Author Topic: The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange  (Read 2146 times)

Offline Wardy

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The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange
« on: December 23, 2016, 03:41:33 pm »
I was never quite sure whether or not to write this down, but it always struck me as a great catalogue of circumstance and errors, mainly our of our own making that provided us with a challenge greater than we really required.
Having seen the recent articles in Descent I was motivated to write and not lose it, so here is a trip back to a winter’s day in the late eighties.

The Swarthgill Hole Exchange
Where it all began
I always had been fascinated by the Black Keld catchment. Digging Benfoot was an early introduction, tales of Langcliffe added an edge, walks past Mossdale provided intrigue and a trip down Swarthgill Hole whetted (wetted!) my appetite. The problem was that as I went along the canals they were half full of water and topped up to the roof with foam so by the time I got to the end I always felt I didn’t check it out as well as I could have done. I needed to go back!
Some years later and I set about persuading Mick Nunwick that this place really needed a better look and to my delight he agreed. So was the end of the low wet crawl as intriguing as I remembered?

Perfect preparation
At the time I lived in a shared house in Harrogate and not knowing anyone else who lived there (in the house or in Harrogate) I was free to go any time. I also had no one to tell of my plans, just pack a bag and go.
Mick had just separated and so was also at will to do as he pleased, not needing to ask, just get in the car and go.

The day has dawned
So a rather damp Saturday morning found us in an even mistier Grassington square.
The weather was so bad that we retired to the pub to discuss it over a pint until we both realised we didn’t do this. We went caving and then had a pint, it was all wrong and we began to get restless.
A quick re evaluation - It’s only drizzle, probably worth the walk even if we don’t go down, may as well take our gear anyway as it gives you something to carry etc. etc. - and we were back outside and off we went up the Yarnbury track.

The walk in was spent checking out the landmarks and making our way via Mossdale Scar to the entrance.
Once there we looked at the stream which was a rather steady flow, rather than the desired lazy trickle.
I then showed Mick the old entrance which was a mass of boulders having been filled in presumably by the local game sports enthusiasts to prevent Grouse hiding down there.
The other entrance was Chis pot which despite being in the streambed was not actually taking any water due to a barely discernible lip resulting in it being more inviting than it really should have been for the conditions.
The chat then centred on the fact that having got here and it not looking that bad it would be a shame not to at least have a quick look, so we got changed.
I then rigged a ladder to the convenient boulder in the streamed only to see a look of disgust on Mick’s face. He then searched and found a small thread in an adjacent piece of bedrock, took my sling and rigged the ladder still tutting (something about Neanderthal as well maybe, but it was few years back).

Taking all the gear down with us
Mick then generously let me go first as it was my idea and so I squeezed down the first part until it bells out into a fine pitch, with some ledges about 10-15 feet from the bottom. Getting off here meant we could climb across to meet the route in from the old entrance and the way on to the canals, so I waited for Mick to join me.
A few minutes later and Mick was level with me asking if he need to get off on the ledge or continue to the bottom.
Rather rudely and surprisingly he did not wait for my reply, but set off for the bottom in a rather unorthodox fashion taking the ladder with him.
As Mick hit the floor and the ladder rattled down after him I realised the trip wasn’t going quite to plan.

What’s the damage?
When the hardest man in the world is damaged you know it’s serious and he was definitely the worse for wear.
We checked him out and nothing was actually broken, but a battery pack in your kidneys leaves a mark and he was no longer on top form.
Then we appraised our options and whilst I had dismissed climbing the overhanging pitch with the tight squeeze at the top Mick still contemplated it even in his rather battered state.
We then totted it up the situation.
We were at the bottom of a 15m shaft with the tackle and no way back up.
The shaft was in the streamed, which was in flood and it was raining steadily.
Mick was glad he had not relied on my boulder belay, but unhappy he had trusted my “crappy” sling which must have failed.
Our foresight meant no one knew where either of us were and no one would miss us until Monday - it was Saturday!
Finally and more catastrophically if anyone came for us it would most likely be Watto and boy would he gloat?

Everything polarised on that one basic thought - We can’t let Watto have the satisfaction of seeing us in this predicament, we have to get out.

