My night in Langcliffe Pot

Andrew N

Member
I've written this trip report up of a visit to Langcliffe. I'll warn you proper 'ard cavers - it was my first time down there and I didn't make it past Boireau Falls Chamber, so there's nothing "new" in here. Nonetheless, I treated the report as a writing exercise - I've tried to give a 'feel' for the place rather than just a clinical description. There's a bunch of photos on my blog, if anyone cares to look.



It’s quite curious how the human brain perceives time without an outside reference. How long had I been crawling for? It was impossible to know. Could you call it crawling? Not hands and knees, but rather supporting myself with a single arm outstretched in the water and pushing myself sideways along the narrow passage. My helmet scrapes noisily on the rock ceiling and my waist is constricted by each opposite wall. Any sense of progress is impossible – the next bit of passage is completely indistinguishable from the last and all other parts. Had it been twenty minutes? Forty? An hour?

Internally, I mull over whether there is a name for this eccentric method of sideways movement – generally, when people name a technique, it is because it is efficient, effective, or desirable – I’m not sure this is any of those. Everything is relative though, and it did seem to be the better option compared to crawling in the brown muddy water.

My bag is stuck. I attempt to free it blindly with my foot. This inevitably fails, and I must turn around, go backward and release it from whatever unhelpful protrusion has captured one of its straps. I crawl – no, sideways hop, for another few metres. My bag is stuck again. As I unhook it, I start to question what I am doing here at 1 am. Maybe this was a bad idea?

Following the jagged rock tunnel through a relentless series of 90-degree bends, I am often forced to my knees by a lowered roof or occasionally made to crawl on all fours. Constantly changing position seems to be taking just as much time as making forward progress. My internal debate as to how long I have been here is beginning to lose relevance, and I resolve that I should simply keep going until such time the going comes to an end.

A particularly nasty bit of cave soon demands me to be completely flat out in the stream, struggling to push my bag in front of me. Progress is very slow – why did I want to carry lights and cameras for photography? I’d learn for next time – or not. Eventually, a T-junction is salvation from my internal monologue. The torturous entrance series of Oddmire Pot – Strid Passage – has been passed, and the downstream continuation into Hammerdale Dub allows me to stand up properly for the first time since I left Slaughter Aven.



Langcliffe Pot has fascinated me ever since I first heard about it. “What about Langcliffe?”, a more experienced caver had said to me as I sat in the YSS musing about enjoying trips with a sense of journey. “That one has got miles of passages. It’ll take you hours to get to the end”. Later, reading Simon Beck’s trip reports and other discussions on UK Caving only piqued my interest more.

On Monday evening, I’d finished work and still felt full of energy when Langcliffe entered my thoughts once again. I promptly decided to cook myself a hearty meal and then drive over to Kettlewell, where I arrived just after 11 pm. Laminated route description in hand, I intended to go as far as possible in the system, despite being quite nervous about the two notorious boulder chokes protecting the far reaches.

I walked through the thick darkness, with clouds obscuring the moonlight, and found myself atop the fell using my GPS to make my way slowly and deliberately towards the cave. Suddenly, a shotgun blast went off – it sounded quite close. I froze and turned my light off. Not what you want at midnight in the countryside, is it? I stood still for some time, and when nothing was seen or heard, carried on using only a small red light. Ten minutes later, a second shotgun blast was heard – thankfully, this seemed further away and gave me the confidence to turn my light back on to speed progress.

Reaching the entrance, I discovered that the boulder pile just inside Oddmire Pot – Slaughter Aven – is uniformly coated with a disgusting brown excretion that seems to be most attracted to ropes, gloves, and oversuits. As someone who quite likes to keep clean, I often think that perhaps caving isn’t the right hobby for me. Navigating my way down the exceptionally loose boulders, I soon found myself at the start of Strid Passage (as described above). Despite the unpleasant nature of it, I felt quite safe and secure relative to being exposed on a dark fell with gunshots around.



Back to where we left off, Hammerdale Dub marks the start of around 45 minutes of easy and enjoyable caving – a welcome change. Most of this time is spent in the spacious streamway of Langstrothdale Chase, which is separated from Hammerdale Dub by the Kilnsey Boulder Crawl, an enjoyable dry bypass. Contrary to the name, it did not involve too much crawling and was a pleasant 10 minutes away from the water.

