To compliment the DCC Yorkshire Winch Meet I volunteered to lead an SRT trip on the Sunday for anyone who fancied it and chose to tackle Bull Pot of the Witches. The group was made up of Me Loz and Mark (Burgess) from DCC with Mark Carney (North Wales) and Lucy & Sam (sponging freeloaders). I had looked at the survey for this cave and the rigging guide and although this was billed as an SRT trip many of the reports talked about ‘free climbing’ most of the routes.
The rigging guide outlined three pitches: one short ascent into the main pot, a final short descent into the streamway at the bottom of the pot, and a short pitch between the two linking different passages. All required only short rope lengths (max 30 metres) and minimal rigging, but the route described nearly 3 km of passages so we would be in for a fun day exploring.
We changed at the Bull Farm hut and walked the short path down to the open pot. There were 2 possible ways into the system, a pitch down into the open shaft or a chimney pitch down to the same level via a short tight shaft. We split into two teams of three and Sam rigged the main pitch with Lucy and Loz; and I went with Mark B and Mark C into the chimney and mark B rigged our route in (his first attempt at rigging under ground). When we all met up in the bottom of the pot Sam headed down to rig the second pitch and the rest of us regrouped to explore ‘chamber 32’ which was through a low crawl off from the bottom of the chimney route in.
The crawl led through to an impressive chamber that according to the route guide linked through to the rest of the cave by descending through a dangerous loose choke so we explored around the chamber and looked at the possible options for a descent but then headed back to the bottom of the open pitch to get our bearings. This was to be the theme of the day – squirreling off down a labyrinth of passages exploring a variety of route options and trying to squeeze through as many tight spots as possible.
We shouted down to Sam that we were heading off to explore around Robert’s passage so once he rigged the second pitch he returned back to the top and followed us as we explored the different options. The two Marks headed down to a very tight section near where we thought the Gour pools should be and Me and Loz headed in the opposite direction until we came to a junction. I went left and Loz went right and after squirming through a short section I found the base of the second pitch. The rest of the group joined us and we all then headed of down the route Loz had taken to find many more chambers and passages leading to a final aven with an in situ rope.
I ascended the rope and followed a short passage to a loose choke ascent and decided to head back to the rest of the group as this was not a very safe option. We split into two again and Sam, Lucy and Mark B headed to the foot of the second pitch whilst I went back to the base of the open pot with Mark C and Loz to collect our gear. We then headed down the ropes of the second pitch to meet up with the others who were already by now in the bottom of the stream passage having rigged the third pitch, and were exploring the wet and wetter options of heading to the terminal sump (unless you have diving equipment of course) or a restricted airspace crawl to another sump.
Whilst I was waiting for Sam and Mark B to explore the options I noticed a possible option of a route through into a higher passage that was dry and appeared to follow the same orientation as the lower streamway. The dry option was selected as the next area to explore and once we were all in the passage we again split into two and headed off to explore in opposite directions with a cut off time to return and tell the others what each group had found. I went with Lucy and Loz up the slightly angled slope until things got a bit too tight and then we explored a hole in the ground with a tantalising sling and etrier hanging from a bolt above it. I tried to descend it gracefully but was caught up with all my SRT kit on and we then headed back to the others. We then swapped directions and Loz decided to go with the others to see if one of them could get down to explore the other passage we had found. Lucy and I headed down to the other end of the passage and we were disappointed as the ‘burger van’ that Sam had said he had seen must have just gone!
Sam, Mark B and Loz descended through the hole into the lower passage and had a good look around but time was not on our side so we all headed back up using the ropes to the bottom of the open pot where we decided to have a last attempt at finding the gour pools. We looked all over but we couldn’t find the right passage through even with mark stripped down of his SRT kit we couldn’t find the chamber. Although mark said that he did get into a very tight ascending tube that appeared to open into a larger chamber as he could here his voice echoing but he decided that it was too tight and so he sacked it.
We ascended out of the pot and de rigged the ropes with Mark B demonstrating how hard it is to ascend ropes using a croll without a chest harness (a victim of his final attempt in the last squeeze). We were met as we were regrouping at the top of the pot by Brendan and Mike who said that they were surprised to find our cars still at the hut when they had got back from their trip.
This was a great trip, and one of my personal favourites with DCC, as none of us had been in the system before and so we all contributed equally to the route finding and exploring. It definitely felt like we were exploring a cave and this trip has certainly raised more questions than answers. Loz and Mark B have already expressed a wish to return with the aim of spending longer underground to get to the bottom of this pot, and to possibly recover Marks chest harness!
BPOTW, we’ll be back!
Trip Report: Andy Kempster
Present: Mark Burgess, Loz Appleby, Mark Carney, Lucy Kempster, Sam Owen and Andy Kempster.