The Christmas weekend, the last weekend of the year, had the promise of a very good two days in the Dales. And it lived up to expectations.
I arrived with the first car of SUSS cavers to a hut full of ULSA. Just after claiming a bunk, I found out that an ambulance was being called for a blackout drunk ULSA member. The first ‘broken’ thing of the weekend. Already things were getting interesting and most of SUSS weren’t there yet! As the night progressed I was requested to go on a couple of trips: taking scaff down Penyghent with Rob Wotson and George or Broken Finger Pot with Sam and Tom. Both are in the notorious black book so it was a hard decision but I chose Broken Finger as scaff is awkward. Little did I know there was a more awkward cave waiting for me the next day.
After a quick breakfast Sam Tom and I were one of the first groups to leave and were looking forward to a fun days caving. We parked up and got changed in good time and set off to find Broken Finger. I forgot my helmet and shiny new Fenix torch that I was keen to test, but luckily Jethro’s helmet was in the car so I got a Scurion upgrade. The walk to the cave was up a steep hill and we joked at how this was the hardest part of the trip, but not for long. After checking various sinkholes and almost dismissing the actual cave, we entered Broken Finger Pot.
I was the last to enter and the struggle began almost immediately, after a short clamber down into the pot I entered a tight crawl over a rift. Although this gave me more space it only really made it harder as I had to wedge myself above the crack with my shoulders and edge along we my feet. This would’ve been hard enough but as there were several pitches ahead we all had tackle sacks, and as I was least experienced mine was biggest. This made the crawl much more arduous as every time you thought you’d got to an easier section the sack would pull on you, reminding you how it likes to get wedged every few metres.
Once that struggle, described as a ‘12-15 minute crawl’ but more like 30 minutes, was over I was at the first pitch. Going down this was fine. The crawl ends abruptly with a drop into a decent size chamber. There aren’t really any good footholds over the pitch so I clipped on my cowstails and half fell onto the pitch. I met the other two at the bottom and after a couple of remarks at the awkwardness of the entrance and a breather, I followed Tom with Sam behind me into a reasonably tight rift.
I thought maybe the cave would ease up, nothing could be as awkward as the entrance, but I was wrong. The rift we had entered mostly had no floor and few footholds so I had to wedge and shimmy my way along. After going round a particularly difficult part, which I fell down at least twice, and a tight part, which I was facing the wrong way for, I reached a ‘rest’ spot, an area I could turn my head around in and kind of sit down in. Tom and I enjoyed this brief luxury while listening to Sam’s sounds of anguish as he clawed forward. Sam was suffering the effects of the night before rather more than he expected and the cave was more difficult than expected so we decided that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the end of the cave and left two of the tackle sacks in the ‘rest’ space. This did improve the experience somewhat but it was still very awkward.
We struggled on, even Tom making noises of frustration. There was an awkward corner squeeze then we were at the second pitch. This was a free climbable pitch but Tom rigged a rope just in case. Sam waited at the top as his two hours of sleep and two hours of strenuous cave had exhausted him. I followed Tom down and then waited in a sideways squeeze while he looked at the next part. It was a wet, tight crawl, which probably had the tightest part of the cave contained in it. We both wanted to go through but were already not looking forward to what we already had to go back through so we decided to turn back.
Tom’s rope proved very useful on my way out as the bottom of the climb required the wedge and shimmy method which I was not feeling up for. As the pitch was tight it still took me a while to prusik up to Sam and the squeeze. The traditional cave jelly was eaten as we waited for Tom then we headed back to the tackle sacks and had a proper break.
Once the double deckers were seen to Sam led the way back through the rift. The physical strain of holding myself above rifts for most of the trip was taking its toll and the way back was getting unpleasant. This was probably the only cave so far I’ve really wanted to teleport out of. Fortunately I had Tom behind me to help when the tackle sack got stuck. Soon Sam was into the pitch chamber though which gave me a good mental boost out of the rift. Tom quickly followed and then Sam began to head up the pitch.
