Hole in The Floor by Phil Ryder

NGR SD 89988 78802 Alt 359m Length 17m Depth 14m

Survey by Phil Ryder.

Photos by Gary Rhodes, Phil Ryder and Steve Warren.

Photo of Phil Ryder being carried to Air Ambulance by Sara Spillet / UWFRA.



The Explorers:- Simon Beck, Chris Camm, John Clarke, Ian Cummins, Richard Gibson, Abigail & Gary Rhodes, Phil Ryder, Chris Smith, Patrick Warren, Steve Warren.

The White Rose have dug in this large faulted shakehole for 20 years but have never found a way in. There was a suspicion that any passage found would be an inlet into Langstroth Pot, which is known to pass close by. However in 2005 another new cave found nearby by Red Rose and White Rose diggers, Stukbar Pot, was dye tested by me to a rising down near the road and river, showing it flowed North and not into Langstroth Pot as first thought. Could this dig go the same way?

The White Rose also found about 20m of inlet passage in this shakehole in 1989, entered by a body sized hole in a small scar at the back of the shakehole, This was called Hole In The Wall, (WRPC Journal 2001 p.33). Unfortunately the entrance to Hole In The Wall was destroyed when a tree was uprooted causing a major collapse of the rock face.

In 2008 Abigail and Gary Rhodes, Richard Gibson and I, renewed our interest here. We dug in a couple of locations, one which saw some solo midweek capping by Gary, accompanied by his dog John, led to a 25 cms high bedding with the stream running merrily away, sadly it would require major work to make progress. Another dig to the left of the shakehole, where we were joined by Steve Warren and his son Patrick, also uncovered passage, but it was buried when this part of the cliff also collapsed. Thankfully we were not around at the time.

Steve states that this shakehole is on a major fault that can be followed up through Black Sheep Sink, Compass Pot and up to Hagg Beck (Active) Sink.

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Later on in the year Richard and I had a poke around in the area and came back to the shakehole. In the bottom of the shakehole are several water worn rifts hidden under a carpet of rocks. This has been the scene of many digs in the past, but always leads have closed down. This time we looked at the base of some precariously perched slabs that had separated from the cliff face, at the bottom was a large shattered boulder, behind it water could be heard dripping. We uncovered a rift, Richard was unceremoniously pushed down it head first.

We removed some of the shattered boulder to gain better access to the rift but realised if we carried on we were going to die as it held up all the teetering slabs. A couple of more visits, and by removing stream debris from the rift we got it down to 2 metres deep. There was a cold draught present but it just became to tight to enable anything else to be removed from the floor. We covered it over and went to Hagg Pot with Abi and Gary, where some scaffolding allowed us to pass the blockage at the end and get into about 20m of new stuff. The new shoring here started creaking and we abandoned the dig fearing for our lives.

It was also around this time that the four of us got into some walking size natural stream passage in the lead mine Middle Level at Kettlewell, the passage abruptly changing into a small hole where it entered a band of sandstone. Richard G here doing some impressive exploration by going through a tight duck with minimal airspace on his back feet first, to reach the new passage. Again this was never recorded, and is on my list of things to do.

The dig was revived again in 2009 when Abi and Gary made a further visit. Gary did an excellent capping job of removing obstacles to allow us to dig in the bottom again. The next couple of visits by Gary, Richard and I made good progress another 2 metres down. Gary got down a ramped bedding, capping nodules out of the roof and floor as he went, also he kicked many stones down a rift to the right, as the way on looked to the left, where it was larger. Chris Camm joined us for the next visit, a rib of rock stopping progress, and we three were also joined by the Bang Boys a fortnight later, the rib of rock yielding to their superior might. We also lost diggers Abi and Gary forever at this time as they moved to the far north of Scotland to further Abi’s career in oil painting.

Onwards led to a very tight vertical squeeze, Steve and I tried to get down but no chance without substantial modifications. The thin men, John Clarke, Ian Cummins and Chris Smith got into a boulder strewn bedding chamber below the squeeze. I was away next Saturday when I received a call saying the new stuff had connected with Langstroth Pot, which was a disappointment, but as any experienced digger will tell you new caves rarely go where you want them to.


