Ease Gill Explorations 2019
When to start this article? A question I have pondered hard, when did my fascination with this amazing system begin? Was it 20+ years ago when I first entered the Ease Gill system? The first time I descended into the vastness of Fall Pot? Or the first through trip? It's hard to say. But at some point, a fascination morphed from general caving into active exploration, for the sake of this article we will use the beginning of 2019, when a successful Boxhead through trip ignited a spark which got an already enthusiastic SH and AS truly revved up.
I started Caving regularly with Aaron Smith (AS) during 2018 and over the course of several trips we discussed a long-held dream of mine to conclude a truly epic trip through the countries longest system.
Slowly an interest in the main downstream sump, an area often visited but never dived, niggled at the back of my mind. A rarely dived sump, due in no small part to the logistics of the carry, this magnificent pool is the termination of normal caving in the Lancaster system. After much cajoling and arm twisting, Aaron and I eventually started "The Lancaster Main Drain Sump project".
Simon Halliday May 2019
A Brief History of diving in the main downstream sump
The first recorded dive in Lancaster main drain was 29/3/1964 at approximately 3pm. 55 years before this project kicked off. Unfortunately, this first foray into the sump ended in disaster. J Boon dived first using a base fed line, on exiting the water, A Clegg who had been acting as support diver, a common practice then, declined to dive. When the rest of the team tried to retrieve the line, it became snagged and A Clegg entered the water in order to free it. Exactly what caused the unfortunate accident is not 100% clear, probably a combination of a number of things. However what is clear is that he was diving a twin hose Siebe Gorman Mistral valve. (Coincidently the style of valve I learned to dive on) This type of valve is wholly unsuitable for cave diving and after the subsequent investigation that was the conclusion of the CDG committee. This style of valve was then rightly banned from use by the CDG, who also made several other suggested alterations to early cave diving practices.
CDG Newsletter No2
J Southworth dived in Lancaster but in West Montague Passage.
CDG Newsletter No 4
18/8/73 A Latham. Dived the main downstream sump, a disappointing dive, although he noted the bedding he didn’t enter to any significant extent, If only he’d known!! That’s caving.
CDG Newsletter No 29
Further diving but not in the main drain.
CDG Newsletter No 30
More diving in Lancaster but again not in the main drain.
CDG Newsletter No 36, 37
CDG Newsletter No 50
Waterfall passage downstream, this sump although too tight to make any meaningful progress is almost certain to enter the main downstream sump.
CDG Newsletter No 52, 53
Again, no diving in the main drain
CDG Newsletter No 60, 63
CDG Newsletter No 71
J Cordingley, R Carter
The beginning of modern exploration, JNC and RC entered sump and soon found and entered the bedding on the true right of the sump. They found the going relatively easy and made good progress. The first time decompression required in this sump. They also reached the limits of wetsuit diving.
J Cordingley making deep progress in the metro.
R Carter turn to make head way. Deco becoming noticeably longer
CDG Newsletter No 92, 93
RC struggling with support ended up diving in a wetsuit and with small 50cuft tanks, conducting survey work,
CDG Newsletter No 98
No diving in main drain
CDG Newsletter No 99
JNC made a couple of dives early 92. Pushing to 585m
RC having an epic in June, reminding us why we check equipment before heading too far from home!!
CDG Newsletter No 103, 105
RC again, line issues meant that 1/3’s reached by end of the line. And unfortunately, no progress possible.
CDG Newsletter No 113
A new millennium. JNC again pushes the main drain, this time making forward progress and laying a further 80m of line, then as seems to be the case all too often rain stops play!
CDG Newsletter No 137
Wilf Taylors gets a look in but no diving in the main drain.
CDG Newsletter No 162
P Devlin completes the through trip to Bull Pot of the witches from Wilf Taylors Passage.
CDG Newsletter No 164
T Seddon picks up the mantle and the first time a rebreather is used in the sump. Over a couple of dives Tony extends the line to 745m
CDG Newsletter No 176
Wilf Taylors get another look.
CDG Newsletter No 179
Skittle Alley get a further dive.
CDG Newsletter No 184
T Seddon returns to the Main Drain and lays a further 90m of line. The passage is beginning to change character and Tony encounters an obstruction at 810m from base, in somewhat reduced visibility a prudent diver turns and heads for home.
CDG Newsletter No 186
Cowan Bridge Significance
Anyone reading the following reports will undoubtedly note that Cowan Bridge has been mentioned numerous times. This small village lies on the main A65 trunk road and is an easily accessible point to view water conditions.
It was after advice from JNC that SH started stopping here, there’s a convenient layby, to get a feeling for the water conditions within the Ease Gill complex. Over the course of this project after many visits, it is perhaps not surprising that this is beginning to come to fruition.
The following images show this quite clearly, the contrast in water quality is clearly visible, and an idea of how this sump reacts to rain is gained.
Image from 1st April 2019 during a dry period, unfortunately also when we were still prepping for diving.
Image from 11th May 2019. Date of the first big dive.
Image from 10th June 2019 after a period of wet weather.
Major sumps and connections of Leck Fell © Cave Diving Group.
The above image, reproduced with kind permission from the CDG sump index, gives an idea of the complexity of the drainage systems on Leck and Casterton fell. (the larger scale map below giving an overview of the area).
Whilst the physical connection is still to be made the importance of this sump is clear. The time the sump takes to clear after a loss of vis is also indicative of the size of this very long and voluminous phreas.
At this time, (13th June 2019) there appears to be some evidence that the sump is not fully understood. The amount of water issued from the Leck Beck head in times of high water and the size of the known continuation, (as explored by T Seddon) does not seem to marry up. The change in the water visibility as described in the dive log 17th May 2019 may possibly be evidence of an as yet undiscovered passage.
It is proposed that as soon as diving can resume a detailed survey is undertaken in order to attempt to better understand this incredibly interesting system.
Trip Report Diary 2019
The Following Trip report is by Aaron Smith, I have included because it marks the point when what had once been only a dream, for us at least became a realistic possibility. This was the first time either Aaron or I had completed the through trip and I think was the spark which ignited this project.
The connection between Notts 2 and Lost Johns, was finally made on 6/11/11. When the audacious work of assorted dig teams managed to make the physical connection between, the three counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. For a detailed description of this truly epic dig see Adventures Underground, Chapter 10. (Haigh and Cordingley)
Boxhead Pot to Ground Sheet Junction to Notts 2 and Iron Kiln
Simon Halliday, Aaron Smith and Jason Denley
After returning a Titan suit to Bull Pot Farm, we met at Inglesport Cafe at 9:30am. Various breakfasts were consumed, and plans were finalised. Off to Leck Fell and an expected 8-10hr trip. Si rigged the entrance tube and first pitch (40m ish) in good time and all 3 off us were soon at the second huge drop. (100m ish). The second pitch can be rigged directly to the bottom, but we needed to exit 15m from the end and swing over to the Kendal Extension and into a crawl that linked with Tate galleries. Si swung into the opposite side of the main shaft and found it anchor free and unfamiliar!
(....'Aaron! ..i can't find any rebelays in this rift!) I came down to see and we both realised we had a huge pendulum to do so that we could rig our rope in the opposite side of the main shaft. Excellent team work just seemed to come together at the right time and in minutes we were back on track and sliding down into Tate Gallery... Crawling; holes in the floor; the Cresta Run; flat out crawl in water; difficult navigation; a 30ft climb up a muddy chimney.... then we were in Lyle Cavern Upper Series!! .... some food here (2hr in) and a 30min explore of the way on to Ground Sheet Junction. We had planned to abseil down 5 Pitches and return up the Lyle Cavern pitch. (A simple pull through was not going to work here so we changed our plan). Plan B .... Off to Ground Sheet Junction down Lyle Cavern. Great formations everywhere! We had a reccy to the base of the Lost Johns final pitch and the back up into Lyle Cavern Upper Series. Next was the job of finding the way on to Notts 2, a 140m crawl/slither/climb, through tiny passages in mud and boulders. James Denley led the way and by luck or fortune or good sense we were soon in the right crawls. (I followed on behind and soon recognised the passages from the description in the guide). Lots of determination and we were soon in Bruno Kransies and Sir Digby Spodes passage and Notts 2 main streamway. A sing-song or two and before long we were ascending the iron kiln ladders and scaffolding. Out by 6pm! We had been underground for around 6 and a half hours! ... that wasn't all, another 1 and half hours of further caving for me and Si. We had to go and derig Boxhead! (That went smoothly). .. Off to the Marton Arms for a blonde ale, tea and chip butty. Excellent and very demanding trip. The most challenging trip I've done in over 10 years! Well done to all. 😁
Simon Halliday, Aaron Smith & Paul Richards
The original plan for this morning was to dive Lancaster Hole main downstream sump. Mother nature however had other ideas, a large dump of the wet stuff overnight meant leaving home feeling less than confident about the chances of a successful dive. Stopped at Cowan Bridge for a peer into the weir, to see brown frothy water in the pool and about 6-8” of water over the top.
