I checked that my iceaxe and hammer were handy, clipped the deadman into the rope, sorted out the slings and crabs and, finally, checked the rope. These ritualistic delaying tactics completed, there seemed nothing for it but to start climbing. As a last check I tested my headlight and settled the Oldham cell comfortably on my hip. Oldham cell? Headlight? Was this some new bizarre form of night ice-climbing? Were we benighted on some hideous Scottish Grade V ice-climb? The truth was nearly as improbable. I was, in fact, about one hundred feet underground in Gingling Hole main chamber. I had been well and truly conned! Gordon Batty and Mike Warren had, over pints during Thursday evening in the pub (when cold and dispirited after spending another evening lying face-down in cold water, once more just about to dig through into Nirvana), talked about a big aven that just needed the right person to come along and climb it; immeasurable passages were bound to be revealed. They naturally disclaimed any climbing ability equal to the task. They'd done enough to see that it was a piece of cake. So, over the weeks, the thought of some easy climbing into vast, uncharted, passages became quite attractive in comparison to the usual Thursday-night grovel. Why the ice-climbing gear? A good question. 'Just steep mud', Gordon and Mike had said, 'rather like an ice slope'.
So one Thursday, when everyone else had sensibly decided to do other things, found Gordon and I struggling down Gingling. Let me tell you, a Joe Brown rucksack is not the best way of transporting tackle underground. It does not do much for the rucksack either. Eventually we climbed down the rift and into the main chamber. Gordon shone his light across to the other side and I realised, then, why no-one had done the climbing before. You come out into the main chamber, at one side, about forty feet up. Ahead is the easy traverse and climb down to the floor. To the left, the wall continues round and up into (true enough) a big aven that disappears out of sight. However, out of this aven falls a great pile of boulders. They don't exactly fall - they're held poised by calcite. Past these, the boulders fall back to be replaced by the aforementioned mud slope. Of course, to reach it one would have to traverse underneath the boulders. To become accustomed to the problem and to demonstrate just how far the floor was away from the climb, Gordon took me on a quick trip down Paradise Lost and explained how Jim Eyre had told him where to dig to find it. Soon, back on the ledge, I started climbing.
The traverse out to the blocks was quite easy. I, thoughtfully, arranged protection around some stalagmite bosses and wondered what the impact strength of stalagmites was. To get underneath the boulder overhang entailed using one stalactite as a layback hold and reaching blind around the block for another stalactite. The feet were on small nicks in the flowstone covered wall which glistened in the light, like ice. In fact it had as much friction as ice. They were right.... it was like ice-climbing! After the boulder overhang was a vertical mud wall with small boulders sticking out to climb before reaching a 6 inch platform by the right hand solid wall. Here I took stock. Gordon's light shone 30 feet away from the other side of the chamber. My light couldn't reach the floor some 40 feet below. Above was a 12-foot mud wall which then eased slightly and went up left into gloom. I felt very insecure. The mud ledge I was on actually overhung into the chamber and besides being rather small was also rather slippery. The nearest runner was 15 feet down to the left, so I tried to get a peg into a crack in the right-hand wall. It bottomed immediately and fell to the floor. I dropped a crab as well. I seemed to be rather clumsy. Perhaps that I'm so short sighted is why I never became a brain surgeon! Between the mud and the wall on the right was a bergschrund so I started to hammer the deadman into it. The whole mud wall started to move. I stopped hammering! Eventually I got in a stake which had been made by Gordon out of sardine tins and threaded with fuse wire. This was fine for a gentle side pull. I managed to dig some footholds with the iceaxe but felt very exposed when I moved up on them. I remembered that in this very same chamber some 46 years ago the CRO had been formed. It had taken 36 hours to get the casualty out. I know Jack Pickup has improved things since, but think of the ignominy! I climbed down.
The next few weeks were wet, so as it was Jubilee year we did our bit, and dug out Coronation Pot and climbed about the boulders looking for a possible dig. The trouble was we didn't have Eyre to show us where. That overworked phrase - 'Boulders as big as houses' has some bite here. It made climbing in Gingling seem quite safe. Back down Gingling again with an enlarged team of Mike Warren, Tony Foster and Jim Birkett, this time with a bolting kit and minus the ice gear, I was soon on the mud ledge. I got the bolting kit out. "How does it work?" I asked. I got my tuition as I worked. With the bolt in I felt a lot braver. I hung an etrier on it and climbed up. To leave the etrier entailed some delicate mud moves. All the handholds became pebbles calcited onto the mud; one broke off and I slithered back down. In fact the climbing became extremely improbable. I called for a volunteer to come and join me on the ledge so that I could stand on his shoulders. There were mutterings of disinclination, the pub was mentioned, then someone said it was getting too dark to climb. I agreed as I shone my light up into the aven. It rose steeply to the left. Poised up there was a block the size of a landrover, long wheelbase, at that. So there it is: a good bolt in, new ground ahead waiting for the right man to come along with his crampons and climb it!
Is this bolt in the Yorkshire Bolt Register?
NPC Link Pot Journal 1979:
Next page: A Star is Born
Back to contents
Previous page: 25 Years ago
Out of print publications list
Northern Pennine Club Home page