It is difficult to know who to blame for the original discovery of Hammer pot, nobody wishes to accept responsibility for the sufferings it has caused those foolish enough to persevere with it or the frustrations it has given those who are too well built to descend it.
When I first had a proper look at it on February 3rd 1957, quite a bit of work had already been put into making it a cave of 10 yards to a ridiculously small opening. But the draught at this furthest point was most encouraging and I scraped about a bit to see if the passage could be dug out. It looked as though it could, with work, so I started to divert the small stream which was making things uncomfortable but in so doing I opened up a much more promising line of attack and before long had scraped out a low crawl into a descending stream passage.
The rest of the party had meanwhile been opening up the approaches and intent on their work had not noticed my breakthrough. My call to them to follow up set them moving but they had to start excavating again in order to get through the crawl. I pressed on and reached the head of a pitch, so returned to call for ladders, again more delay while the others struggled through the initial narrows. Whilst waiting, I looked at the pitch and decided it could be climbed, so I pressed on down and into the next narrow section as far as Hesitation Corner, beyond which I did not wish to press on alone. When the others came on they also failed to get much beyond Hesitation Corner and we retired to leave it for another trip, with less clothing on.
This next trip was on the following Saturday with Gordon Batty, Brian Hudson and myself. Brian Hudson achieved the furthest penetration but retreated exhausted. That night, however, Alan Fincham persuaded Brian into another go and next day, while Gordon and I expended our energies elsewhere, they met with success, getting through into Showerbath Chamber and on as far as the top of the big pitch. Meanwhile Jack Myers and Rowland Smith had surveyed the first pitch.
The next Sunday we had a full strength attack. Five of us got through the narrows, of whom Cyril Crossley was left on the lifeline at the 50' pitch, not an enviable occupation, but he was more comfortable there than if he had continued with us. The stretch between the 2nd and 3rd pitches had no obstacles, but beyond the 3rd pitch was a short bit of easy passage and then the Sludge Crawl, a hands and knees crawl, began.
And what a crawl that was, hands and knees to begin with, but eventually degenerating into a flat out crawl and full of mud the consistency of porridge. Those in the lead churned up the mud making it worse for those who followed on and to cap it all my reserve headlamp bulb failed in the middle of it, my main bulb having failed shortly before. Fortunately, Alan Fincham had a spare and a change over was effected under difficult conditions.
At last after 100 yards and when the air space had been reduced to 8", we got through into a bit more space again. There was another quiet canal inlet on our left and then a raging torrent, also on the left. We had heard its roar right from the start of the crawl and for once we had not overestimated the size of the stream from the noise we had heard. There was only one surface stream in the neighbourhood of comparable size, we had obviously met the Gingling Sinks water again.
Gordon, Brian Hudson and Tony Marsden pressed on downstream whilst I rested in a dry branch passage. The floor of the stream was full of deep holes into which they were continually falling. They climbed down a short cascade and then reached their limit, the water simply fell into blackness which their lamps could not penetrate. They were greatly impressed.
We returned to the surface and were revived to comfort by tea and cakes at Neals Ing whilst alarm over our absence from Green Close steadily rose.
During that week, my thoughts kept drifting from work to the stream we had seen and doubts crept in. I had taken occasional compass bearings below and knew we were heading roughly northwards, yet the stream had entered on the left which was not how I would have expected to meet the Gingling Sinks water. Fornah Gill stream was not big enough, what else could it be ?
I looked at the map but there were no other streams of any consequence in the area. But then I realised that this in itself might be the answer: the area without streams was at least as big as the area draining to Gingling Sinks and the water had to go somewhere. All the rain falling on Out Fell must sink after a very short surface run and collect underground into a master cave and that was what we had met.
Next weekend I expounded this theory meeting at first with disbelief but gradually gained some doubtful supporters. Still, we would find proof one way or the other by continued exploration or by some sort of water test.
That Sunday turned out very wet so we were limited to surveying as far as the 50' pitch which under those conditions was not attractive. One thing we noticed on this trip was that the draught, previously so strong, was no longer noticeable. The answer is, we believe, that a rise in the main stream level of 8" or so will cause the water in the Sludge Crawl to back up to the roof and seal off the system - ugh !
The next Sunday would have been ideal for an attack but there were not enough thin men for a party. Instead, we enjoyed the sunshine on top looking for higher entrances into the Out Fell system. At dusk we noticed one very promising hole in Dick Close pasture. If this also drained to Brants Gill Head then we certainly have an arduous life ahead of us. We returned to this hole the next Sunday and found it blocked at a depth of 50' and then we found another pot even deeper not far away, but it looks as though this Dick Close Pasture is going to form a separate episode in itself.
Our next assault on Hammer Pot was on March 31st. Gordon, Brian and I carried tackle down to the main stream intending an attack on the big wet pitch. Progress through the Sludge Crawl was very difficult, my ladder and rope came undone and required much pulling through the mud.
