It has been over half a decade since either Chris or I had been down all the pitches down in darkest Pen y Ghent (forever I’ll go down!) and since we had both separately been mulling over a return to the most infamous of the 3 Deeps, it was always on the cards.
I casually mentioned in the pub last Thursday that I was going up north for the GG weekend – not that I had any intention of going to GG. Helen took me up on the offer of a lift. My packing was particularly bad – forgetting my change of clothes, towel, toothbrush etc, not to mention any rope. I also had to borrow a sleeping bag from Helen. Not a great start.
The drive up was long (with me getting a little lost around Leeds owing to me missing exits, the reason we ended up in the West Yorkshire Metropolis in the first place. We set off at about 8 and stopped briefly for a few purchases. Helen was in charge of the car radio but as usual there was nothing on (We listened to ‘Any Questions’ first and then searched tirelessly for hours for music that wasn’t terrible or classical. Not much luck there. We got to the hut to find Leeds insitu with a couple of BEC drinking away and so we joined them. A short while later Lil Chris arrived with Tam (not a ferret) and Mimi (a ferret). The rodent had been lost for 3 weeks and had come back to the BPC looking for its owner. It was fed by the inhabitants – I’m not entirely sure bread is good for them…
Playfoot was presented with some gifts of the Steel City, namely a bottle of Henderson’s and two bottles of Ale. He lifted his jumper to reveal a ‘Strong & Northern’ t-shirt. SUSS to the core. As the night dragged on much was discussed, including the allegations of Chris Playboy rather than foot. He gave nothing away… or did he? Nudge nudge wink wink etc. We got to bed at 2ish and were rudely awoken by the sun at about 6, the light irritating our futile lazying for the next 3 hours. I got out of my sleeping bag to the waft of my own body odour and went to cook Breakfast. We (Chris, Tam, Helen and I) faffed a lot and left the BPC at about half 11.
It was a beautiful day, (don’t let it get away), and I broiled in my broiler suit. Yes, that’s right, Boiler Suit. No Cordura here, this is a local overall for local people – i.e. perfect for slate mine exploration in North Wales. My other great kit insufficiency was a lack of Kneepads, though it must be said I had some 3mm Neoprene Kneepad underlay. My God they’re crap. I also hadn’t even a wetsock and so seemed doomed to be thermally challenged, however I was certain that my insulating revision fat would overcome the cold.
We descended into the scaffold pot and I took my harness off to squeeze through the hole, slightly embarrassed. I bathed myself in some buttock clenchingly cold water and then I set off crawling. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I found Helen squeezing through some random hole and informed her of the way on. I subsequently let her pass as my progress was slow. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Then the mud gave way to gravel. There aren’t enough adjectives of hate (great Album Title) to convey my distaste. I continued. F@#%. B@$#&£%. F@#%. My small kneecaps aside, the bitter pain made for slow progress and so for a large unnecessary section I ‘side armed and dragged’. By this I mean; laying on one side with the arm on the lower side of the body dragging you along. F@#%. B@$#&£%. [Many expletives I should try to ‘disguise write’]. This gave way to a flat out crawl and I was bathed in what I can only describe as ‘cold’. The waterfall at the following pitch head didn’t do much to alleviate matters.
I caught up with Chris & Co. and we set off thankful in the knowledge that I hadn’t drowned. I remembered little of the cave and all the pitches merge into one – small awkward affairs that are almost free climeable (and often are). In fact we missed the last pitch entirely and caved down the streamway to the sump. That was awkward on the way out – it’s not nice like P8, there aren’t footholds everywhere, and the larger person can’t swing their femurs around to take advantage of their height – they end up restricted by it again. Anyway, I served as a stemple several time for Helen and derigged the bottom pitches (mostly pulling a rope up). Tam did most of the proper derigging.
Prussiking over I was wary of getting cold again. The descent had been pretty cold, and although most of the ascent was almost warm the entrance crawl worried me. I went on ahead as Tam had some trouble derigging, and this time everything was a bit faster. Ingeniously I rolled up my trousers, trapped them with the underlay to make functional kneepads and set off at a slow but steady pace. I could feel the cramps were coming as my muscles got colder and colder and progress slower and slower. The bit I ‘bathed’ in right at the beginning was where I got full on cramp in both legs and meant no movement for 10 minutes or so. Just like another trip I did. 2nd report I ever wrote, bless.
Eventually I got out. The sun was shining in the sky, (there ain’t a cloud in sight) and we waited for the full team to emerge. Walking down the hill in the summer wind (is blowin’ in) was a perfect end to the day. Pen y Ghent impressed upon me that if it was wet, it would just kill you. If it was combative in the dry I wouldn’t want to see it in the deep mid winter (long, long ago). That’s enough for now, tune in next time to see what safety risk Rostam becomes owing to a lack of suitable kit.