Arrived at Bull Pot farm to find Paul waiting, unfortunately I’d forgotten the code but a friendly RR member reminded me. Tony Seddon had left a suit for me so a quick change and consulting the surveys whilst we waited for Aaron to arrive.
AS turned up only 10mins late and no one, especially not me, had noticed. Quick team meeting and a plan was formed. We decided on leaving diving gear in van, and just taking some lead to leave at the sump.
All geared up and off to Lancaster with enough rope for entrance and Crap trap, plus 20Kg of lead. Another team slightly in front of us meant we had no need to rig and leaving our rope on the surface we slid down the entrance pitch.
SH led and took a bit of vid as PR and AS followed. Regrouped then made our way via Kath’s way to the Crap Trap. Particularly keen to rig with deviations as JNC had recommended for dropping gear down into the main drain. All 3 descended to stream way, thinking decision to leave dive gear was justified as quite a discernible current in the water. Evidence of foam 6/8’ up the walls probably from previous night as still “drippy”
We investigated a few likely spots for a dive base and settled on waterfall passage where AS once again demonstrated his strong attachment to sanity by running under the water!! Lead stashed and returned to rope. SH derigged and AS and PR went to climb out of fall pot.
The sound of voices at the top of the Crap Trap led SH over toward the pitch. AS and PR had missed bottom of the rope climb so came back via the pitch. SH and AS then descended roped climb to fix position for future. SH climbed pitch whilst AS re ascended climb.
PR not done a lot in Lancaster and neither SH or AS been to colonnades for many years so we had a trip to look at the pretties. (After SH started up wrong passage from bridge hall!).
Returned to Bridge Hall then after assuring PR that there’s no need for SRT gear we set off into the graveyard series. A brief crawl to the ladder, which has now been removed, not to worry Paul we can climb this!! AS led down what is definitely a pitch, not to be out done SH followed and we lied to PT so he came as well. Into the graveyard then AS set off down a crawl which neither of us had previously followed. This could be described as snug in places, but thoroughly enjoyable and not in the least bit intimidating.
Paul wondering what he’d let himself in for followed on uncomplaining. Now following some det cable we continued to a sump in skittle alley. (Didn’t know this location at the time). Neither SH or AS fancied a swim. A hand line leading high in the rift passage was followed to some dubious looking steel stemples. AS and SH continued the climb whilst PR decided that he wanted to stay in one piece and was quite happy where he was. SH with elf-like agility crossed said stemples, and after pointing out to AS that it would be included in the log if he didn’t AS followed. We now found a rope and an electron ladder of considerable age. SH started to climb ladder only to break a rung, so deciding free climb a lot safer continued to top of the climb. After a brief conversation along the lines of you’d better not f.cking go anywhere SH continued into a lowering dig. Continued to its conclusion which wasn’t far.
Both AS and SH safely returned to PR and we started out. We spotted a hosepipe in a side passage on way out. Also another descending pitch. Told you we wouldn’t need SRT gear. Only a cursory glance, there was no way we could safely descend, AS followed hose to a small duck/sump. No one fancied a try so we set off out.
A couple of wrong turns in the crawls but nothing untoward and we arrived back at that pitch we didn’t need any gear for. SH climbed putting a couple of knots in for safety. PT then took the much more sensible approach of wanting some proper equipment so SH nipped up to bridge hall and got some. By the time I’d returned AS had also climbed.
SH had formulated a cunning plan and with the help of AS we managed to talk PR into a “quick” side trip. Its only a couple of hours of mainly walking passage, so he naively agreed to the high level traverse!! SH and AS took most of the gear to Lancaster and tied onto the rope then we picked up PR and with the words “next stop minarets” we introduced PR to a bit of speed caving. We quickly caught and passed another group and without any real prob we soon arrived at the minarets for a picnic. PR dug out some Eccles cakes, SH had a snickers so we shared out and had 5 mins.
On the way again we made our way over to Wretched rabbit, once to the hand lines SH telling PR to keep his eye on the ball, then immediately set off up the wrong climb!! Luckily AS rectified and we made surface without issue.
After showing off our stile SH and AS heroically struck off across the fell to Lancaster whilst PR returned to the farm. In worsening weather we quickly retrieved gear then all met up again at Farm house. PR having a long drive headed for home SH and AS went for a chip butty and a brew at the Marten.
What a great day. Felt totally justified in holding off on the dive, even though weather wasn’t as cruel as it could have been. We had a very productive day setting us up for future work in the sump. Followed by a great days caving in good company. Don’t think we put Paul off too much, even if we did sing at him for most of the day.
All out in one piece which is first rule complied with, total time underground about 7hrs.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Council of Northern Caving Clubs
Simon Halliday & Aaron Smith
This trip has been a long time coming. Previous efforts to set up a dive of the main downstream sump having proved unsuccessful. See previous Log, 3rd March 2019.
An early finish and a quick visit to Ingleton for supplies. Stopped at Cowen Bridge to assess potential vis. A habit I've been trying to get into to gain a feel for the conditions in Lancaster. What looked like excellent visibility added encouragement to an already excited SH.
To Bull Pot Farm for 12:30, quick change and started carrying the small mountain of gear needed for this trip toward Lancaster. AS soon arrived and carry was completed. That was the easy bit. We formulated a plan, where SH rigged to Y hang then AS lowered to SH utilising Crap trap rope we managed to get both heavy bags containing cylinders down and abseiled with remaining two. A slight learning curve here as SH dropped both ropes down pitch before attempting to lower, this turned out to be a mistake and should have left bagged as rope management proved troublesome.
An uneventful but hard carry to the top of the crap trap. SH again rigged, with the intention of lowering again. This proved impossible due to the nature of pitch and because of the logistics of our positions SH ended up abseiling with 3 bags whilst rigging. This is best described as entertaining. AS followed with remaining bag and tidied rigging whilst dropping into the main drain.
SH and AS both agreed on location of our lead stash, unfortunately this was under several tons of shingle, both attempted to dig but this proved an exercise in futility. A dive base was established about 20m back from the sump pool and we improvised some weight with some Ease Gill cobbles.
SH assisted by AS kitted up and prepared to dive. Located the original dive line and descended sump pool to find line heavily buried and pulled into a tight corner. In reducing vis SH tied in and previous knowledge (CDG Sump index and consulting with JNC) meant he knew where to look. A sizeable bedding was soon located and the original line again found.
Line was in good order but with many lost belays and somewhat loose. Replaced/rebelayed as progress was made down this fantastic tunnel to top of the ramp. This chamber is awe inspiring, possibly the biggest under water chamber in the country. The line here needed considerable work, very loose and few belays remaining. Loose line gathered in and zip tied to make safe about half way down the Ramp before continuing this stunning decent to -31m. A brief swim into the metro, mainly cos I couldn’t resist, before hitting 1/3’s. In an unfamiliar sump a long way from the surface a prudent diver stuck to protocol adding belays to line on return swim.
Line was removed from bedding into sump pool, I'd already formulated a plan for a better line route in this area, job for next time. I located a thread belay on accent of sump, zip tying into it to aid finding again in the future. Surfaced after a total dive of 43min to find AS waiting with a go pro running. A somewhat chilly diver quickly got changed and had something to eat before the hard work began.
