Driftwood: Series 2 by Steve Woods

Fossil Pot: Steve Woods & Mick Ellerton (14 Jan 2019).

With thanks and a whole list of exciting nuggets of information courtesy of Hucky and Woody and with the Upstream Sump on hold I was keen to visit The Driftwood Series and investigate.

Earlier trips had led to nothing. The first of these in a sump with less water than before, and feeling a draught, I’d decided to attempt to stand up. Then look up. Above I’d spotted a new unsurveyed Aven directly overhead. A free climb attempt immediately followed first by me, then by Andy Chapman, then by me again. Thrutching as best as I could with nothing for my feet, arms firmly wedged by my side in the now body-sized tube I reached a second corner but was unable to progress any further.

On the second weeks later I’d set my sights instead on the Aven closest to the surveyed entrance which sported a tatty old rope as the most likely way in, (the aforementioned informants unable to remember this key detail). With drill, climbing rope and etrier in tow, Andy secured our way up. The mud in Fossil main stream way is considerable. It’s origins were now clearly apparent. Several feet thick on all the walls everything was quickly covered.

A third return trip, this time just in front of a Craven Club Meet, gained more height but we could make no further progress. Wondering where it might lead we retreated without our prize. Everything promised to me no nearer in sight.

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Me in the second Aven (Photo c/o CPC Club-trippers)

So again I went back to find the illusive entrance, this time with Mick Ellerton; revisiting both previous Avens. Mick finally gained the top of the second finding it largely choked with mud a tiny inlet leading off. Then focusing attention on the first found me re-reaching my previous point again; Mick getting no further. I wasn’t coming back for thirds, so determined I reattempted the climb making it past the corner by standing on the shoulders of Mick, now wedged in the chimney below me. Beyond lay a chamber but access would require capping. Back at the bottom both of us now well and truly frazzled, we made a longer than usual way out.

The search continues.. Mick about to return to Aven 2.

Time passed and life happened. Both of us busy. Time and trips were hard to find but this one had us both determined. So with two possibles now exhausted we were back at Fossil with two more prospects in our sights. The first directly above the sump entrance looked promising but proved awkward to access. Following several attempts using a newly patented ‘spade grappling-hook belay’ device we gain access to the chamber I’d spotted on our previous visit; the top of the first Aven I’d free-climbed. No Driftwood Series!

Next option. This one, in the roof of the chamber and by far the highest, sported a dodgy old ladder. Bolting again proved difficult. Several through-bolts failed. Time passed as both of us separately played out mental ladder climbing scenarios with varying cast. But then back to the present and with a little help from the cave gods Mick was up. A new rope installed. I followed.

What followed bared no relation to the survey or the descriptions from my informants. Were we where they’d gone before? Were we in the right place? Were we somewhere entirely different? The same huge amount of mud greeted us and with it no sign of foot prints or confusingly anyone there before us.

Passing a tiny draughting rift on the right we continued forward along the passage before us. Walking over blocks a small stream was visible below. This finds its way down the walls into the edge of the sump below. Our stream passage with boulder floor was followed for a distance. It was trending in the opposite direction and back downstream, not up. Not the surveyed passage? Not the Driftwood Series?

Reaching much larger blocks and a climb up we entered a chamber and the bottom of a magnificent Aven. Looking far up small inlets could be spotted very similar to those that allow access to the stream way itself via the 40ft pitch on the way in. The development above no doubt sharing other similarities to the development in the entrance series.

From the chamber below the Aven three ways-on were spotted and all immediately explored. The first the source of the stream proved tight and awkward. This developing into a waist deep stream-way too narrow to follow further. The second, a short phreatic tube, with flowstone walls quickly ended in a sizeable boulder choke.

Entering the final lead we followed a rift passage which gradually gained height. This trended towards and then, opening up in sections below us, was clearly above the passage we’d followed on the way in. Climbing over a pit the passage suddenly stopped at a point no doubt above the roof of the chamber next to the sump we’d entered from far below. In front no way on. A massive choke above.

Returning to the pit Mick climbed down but found the chamber below similarly offering no way on beyond a small rift leading possibly to the one we’d spotted on our way in at the top of the climb up from the newly rigged pitch below.

Following a snug and very awkward exit Mick rejoined me and we made our way out promising to return and survey what we’d found.

Pleased as punch but now well approaching midnight we gambled on the Forresters being open to reward us for our efforts. Sure enough it was and sat by the fire, grinning like Cheshire cats supping our drinks, two very pleased cavers sat surrounded by the usuals of Grassington reminiscing on fun just shared and plans for more to follow.

Pics by Steve Woods.