Fun With Smoke, Lights… and A Kipper! by Phil Ryder

About time I told some more White Rose tales. My memory is not what it used to be, and I never keep logs or diaries, but as the paparazzi say don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!

So many years in the White Rose, and funny 2 names always crop up when I sift through my memories, Chris Camm and Graham Huck.

I’ve done loads of caving and especially digging with Chris, but strange everything I seem to remember about him involves falling rocks and boulders and usually Chris was on the receiving end. I wondered why Chris acquired a nervous tic when he saw me after that?

I remember Chris in Bar Pot in about 1987/8 where he was climbing the ladder on the big pitch and one of his boots fell to bits, the whole sole fell off while he was halfway up the climb. Another time while at the Buxton College Caving Conference, a precursor to Hidden Earth, I recall his tent obtaining a big skylight after an incident with a camping stove.

Graham I would describe as Loki of the caving world, he was always playing tricks on cavers. On many occasions my fellow cavers, and diggers and I have carted rocks through caves and over the fells, after he has surreptitiously hidden them in our tackle bags and SRT sacs.

To me the greatest advance in caving over the past decades has been reliable lighting. Many a time in the past half a dozen or so of us would emerge from caving trips with just 2 lights between us. It was part of the fun returning from a trip on minimum candlepower.

There was 2 main forms of lighting suitable for caving; carbide, which I hated, and Oldham Miners lamps. Oldham lamps were quite expensive, but robustly made to exacting standards to suit the rigours of coal mining. In coal mining they were tended to by skilled professionals in Lamp Rooms. Properly charged and topped up you could get 8 hours out of good light out of them on main beam. But give an Oldham lamp to a hairy arsed caver and you were asking for disaster!

When I say topped up, I mean there was a big black block on a belt on your waist full of hydrochloric acid. Not paste like modern cells but actual liquid acid. Leave your lamp on charge too long and the electrolyte (acid) would evaporate, then 2 hours into your trip your light would suddenly go out, having to rely on your caving mates for illumination from then on. (You were considered a pussy if you took spare lighting.)

The other big worry was acid leaking out of the unit onto your SRT harness. Imagine prussicking up a pitch and your sit harness disintegrates around you? The acid also loved SRT ropes.

The Oldham lamp was completed by a metre long rubber cable that attached the accumulator (waist unit) to a bulb unit that fixed to the front of your helmet.

Before Chris and Graham and others plug and feathered through a collapsed bedding plane to reach large extensions in March 1993, other ways were sought to try and extend Chapel Lodge Cave near Kilnsey.

On one occasion, I think in 1991, Graham Huck, Paul Smith and I were in Club Chamber checking out another lead. In those days Paul was nicknamed Fergus Ferret, think of an anorexic Ian Cummins and you will realise how thin he was.

Anyway Fergus was inserted down a hole head first , with a mattock (a digging implement ), at the back of Club Chamber. He was meant to dig a way on but after a blinding flash and then darkness, he informed us he had cut through his Oldham lamp cable with the mattock.

Chapel Lodge Cave 5
Phil Ryder in newly discovered Kings Head Rift, Chapel Lodge Cave, Kilnsey, May 1993.               Photo Nigel Easton

What followed was a difficult extraction as we could only get 2 metres near Fergus. Anyway mainly by his own determination and a bit of rope or tape that we lassoed round his foot, he eventually got out out of his predicament.

We smoked a packet of cigarettes between us, then spent half an hour laughing our heads off, probably from the relief of it all. My ribs were sore for several days after from the guffawing.

Sometime in the early 1990’s John Cordingley had dived the upstream sump in Providence Pot. Although the end of the sump was too tight for diver’s he rang Chris Camm and told him that if the sump was drained caver’s might be able to able to access the passage at the end.

A large party of diggers went in armed to the teeth with digging gear. Alas there was no caps or Snappers in those days, which would of made the job easier. 

After several hours we gave up the task of removing the sump by brute force – hitting rocks with a lump hammer. The sump is formed by all the rock that had fallen from the roof of the fault chamber; a scary place – frankly we all didn’t feel that safe in there. 

The Blasted Crawl used to have much more water in than there is now. Whilst I was crawling through my Oldhams lamp cable got badly caught on a protrusion, after a flicker of disco effects my light went out. Hucky was never going to miss this opportunity of my great vulnerability. So in the darkness, in the middle of The Blasted Crawl, I was hit by several tidal waves – tsunamis of muddy water that left me half drowned and coughing and spluttering.

In the Nineties the club spent a lot of time down the Lancaster – Easegill system, in fact so much that we became great navigators of the system, none more so than John Rockett, Joe Querns and Steve Henry.

