Hagg Beck (Active) Sink by John Clarke and Ian Cummins

 

NGR SD 90021 78290 Alt 393m Length c200m Depth 26m

Survey drawn by Dave Ramsay and Phil Ryder.

Photos by Ian  Cummins and Steve Warren.

The Diggers: – Chris Smith, John Clarke, Graham Huck, Richard Bendall, Phil Ryder, Steve Warren and Martyn Soliman.

In February 2005 we decided to look at an old White Rose dig pushed to a then limit by Paul Smith. He must have been thin then because it took Chris Smith and me two trips of banging and blasting to get to his limit. (WRPC Journal 2001 Page 33). The way on was to follow the water and draught down a tight wet rift. There was another possible route back towards the entrance but after consulting Richard and Hucky we went for the bottom route. It’s amazing how often you can make the wrong decisions in this game but we all made it so we sink or swim by it

Over the next months we blasted our way along the rift pulling all the debris back further and further. We got to a small chamber where we could stand and turn but soon this was full so even turning was hard. By now it was left to Chris and me basically because it was a two-man job but when we needed a big pull back of debris Richard, Hucky, and Martin turned up to help.

We now had a very good echo coming from ahead so this kept us going because sometimes the water came in fast making it awful to work in and often a bit scary. We carried on for about another twenty five metres or so until the roof went up a bit meaning we could work at the face in the dry but getting the drill and batteries to the front was becoming a nightmare. Winter was coming, water was getting dangerous, we just got out by the skin of our teeth in November; time for a rethink.
Chris and I decided to have a look at the top route while the weather was bad; it was dry and we were warm – luxury!

So with renewed vigour we ripped into it and it soon looked good. After a couple of months we were dropping down to an old stream passage with some nice formations, we could turn round here another bonus and we also got the big echo back. We knew it was running in line with the lower passage and the echo meant they were coming together. Pushing the low stream passage for about ten metres, we then came into the top of another tight rift but at least we could cave in it for around twenty metres without banging. This section and another section similar are extremely tight and tiring with only one turn round point if you’re not too long in the leg. We named this section Louise’s Squeezes after the then lovely landlady at the Kings Head in Kettlewell.

Hagg Beck (Active) Sink

At the end of this section we dropped through a slot into a wider and bigger part of the same rift with the water some six metres below us. The water was probably from our original dig but we could not tell for sure. At last we could both fit in and turn round here, and store gear, which was brilliant. The way on was slightly up and over another squeeze and we were at the top of a pitch, only about four metres; but what a result. The pitch is free climbable but if you fall at this point you are a GONER, there’s no getting out!

We dropped down to another tight rift but to the left was a well worn 5m high rift, small at the top but it looked good. This posed the problem again, up or down? We decided to do both but the bottom rift looked more promising even if it had water flowing menacingly along it. After a few weeks we finally hit the stream; so down it was. Smithy shot down to clear the debris but after half an hour he was knackered so I took over and after ten minutes broke through into stream passage. HE WAS NOT HAPPY!

The passage went on about 10m, flat out; you certainly don’t want to be here in flood. It then turned left into a small but lofty chamber with some fine long straws, then a turn to the right along another narrow rift above the water. Chris shot on the rift like a big fat snail, nowhere in this place can you move fast. He thumped and banged, swore and sweated, but could not pass a large flake so out he came.

By this time we were both shot and not looking forward to the long thrutch out, but I said I would have one look to see if we needed anything for next week. So in I squeezed, saw the flake, give it three blows with the hammer and walked into a big breakdown chamber.
To say Chris was mad was putting it mildly.

“I’ve done all the work and you get all the glory.”

He’ll never learn!

Ha, Ha, we were now elated after eighteen months it looked like a decent cave was emerging. The chamber was approx. 10m x 6m x 2m high with the stream dropping through a large hole to the left of the chamber. It appeared to drop into a pool some 4 to 5m down with a passage going off. We had no gear to drop this pitch so headed out happy as pigs in the proverbial, roll on next week. But nothing is as simple as it appears!

Hagg Beck Sink 9

The following week we were back with a vengeance, bolting kit, lifelines, ladders. By the time we got this lot in we were well knackered but the prospect of more cave drove us on. We bolted into a big boulder and Chris prepared for the big pitch. Over the edge he went, me life-lining braced for any problems, his head disappeared, just, and then he shouted, “I’m at the floor.”

“You can’t be,” I replied.

“I’m gonna sue that eye surgeon,” I shouted.

Free climbing down I met a miserable Chris grovelling in the pool looking for a way on, or trying to drown himself? I felt the same. The water appeared to end in a low sump so we climbed the ‘big pitch’ and sat there. In the silence we both heard what sounded like water going down a proper big pitch. So we searched round the chamber and at the far end found a letterbox sized hole at the top of a mud slope, this was where the sound was coming from. Chris set to it like a man possessed and soon he had made a hole big enough to squeeze into.

Almost immediately he said, “It’s shut down again. We’re at the top of a rift, looks like another banging job.”

I told him he was never going first again. Jonah has nothing on him. Bad luck again but after a lot of blows he said he could see down another pitch and the water was crashing along further down. We swapped places and I demolished some more flakes whilst Chris got the bolting tackle. We dropped a 10m ladder down the pitch then the big decision who goes first?
“He can’t be that unlucky?” I thought, also the pitch looked very dodgy so off he went with my blessing.

He dropped onto a ledge then a fine shaft to the bottom of a big rift, I followed.
“You’re going to like this,” he said, and we walked along the big rift emerging in a large chamber with flowstone going up some 15m.
The chamber does sump here but breaking into something like this makes all the hard work worthwhile. The chamber was named after Dougie Richardson, one of the founder members of the White Rose, who passed away on 12th December 2013 aged 94.

This tale will resonate with all diggers; elation, hard work and disappointments, but we keep going and we love it!
This cave is extremely tight in places and although the water is mainly diverted down Hagg Beck Cave it still floods in some places. Rescue would be tremendously difficult from the far end but it is still worth the challenge.

 

Diving in Hagg Beck Sink by Ian Cummins

The tortuous Grade V caving of Hagg Beck Sink is not the most tempting of diving carries and with only John available to help with the job it took 2 trips in with the gear. Unfortunately I lost a lot of air from the single 3 litre cylinder I was using for this exploratory dive when I bashed the tap as I pushed it along the gnarly crawl. The noise of the releasing gas certainly gave John a bit of a shock as he forged on ahead!

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Simon Beck at the sump. Photo by Ian Cummins.

At this point I must make note of the fact that there are only 2 people who should not complain about the dimensions of this cave. Their initials are CS and JC — they made it! On the second trip in with my semi-dry in a bag, I made the change beside the sump and got kitted up, complete with the line reel we had fashioned from bits of junk from John’s van, loaded with 30m of 5mm hawser.

I was hoping for clear water, but the pool was cloudy and my hopes of a Sleets Gill-type sump were soon dashed, finding the wall to be solid close to the entry point. A final look around the far side of the pool found me dropping down and down to about 5m depth, such that John couldn’t see my lights, although I could make out a tantalising dark continuation ahead.

Rising to check my air, I found that there was no safe margin left and I had a chilly change back into my normal wetsuit for the trip out. Again, a dry spell would be a bonus, but the potential is there for sure and I’ll be back.

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Hagg Beck Sink 11Hagg Beck Sink 10