While in the cave I’d forgotten how awkward getting of this pitch might be but seeing Sam struggle and fall out of the crawl was a good reminder. Tom went up to help by putting in another bolt and being a foothold and soon I was heading up. It was a struggle to get off the pitch but with Toms tips and some effort I got up into the crawl.
Again the cave had distracted me from the entrance difficulties. As I headed along the crawl the tackle sack unleashed its wedging abilities once more and the ’15 minute crawl’ passed with much moaning and grunting. The relief felt when I could taste the air was immense and laying on the wet lumpy grass just outside the cave was blissful. The moment was soon ruined by the thought of the walk back to the landy in the dark. But I was out of that cave and I was like… Eh.
We manage to find our way back and got nice and warm on our way to the hut, ready to tell the tales of this relentless cave.
A nice Christmas dinner courtesy of ULSA was had and then the night progressed, with fewer ambulances than Friday but much stranger games. My trip for Sunday was also sorted by American Mike who suggested a trip with himself, Rachael and Leo, yet another black book trip. I was assured it wouldn’t be as bad as Broken Finger and agreed to go.
On Sunday we got ready just about before midday and then headed off to Washfold pot. This cave promised to be quite wet and has a large pitch between two waterfalls which I was quite looking forward to. After putting on my wet, cold, muddy oversuit I wasn’t so sure but I soon warmed up on the way to the cave. Without too much struggle we found the cave and Leo led the way down.
The entrance was a short free climb into a streamway. We then followed the narrow streamway, which was a lot easier than the entrance the day before, there was a floor! And fortunately I was not given a tackle sack. We negotiate a short wet crawl and a short flat out squeeze before scrambling into the rift that led to the first pitch. We waited for Leo to rig then headed down. The pitch was around 30/40m and went straight through a waterfall getting us all cold and wet. There were supposed to be two but one was more a of a trickle down a wall.
At the bottom of the pitch we followed the streamway again until we reached the second pitch. Apparently this was free climbable, and Leo and Rachael did free climb, however there were two holes to descend down and one had a rope so I used that.
Once I’d got off this pitch Leo pointed out that we had reached our turn back time so Leo checked out the next crawl while Mike and Rachael came down. Then we had our cave snacks, which Mike disapproved of, and began to head back. Mike headed up the pitch first while Leo, Rachael and I endured the cold wait at the bottom. I headed up after Leo, the pitch seeming a lot longer than before. I got to the top and managed to clip my cowstails in then get my jammers off the rope, I called rope free then started struggling along the rift at the top of the pitch. While struggling to get higher in the rift so I could move along one of my wellies worked itself off my foot and I couldn’t reach it so couldn’t stop it. I tried yelling below as soon as I realised my welly had gone, but as I was saying it I heard it hit, what I presumed, was the floor. I asked Rachael if she was ok and she said yes so I went on out the rift to Mike and Leo. When Rachael reached us she reported that my welly had actually hit her while she was on the rope! I apologise again to Rachael for dropping my welly. It had landed on her helmet and thumb so painkillers were administered and we carried on out. My lack of welly only slightly making up for possibly breaking Rachael’s thumb.
The rest of the cave passed quickly and we were soon on the walk back, made more sporting by my lack of footwear. We encountered several people with lost dogs on the way back then realised it was a hunt dog that’d gone missing. I wasn’t the only person losing things.
We had all thought my foot would be frozen after doing nearly half the cave then the walk back in a holey walking sock but I found it was surprisingly ok. We packed up Pedro then headed straight back to Sheffield for a nice Christmas screening of Die Hard.
Overall this was a great weekend, the caves were interesting and ULSA were great fun in the hut (would’ve been good to get on a trip with some of them). Broken Finger Pot will definitely need a revisit with more sleep and determination. It was not an enjoyable cave, it was not nice to be in, it is a broken cave but it was a very good challenge and really made me appreciate how nice it is outside caves. I know people say this for a lot of caves but I’d happily spend a full day in any other cave without thinking about leaving, but leaving was on my mind quite a lot in Broken Finger. Washfold needs a bit more time to be fully explored, I won’t have a problem going back here. However I now know that the 50 harder caves are harder for a reason; tackle sacks are annoying; and when doing SRT caves you need wellies that fit.