We repacked the gear and taking a lighter bag each climbed the chock out of fall pot to leave bags at top of crap trap.
SH and AS then returned to main drain and prusiked out of the Crap Trap with a cylinder apiece. SH finding this far from easy. Steady progress was made back through Kath’s way to Lancaster Hole before we each climbed the pitch with a lighter bag each. This left two cylinders to be retrieved, SH rigged a protraction and both bags were hauled to the Y hang and then AS pulled out.
SH completed the derig and fell out of the top of pipe. STILL in daylight. Total time underground around 7 1/2 hrs. We managed the carry back to BPF in one, AS doing the lions share as SH was by now flagging.
A Massive thanks to Aaron for the assist. This is a team effort and be in no doubt dives of this nature wouldn’t be possible without the team approach.
A return is planned. Lets get Pegasus’s name in the Ease Gill record books.
Reproduced by kind permission of J. N. Cordingley
Trying to keep up the impetus that Aaron and I have going with this project the opportunity arose for a quick mid-week trip.
Early start saw SH at Bull Pot farm for 7:30, quick change and off to Lancaster without delay. Trying to save weight SH had decided to dive in a wet suit and only carrying single kit. However make no mistake this is still a monster carry for a solo trip.
Having got the kit to the bare minimum it still took 3 bags to get the required gear to the entrance. Lowering the heavy bag down the entrance shaft SH rigged and abseiled with the remaining kit, now thankfully down to two bags.
A steady cruise through to fall pot, again trying to save weight I had made the decision to not bother with a rope for Crap Trap and to climb the boulders. In hind sight I would say this was a mistake, twice up and down with a couple of bags isn’t easy. Also, I hadn’t appreciated how difficult some of the boulder pile would be with a heavy bag, carrying dive gear.
At dive base a quick snack then SH located a suitable sized rock for use as a belay. Trussing said lump up, I had all gear at the sump pool and ready to go. The objective of today's trips was to sort the dive line in the sump pool and into the bedding, where it had previously been found to be buried. I tied a new reel into the thread belay at -4m and descended to find the entrance to the bedding plane. Only on a single 3Lt cylinder I didn’t want to dawdle neither did I want to spend much time in the bedding, so depositing reel I returned to surface and retrieved previously prepared belay.
Carrying a large rock made for an exhilarating decent of the initial 12m where the rock was deposited pretty much in the center of the sump pool adjacent to the bedding entrance.
Belaying the new line to this was a job of a few moments before reentering the bedding, tying into the existing dive line and cutting the buried one. Adding a couple of snoopies a steady ascent was made removing the old line as I went, this could be drawn out of the undercut now cut. Joining the lines at the thread and an exit was made.
Dive time 16.5 minutes.
That was the easy part. Repacking gear now into one bag, SH made a quick foray upstream to a previously found spot and stashed 4 lead blocks and a pair of fins ready for future exploration, these are in a secluded alcove about 1.5-2m above stream level and under several heavy rocks, fingers crossed they survive the next flood.
A very slow exit was made, the climb out of fall pot was interesting with a heavy bag on my back and I wouldn’t recommend it. Sweating my way to Lancaster I eventually made the pitch and by good fortune found one of Aaron’s crabs!! Placing a knot in btm of the pitch rope to measure at home, wanting to know minimum rope length. Climbing pitch with bag attached was hard work but deemed easier than trying to haul on my own with tired arms. I eventually fell out of the top in glorious sunshine.
Re-bagging the rope and a very slow walk back to BPF which I’m sure someone moved SH returned to van after a total trip of 5Hrs.
On the edge for a solo trip but useful work completed, it’ll make the next trip that bit easier.
Bank Holiday Monday, had been hoping for some support from the Wessex but when that didn’t materialize I decided to keep things rolling and a quick solo trip would keep things moving in the right direction and also allow time for a bit of family stuff.
Early start at BPF and ready by 7:00 on my way to Lancaster with the aim of bolting Crap Trap, in order to facilitate a gear stash, also place a couple of bolts at dive base so a “washing line” can be rigged when dive operations are ongoing, hence keeping gear off the floor.
I'd previously knotted Lancaster rope so a search through my rope stock meant taking the bare minimum which worked out perfect. Quickly down Lancaster and through Kath’s way to the head of the Crap Trap.
Rigged better than last time off two resin anchors, I used the deviation to land on the rock bridge about 1/3 of the way down. A quick examination of the roof at this point found an ideal spot for a gear store but requiring protection. I placed 4 bolts and using my SRT rope rigged a traverse and sorted out somewhere for the gear. We now have a bolt just above a flake from which cylinders can be hung and a ratchet strap round said flake will prevent any movement. This area is usually dry but in extreme flood the main stream does reach this high. I doubt however there will be much appreciable current at this height. Backed up by the nature of the fine silt deposits.
Leaving a 7L cylinder with 75% O2 in place I dropped to stream level, rigging a re-belay, and placed two more bolts at dive base. Pity no diving today vis looks stunning. Not having any hangers left or cord I just left the bolts in the wall ready for next time. Quick check on lead/fin stash, fine saw no point in moving higher up. Climbing back out of the crap trap I clipped line reel into new bolts before de-rigging on way up. Next time another rope required to rig a permanent traverse line and to enable gear to be passed to re-belay. Crap Trap rope is mm perfect, I’ll check what I have could maybe do with another meter. If someone else rigged with a slightly longer loop may have a bit of issue getting back on.
Tempted to have a trip into the high-level stuff but really couldn’t be bothered dragging bolting kit around with me.
Uneventful return to the van. Back out in a shade under 3hrs. Job well done, moving in the right direction
A bit of a weird reason to get a trip in, but the impending bad weather meant an early finish. Taking advantage to carry on with setting up for my hopefully soon to be push, I decided to take the opportunity to stash another cylinder and to conciliate previous work on the gear stash.
I had had a 7 Litre cylinder of nitrox mixed (32%) and blown to 280bar. Having the gear pretty much permanently packed I only needed to grab the bags and make my way to BPF for a quick trip.
Arriving at BPF just before 2, and its pissing down. Getting in the back of the van and its coming in sideways. Got changed and hood up for a slog over to Lancaster. Quickly dropping the bag down the pitch, I rigged top as per usual and dropped to the Y hang to get out of the weather.
Easy through Kath’s way to the crap trap and rigged to the bridge. Installed a new traverse line on the previously installed bolts and hung cylinder at our new gear stash. Now have a permanently installed traverse line under the roof.
I’ve cut a few steps into the mud slope to aid with the approach the next hanger. Rigged and dropped to the main drain. The lower (red) deviation needs shortening. Dropped into the stream way and finished the prep for the washing line at dive base.
Wanting to make a bit more of a trip out of this afternoon I then went upstream to Stake pot. Climbed the boulder choke, and then made my way back to Fall Pot.
Descended the crap trap again as far as the bridge and retrieved rope. Coiled and left at the gear stash. I’ve left the knot in the rope and should now be only a sec of a job to rig. 2 crabs required.
Next time in I want to sort a rope to lower gear from bridge to main drain. This will enable one man to move 3 bags per descent. Also will double for use as the washing line.
Climbed back out of Crap Trap and bagged the rope. Left a knot in to measure for future trips.
Leaving the bag, I now made my way toward Wilf Taylors Passage. Across the traverse to that interesting sideways squeeze. A little awkward but no problem. Then through to look at the pretties on the way to T junction with WTP. Wanting to go downstream to the Bull Pot sump I turned Left and quickly dropped in to the stream way. Id forgotten what a great passage this is and followed to the pitch, which unfortunately has had the rope cut, weather by flood or man I cannot say, but not safe to free climb so a return was forced. (After looking at the survey, I believe this to have been waterfall passage). Over shot climb out point but only a bit, reversed and then continued down WTP to the main drain, via the Double Decker and a few other interesting obstacles, what a stunningly scalloped passageway, years since I’ve done this route. Dropping out at dive base I then went upstream to Fall pot and climbed out via the boulder choke.