Climbing over the injured
Abandoning the way we had come in we climbed back to the ledge and made our way to the parallel shaft from the old entrance. The shaft was pretty wet and whilst narrower higher up it belled out just above the ledges before continuing down to the bottom. Despite being able to reach the first handholds where it narrowed above the ledge, it was just too wide to bridge. Not that this stopped us trying driven on by that vision of a grinning rescuer.
Defeated things began to look glum until Mick suggested that he may be able to help me onto the climb and that if I could get established then maybe I could climb out.
In spite of his state I gladly stomped my size 9’s up his back until I could reach some higher handholds and get my feet on the climb. Not wishing to emulate Mick’s previous dynamic decent I carefully worked my way up the sharp rock fully aware that luck wasn’t in abundance on the moor that day.
At the top of the first section I breathed a sigh of relief and with the ladder in hand carried on up planning to re rig it down Chis pot to get Mick out later.
At the top of the next section and now out of earshot I met the run in from the entrance blockage.
I realised I could not drop anything as if I crowned Mick with a rock he would be far less likely to forgive me for the sling.
I gingerly edged through the blockage to a large slab.
As I squeezed past it the slab shifted a little and then thankfully stopped - only now my chest was above it and my bum below, but try as I might I could not force my bum up or my chest back down - Bollocks!
As I took stock I was happy to see that my head was now virtually in the entrance and the excited stream was at eye level.
It was still raining.
It was still Saturday and boy would Watto love this.

Relax, keep calm, then struggle and it will turn out fine
After a few minutes thinking of Mick down below, cold and battered, dreading the rescue, feeling guilty about the sling I forced my way back down, then went the other side of the block through what was now an easy gap and out onto the surface - I was free.

Back over to Chis pot and there was the offending sling - fully intact - looped singly around a spike of rock that used to be a thread (orange juice drinking rock jock belay indeed!) until it peeled away - back to the Neanderthal technique and a nice re assuring boulder.

The ladder rigged I hollered down and Mick climbed back out with a grin happy to be back into the gloom and drizzle of Grassington Moor in winter.

Friends always respect each other
As Mick was in pain and had had a pretty bad time I waited a respectable couple of seconds before laying into him about his choice of belay.
Mick ignored my sarcasm and suggested that now the ladder was properly belayed we may as well do the trip as planned.
The rain continued to pour, Watto’s image lingered in my mind, lady luck just like everyone else was nowhere to be seen on the moor that day and so I packed my bag and forced Mick back down the fell.
A few hundred yards later and I stumbled thigh deep into a bog -maybe we should have gone back down after all!

What did we learn?
Belays are a matter of choice
Treading on your mate when he’s down can be a good idea
Some of your best climbing is done in the most unlikely places
When you think the adventure is over it often isn’t - some things just never accept you’ve beaten them
If you’ve ever met Watto you will understand that most things are possible you just need sufficient motivation.

Oh and trespassing, no call outs, flood prone caves in the rain and trusting a climber to sort the belay are not advisable.
On the plus side I did do a classic exchange from one entrance to the other and for the 10 metre exchange it only took a couple of hours – result!

Offline Badlad

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Re: The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange
« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2016, 05:20:35 pm »

Offline nickwilliams

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Re: The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange
« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2016, 05:52:18 pm »
Great write up. I can particularly identify with "Some of your best climbing is done in the most unlikely places"

"Economics is simply the branch of sociology that deals with people trading items and the fact that they use more numbers does not make it anymore of a science."

Offline psychocrawler

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Re: The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange
« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2016, 08:02:43 pm »
Sounds like a fun day out!

I've been 'rescued' by Watto (luckily he was in a worse state than we were) and received a massive bollocking from him for self-lining up a 70' pitch rather than waiting for a stout lifeline from the 'rescuers'. I was in far too much of a rush to get to my fags at the entrance to worry about such trivialities.

Offline Simon Beck

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Re: The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange
« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2016, 10:45:22 pm »
Thanks for sharing, an enjoyable read!

Here's some pictures to compliment those memories..

Offline richardg

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Re: The Great Swarthgill Hole Exchange
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2016, 12:09:22 am »
It's always good to read of your Adventures......

Simon .....
Your amazing photos provide a grafic illustration of what Pete is saying about the cannals with water and froth filling the passage to the roof and leaving him with the impression of an inconclusive exploration!

Proper "Hardman" Cave exploration......


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