Monday, 16 March 2015

Southerscales Pot through trip: The Logistics of Caving with Diving

Originally posted on October 2012. All I have to say about this piece is; it still does a great job of reminding me how good a day that was. The period that followed this day was another one of those significant junctures in my life, where with hindsight I appeared to have made the wrong decision. Fortunately things did eventually come right and I have recently managed to redeem the foolish decision I made some weeks after this.

Southerscales Pot through trip: The Logistics of Caving with Diving
Through trips are great, in at the top out at the bottom or vice versus, there's no anti-climatic dead end, the need to de-rig or re-cover ground. Okay caves do generally present a different picture when in reverse, but I like the way a through trip flows, both physically and emotionally. I especially like those that involve a dive, either free or with diving gear, the latter then presents a fun logistical challenge that adds to the satisfaction gained.
While Sunday was still in the planning stages, a number of trips were thrown into the fore. But last minute I suggested the Southerscales pull thru, a coveted trip of ours for a number of years.
We had both dived into Southerscales Pot via the inlet sump from Great Douk Cave, having laid a new line in 2009. We had also both done the Southerscales Pot return trip at different times (mine had been with F-Hartley in 07, the day after spending a clandestine night in one of Weardales finest caves). But neither of us had done it with a one way ticket.
The plan for today was to dive into Southerscales from Great douk with two diving cylinders apiece, disposit one on the other side, dive back out on the other, then head up to and descend Southerscales Pot. Once the diving gear and Downstream Sump were reached we would dive back out again thus completing the through trip. The weather on this Sunday was perfect for our intended trip, albeit apart from the torrential rain of weeks prior I'm sure we'd have still done it regardless of what the sky chucked at us.
Now, in a just and perfect world I would have brought my two featherweight aluminium pony cylinders for the dive, but being of the poor white trash variety (I wasn't always) I lack the funds to kit myself out for all situations, plus I no longer have a buddy that runs a dive shop, with a mountain of gear to lend. So with my two steel 7 litre cylinders and an hour before the other member of the 'expedition' turned up, I set off to ferry the majority of my load to the Southerscales inlet in Great Douk Cave.

For some unknown reason I have always gained massive satisfaction from carrying diving gear underground (preferably my own, that is). It may be due to the protracted nature of the experience or the fact it's hard work that doesn't have a price tag or a boss to answer to.  Once a rhythm and pace is gained one can just switch off and revel in the disconnected hardship. Switching off is good as long as safety and vigilance is maintained. Once while returning by myself, from an upstream Rowten Pot dive a few years ago and while in the Valley Entrance boulder alley section, I tripped and became airborne, the two 7 litre cylinders attached to opposite shoulders (via slings) caught me a moment later and joined me in a noisy pile on the boulder floor. The Cylinders were almost empty, but I still can't remember shitting myself quite like that before!.
Ian had arrived when I returned for my frugal 2nd load, so with one of his 5 litres among my load we set off.
I've not been long back at the diving, but kitting up has begun to feel like 2nd nature again. Ian dived 1st followed a few minutes later by myself. Visibility was good enough, i saw a rock or two I think, hard to tell sometimes whether visibility is actually something touched or felt and not seen.
After stashing a Cylinder and regulator apiece Ian set off back through the sump followed moments later by me. It is on the downstream leg that the sump feels less spacious and more cluttered, I got lightly jammed a couple of times and had to pull myself through.
 Back in 2009 the 1st time I dived here and when we laid that initial temporary line through, we had intended on having a look up west inlet. The weather topside was atrocious on that march day and after arriving in the region of zoology pot, water levels began to rise. It seemed wise to retreat, so we played 'scissor paper stone' in order to decide whether to leave or not. One person had to pretend they wanted to leave so the game would work, even though neither of us did. Anyway on returning to the swirling rising sump pool and after my partner had dived back, I followed suit. The visibility was really crap, pointless to even open ones eyes. Almost immediately I got stuck and had to reverse then got jammed again, 'I still clearly remember looking at the dive line in one hand and the solid blank wall ahead of me and wondering what was going on'. Caving underwater it truly was and I was relieved and exhilarated on reaching the safe side and pleased I'd kept my cool during the crisis.

Getting back to this Sunday and after re-grouping at Great Douk we headed up the hill to the Southerscales Pot entrance. Even with the majestic postcard Ingleborough rearing over us, I still couldn't wait to get back underground again. The entrance to Southerscales pot is really quite inviting, being dark and gloomy, wet, gritty and flat out almost immediately. The section just prior to the 1st pitch is nice as is the pitch and chamber below. A bomber natural spike was chosen for the anchor. On reaching the base of the pitch and instead of pulling the rope through Ian just flicked the sling off.
Getting the majority of this cave behind you is always quite liberating. Especially when you're knackered and really suffering after the hard week at work you've had. I had my dive harness, weights and fins with me throughout (the fins just to make life hard for myself). For the most part millipede crawl is comfortable hands and knees crawling, but does it go on, on and on and on. It's even better when you know  the sound of falling water will herald the end, but that gradual rubble never seems to arrive.
I'd dismissed to Ian the chance of finding a natural anywhere near zoology pot. But Ian as ever proved me wrong by finding another text book anchor, you could only just hang your coat on. The sling may have been retrieved a 2nd time also.
The intention this time round and due to it flooding the last time we were here was to go for a root up west inlet. But time was ticking and Ian's tummy was rumbling, as was mine. Plus neither of us could wait for the dive out.
Five Minutes of waterlogged Phreatic bedding related stuff then brings one to the 6 metre water slide. Although I agree with the person here (past thread), who once said the feature was a disappointment, I still think it's a lovely feature.
I wasn't relieved when we reached the sump pool only to find our gear hadn't been nicked, why would it be.. But the thought of it, and what we'd do, had provided mental stimuli while dealing with the monotony of millipede.
It was while kitting up, to my flickering 7 year old petzl duo, among the running shingle, the sound of falling water, dark mud covered walls and the frothy sump pool, that I shared a smile with myself, so glad to be back doing this again. The dive out with the end of our 8mm SRT rope in one hand was a joy. The good visibility allowed me to see the area I'd had my brief debacle back in 2009. Best to stick to the right where it's nice and open. The SRT rope pulled through nicely and Ian followed minutes later.
I was in a dreamy daze during the de-kit phase, neither here nor there, the short laborious carry back to the cars loomed and then I made the mistake of thinking about the chippy in settle. That thought alone ensured the carry back was miserable, but still enjoyable, if you know what I mean.

© Simon Beck, 2012. The copyright for this article remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.     

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