Had a snack at the bag and realizing I was well up on time I contemplated the high level traverse. Forecast had given heavy rain and being a mard arse I didn’t fancy the walk back across the fell in the pouring rain. I settled for the traverse as far as Oxbow corner. Then dropped through the boulders back into to stream way. Don’t think I’ve ever been through this choke before. Not straight forward but easy enough if you take your time. A quick stomp back down to Fall pot and out of the boulders once again. Just for variety I climbed the in situ SRT rope out of the Pot before picking up the bag and making my way back to Lancaster, out into sunshine, could have done the traverse after all!!
Project moving forward, if the weather gods are kind should be on for weekend of the 18/19th May. All in all a great afternoon’s caving, I love solo trips, reminds me why I got into caving in the first place. Turning the lights out and listening to the silence (can you listen to silence?) can only really be appreciated on your own. Had the system to myself today.
Total time underground about 5hrs.
After the significant rainfall of 27/4. I wanted to determine the effect on the main drain after a period of relatively dry weather.
Date against mm of rain. Data taken from CDG website.
Family commitments meant an early start so a brief stop at Cowan Bridge to look at the water levels
Then up to BPF for a quick change. Surprised to see the farm alive, I stopped to say good morning to these keen cavers. Things made more sense when I realized it was a late night rather than an early morning. Them were the days!!
Quickly rigging and sliding down the pitch and across to the Crap Trap, I deposited a cylinder at the Cache. Slightly changing the rigging to make it easier to leave/remove gear then dropped another rope to the streamway to check length, spot on. Abseiling down I re-did the red deviation to keep a little further away from the rock then dropped into the main drain.
Stream level as expected, up but safe. I made my way to the sump. Water level was about 600mm higher than Friday, and I’d say it had dropped by about 1500mm since last night. Looking at the tide mark, its fairly obvious where the water reached. Standing at the normally dry edge I was in knee deep water and the tide mark was above my head. Took a couple of snaps but not come out I’m afraid.
Brief look at waterfall passage before making my way back up.
Cache now contains
3 x 7L cylinders, 1@75%, 1@32%, 1@21%, All labeled.
Loaded reel. 70m tagged at 5m intervals.
Couple of ropes, Red for SRT, white for hauling/lowering.
Yet another carry.
Still reinforcing the gear cache ready for a push. Hoping to dive next week, the final preparations need to be carried out in order to make this somewhat remote dive site as safe as possible.
Today taking some spare gear and some emergency stuff, I had made a 9” gear tube to hold it all. This is the same size as I intend to use to protect the RB when it comes time to take the unit to the sump.
An easy Sunday morning trip, left tube at the Cache then dropped into the main drain. Placed 3 bolts near the exit of waterfall passage in readiness for next weeks hoped for dive.
Seeing as time wasn’t particularly pressing I climbed Wilf Taylors and then descended waterfall passage to check out the climb/pitch I’d encountered last trip. (with a brief foray to Bull Pot of the Witches sump for good measure) I can confirm this is climbable but not easy. There’re two large stainless eyebolts at the head of the climb so I rigged a pull through, 20m just right. I would have said a sensible option really, no good reason not to use a rope and you can drop the last bit out of the water. Would be a wet descent if climbing.
What started as an alpine style attack has defiantly morphed into a Himalayan siege.
We now have:-
1 x 7L @ 32%, 280 Bar
1 x 7L @ 75% 220 Bar
1 x 7L @ 21% 260 Bar
2 x Helly
1 x Thick Socks
1 x Thin socks
Spare Cells and Carrier
E Blanket, first aid
Spare Glove liners
Spare neck, wrist seal
Spare fin strap
Emergency protocol sheets, laminated
Still in need of another setup trip then I’m hoping to start diving. Plan at the moment, somewhat weather dependent, is to dive next week, 12th, as a prep dive for push weekend of the 17/18th.
Feeling a little tired on exit, but no drama’s.
Time underground 3hr
11th May Lancaster Hole
Another early start saw me on Casterton Fell for an amazing sunrise.
This should be last gear drop prior to a preparatory dive planned for tomorrow. Steady progress to dive base with stop at the gear cache to get what I can carry.
Lowering plan works well and I soon have three loads at dive base, re-climbed the crap trap to get the last of the gear and back to dive base. Doesn’t look much when you see it lined up, but it’s been an effort to get it all here.
Not quite there but I’m hopeful that a big carry tomorrow will see everything down. I re-stashed all this lot at the lower cache before climbing back out. I’ve decided to leave rope on the crap trap, just coiled it and hung at the head of the pitch. An easy walk back to Lancaster and out into beautiful sunshine.
A quiet walk back to BPF to pick up some gear that Tony Seddon had dropped for me and a swift trip to IS for supplies then home for breakfast. All in all, a great morning.
Total time underground 4hrs
Arriving at BPF for 6:30, no one about which is hardly surprising. I quietly get changed and start the trek to Lancaster. Despite my previous efforts it still requires 3 bags for the trip and I’ve left all rope in place. However it’s a beautiful morning and I feeling a bit high with anticipation and also slightly nervous. This will be the first time the SF has been truly used in anger on the side. I’ve had numerous dives in both the pool and Capenwary but this is a whole other level.
Having tried a few different configurations I’ve settled on what works for me and decided to dive using a tri-mix of TMx 21/40. This should keep the head clear if the dive goes deep and also aid with work of breathing within the loop.
I almost make it in one trip but just over the stile and my arms are getting decidedly longer so I drop two bags and just take the RB in its protective tube.
Quickly back for the remaining bags and putting SRT gear on I lower the two bags and abseil with the RB under me whilst rigging the top of the pitch. Having done this pitch many times recently its becoming almost automatic.
Dropping the pitch and I make my way over to bridge hall. Taking it very steady, I’m conscious that I’ll likely be raking up some deco shortly and diving tri mix calls for some special care. Just playing it safe today and no heroics. However I’m down at dive base for a few minutes after 8 and start to assemble the gear. Glad I took the time yesterday to bring the cache down a level it still takes an hour to get everything ready. I’m determined not to cut any corners and do a full pre-breathe on the SF before actually taking to the sump. Dive base is about 30m back on a dry corner.
Once all the equipment is at the sump pool, a quick snack before getting into my dry suit. Again thinking about the expected dive time I’ve pre brought thermals so put an extra set of leggings and two helly hansons under my warmbac fleece.(This turned out to not be enough, more next time)
I’ve only ever kitted up this setup in daylight and doing in a sump is a different ball game altogether. It takes me a while to make sure everything is in place and connected correctly, plugging the O2 in was particularly troublesome. I’m wearing a 2L O2 cylinder on my spine so need to connect this after donning the RB.
Soon enough I’m ready to go but still need to get 2 bailout cylinders into the sump!!! Not easy but I settle on taking the 75% in first then coming back for the other 21% cylinder. Once underwater the weight becomes a lot less of a problem and the whole rig is easier to handle. However wearing 4 cylinders, plus the RB and O2 I’m massively over weight, I’ve put on 2 blocks of lead which was far too much but need to think worse case if I’m returning from the far end on OC and need to do a long deco.
Thinking it was a wise decision to use a wing as well as my dry suit for buoyancy I inject some air to get neutral. Well I would have done if Id remembered to connect the LP hose!! Faffing about trying to sort it isn’t easy so I surface again to rectify the situation, feeling quite glad I haven’t got an audience.
This time all good and I stage the 75% at the 4m thread belay and take another 7L of air through the bedding plane and stage at the top of the ramp. Now down to 2 cylinders and the RB I feel a lot easier and slowly descend to -30m and take my first proper look at The Metro.
Visibility is a disappointing 1-2m with a distinctive layering in the water. I’m still awe stuck at this amazing passage, massive scalloping a truly epic system. A very steady dive having to retrieve the line out of the gravel several times but I make steady progress. Eventually I come across a lead belay and knowing that JNC used these to terminate his dives give me an idea of where I am in the sump. The depth gradually shallows to -19m before the line is irretrievably buried. Knowing this is around the terminus of John’s penultimate dive I’m at about 570-580m. I tie in a new reel.