I still chuckle to myself over one trip down County Pot. Victor Wain won the Tit Of The Year Trophy because he detackled the hole when 12 members of the Club were still down there. It caused quite a commotion when we arrived at the second pitch and the ladder had gone.

Luckily we had a secret weapon (or actually 2) in the Tweedles, brothers Alan and Keith Whittingham, who were built like brick shithouses. I’ve never seen such a wonky, unstable human pyramid, with the Tweedles at the bottom, 2 more rows of cavers above that, and a nimble acrobat at the top, but I forgot who.

We got out using belay belts and tapes to form a makeshift rope to haul ourselves up the two 8m. pitches, and were at the surface nearly as quick as if we had exited on the normal gear.

John and Joe used to take clay pipes on their caving trips, just like the lead miner’s of old. These pipes were used for the communal benefit of all the cavers on the club trip, filled with pipe tobacco, rolling tobacco and sometimes more exotic substances.

One time we had been to Easter Grotto from the County Pot entrance, to take some photos. On returning we had one of the several mandatory smoke breaks round about Holbeck Junction, if I remember rightly.

There were 9 or so in the party and the ‘peace pipes’ generated a considerable amount of smoke. Suddenly several irate members of the CRO appeared from the direction of Pool Sink. They were having a Rescue Practise down there but they were having problems seeing the victim on the stretcher on the pitch, due to some pilllocks filling the passage full of smoke!

After the discovery of Hagg Gill Pot in Langstrothdale by the White Rose in 1988, Phil Parker and I entered the system with the intention of smoke testing a draughting phreatic tube near Boulder Choke Aven. Chris Camm was lingering round on the surface in the general direction of where this tube was thought to be heading, in the hope of seeing smoke.

The draughting tube was about 10 metres climb in a rift above the streamway. I am a useless climber but thankfully Phil P is very competent and got me and the smoke bombs there.

Now though I’d brought 6 smoke bombs, we only needed one. The other five I put in a plastic bag about a metre away from the smoke bomb which I lit. Unfortunately the heat from the smoke bomb melted the plastic bag where the 5 spare ones were, and set them off!

Phil P and I beat a very quick exit out of the cave, we watched great billows of white smoke coming up the entrance shaft.

But there were several other members of the White Rose in the cave. Eventually we heard Olly (Alan Aldridge) and Nigel El Pres Easton at the foot of the pitch lamenting the fact that they couldn’t find the ladder or SRT rope due to the thick blanket of fumes.

Not for the first time that my name was cursed into Damnation!

In February 1993 the WRPC had a trip to Mendip. Olly and Wiz (Steven Wiseman) drove the mini-bus. I think the others were Sweeney (Gareth Sewell), Howard Clark, Nigel, Andy Cole, Fergus, Caddy (Jon Cadamerteri), Joe Querns, Chris Camm, Hucky and l.

We had some great caving trips including Swildon’s Hole, Rhino Rift and the best caving trip I’ve ever done in the UK – St. Cuthbert’s Swallet, courtesy of the Bristol Exploration Club (BEC).

We stayed at the Wessex Cave Club hut, a great place for caver’s to stay. The only problem was somebody was playing about with my caving gear stored in the changing rooms. My lamp charger was turned off, I suddenly acquired 2 left handed gloves, and a size 3 and size 10 pair of wetsocks. Obviously I blamed Hucky but he might have been innocent this time.

That night whilst he was in the kitchen, I filled his bed, under the sheets with hundreds of tacks, nails with large heads and sharps ends, that I found lying around in a bucket

After a night at the Hunters Lodge, a real caver’s pub, and sampling the delights of Butcombe’s Beer straight from the cask, we returned back to the Wessex hut. There was a bit of as rumpus upstairs but I kept well out of the way.

I heard nothing else about the incident but on returning from work over a week later I was met by the ex-wife who was in a very jumpy mood. Someone had put a piece of paper through the letterbox which was in the style of ransom notes in kidnappings in old films , letters from newspaper headlines cut out and stuck onto a blank piece of paper.

The note said SLEEPING BAG. 

I immediately went to the attic where the camping gear was kept. Opening the door at the top of the steps brought a putrid fishy odour to my nostrils. Thankfully the dormer window was open so no horrible smell got into the bedrooms.

I opened up the sleeping bag and in the middle was……’ve guessed it.

A Kipper!!!

So thanks to Chris and Graham and the rest of the Club for all the fun over so many years.

It may sound like I’m giving up but no I’m now digging with Gibbo and Hucky and life is as daft as ever.

(I surmise Chris sent the ransom type note and saved me a lot of trouble – didn’t you?)