Scaling Ladders in Penyghent Gill, 1951, 1958 and ?


Penyghent Pot was finished and sundry digs and prospects had turned out blank. New exploration was not forthcoming through conventional channels; however, having not long before read "Subterranean Climbers" where the accent is rather heavily on the use of scaling poles, I remembered our ex-W.D. scaling ladders stacked in the tackle store. Surely there must be some caves lying around which just needed the application of scaling technique to give some satisfying lengths of new exploration ? A memory of reading a Y.R.C. description of a cave ending upstream in a waterfall, somewhere down Penyghent Gill, stirred vaguely.

One Saturday afternoon early in 1951, I went down Penyghent Gill with John Walmsley and found the obvious cave entrance of Upper Hesleden Cave II. A simple hands and knees crawl on a clean limestone floor led in 47 yards to a nice pool chamber with a waterfall about 16 feet high coming from a sizeable passage. Here indeed was a ready-made job for scaling tackle. The following week, Budge Burgess, Jim Marshall and I returned with several lengths of scaling ladder which had hitherto been mainly used for reaching the cottage roof and similar jobs. Getting up this quite short climb, we found the ladders to be rather more flexible than desirable, but not dangerously so on this length. Once at the top we hung a wire ladder down and proceeded upstream with the scaling ladders. The way continued as an easy walk in a passage 8 feet or so high and two to four feet wide, with good straw formations, for some 150 yards, where it ended in a high aven down which was falling a cold shower of water. We could see a passage about thirty feet or so up from which the water was coming. The aven was smooth and overhanging all round, quite typical of Yorkshire pothole. We had insufficient ladder to get up this so retired. The following day Budge, Ken Harris and I returned with more ladder and erected enough to reach the top of the aven. Ken decided to try to get up, but found after climbing about twelve feet that the ladder was bent up hard against the overhanging wall. It appeared that if he was to climb much higher the whole thing would come over backwards. We had no immediate solution for this so retired baffled, surveying out to the waterfall aven.

On the next trip, we took more ladder, the party including Alan Kirk, Bob Ashworth, Brian Heys, Bert Bradshaw and myself. We put up enough ladder to reach over the lip of the fall, but could not place it in any way to avoid the excessive bending. We began to think how we might brace the ladder, having with us three spare lengths of ladder and some cord. While we were sorting this out, Alan decided that meal-time had arrived and produced, from goodness knows where, his pillow case stuffed with sundry foods, sat down at the side of the chamber and proceeded to munch steadily.

Nearly an hour later we had sorted things out. By lashing an eight foot length of ladder at right angles to the main length about a third of the way up, and a single four foot length at two-thirds of the way up, we found that the cross pieces came hard against the curving walls of the aven as soon as the main ladder was loaded, and appeared to give excellent rigidity to the whole set-up. Being the lightest, Bob was allowed to go up first. Nothing gave way, so the rest of the party followed, including Alan who had just finished eating in time. At the top, the passage soon lowered to a pool of water, but this was easily passed and in another few yards a waterfall chamber was entered. This did not look quite so high as the last and there was a ledge about halfway up.

We rigged a wire ladder on the previous climb, Scaffold Aven, and brought enough scaling ladders up for the new climb, Showerbath Aven. Here the ledge provided an excellent natural support for the ladder at the halfway mark and we got up easily if somewhat damply into another easy walking stream passage with a roof bedding plane well decorated with straws. This proceeded upstream for somewhat over a hundred yards until it ended in the largest aven of all. This one was very high, perhaps sixty feet or so, and water splashed off a ledge about halfway up, showering over all the available floor space, hence the name Thunderstorm Aven. This place was beyond the limits of our simple equipment and so the place remains to this day unexplored. It could be scaled perhaps by getting up to the ledge and going on from there. There is probably not a great deal of limestone left on top of the aven, but perhaps still some distance to go back to the sink from which the water comes. We never established the exact point of sinkage for the sream in the cave, although it must fairly certainly be coming from the nearby beck which flows down from Out Sleets. Its flow appears to be practically constant no matter what the weather, which suggests a choked sink in a stream bed. Not far upstream of the first climb, Waterspout Aven there is a strong inlet, only active in wet weather, which is probably a flood sink from the lower part of the same surface stream. A Fluorescein test showed that a sink midway between these two parts of the same stream flows the other way and emerges at a spring further down the main valley.

During the exploration of this area, we noted a number of interesting possibilities which included two other scaling jobs. One is Upper Hesleden Cave I, which has a slightly restricted meandering stream passage to a waterfall chamber. We did not tackle this one as bends in the passage were a trifle too acute to allow of the passage of the short lengths of scaling ladder. Lower down Penyghent Gill is a steep-sided tributary valley on the east side of which is a low cave opening about thirty feet or so above the stream. The cave entrance is dry, but a spring emerges from the ground a few feet below it. Although the cave is easily seen from the road, it is not recorded in caving literature. In 1951 a short solo reconnaissance revealed that the passage led to a wet bedding plane crawl where the sound of a waterfall could be heard ahead. In spite of this enticing sound, other exploration commitments prevented the cave from being revisited by the club until November, 1958, when Dave Raine, Dave Gibbon and I had another look at the place. The bedding plane was forced to a fine waterfall chamber about twenty feet high with an obviously negotiable passage at the top, and so a further scaling exploration can now begin. Unfortunately, the bedding plane is a trifle low in places and foam on the roof indicates that dry weather should be chosen (if possible) before spending long hours in the cave.

In these days, when one is tempted to think that everywhere must have been looked at by someone, it is worth remembering that this cave, which can be seen from a main road, has been left for seven years with its possibilities suspected and yet no-one else has taken it up. We hope to tidy up the exploration of this and a few other odds and ends in the area in time for the next issue of the Jornal.

Reference: Y.R.C. Journal Vol. 7, No. 21, 1934, p 258.

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