Hard Yards in Redmire by Ian Cummins

Redmire Pot: Ian Cummins, Beth Cummins (Spring 2017).

Compared with the well-travelled caves of other areas, those of Wharfedale may as well be on the dark side of the moon and Redmire Pot on a distant planet.

It’s 10 years since I got my hands on a volume of Northern Caves 1, when I eagerly absorbed details of familiar names such as Langstroth, Strans Gill, Mossdale and Langcliffe.  Another unfamiliar name caught my attention – Redmire Pot – a linear Grade V cave encompassing crawls, pitches and sumps in an alluring through-trip.  Back then diving trips were beyond my compass, but with time, skills and experience grew and combined with a mysterious desire to visit this cave that had achieved levels bordering upon an obsession.  I can’t explain where these desires come from, but I have felt them before in relation to caves and climbs, with their completion giving me such satisfaction that the effort has always been worthwhile.

Remarkably, Redmire Pot was explored way back in the late ‘70s when I was a schoolboy, by the brilliant pair of CUCC cave divers, Rob Shackleton and Julian Griffiths, who by their own admission took a lot of risks in their early diving careers, but forged some impressive achievements.  It is worth noting that these lads in their youthful prime never completed the trip from Redmire to Birks Wood, preferring to explore and survey the system from both ends and the cave has been almost totally ignored since then, with the latest Sump Index even commenting that the through trip ‘is a possibility, but would be very strenuous and serious’.  This is from guys who are normally very reserved in their comments.  You have been warned!

The excellent CUCC Journal reports became regular reads for me over the years as I hoped to glean crumbs of knowledge that might serve me well in the future, with the initial obstacle of the short, but constricted, Sump 1 particularly grabbing my attention.  It was obvious that Shackleton and Griffiths had done their diving on single-cylinder systems, unlike the back-ups one normally uses and I wondered whether this had been due to youthful recklessness, impecuniousness or necessity due to the size of the sump.  Whatever the reason and combined with the problem of carting diving gear through very tight crawls, I determined to dive on 1 small cylinder at first to check the lie of the land.

First things first though – find the cave!  Steve Warren is a friend of the landowner and secured me permission, so on a very wet winter’s day I slithered up the track from Redmire Farm in search of the entrance.  A few minutes of wandering around brought a small shakehole to my attention and the tiny black hole at its back emitted a rumble from the water pounding below – success!

The small entrance.

The dry spell in April injected some urgency to my plan and phase 1 was to clear the entrance and get to the first pitch.  Trying to get in head-first was impossible due to accumulation of rubble, so it was feet-first and a kick and wriggle approach that got me very nicely wedged.  Some large rocks were prised free and pushed out of the entrance, but in a ‘Labour of Hercules’ scenario, they persisted in rolling back in and clonking me on my head.  A few feet further in and there was sufficient space to pull more muck and rock in and pile it on the small ledges on both sides of this rugged, black rock section.  A further backwards crawl and my feet were dangling in space.  I was expecting a 10-foot climb, but had no idea of its difficulty – a knobbly left handhold, a bit of bridging and I was down into a standing chamber with small roof inlets.  Beyond was a nasty keyhole passage in rugged black limestone that offered no obvious route – in the water or in the top section – maybe both?  This was passed with some difficulty to a slight enlargement where I could sit up to survey an even tighter section of crawling – eek!  I attempted to squeeze down to the water level and promptly got stuck.  After contemplating the fact that my call-out was some 6 hours distant, with maybe 2 or 3 hours before someone might even manage to pull me out, I managed to wriggle back and head out, resolving to return with some back-up.

A couple of weeks later and Simon came along to help me descend the first pitch and check if the line was present in the sump.  Arriving at my previous high (low?) point, I elected to take the higher level and after a few arduous minutes was at the narrow passage at the head of pitch 1.  This sported no anchors other than an ancient steel bar wedged in the base of the stream and with the sharp rock threatening to chew my puny 8mm rope, so the tackle bag was wedged in a crack to provide a rope protector.  A squeeze down brought a pleasant surprise – lots of space and fluted grey walls with a slight spray from the cascading stream, as the cave entered the fine grey rock of the Great Limestone.

pitch 1
Pitch 1 rigged from the old bar and a rock spike.

