conjours up images of gloomy decay, which Mervyn Peake describes in his novels and one of my  strongest caving memories is of sitting in that eponymous chamber at the end of Quaking Pot, desperately shoving Breakaway biscuits into my mouth trying to gain the energy to escape from the place.  A more grim spot is hard to imagine, with a jumble of mucky blocks devoid of any beautifying features, where one only lingers to think ‘is that it’ before pondering the effort required to escape.

Upon my return to caving in 2006, I had recruited my workmate Ed for a few trips and quickly became more ambitious, aiming for one of the harder trips in NC2, Quaking Pot, promising much crawling and squeezing in only 570 m – only a few minutes of walking, so what could be so hard?

Steve Warren suggested that Simon would be a good recruit and after a few trips together we resolved to try Quaking – it would be Ed’s 5th or 6th caving trip, with his minimal kit of 3mm surfing wetsuit, woolly socks, scarf and SRT kit including an old climbing harness and my 1980 Clog Expedition Ascenders cobbled together with one as a chest jammer.

Ed – displaying minimal bulk!

A first attempt began with me and Ed parking at the track up to Ingleborough and waiting for a delayed Simon, who had apparently been partying all night, and we eventually arrived at the Pot sorting through the seemingly random pile of ropes and ladders he had assembled.  Simon has some great qualities as a caver, but at that time, organisation seemed not to be one of them and the day ended with our rather unwell companion retreating to his car whilst Ed and I went to The Crux’ for a look.

This long squeeze has a reputation, with people being stuck in there reduced to tears – it looked horrible.

I resolved to sort out lightweight kit for an SRT descent of the cave and we returned 2 weeks later in March 2007, getting gear in and out in one epic day.  The following account was published in the club newsletter and I have made few edits only.  Despite my rather pessimistic comment at the end, we did return several times, finding the obstacles much simpler with familiarity and actually rather enjoyable.

With Simon in tune on that second trip, he led through the intimidating Crux section – I resolved to get through the bypass one day – as yet I haven’t, since it would require a good tug from below to get down for me at least, so that is something I still have to look forward to!

Quaking Pot – 23/03/2007.

Ian, Simon, Ed.

A more rested team than 2 weeks before assembled at Fell Lane at 9 a.m., with tackle cut to size, ordered in the bags and food and drink for the day.  Knowing the way this time, we were changed and up to the entrance at 10.30 a.m.

We had a smooth trip down to the bottom of the fourth pitch, where I removed my oversuit and bagged the SRT kit for the squeezes ahead.  Simon took the lead and we passed the Skydive squeeze as before and continued around the not-too-tight Coitus Corner to meet the infamous Crux.

Simon went first and I attempted the much thinner Crux Bypass, attempting to squeeze down to the stream before the traverse of The Crux.  The bypass is tight, although I reckon I could have forced my way down, I decided to play safe, conserving my energy and followed Simon into the crux, lighting the way for the helmetless squeezer and offering advice.  After removing his Jean sawn-offs mid-squeeze, Simon was through and crawled back under the traverse in the stream to pull the bags through the bypass slot.  My turn next and with my minimal bulk I was soon through.  Basically we traversed vertically until next to stal curtains and descended diagonally to the stream, with enough room here to sort things out.

From here to the next pitch is hard work – all narrow passage, mostly crawling and a pig to carry the gear through.  Finally after a high level traverse, we reached the handlined 5th pitch, down the twisting, slippery rift.  We extended the fixed rope here, as the terrain is very slippery.  It was hard to see the way on here, in the complex rift passage, but Ed traversed ahead and made a couple of squeezes down to the 6th pitch, the second squeeze being a scary drop for the leader onto the narrow pitch head, again bearing a fixed rope, although we placed our own for the slightly wet free hang into more spacious territory.

Amazingly while rigging here, a large bat flew very close by – given the presence of the avens here, there must be a narrow connection to the surface.  Whilst not contemplating a dig here in order to beat the cave into submission, this could possibly be an entry for a rescue one day!  The fine 7th pitch follows, again with a fixed rope, this time in good nick.  Next came the wettest part of the cave, with immersion in water necessary to pass the twisting W-bends, followed by the slippery climb up to the Fly Crawl, again with a mucky fixed line, although we continued to carry our own ropes to be sure.  Fly Crawl again involved a few immersions in pools along the way until the head of the next pitch into the large chamber of Bridge Hall.  Rigging to large stals with my rope, we abseiled down the steep, rubbly slope.  From here the quality of caving deteriorates, with muddy, blocky terrain, leading down filthy slopes into a final stream section to the last pitch.

The final chamber, Gormenghast, is a grim rubbly chamber, with a little water running into blocks in the floor.  Amazingly someone has a dig in the streamway above, unfortunately despoiling the place with discarded expanding foam from a dam-building attempt, I presume.

After more chocolate, drink and a quick rest, we began the return journey.  It took 6 hours to reach the end and although we knew the route now, carrying 3 tackle bags out was obviously going to be hard work.  Passing The Crux seemed easier on the way out for me – basically more of a horizontal traverse this time – although I had a bit of a fright when I was in the lead and missed the line up and continued crawling until I came to an impasse and had to reverse to the correct spot.

After the last major strenuous section to the foot of the big pitch, Simon went ahead and exited, whilst Ed and I de-rigged, fighting the bags on the final twisting sections.  We emerged at 11:15 p.m., nearly 13 hours after entry, to find a very cold Simon huddled in an Inglesport bag out of the cold wind and made it back to the cars at midnight.  It was a shame to miss the pub, but a great experience nonetheless.

This was not fun caving in the mould of Juniper Gulf, Dowbergill or Ireby, but a big physical and mental test.  Without gear to carry, bottoming the pot would be a reasonable 6-7-hour trip, but the long gear haul is a big stamina test.  Needless to say, after this experience, most other trips will feel like fun.  All in all the day was a great experience and thanks to Simon and Ed for good humour throughout and for sharing the lead and carrying the gear.  Would I do it again – I don’t know!