With the start of lockdown number 1 all events vanished. During that time I was missing getting out and about, and with the prospect of no events for ages I dreamt up my own challenge. Going to the deepest cave in England and then up the highest mountain in England, all self propelled. I could not find documentation any where of this being done before, so I had to spend some time researching the correct cave.
Now this is where it gets contentious because according to the UKC Forum, the deepest based on sea level is in the mendips. Hmmm, that's quite a ride to the lake district. If I didn't have 5 month old twins I would have considered this.
There is a thread with lots of knowledge now on here reading depths of caves. I checked around and found a website call UK caves which listed and corroborated the UKC community that the 3 counties system is the deepest in England. Further research found that going in short drop and through to gavel and bottoming out at the sump is the deepest you can go from cave entrance without diving at 212m.
As with everything in life. ask 10 cavers what is the deepest cave you will get 15 answers. So, ultimately I decided that that was good enough as its my own challenge for a bit of fun. I am sure this will create a debate, but what is certain is that on this day no one else went as deep and as high as we did.
we pulled up on leck fell at 8am, it was overcast but dry. I stepped out of the van to see a yellow suit walking to wards us from a distance. Nigel had turned up early to rig Short drop. The four of us got changed ready for Nigel to guide us to the bottom of Gavel.
Short drop is an interesting cave with a crawl/stoop along a carved out streamway with lots of scalloping in the walls. it reminded me very much of the crab walk in giants as we wound our way along following the stream down and eventually reaching the pitch. this was a very simple drop down that we all negotiated fine. gradually we got to a high level traverse which was interesting, coming around the corner was slightly awkward but all good. and we popped out into the shake hole which was very impressive.
at the far end is a slot that you drop down into. Nigel had put a rope down, I clipped on but then decided I would down climb it. for the most part it was fine but there was a very slippy rock toward the bottom, so im pretty happy that I was on the rope in the end.
we dropped further down an "iron cage" of scaffolding which was brilliant. it always amazes me the engineering that occurs in caves. following the streamway again for some time we came to what looked like a water flume drop. you had to make yourself wide against the wall and slide down in to the pool which was deeper than I had anticipated. this leads you to the head of the big pitch. this has quite an intimidating reach out over the edge to get the rope as it has been taken away from the waterfall. a bit of a swing out and then you start the descent into darkness, my headtorch could not see the bottom, but I could see the rebelay below where Eddie had not long been, so I dropped down and across to it. switching over I was careful to ensure I was on our rope and not the insitu one. this lead very quickly to another rebelay before a drop to the bottom into a very atmospheric chamber.
we followed the obvious way on to the head of another pitch. I clipped on and started my descent. what's wrong? I am barely moving. I check, everything seems fine, the simple looks good, no snags in the braking krab. I had to feed the rope through and finally got to the bottom via a deviation. Nigel laughed, "that's my 11mm rope, its very safe that one. welcome to the bottom"
we were at the sump. yay, at the bottom. The water looked incredibly black, I suspect its quite deep. we located the dive line, can you believe people get diving equipment down here? I dipped my wellies, nommed some haribo and then after some pics we began the ascent. Technically the challenge starts from here.
the ascent of the first pitch went without a hitch. whilst waiting at the head of the big pitch i was aware that the others had slowed down some what. with 2 of them having some issues getting off the pitch due to energy issues and the commiting swing back in which requires quite a lot of arm strength. John was last up and de rigging as he went. i hauled the rope up and stuffed it into the bag. Wow, this felt heavy. I have twin boys that weigh a combined 14kg and this bag felt at least on a par if not heavier. john and I scooted on after the others. dragging the bag through the crawl genuinely felt like lumping a dead body along.
We finally found Eddie and Joe who were enjoying the prettys on the ceiling and having some photos so we joined for a bit and then pushed on out of the cave mindful of the time. at the base of gavels shakle hole nigel had rigged us a direct ascent out. i headed up first, with the heavy bag dangling between my legs. halfway i became aware of a sudden weightlessness and before i knew it the bag made a thud on the floor literally (not figuratively) next to Eddie. the rope on the bag had snapped, i shouted many apologises to Eddie who was either fine about it or in too much shock to have a go.
we eventually all gathered back at the top by the vans where jim had coffees on and the bikes ready. a quick change and munch and off we set on the bikes. the roads from the Yorkshire dales and into the lakes were beautifully rolling and we enjoyed stunning scenery as we all chatted and discussed our varies experiences in the cave. the route i had planned originally would on a normal day have been very quiet, however today a vintage car rally was on and progress down the lanes became painfully slow, so we made the decision to take the main road to Kendal which aside from the odd idiot driver was very nice. before i knew it we were rolling along into the Langdale valleys with the mountains rising up above us. the beautiful smooth hills of Yorkshire replaced with aggressive angular ridges and steep sides.
Jim had arranged for some friends to cook us some pasta and so we ended up having a nice dry transistion with a civilized meal before hitting the fells. "you want to be off the fell before 1am because that's when it will turn really shit" said Ben looking at the weather forecast.
We headed out into the failing light and mist. chatting away the path into the foot of scafell is flat for around 5km and then all of a sudden it kicks up. we had a nice steady pace upwards. the wind picking up the higher we got. rain came as we hit angle tarn so we all wrapped up and pushed on. There were a couple of tents by the waters edge, they were in for a fun night.
It struck me as we hit scafells famous boulder field, that all i could see was my torch light, there was next to no other night. the boulders wet and loose. "anyone else feel like we are back in a cave" everyone agreed that the view was exactly like being in a cave again which was a strange feeling to process. The 4 of us are very experience in the mountains and despite the 5m visibility we naved well through the boulder field and reached the summit. we all had a congratulations of each other and then sadly set off back down, it was too poor conditions to remain up there. on the way down john said "we might just make it in time for last orders" once off the boulder field were were running down off scafell, it felt amazing to be moving quickly through the mountains and finally we hit sticklebarn at 10.40. ordered our drinks, sat down and "DING" the bell rang for last orders.
AH what a day. whether this truly is the deepest to highest, it doesn't change the fact that it was an awesome day out and a worthy challenge for anyone to have a go at. I hope you enjoyed this and it inspires you to give it a go