Langstrothdale Chase has it all. It is an impressively tall vadose passage, which is generously wide, and not too much trouble underfoot. One section involves waist-deep wading in a canal, whilst others involve dry and sandy bypasses next to – or sometimes entirely separate from – the stream. Strolling along here, making very quick progress, was the highlight of the trip. The stark contrast of this fantastic bit of cave to the dismal entrance series gave way to a sense of euphoria and accomplishment – it had all been worth it. It feels quite remote down here, and you innately understand the privilege it is to be in such a rarely visited, yet beautiful, place.

The streamway eventually degenerates into a mess of boulders, and a dry continuation gets progressively smaller until two flat-out squeezes are met. These are tight in all dimensions, and sufficiently irritating when solo with a bag. I stare at each squeeze hesitantly before making my way through. I don’t think they’d be a problem in any other cave, however, being alone in such a remote place makes you think twice about introducing another obstacle to your lengthy exit route. Nonetheless, the squeezes were passed without too much trouble, only requiring me to remove my SRT kit first.

The water in Boireau Falls Chamber can now be heard, and despite the description stating that the way in is a crawl immediately on the left after the second squeeze, I am drawn to an appealing passage straight ahead – which soon hits a dead end. Retracing my steps, I soon pop out into the spacious, flat-roofed chamber above the large boulder choke. The water emerges from under the left wall and cascades over and between boulders, leaving a section clean washed, whilst those rocks above the flow are coated in a thick layer of mud and topped with the ancient carbide deposits of past explorers.

It is interesting to think of what has happened in this chamber. Almost every visitor to the cave will have stopped here to rest, and it was the gathering point for rescue teams searching for the Brook brothers and their companions when they got trapped by flooding in the late 60s. Being alone, I felt strangely comforted by the many footsteps. How old are they, I wonder? Before the advent of LED lights, technical clothing, and up-to-the-minute weather radar, those original explorers faced much more challenging conditions than I do today. Regardless, they sat here and pondered their next move, just as I was doing now.

Apprehensively studying the infamous squeeze in the floor of the chamber made me question just how far I wanted to progress today. The way on – a 1.5 metre vertical drop between tightly packed boulders – looked incredibly intimidating and I wasn’t sure if I fancied my chances of getting back out without someone to pull me. Sat on the edge of the hole, I poked my legs through and felt around for any footholds which might assist my ascent. I couldn’t feel any – surely there must be a way! Lowering myself carefully into the void, I searched for a ledge or boulder to support my weight. Suddenly, my arms slipped on the muddy boulders, and my body fell downwards. My hips became wedged in the hole, my legs were hanging freely below me, and my chest was emerging from the top.

I’d inadvertently inserted myself, assisted by gravity, at entirely the wrong angle to pass the obstacle. Committing to the squeeze and finding a way back up from beneath was an option, but it was psychologically easier to try and get out from this position. Slow and arduous progress upwards was made, lifting myself methodically with my upper body and then resting on my elbows to prevent me from slipping back down. My legs were an entirely useless burden without footholds beneath and it took quite some time and effort to release myself. Eventually, relief came, and it was clearly time to turn around and head out. I knew now that I could escape the squeeze, but I didn’t fancy doing it again today. The slog outwards was begun.

Caves often seem to pass more quickly on the way out. This certainly wasn’t the case with Strid Passage. It seemed endless on the way in, and yet it had somehow doubled in size on the way out. The relief of reaching the bottom of Slaughter Aven was immense and now only a few minutes of ropework separated me from the surface. Soon after, the daylight was a welcome sight, having last seen it when I was in the car the evening before.

Langcliffe Pot is an incredibly intriguing place and my unpleasant encounter with the squeeze in Boireau Falls Chamber has only renewed my enthusiasm to see what is on the other side. As soon as the weather is suitable, I’ll be back for round two.
 

MarkS

Moderator
I poked my legs through and felt around for any footholds which might assist my ascent. I couldn’t feel any – surely there must be a way!
I'm not sure there really are any!

Thanks for posting your report. It's certainly a great cave. If returning and planning to go through the Boireau Falls squeeze I would strongly suggest not being alone. I'm not especially large, but I've done the return trip through there several times and never had it go completely without issue. The only people I've known have no issue with it have been shorter and slimmer than me. You can imagine what ascending the triangular slot you were in is like if you've had a bit of a shocker coming out of the squeeze beneath it! It's a top trip, but certainly worthy of a bit of caution.
 