Cascades at the base were enjoyed and after another brief wet crawl, a larger, dry section was encountered, followed by a short duck and then the sump, which thankfully sported a 7mm hawser anchored to a large flake.  Satisfied, we made our exit and I resolved to return asap to dive, aiming to learn the sump to enable me to carry ropes and bolting gear through it to make the subsequent pitches safe, not wishing to trust the state of the 40-year-old single spits that were apparently placed for ladders.

As it turned out, Simon was busy with other stuff, but a super evening trip into Nent with Adele let me recover more ropes to take into Redmire and my trusty daughter Beth was recruited to help carry the dive kit.  Despite her not having caved for 4 years, I had no worries about Beth – she is the coolest caver I know and made for the job.

Digging out my original tiny semi-dry for Beth to wear, Adele again came to the rescue sourcing tiny new wellies and loaning her ‘bright as the sun’ lighting system.  Sunday morning came and Beth arrived early, having to be home at 6:30 for a friend’s engagement party – she had saved a bit of time by already wearing the dive suit that I suggested she unzip and peel down for the drive!

Parking up in Buckden, touroids were about in force and one old chap with 2 sticks, booming Old-Etonian voice, an odd hat and baggy shorts was entranced by Beth’s attire.

Old guy – ‘are you potholing?’

Beth – ‘yes’

‘Who with?’

‘Just my dad’.

‘Gosh you have a very young-looking dad!  (dashes off to his wife)  ‘Emma – potholers – they’re absolutely bats!’

We cracked up and wearing far too much tight rubber, combined with weights, ropes, cylinder etc. etc., began the slog up the hill.  A drink of Lucozade and a ‘before’ picture of Beth, then on with the fight.

Beth Redmire3s
Beth before the trip with our 2 big bags and more.

I managed to get stuck in the same place as my first visit – Beth pulled me out, I dropped my helmet and struggled to retrieve it.  I could see Beth having doubts, but I assured her we had done the worst, having taken an hour to pass 40 feet with the 2 big bags, on a section we called ‘Traverse of the Bastards’ with a nod to Game of Thrones.  The pitch was rigged and Beth descended faultlessly before I lowered the dive kit and joined her.

Beth Redmire1s
Beth waiting in the comfy spot before the duck and sump.

Beth waited in the dry section before the duck as I surveyed the sump, wondering if I had time to investigate it.  Putting on my hood, Beth said ‘with your face squashed up you look like Jamie Oliver!’  I put on my new mask and went through the duck underwater to test it, whereupon a quick view of the sump made me want to get on with it.  I returned to Beth ‘I feel good – I’m going to have a quick look’.  Beth helped me kit up and I noticed I had left my necklace hose clip back at the pitch – sod it, I’ll just bite hard and be careful not to lose my mouthpiece.

At the duck.
Checking the sump.

Diving in, any clarity was soon lost and the murky grope began, slowly passing sharp roof pendants and wriggling between 2 ribs, passing a tied-off weight, when I began to ascend a steep gravel slope.  Great, I thought – through!  But no – instead of breaking surface my head clonked on the roof and the line vanished into a wall of sand.  A quick scrabble yielded a cloud of muck and no way through – with only 1 reg. and a small cylinder I quickly decided to reverse, managing to curl up and invert – back the tied line, no vis. – which one is out, which is down – this one, OK, now stuck – reach back unhook the line from my tap and continue.  Soon out and a shout to Beth through the duck.  A quick de-kit and the gear was placed onto a dry ledge.  It turned out that while I was underwater, Beth spent her time watching the antics of a weird white larva in the bottom of the stream and she was keen to show me her find.

We exited smoothly to the welcome daylight, enjoying the walk down the hill, followed by a swim in the Wharfe and refreshments by the car.  We didn’t have any time for the pub, but we were both satisfied by the achievements of the day, with me being a very proud dad.

Me Red 1s
Me tired afterwards.
Beth Redmire2s
Beth cheerful afterwards.

This is going to be a long project, but it isn’t possible without the help of some super people – thanks!

Pics. by IC, BC and Simon Beck.