I’ve brought a 70m reel of 4mm line, expecting to have to repair/jump the line in places, the plan had always been to use this as a set up for next weeks proposed diving. I’ve read the sump index about a million times and been badgering JNC constantly so have a reasonable understanding of where I am. A long way from home!! This is by far and away the most committing dive I’ve ever attempted and more than a hint of nerves are evident as I start to lay line.
I’ve always planned to try and stay right as much as possible here, (After advice from JNC) and this I do. Shortly encountering a gravel/cobble slope whilst maintaining the relatively shallow depth. When ADS dived here in 2009 he went deeper from john’s terminal belay, I’m staying relatively shallow? I slowly ascend the slope only to find a roof. I carry on following this wall on relatively clean washed limestone, Noticeably shattered and jagged in appearance. There’s a distinct absence of loose belays but I’m able to tie into the bed rock in several places. As the reel run down my nervy disposition isn’t really improving but with line on the reel there’s no good reason to stop. I run out of line on a particularly clean section and scout around for a suitable belay, not wanting to wind in. I locate a point to tie off and the long swim back begins.
I should point out at the point that a better man would have surveyed the line but to be quite honest I didn’t really give it to much thought. Using what belays I had remaining I made my way back to base picking up my stages along the way.
Dive Time 1 Hour 45 minutes.
Pretty uneventful return really, Got a leak in my dry suit at the very end of the dive but suspect that may have been my pee valve?
De kitting wasn’t easy but easier than putting it on. Once sorted I had a few minutes to have a snack before starting to pack up the gear. Whilst packing a light appeared down Wilf Taylors and ALF Latham appeared. Alf had dived this sump in 1973!! What a coincidence.
I had planned on leaving the dry suit in the cave ready for next week but needing to determine the cause of the leak I decided to carry out.
A very steady climb out taking almost 2 hrs!! out into brilliant sunshine. Gave JNC a call to cancel my callout before the carry to BPF, didn’t even try and do this in one, just relayed back and fro, taking another hour.
All in all very productive day, stopped at JNC’s on way home and after consultation I’m fairly sure that I’m in new territory but this requires a survey to be sure.
Total trip, 11Hrs but only 9.5 under ground.
Simon Hilliday, Andy Walchester & Sam Garrad
Another Big Dive.
After the previous weeks setting up this project and last weeks solo trip to reccy lines, SH had big hopes for this week. The weather gods had been smiling and very little rain in the preceding seven days would hopefully translate into some relatively good visibility.
Setting up the RB Friday eve and an O2 sensor failed in calibration meaning a bit of a faff getting ready for sat morning but said sensor was swapped out and the unit recalibrated before being packed with a fresh scrubber ready for the morning.
The Derbyshire contingent having a long drive and small bladders meant a very relaxed start and we all met at BPF for 10am. SH had already packed the bags so after gearing up the intrepid explorers departed for Lancaster Hole. Upon arrival SH demonstrated his by now quite intimate knowledge of this shaft by deftly tying on the bags and swiftly lowering down the main pitch. This would have been somewhat more efficient had he taken the hardware out of one of said bags beforehand, because he needed it to rig the pitch!!
Scrounging a few crabs amoungst our gear however we managed to avoid having to bring bags back up. SH rigged carrying the RB, AW and SG following shortly after. Pointing out a couple of possible trips for AW & SG we made our way to the main drain, SH rigging and getting dive base prepared. AW followed and SG can write his own report on where he went.
Previously stashed gear required gathering and sorting at dive base. Soon completed and while SH mounted valves and checked pressures AW and SG loaded a reel.
Andy Walchester, Sam Garrad & Simon Halliday setting of for Lancaster Hole
Andrew Walchester at the entrance to Lancaster Hole
Simon Halliday on the Crap Trap pitch, 1st deviation
Dive Base, Simon Halliday kitting up for a long dive
We moved gear to the sump pool and putting extra layers on (cold after last weeks dive) SH donned his dry suit.
With assistance SH geared up and commenced the dive, using same setup and gases as last week.
As expected visibility in the bedding was better than last week, and after staging a 7 Litre cylinder at -4m (75% O2) steady progress was made to The Ramp. Descending with care, Line still requires some attention, The Metro was entered at -31m. At this point a 2nd 7 Litre (32% O2) was staged. Now down to 2 tanks and the RB progress was somewhat easier. A marked loss of visibility noticed at 4/450m, now certainly no better and possibly worse than last week. As the depth decreased I reached my line and paying a little more attention to the compass I slowly followed the line previously laid. Initially just west of south, as expected, SH began to think his compass was playing up as the needle (never lieing) swung round toward North. Tieing in a new reel, I continued to follow the right wall in poor visibility until after approx. 2/30m I returned to my own line. I had circumnavigated some sort of chamber? Visibility at no point good enough to give me an impression of the nature of this area, this is pure supposition. Todays line was rewound with difficulty and perplexed diver began the journey home.
Simon Halliday checking out the SF2 Rebreather at the Dive Base
Just starting to gain deco penalties but I had burnt these off by the time I exited the shallow bedding.
A dive that has raised more questions than it answered.
Why did the visibility deteriorate at the 4/450 mark? Is this an indication that I have left the main flow? Noting that last week the temperature at the 570/80 mark was a little warmer.
At the 570m junction have I entered a chamber? I have the impression of depth with a few dark areas noted. I was following the wall rather than the floor. I failed to examine the roof. This area clearly warrants further attention. Both up and down. The idea of having entered a shaft is appealing but there is no evidence of this at the moment.
All information is good information, and with each dive I gain a little more familiarity with the sump. I’m not afraid to say that this is a serious dive being carried out a long way from home and the softly softly approach is most definitely justified. No heroics today!!!
I need to ponder this dive for a couple of days and come up with a plan for a way forward. Tomorrows planned dive is being postponed for a few weeks, I want time to assess the situation and dive with a clear plan, it is my opinion that to dive to the end of the line in here requires a purpose and is beyond the realms of tourist dives.
Total dive time 1:48.
On reaching surface AW and SG were still off caving so SH dekitted with difficulty, I had become very cold, a leaking glove meaning my right hand was next to useless. (water temp today 7°)
I left the thermal gear on and just put my caving suit over the top before starting the job of sorting the gear. AW and SG soon arriving to assist.
After something to eat and stowing the gear we began the steady climb out of the cave, SH suggesting SG climb the pitch first, to give him a few more mins to fizz.
SH climbed next with the RB and leap frogging SG made his way to surface. We left the cave rigged ready for tomorrow. In lovely evening sunshine all 3 returned to BPF where we met up with Aaron for evening meal.
SH prepared a meal whilst the others generally lounged about gassing. Followed by cake, I’d like to take credit for the culinary delights but Mrs H sorted all that I just warmed it up. (Well I cooked the rice).
Royal in Kirkby for a few scoops finishing of a cracking day.
Total time underground 8hrs.
S Halliday & A Smith Caving
A Walchester & S Garrad Being Lazy
As usual SH up before anyone else, after a couple of gallons of tea and feeling like it was time everyone else was up I decided to ask them. This seemed to do the trick and everyone convened in the dining room for breakfast. SH once again excelling in the kitchen, I copped out of most the washing up and went to sort some kit.
Having previously decided to postpone the dive we needed a trip to keep AS and SH amused into which we could incorporate a visit to dive base.
Top sink through to Lancaster was decided upon. A trip which AS hadn’t done for over 20 years and SH for at least 10. We packed a rope and set off across the fell to visit the Pegasus stile. Easily locating the entrance, thanks Aaron, we put on SRT kit and set off into the cave.
Top Sink is the most upstream entrance to the norths most pre-eminent cave system, and the through trip to Lancaster is one of the Yorkshire classics. Most tend to do Top sink to Wretched Rabbit but today the Pegasus are playing out so we’ll opt for the far harder but vastly most satisfying full trip. For extra credit a visit to the sump pool and pulling some dive kit out. Now not a lot of team go down there on the through trip.
