Although, documented by Alex and myself elsewhere our trip that following evening must surely have been a record breaker in terms of us reaching the end of Mossdale and back in-between 'Home and Away' and 'Eastenders'...
The inlet leading to Straw Chamber
I photographed the main thorough-fare of Langstroth Pot quite extensively during a thru-trip earlier in the year so today I focused primarily on the Inlet and Straw Chamber..
Although pretty, calcite formations have never been something I felt compelled to photograph. Attempts nonetheless have usually been met with dissatisfaction in capturing their true essence. I prefer to capture sculpted rock and passage profiles, the aesthetics of which I've always been greatly drawn to.
Good photographs can come at a cost. Especially to the flow of a caving trip and I view photography as anathema the moment it begins to impede in this way.
But saying that, bad photographs leave only sore ribs where the camera was stuffed in my suit.
With minimal gear and no obligation to photograph till I reached my destination I made very quick progress to the head of the 6th pitch and the foot of the inlet. There are few places to stash things in this area and anything not tied down would be gone should levels rise. Even during average conditions this area can be a noisy and intimidating place. The pull thru was ready rigged for my return and anything not joining me for the inlet was clipped to the rope. My mask and dive belt hanging at the forefront of the fault made a good still image in itself.
The opening vertical segment of the inlet is a delightful spray-lashed solo above a pool with a sporting exit atop. Upstream quickly becomes squalid and the surroundings fragile. Hidden calcite treasures are in abundance. Clumsy thoughtless caving is not welcomed here and enough of a reason why Hole in the Floor is probably better left closed. Prior to the discovery of that entrance only two entry points were available; either by diving in from the bottom or in via the top entrance. Both kept all but those deserving at a safe distance.
Some months earlier I'd heard someone else was planning to (re)visit and photograph one of the larger and possibly extinct straws local to this inlet. The fact they wanted to use Hole-in-the-Floor to aid easier access hadn't sat at all well with me at the time. Aside from the fact that entrance was blocked again and would have needed reopening I also see it as a massive cop-out (to put it politely). I made an offer to help which would avoid this - by leaving the final two pitches rigged for them so they could dive in at the bottom and ascend to the inlet. My offer was never taken up, but still stands.
Straw Chamber was silent. A dropped pin would be heard. With little to distract, you can become lost in the detail of taking pictures underground. Occasionally you become self conscious, aware of your solitude and sometimes paranoid your immediate environment is reacting to your presence. Such sensations are best ignored. I forced myself a long time ago to become very good at dealing with them. Way back, when Ian Curtis and Co were the best method of dealing with the shadows of the dead.
My return to the main stream way was met with the feeling I'd been gone far longer. The sound of falling water offered me a sudden relief, a feeling of accompaniment after that period of desolation.
One of my favoured segments of Langstroth Pot is that which lay between the final two pitches. There is a satisfaction that comes from experiencing a remoteness that was once felt with out the need to return the way you once came. This is in reference to how remote that place felt before I'd freedived the sumps and completed my first through trip. Although I've traversed Langstroth Pot maybe twenty times since that first through trip I haven't undertaken a return trip since. I suggested to Ian during this period that we should re-visit Goat Inlet and return with some photos - possibly the first of that passage. Although I was unsure when we'd actually get round to it I decided I would leave the final pitch rigged.
I captured another photo of me stood in the sump pool, something I'd already done earlier in the year, but didn't feel it really captured the experience.Even with high ambient temperatures the water in the sump pool is always very cold.With no rope to drag through the sumps behind me, I was safely through them moments later. One moment you are totally alone in some remote part of the subterranean dales and the next you are stood in the queue at Tesco. Who would believe you?
When I left the final pitch rigged I hadn't predicted I'd be back with Ian so soon. It was about ten days later.
Armed with a cylinder apiece and basic ascension gear we made short work of our nostalgic return.
Goat Inlet lies between the final two pitches and is a short awkward dive (6m) to a splendid 50 metre length of passage that ends in a further sump. This is another little gem that's fortunately protected by a sump and as far as I am aware as only been visited by a small handful of us.
All diving grace goes out of the window with this one. Aided by a little gravity and some groveling in the murky water you are eventually ejected into open water and an unusually large sump pool, especially considering the outlet you've just passed through.
I captured a cracking shot of Ian as I arrived in 2nd place. I'd not wiped the lense at that point so the base of the photo is smeared, although that imperfection alone beautifully captures the moment.
We'd visited this place twice previously. Both were closely spaced around 2008/09. Ian dived the upstream sump to a previously discovered airbell on the 2nd of those occasions. We had no plans to dive further today though and left our kit waiting while we headed off upstream.
The photography bit was a struggle, especially with steaming neoprene contaminating the visibility. It wasn't until the return downstream leg that I had any success. Even without the photos to take home I think Ian would agree it was great just to be back there again. The return dive has always been the high point of that particular venture. The sump pool is crossed and descended, followed by a short highly enjoyable piece of underwater caving.
The spaces we choose to occupy.........
© Simon Beck, 2017. The copyright for this article and photographs remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.
The dive back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A40ry4amg9E