On Saturday 25th July 2009 Chris, John and I were the only three that entered HITF. Chris and John went downstream in Langstroth Pot to recover SRT ropes left on the last two pitches and have a look at the large inlet between pitches six and seven whilst I went upstream to check out a lead that Harry Long had told me about. We agreed to meet at the breakthrough in about two hours. Returning back from upstream at about 14:00 hours I was met by John who stated that the ladder had broken whilst Chris was climbing the fourth pitch and he had fallen about 5 metres and that his back hurt and he couldn’t feel his toes. We both knew how serious this could be! John went back to stay with Chris whilst I went down to Yockenthwaite Farm to call for cave rescue.

The bracken was higher than my head so I didn’t run down the hill, for I knew that any fall would greatly reduce Chris’s chances. I got to the farm and told Stuart there had been an accident and to be prepared for a long rescue. It was whilst I was phoning for the rescue that I felt ‘funny’ and had to sit down and have 2 glasses of water. The delayed shock had hit me, or so I thought. Harry Long, UWFRA Underground Controller rang back shortly and said, ”Who is it?”

“Smithy”, I said.

Harry was suitably perplexed as he, Clarkey and Smithy were due to fly to Matienzo the following Wednesday for their annual digging trip there in the pursuit of Spanish caves immeasurable to man. I went back to the road below Langstroth Cave to enjoy the sunshine whilst UWFRA arrived. I only had a bit of indigestion by this time; butterflies I thought.

What followed was a difficult cave rescue as two of Chris’s vertebrae had been crushed. Around 100 people were involved including several fire engines from as far away as Pickering I believe. The firemen pumped Langstroth sumps dry and all the pitches were rigged with group of caver’s waiting on each one, in preparation for taking Chris down Langstroth Pot, through the sumps, and out of Langstroth Cave. Unfortunately when the sumps were broken a howling gale began throughout the system and Chris’s core body temperature dropped to a dangerous level. Therefore the doctor attending him decided to take him out of the tight Hole in the Floor entrance. He must have been in agony through the tight bits in the newly discovered passage.

Chris was brought to the surface after 23:00 that night and was taken to Lancaster Royal Infirmary by RAF Sea King. He spent all this time immobile and in a lot of pain. Ten days later he was transferred to a hospital in Huddersfield where he underwent surgery to his spine. He returned home on 11th August.

Harry Long knew I felt a bit ‘funny’. I was checked by a doctor and two UWFRA Cas Carers were put with me. I continued to talk with all my many caving friends who turned up for the rescue. Harry eventually called Paramedics when my queasiness didn’t go. Put on an ECG the Ambulance-man from Grassington said, “I’m afraid lad you’ve had a heart attack”.

Bugger off, you’re joking”. I replied.

I was flown by Yorkshire Air Ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary, one of the 10 specialist heart centres in the UK. As the helicopter was about to take off Clarkey turned up and issued the immortal line,

“ What are you doing having a heart attack, you silly bugger?”

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Straight off the helicopter and into the operating theatre. The blockage was cleared and a stent inserted into the affected artery via a small incision in my right wrist. This was done under local anaesthetic. Incredible but this is true, the time from taking off from Langstrothdale, having the angioplasty and lying on the recovery bed in LGI was just an hour!!

They say things happen for a reason, you might think this saying is rubbish, but in my case it is true. The enforced lay off after the heart attack allowed me to do caring for my elderly parents and pick up my grandson from infant school – something I would not have missed for the world. Most importantly it allowed me to spend some quality time with my brother Stephen in his final weeks on earth; he was suffering from terminal cancer.

When I finally got the all clear from the Heart Specialist my resignation letter to work was posted within the hour.

Six months later Steve Warren had me helping him rebuild the entrance to Langstroth Cave, damaged in the rescue, and putting a new lid and cover on Hole In The Floor.

Nine months later I was walking up the steep track at the back of Yockenthwaite Farm with John Clarke, Ian Cummins and Chris Smith, on our way to Hollow Tree Hole. It was warm and sunny, the birds were singing, the new lambs frolicking about, and I thought this is the most beautiful place on earth.

I can hardly walk with my scaffold pole, and rucksack full of drill, batteries, and scaffold clips because I am laughing and giggling so much. Clarkey and Smithy are relentless and merciless with their barrage of piss taking on Ian and me. When they break out with their rendition of “I am gonna leave old Durham Town” for the benefit of Ian, I have trouble controlling my bladder, I think I am going to have another heart attack.

Oh, what lucky people, we in the caving world are!

Chris and I would like to pass on our thanks and deep gratitude to the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association, the Cave Rescue Organisation, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, the Sea King crew from RAF Valley, Anglesey, the NHS hospitals involved, and Stuart Hird from Yockenthwaite Farm.