The short climb into top sink doesn’t really give much of an indication of what’s to come on this trip and following the narrow canyon soon bring you to the head of the wet Walrus pitch.
SH rigged as a pull through the 60m rope we are carrying more than long enough. Below the pitch what is described as awkward winding passage, Πr², is followed to penknife pitch. We then had a choice of route and more by good luck than good management we made the right choice and followed the higher level skywalker passage. Not entirely sure we were correct and pandering to AS we climbed down to the lower level about half way along, but after a quick look at the description we returned to the higher level, and located the climb up to Nagasaki via the bridge of sighs. Nagasaki is an extraordinary chamber. Huge by most standards (but perhaps not by ease gill’s), the silence is stunning and we take a moment to soak up the atmosphere and contemplate the accident which happened here a few years ago.
Climbing down behind the rock of ages, (a single boulder perhaps 1k tons?) We made our way to the assembly hall. From here following the white way a beautifully decorated passage we followed the water until the passage becomes too low. Slight reverse and we again consulted the description to find an obscure crawl on the left, from here we quickly made Holbeck Junction. Now in better known parts of the system we easily found our way through first to Stop Pot and then to Oxbow corner. SH suggested we descend the boulder choke here and after a false start we found our way through and set off for a stomp down what is arguably the one of the finest stream passages in the country. Reaching the Stake pot boulders SH was feeling quite smug about finding the most efficient way through until AS called from the opposite side suggesting he get a move on.
Quickly to dive base and the obligatory look at the sump before picking up a few bit and beginning the climb out.
AS climbed first and SH followed coiling rope and leaving rigging in place. We were soon at Lancaster where a previous team had conveniently rigged so we climbed simultaneously and out to a lovely afternoon. Easy walk back to BPF for a brew and look at the survey.
What a great trip.
Time underground 5.5Hrs
Playing hooky!! Nicked a day it’s been a tough week, as per early start, aiming to sort the gear at dive base have a general tidy up and maybe a tad of caving. For a change no gear to carry just a couple of empty bags so quickly down to the sump, Vis looks ace today, pity no diving. Doesn’t take long to fettle the gear and pack a couple of bags, back out of the CT and coil ropes as I go. After last Sundays trip, (we had been taking about the Mancunian way) I was curious to do complete this trip, we have many times passed this area and I’ve never done the route so seems like a good opportunity. Across the high level traverse to Stop pot, a route I know reasonable well but I still manage a wrong turn. Locating the entrance to the Manc Way isn’t easy. Once on the route its easy enough to follow to old English chamber, from here Spangle Passage lead to Brown and Smelly chamber. Seems like a good place for a picnic and to consult the description. Shortly after leaving here a fixed iron ladder confirms my position, which I haven’t been 100% on more than once. From here its fairly straight forward to Battle of Britain and then to Broadway in county. Another picnic and decision time on the return route. I opt for the Trident series. A quick look at Spout Hall then its back to Battle of Britain. Following the CNCC description. A descent from the high to lower level series is relatively easy but make you think twice, solo trips are that little bit more exposed. From here Eureka junction then back to Stop pot. Returning along the high level transverse is relatively straight forward, this week staying high all the way. Pick the gear up at Fall pot and make my way to bridge hall. I’d planned on doing the graveyard and checking out Little lechuguilla, but phone battery is dead, (been reading the description a lot). I’ve no idea what time it is so decide to make my way straight out. Total time under ground 8Hrs
After recent wet weather and the subsequent loss of diving conditions, seemed a good idea to nip down and check cylinder pressures and check out the gear stash.
Arriving at BPF 18:30 and taking the opportunity to take some more lead down to the stash, quickly down to dive base. Vis looking appalling, about 500mm, there’s not going to be any diving in here for several weeks, if it ever stops raining.
Looking at the foam on the walls, it was pretty obvious that the sump pool has been full to the roof and I’d estimate approx. 5m on normal levels at bottom of the Crap Trap.
Gear stash has definitely been under water, but all seems OK. I removed all gear to dive base, and checked cylinder pressures:
75% O2 210
32% O2 240
21% O2 250
40/21 215 using as diluent. started project with 280.
Just goes to show how efficient the CCR is.
I took the decision to move the gear to the higher-level stash. Repacking the gear, bar lead, and moving to the bottom of the crap trap. I climb the pitch with 2 gear tubes and fasten the 4 cylinders to the SRT rope.
Climb felt hard, been a long weekend and TBH been tired at work so not really a surprise. However soon enough at the top of the pitch. Glad of the traverse line I move both tubes to the bolts and clip on.
As I start to haul 4 7 litre cylinders up the pitch I’m wondering if it was a good idea. I’ve rigged the pro traction so using body weight as a counter balance I slowly bring them up the pitch.
Physics says doing this in a oner is easier but that doesn’t make me feel any better whilst trying to balance 4 cylinders on my foot at the top of a very slippery pitch. However, with everything clipped in I manage to get everything safely stowed.
Climbing back out of CT I decide to derig the pitch, can’t see there being anything much diving wise going on in the near future.
Steady out and back at BPF for 9.
Trip time 2.5hrs.
Exactly 2 months since my last trip into Lancaster. Recent focus being on preparations for Pozo, needing a cylinder for Spain and also interested in seeing what the main drain looked like after all the recent rain.
Changing in the van and a miserable walk across the fell encouraged me to rig quickly and get underground ASAP. Main shaft quite drippy which is unusual for here, made my way with care to CT. As always this time of year the high level stuff extremely slippery and a near miss reminding me to watch myself, it occurs to me that I don’t have a call out and Toni in Greece for a week I’d better be careful.
No drama’s on the way to the gear stash and the residue from previous drillings still present show that water hasn’t been up this high. Couldn’t resist the temptation to drop to the main drain.
Not safe to get off the rope, I estimate approx. 2/3m of water above normal levels. Quite cool for a bit of a look but seen considerably higher. Evidence of foam on the walls showing prob another 5m up in last couple of days.
Back to the gear and bagged a cylinder of trimix and a pair of boots then a very steady return to the surface, not sure if I’m unfit, tired or just old but def not feeling very strong today. Main pitch took an age and the bringing the bag up was purgatory. Weather didn’t disappoint and pissed it down all the way back to BPF
Total time underground 2hrs.
Forecast for the coming week looking promising so I spent a few hours prepping Lancaster ready for resuming dive operations. Fingers crossed we get some conditions next week.
I had to meet JNC on the way up so a relatively lazy start for me, landed at BPF about 10. Tough carry but soon enough at dive base. Brought all gear down and readied for next week.
Had to do a bit of drystone walling to get the steps back serviceable but otherwise all ok.
1 x 7 of trimix 19/24 What was left from Pozo, my frugal nature means I couldn’t bin it.
1x7 of nitrox 75%
2x7’s of air.
1x2L of O2
Intend to dive the Chest mounted RB. Not 100% sure of dive plan as yet but I want to at least make some sort of a start on survey this super sump. No one has ever conducted a detailed survey and I feel that this may pay dividends? Also hoping to note the position of the change in water visibility. Is this due to the sump flushing? Or is there another way on?
Beautiful day on the fell out for a little after 2.
Total time underground 4hrs
S Halliday, K Gannon & D McDonough
After last weeks effort to set up a dive and a week of dry weather the time to resume dive operations on this project has finally arrived.
With support form KG and DM we met at BPF at 9:00. SH arriving early had already moved one of the big bags over to Lancaster.
We made our way across the fell on a somewhat chilly morning and SH quickly rigged the pitch. Neither KG or DM had been down the CT before so SH led the way, care required on the slippery mud around the top of the CT.
Dropping to the main drain we made our way to dive base, retrieving the previously left cylinders, SH dressed the bottles and checked contents.
Today diving the new Chest Mounted RB but the setup broadly similar to my previous diving here. As previously a 7L of 75% O2 to be left at -4m and a further 7L staged in the metro. Visibility was pretty poor and after the wet summer the line into the bedding was found buried. This required a jump line running into the bedding plane before I was able to find the original line and retrieve from the flood debris. Winding in the jump line I set off on a steady swim into the system. The line has had a battering from the wet summer and progress was slow whilst this was sorted as best I could.