Andrew N

Member
Thanks for your input Mark - reading your excellent report a few months ago contributed to me wanting to go on the trip, and it was one of the best I’ve done.

Yes - I’ve heard the squeeze below is even worse. Your advice has been taken in! Hopefully I can find someone daft enough to come with me, but I might also rig a short line and use a pantin - I have a feeling that would make it significantly easier - as long as the pantin stays attached, that is.
 

Cavematt

Active member
A really great write-up Andrew! Enjoyed reading this (and avoiding Monday morning work) a lot. I really hope this inspires more cavers to visit Langcliffe (even if just for the trip as far as Boireau Falls).
 

nobrotson

Active member
Nice report of an excellent cave. For completeness you should definitely do the 'original' entrance at least once - from memory it's not much harder.
 

Alex

Well-known member
Nice report, finally got time to read it. There is foot holds a little lower down, where there is a Scaff bar I seem to recall, unless it's been removed. As far as I recall that squeeze is relatively easy, I say relatively, when you compare it to the squeeze underneath. Although lack of footholds on the lower one is not an issue (It's on an angle of about 50 degrees) it is still one of the most awkward ones I have ever managed to get through. The contortions required to get back through it while lying in the stream make is a substantial obstacle, especially if returning from the end. You better be bendy and slim. There is also a "trick" to it, but I have long since forgotten it! The lower squeeze is definitely more awkward on the way out and made more difficult in the fact you are getting a soaking from the stream.

The original entrance has a more dramatic and pretty entrance pitch, rather than 2 or 3 separate small drops. There is also a round trip you can do in the upper reaches of the cave, which I have not done completely.
 

Andrew N

Member
Thanks for the advice Alex - I’d quite like to do The Roads round trip sometime, combined with a trip to Langstrothdale Chase perhaps.

As for the lower squeeze - yes I’ve heard it’s more technically difficult. I “look forward” to having a go, I suppose! I think I’ve resolved that another person will be needed should I go through there, for both moral and physical support!
 

Simon Beck

Member
Great write-up and good effort on your first visit, especially alone!

Langcliffe Pot is never far from mind and always was more than any other.

Although I agree that having company for a trip beyond BFC/Nemesis would be wise, with the right attitude, approach and experience, going alone is no different. Had I taken the advice given to me when I first started I would never have begun to solo cave in the first place. The greatest obstacle for me early on was breaking through that very barrier.
Plus, it wouldn't be the first time it's been done alone and onsight.

Langcliffe Pot, even the very thought of the place, or a visit, was always a reason to keep at it.

I am still about, albeit fairly sporadically at the moment due to work and other responsibilities, but maybe I will see you about.

If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be, take your time and give things just a little bit more thought before doing them.

Si
 

Andrew N

Member
@Simon Beck I really appreciate your reply. Your blog posts regarding Langcliffe were a big part of the inspiration to go there. The various tid-bits of information you've made available online, on your blog and on this forum, were a great help to planning the trip.

The advice regarding taking my time is well received. Experience is a collection of mistakes and I have learnt lessons from the trip described above. I'm sure that some people have read my post and thought "What a silly thing to do!", and I could quite sincerely appreciate their point of view. I need not have ever told anyone about the difficult time in the choke, but I am not shy of admitting that I have made errors of judgement, as believe I am a better, and safer, caver as a result of it.

I've not had a chance to go back yet, for various reasons, although I am very keen to do so. Perhaps let me know if you are ever available?
 

richardg

Member
Well done and well written Andrew, thank you for sharing your adventure and unique thoughts...
I like your finishing comments " I will be back for round two"
We will await the sequel...
 

richardg

Member
Andy just looked at your excellent blog. Great selection of quality photos and proper videos, very informative and readable, you keep a good record of your caves.....
Nice to see the selection of good quality images of Langcliffe..and other caves..
 

Andrew N

Member
@richardg - thanks very much for your kind words, really appreciated. I'm glad the time I've put into making the blog presentable and (hopefully) a useful source of information has not gone unnoticed. I keep meaning to get round to writing another article, but you know how life goes!
 
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