We had put Flook into action to drain the Wet Sinks, but the main stream was nearly as strong as previously, more support for the Out Fell master cave theory, so we decided to tackle the dry passage first. The initial clay slope was surprisingly difficult, but after that, we got into a most remarkable inclined passage rising steadily at about 30 degrees for considerable length. Near the top is a hole in the floor about 12" x 24" and quite deep. Beyond is an aven with a slight drip coming in and disappearing down a very low passage. Up in one wall is an opening reached by a climb and leading onto another small aven; it looks as though we are near the surface here and one or two places might go with the aid of a spade, but we left them for the time being and returned to the main stream.
We also looked at the other lower inlet below the cascade but found it soon blocked. Having spent so much time digressing we didn't take tackle to the head of the main pitch, but merely investigated it for a future attempt. With a little engineering, we might keep the ladder away from the main force of the water.
On our way back, we decided to explore the Pit, the hole in the inlet passage in the hope that it might bypass the Sludge Crawl. I tried it first but soon retreated, then Brian had a go and reached mud bottom - completely choked. The descent had been easy enough but the ascent was a long struggle, he had no room to bend his knees to climb the ladder. In the end we got him out by lowering a rope loop for his left foot on which I heaved while Gordon heaved on the ladder holding his right foot.
That trip gave me plenty of food for thought during the next week, a few bearings and roughly paced distances suggested that we must have been somewhere near to the Fornah Gill bridge when we were near the surface. From the size of the inclined passage, it may well have carried the main Fornah Gill stream (perhaps once including the Gingling Sink water) from a sink now completely choked, but the avens might represent some small sinks on the west bank of the stream near the bridge.
However, this was only very rough guess work, so the next weekend, we had a survey trip to try and fix the top of the incline passage more closely. The result surprised me in that our long underground journey had brought us very near to the entrance of the hole. We did not land quite under a shakehole but there were two holes not far away which appeared possible digs. The first one was dug the following weekend and Alan Fincham disappeared down amongst perilous boulders where no one else was prepared to follow and he reported a possibility of opening out a passage, but during the next week the hole collapsed and interest in it ceased. The second hole did not attract immediate attention since there was a large boulder in it, but later on we erected a tripod over the hole and with a complex system of pulleys, and a rawlbolt inserted into the boulder, we lifted it out to one side and then after hauling out many bucketsfull of boulder clay we got into a small cave where we wielded a hammer, but with not much effect.
Our greatest success came on Good Friday when Brian Hudson, Alan Fincham, Tony Marsden and myself set off to attempt the final wet pitch. Alan had a look at the pitch and decided he could climb into the fissure to the right of the fall with just the aid of a handline. We followed and then waited while he disappeared into cracks in the floor seeking a dry way down. I, impatient, wandered off along a small crawl whence I was able to look back into the stream passage from whence we had come and then looking forward I saw a colossal white stalagmite flow on the far side of a large shaft. I called to the others to come and join me. Brian and Tony did so, but Alan could not hear me and kept pottering about underneath. In the end, by pulling up his ladder, we indicated to him that he had better come up.
We fixed the ladder for the descent of the new shaft which was quite an easy and dry climb since the stream did not come in until about 8' from the bottom. At this point we stopped for chocolate since it looked as though we were going to set off along a big stream passage for a long walk. Brian set off again but halted at the first corner. It looked as though dinghies would be needed. However, it was a relatively short deep pool and we were soon on a boulder strewn floor with holes high in the roof. Onwards, the roof came down and the stream disappeared to the right, inaccessible. To the left was a low crawl and we pressed on through this, a wet crawl in places, and got back to the main stream, a few yards of boulder floor and then an extensive stretch of passage with deep water and little airspace gradually ending in a sump.
The rest of that Easter weekend we spent recovering in more gentle areas of Fountains Fell, and thinking. That thinking was most effective since it led, a fortnight later, to the discovery of Magnetometer Pot in two hours of digging, of which more is to be said elsewhere. But the discovery of Magnetometer Pot meant an end to progress in Hammer Pot. Still a lot of N.P.C. tackle was below ground there and was worth the effort of bringing out. A party on July 7th surveyed the stream passage to the head of the pitch and brought the tackle back through the Sludge Crawl and into Showerbath Chamber and then eventually, on November 3rd, the tackle was brought out to the surface.
Between the 2nd narrows and the Sludge Crawl there are two passages still unexplored and beyond the last pitch there are several holes in the roof and the sumps which might be pressed further. But the select few who have been through the narrows and Sludge Crawl have little enthusiasm for repeating that route and await the discovery of an easier way into the Out Fell Master Cave.
I suppose, some day, someone else may follow in our stomach prints along the Sludge Crawl, but I hope they do it in settled weather. We have noticed wisps of grass on the stalactites in the roof of the passage where it is about 20' high at the top of the last pitch. Flooding to that sort of level seems to be a common failing of the Fountains Fell Caverns.
The other big menace is the 2nd Narrows. It is bad enough to get oneself through when feeling fresh: to do it when exhausted is much worse. To get an injured man through might not be possible.
NPC Black Journal 1957:
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A diary account by Alan Fincham: Hammer Pot (from LUUSS Trogazette, 1963)
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