The dive line in the Metro was as expected with a few missing belays but the limit of my previous exploration was met after about an hour. At this point I came across Tony Seddon’s old line and the decision was taken to follow this rather than look at the ceiling in the previously discovered chamber. The line was followed to the end, the cave roughly fitting TS’s description in the sump index. At the end of his line, the reel was missing but depth, -35m, and descriptions lead me to believe I was at the terminus of the cave to date. Tying in a new line reel I followed the right hand wall to a distinctive dog leg. The passage is large with a floor of sand and gravel with very little to belay too. I found a decent flake belay not long before running out of line, but was unable to satisfactorily belay the end of the new line so had to bury it and hope for the best. Deco starting to accumulate and considering my bailout as being stretched I retreated trying to consolidate the line on my return through the Metro.
Deco started at -12m so I had a few mins of hang on the ramp before being able to take my time through the shallower bedding and burning off another stop. This left 20min at 4m which I did in the sump pool.
For the first time diving a neoprene suit in this sump and really feeling the benefit during the deco stops. Surfacing after a total dive time of 2Hrs 44mins.
Surfacing with one comp still asking for another 10mins of deco, I played it safe and stayed on O2 whilst KG made a hugely welcome cup of tea,
Still over weighted for this setup I will take at least another 2kg of lead off for the next dive.
Both KG and DM assisted with the dekit and stowing gear before we made our way out. SH climbing out of Fall Pot to avoid waiting for the rope at the CT. Out into brilliant sunshine.
A hugely successful dive, Lancaster hole is now about 70m longer than before the dive and definitely heading in the right direction. This dive tested the bailout plan to its limit and for further exploration to be carried out safely further cylinders are going to be required.
This project is hugely testing but I feel we are heading in the right direction today moving into virgin cave. The project will continue but I need to readdress the dive logistics and feel I have reached the end of what I can realistically achieve in a single day. I will give this some serious consideration, but future dive operations will probably be at least 2 days in duration and possibly more. This by necessity may also be the end of my solo dive trips? The task of moving the gear although possible is getting significantly harder the further I progress.
Many thanks to KG and DM for the support
Total time underground 9hrs.
As is often the case with my solo trips an early start saw me getting ready in the dark at BPF. Aim today was to drop a cylinder of 32% Nitrox into the stash and check all OK after the flooding of last week.
At Lancaster for 7:00 and lowered the bag down the pitch, only to realise Id left my stop in the van!! Jogged back to retrieve and soon sliding down the pitch. Got a new MDE harness last week and liking the bum strap. Give a little more support when free hanging.
On the last trip, 21/09, DM had been last up the pitch and a bit of miscommunication meant the rope had been left hanging. I tidied the rigging and dropped down the CT, interestingly the rope was hung up at the lower deviation, this gives an indication of the minimum level of flooding, at least 15m above normal stream levels!!
Water levels on the high side but perfectly safe I arrived at dive base to find it underwater. Quick look at the sump, foreboding I think is the word, never a really friendly sump; had a definite ominous feel about it today. All gear ok. Checked the pressures on all cylinders and retrieved one of the yellow 300’s, although still with 250Bar in, it’s the only cylinder left with air, I shall get a nitrox fill this week then all cylinders are 32%, with the exception of the trimix and the 75%. Note to any prospective divers if it happens that anyone, Prob AW, is diving here this MUST NOT leave the sump pool. This gas is unsafe below 10m.
Total Trip time, 3.5hrs
20th October Shuttleworth Pot
S Halliday, B Wright (CDG & BPC,) Kerry & James (Wealden Cave and Mine Society)
After yesterday’s antics at Capenwray and then the eve’s Service demo I wanted to take advantage of being in the area. Knowing Ben was planning on doing Shuttleworth Pot, a cave I’ve never been in, rather than another drop into Lancaster, I opted for a walk over to Leck Beck head again, trying to add to my understanding of the area.
After much study of survey’s etc, it is a pretty safe bet that the Lancaster water is entering the LBH phreas somewhere downstream of Witches Cave. Shuttleworth Pot being the upstream continuation. A dry way into a cave previously only accessible for divers.
© Image reproduced with kind permission of the C.N.C.C.
In all likelihood the Lancaster water is coming in somewhere to the north of the west flood rising seen on the above survey.
Meeting at the shop at the bottom of Leck fell, chucked the gear into Ben’s van and we drove up to the parking area on Leck Fell. Probably not a lot in it from a walking point of view but definately flatter starting here so might as well make it easy. Its Ben’s trip and I quite enjoy letting someone else do all to work. Ben starts to rig the impressive entrance dig. Its only short and a ladder doesn’t really necessitate a rope but your then straight onto the next pitch so easy enough to rig form the surface.
A short crawly bit bring you to divers pitch. Its extremely broken, in fact Jason found this form the btm up, and several rebelays before we drop onto a loose slope. Leaving SRT kit, and using the insitu hand line it is a short drop to the House of the Rising Sump. Here both the upstream and down stream sumps are seen. Not looking particularly inviting today.
Returning to the base of the pitch, then climbing slightly to a short dry crawl. This then bring you to the Painter’s Alley. Very well set up to protect the pretties, there’s a plethora of straws and probably more helictites than I’ve ever seen in one place. It’s a relatively short walk to the end of the cave, turning for the return Ben points out My Newt passage. I drop down the awkward little tube to a small chamber, and see the newt’s skeleton, hence the name. A bit like hard work getting out but well worth the trouble of a look.
Ben, sets of out, followed by Kerry and James. I volunteer for the de-rig, and we’re soon out. Bit of a walk back to the van but at least its fine. Total time underground 2.5hrs
Had originally hoped to dive today but the inclement weather put pay to that. Having to meet JM at Ingleton seemed as good a reason as any to get a bit of work done on the project.
I had already had a 300bar cylinder of nitrox mixed, so took the opportunity to get another cylinder swap done.
Meeting another team at BPF they were planning on the through trip so wanted to use my rope. No bother that meant one of their team can carry the cylinder over to Lancaster. SH rigged and left the others to sort themselves out as I quickly made my way to dive base. Checking all pressures, I selected the cylinder with the lowest, 200 Bar, leaving the full 300 in its place. Out of CT and derig. Trip time 1.5hrs
Simon Halliday & David McDonough
Mad Fri, Loft Wizard Xmas Bash.
Stuck with a choice between going out on the lash and making a knob out of myself, (something I admit to doing in the dim and distant past) and progressing the Lancaster project a bit. It’s a no brainer really, why wouldn’t you want to lug a 15L cylinder down Lancaster hole?
DM kindly agreed to help with the carry and it being Xmas and all we decided to make a trip out of it. A brief stop at Ingleton to fill a couple of cylinders in preparation for a forthcoming trip and we’re at BPF changed and ready to go by 10. Weather actually quite pleasant, the expected rain as yet not arrived we have an easy walk over to the pot. DM fancies rigging so we drop the cylinder down the pitch and DM starts the rig.
We are both soon down and start the steady trip to dive base. All too aware that I’ve a lump of weight on my back I take it very easy to the CT. SH rigs and descends with the cylinder, DM following. The main drain is a little high but nothing to concern ourselves about so we make our way to dive base and deposit said cylinder at the stash.
Trip Time 1.5 Hours
S Halliday, D McDonough CPC, A Purcell BPC/CDG, J Carter CDG & C Armstrong RR/CDG
More a social trip today than anything else but took the opportunity to show a few fellow CDG members the dive base and take the final 15L cylinder down. DM tagging along cos he was free (we’d pretty much done the identical trip a few days previously but neither AP or CA had been in the high-level stuff and were wanting a look see.
Without incident we descended to dive base and stashed the 15. Quick look at the sump, dark and foreboding but the water running in did look like it was starting to clear.
Trip time for project stats 1.5 hours
In anticipation of a push Sat, took two bags to dive base. This should make the logistics for Sat morning somewhat easier. As luck would have it another team was leaving BPF as I arrived and kindly offered me the use of their rope so that saved a bag.
