I started writing this up for the Scurion competition in December but never got round to finishing it (something to do with giving birth to a little boy in the middle of the month). Anyway, here it is. Sorry, its probably a bit long so you might need a cup of tea if you're going to see it through.
Kenilworth, don't bother reading on from here it will only ruin your day Three Days in Gingling
We had decided it would be a good use of our time to camp in the Fountains Fell Master Cave beyond the Gingling Hole sump. As miserable as that sounds, it did make a lot of sense. Surveying the master cave to a good standard takes time and one-day trips were long and exhausting. I think there had been a few of eighteen hour days down there by previous explorers and surveyors; a long, strenuous and dehydrating time in a 7mm wetsuit, particularly on the return journey through Gingling. A camp meant more time could be spent surveying without having to consider the return journey, and once established the camp would serve as a useful base from which to continue exploration of sumps in the further reaches.
The trip took a fair bit of setting up in the months prior: portering cylinders and an awful lot of lead strips, a diving trip in Hurtle Pot to check a drytube for leaks, and a ballast test in the river outside our house to determine how much lead would be required to sink this drytube. Eventually though, we were ready to go and Easter 2016 was the chosen weekend.
Good Friday was spent with two friends lugging the last of the gear down to the sump and spending some time there attaching lead to the bag and cannon-sized drytube that were to be taken through the sump next day.
Saturday: We were back up on Fountains Fell and changed into our 7mm wetsuits by 10am, and down at the sump within an hour (we were getting pretty used to the trip in by now). I’ll be completely honest here: the bottom of the Big Pitch sump is my least favourite kitting up spot. There is only a narrow ledge, perilously close to a deep flooded rift, to kit up on, and consequently you have to be very methodical and static whilst changing from caver to diver mode. Added to this is the lack of escape from the shower of cold water raining down on your head throughout the process. Luckily today, there was very little water so kitting up was much more relaxed than on previous occasions. I was first to dive through, so got to make use of the limited visibility to drag my heavily weighted tackle sack through the 80 metre long sump. Jason had the joy of struggling along behind in zero visibility with the drytube. I was almost finished de-kitting and stripping out the lead from my bag when the sound of Jason’s bubbles marked his appearance through the sump. Within a few minutes we were ready to set off.
The streamway in Fountains Fell Master Cave is one of the more impressive that I know in the UK. It’s a privilege to be there, partly due to its remoteness and the real sense that it has been visited by only a few people. We emerged from the sump passage on the bend of the master cave passage, and carried on downstream in the flowing river which is mainly knee to waist deep, although there is one neck deep canal section where the roof lowers and the passage widens. Shortly after this there are some side tunnels that soon choke but beckon with the promise of unknown dry cave above. Our turn off was a long low oxbow, just beyond a low section of cascades, (all awkward with the drytube). By 12.30 we had dumped off the gear and were zipping around the nearby dry passages looking for a decent place to set up camp. This was always going to be an interesting exercise; neither of us could precisely remember if there was anywhere that would be suitable and close enough to water. There were a lot more deep puddles and narrow cobbled tunnels in the oxbow than I recalled, and the nearby side passages were mainly covered in a strange wet mud that has been aerated by the many thousands of worms that reside there (not suitable at all for camping).
We eventually settled on the first area we had arrived at and set to work levelling a small area of sandy floor, pitching the tent and unpacking sleeping bags/stoves etc. Still in damp wetsuits, we sat down for a curry and some jelly for pudding then set off back to the streamway to continue the survey. By this time water levels were on the rise (we knew that rainfall was forecast that day), but all the same it was quite disconcerting to see the water levels rise noticeably within a short timeframe. Rather than complete the entire upstream survey beyond the Gingling sump passage, we turned tail a bit earlier, just to be sure that we could safely get back passed the deep water canal section, that would almost certainly sump off if the water were high enough. We commented that it was very strange to be heading deeper into the cave while water levels were rising, rather than heading out. Back at camp we, ate and changed into dry gear to sleep in, all with the louder streamway providing a new background noise. Sleep was reasonably comfortable for me as I had made sure that I had extra warm dry stuff; knowing I wouldn't be fit for anything if I didn't have a comfy night. Jason meanwhile “bravely” suffered with the bare minimum as there wasn't enough room left in the drytube for more stuff
Sunday: My watch denoted a reasonable time to get out of our pits, and we were soon scoffing porridge before putting on dry caving kit with a plan to explore and survey downstream (a new bit of the cave for me). Beyond the dry oxbow this entailed a lot of faffy but fun traversing over the fast flowing and deep water in the rift passage back in the main passage (we were hoping to keep our fleeces dry). We cut off to the left in a low and relatively complex area and found the Static Sump (this is on route to our objectives for the next trip in). At this point we decided that to keep warm we should have a mooch around to look for any unexplored passages. We set off up what looked like an immature inlet and split up at a T-junction. I chose the right branch and as luck would have it this soon emerged at the corner of a large tunnel where the inlet water was flowing. Turning left I had that rare joy of exploring 300 metres of large tunnel, which terminated at a small sump and a boulder choke a short distance further on. A quick recce of the choke ascertained that: a) it would not go without digging, and b) a showerbath could be heard just a short distance beyond.
Returning to the entry passage and to Jason, I showed him our find (which may or may not have been explored before, as it was not marked on the NPC pace-and-compass survey and there were no traces of human presence). We then spent the next couple of hours surveying it. By this point we were pretty chilly and so returned to camp for some hot food. Come 4pm we were sitting in the tent eating curry and deciding what to do next. We'd completely failed to keep our fleeces dry despite trying, and this meant one less layer to wear in bed that evening; or no layers in one person's case! Ultimately it was decided we would pack up camp and head on out. By 5pm camp was broken up and gear was stashed in what we hoped would be reasonably dry and safe places ready for our return, and the inevitable hideous final act was to put wet wetsuits back on … yuk!
All I can say about the return journey is that the journey out from sump to entrance was knackering in 7mm neoprene and I remember developing that special relationship one has with a heavy bag that snags on everything on the way out. It's impossible to rush any obstacles in Gingling when kitted up in this way, so instead a steady rhythm was adopted with each difficulty mentally broken down into segments to tick off, just to make it all seem a bit easier. We eventually arrived at surface just before midnight on Easter Sunday. That nights feast of cheezy beans on toast at home never tasted so good
We decided to name our new bit of cave “Rainscar Passage” in honour of the always welcoming farming family that reside at the farm called Rainscar. When plotted on the main survey there is just a short distance between the choke and the end one of the known dry passages so it will form another loop if connected.