Both bags down usual route and checked the comp of the trimix so I can preprogram the computers ready
The following 'WhatsApp' message is sent from Simon Halliday to The Pegasus Caving Club Group at 06:58am.
"Just setting off. Thanks 🙏. I’ll be underground all day will post something later".
Dave McDonough & Kev Gannon assisted Simon down Lancaster to the Main Downstream Sump with Re-breather, bail out and stage cylinders. A dive time of 3 hours was agreed. When Simon failed to return after 3 plus hours Dave exited to initiate a call out with Kev waiting an additional hour at dive base. CRO arrived with Jason Mallinson being main diver. Tony Seddon donned a wetsuit and 2x 10L for an exploratory look in the sump. Simon was found facing out 60m from dive base.
Inquest March 2021
The following article appeared in The Westmoreland Gazette on 6th March 2021.
AN ADVENTURER drowned on a solo cave dive only a short distance from the surface after his breathing apparatus failed him, an inquest heard.
Simon Halliday died at Lancaster Hole, near Kirkby Lonsdale, on January 4, 2020.
Wife Toni told the inquest that the father-of-two had a ‘real zest for life’ and ‘made the most of every minute of every day’.
“Simon was a very loving husband and father,” she said. “He has left a huge hole in our hearts.”
On the day he died, the 49-year-old travelled down to the dive site with a support team comprising two friends. Mr Halliday told his team he would be a maximum of three hours.
However, said David McDonough, when the four-hour mark had come and their friend had still not surfaced, he and Kevin Gannon requested help.
Diver Anthony Seddon, who was called out to assist, entered the underwater passage and discovered Mr Halliday, deceased, 14 minutes and 60m in.
Cockermouth Coroner’s Court heard that, when Mr Halliday was pulled out of the water, the oxygen supply pipe from his rebreather appeared to have become disconnected or been ripped out - either during the dive or while the body was being recovered.
Data from the dive computers that Mr Halliday had on him supported the idea that his rebreathing equipment had failed him and he had switched to his bail out facilities. The exact circumstances that led to the tragedy are unclear.
It was a dive that Mr Halliday had done before, although on January 4 his team noted that there was more water flowing into the passageway than usual. Mr Halliday did not see this as an issue, but the strength of the current appeared to increase over the time he was in the hole.
The inquest heard that this may have caused him to use more air on his return journey, when he would have been fighting the current. This problem could have been exacerbated if Mr Halliday had been under stress and breathing more heavily because his air was running out.
The increase in buoyancy as his canisters emptied may have caused him to expend more energy fighting to stay ‘down’ in the passage and avoid drifting towards the roof. He was also using a rebreather - from Andy Goring at Sump UK - that was in development and was not commercially available.
Rescue diver Jason Mallinson said the equipment used a 'straight fitting' into the rebreather. He said an ‘elbow fitting’, which has a 90-degree bend, would have stopped the fitting unscrewing if that were indeed what happened.
The inquest heard that, after a hiatus, Mr Halliday had taken up cave diving in earnest during a holiday in Egypt around two years before his death. He was a qualified rescue diver and belonged to various groups, including the Cave Diving Group northern section.
Mr McDonough described Mr Halliday, of Clitheroe, as a person who liked ‘to push himself’ and ‘operate at the extreme’.
He said the dive at Lancaster Hole was not one he himself would have felt confident undertaking. “That isn’t because I think it’s a dangerous dive,” he said. “But it is a serious dive.”
Dr Nicholas Shaw, assistant coroner for Cumbria, said it was ‘most likely’ Mr Halliday’s rebreather failed him, leaving him in a race against time. He was not far from the surface when he died.
Dr Shaw recorded a conclusion of misadventure and the medical cause of death as drowning.
The above article is © Copywright of The Westmoreland Gazette. With thanks to them and hoping they understand why it is reproduced here.
The following article appeared in 'DiverNet' 7th March 2021
An inquest has heard how a cave-diver in Cumbria drowned close to the surface early last year, after a problem was thought to have occurred with his rebreather, a unit under development.
Simon Halliday, 49, from Clitheroe, Lancs, died at Lancaster Hole near Kirkby Lonsdale on 4 January, 2020. The incident was reported on Divernet, although at that time the victim remained unnamed and was thought to have been older.
Lancaster Hole is an access point to the Three Counties System, one of England’s biggest networks of limestone caves which extends beneath Cumbria, Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales.
Divers had been extending the downstream passage from the hole, exploring some 900m beyond the sump pool from which it was normally accessed.
Halliday was an experienced cave-diver, having resumed following a hiatus while on holiday in Egypt some two years before his death. He belonged to the Northern Section of the Cave Diving Group (CDG) and other groups.
He had travelled to the dive-site, which he had dived before, with two friends, David McDonough and Kevin Gannon. He told them that his planned solo dive would take no more than three hours, according to a report on the inquest at Cockermouth Coroner’s Court by the Westmoreland Gazette.
Halliday was using a rebreather said to be in development and so not commercially available. It had been supplied to him by sporting goods company Sump UK.
His friends waited four hours after his departure before raising the alarm. Cumbria police alerted the Cave Rescue Organisation and as many as 40 members and divers from the CDG were said at the time to have responded.
It was diver Anthony Seddon who discovered Halliday’s body, 14 minutes and 60m into the underwater passage. According to the press report, when Halliday was pulled out of the water, his “oxygen supply pipe” appeared to have been disconnected or ripped out, though whether this had occurred on the dive or during the recovery was uncertain.
However, data from Halliday’s dive computers “supported the idea that his rebreathing equipment had failed him” and that he had switched to his bail-out.
According to McDonough and Gannon more water had been flowing into the passageway than usual. Halliday was said not to have regarded this as an issue, but the current appeared to have increased while he was gone.
The inquest heard that this might have required him to fight against the flow on his way back, becoming stressed and using more air than expected. He could also have been fighting to avoid drifting up towards the ceiling as he became increasingly buoyant.
Expert witness cave-diver Jason Mallinson said that the Sump UK-supplied rebreather had a straight fitting to the drysuit, whereas an elbow fitting with a 90-degree bend would have prevented it from unscrewing, if that was what had happened.
Halliday, who was married with two children, liked to “push himself” and “operate at the extreme”, McDonough told the court. Assistant coroner for Cumbria Dr Nicholas Shaw said it was “most likely” that Halliday’s rebreather had failed him and recorded a conclusion of misadventure, with drowning the medical cause of death.
The above article is © Copywright of DiveNet. With thanks to them and hoping they understand why it is reproduced here.
A report to identify the factors which contributed to the death of Simon Halliday in the downstream sump of Lancaster Hole was published in 'The Cave Diving Group Newsletter Issue 222 – January 2022'
Tributes To Simon can be seen Here
Project Statistics as of 20/12/2019
Total Man Hours 187
Total Dive time 7 Hours 16.5 minutes
For a complete detailed list of the project statistics Please Click Here
Appendix 1: Emergency Protocol
Emergency Protocol Lancaster Hole Dive operations
Please read accompanying DCI (DeCompression Illness) Info sheet in conjunction with these Lancaster specific points.
In an emergency time is critical. Exit cave with mobile phone (Kept in small Darren drum) as quickly as is safely possible. Do not attempt to take any gear. Mobile phone reception available at surface of Lancaster Hole. Ring emergency services, explain situation and ask to be connected to CRO controller. It is IMPERATIVE that CRO are aware this is a dive related DCI incident.
In the mean time administer highest O2 gas available. If Re-Breather still operative stay on loop at PPO2 1.0. If as O2 runs out use progressively lower O2% gases. If after a bailout and only OC available use highest remaining gas, 75-32-21 in that order.
Encourage diver to take on liquids. Make comfortable and keep as dry and warm as possible.
Appendix 2: SF2 ECCR Rebreather
SF2 ECCR Specification
On the dives undertaken by Simon Halliday he uses the SF2 in "Side Configuration"
The images above were taken from the SF2 website and hopefully they fall within the restrictions of only using them for private use. Many thanks to them in anticipation of it being OK.