Beethoven's Birthday Connection

When Derek Brandon and Tiger found Serendipity and furtively set about descending the seventy-foot pitch and exploring Easy Street, tales began to spread among members of passages smooth and big enough to ride a motorcycle down, ending in a sump after several thousand feet. Having heard the magic word 'SUMP' I became immediately inquisitive; however, everyone who had been to the sump seemed to think it was undiveable being, as it was, at the end of a gradually lowering passage. They assumed that the water disappeared in a tight bedding. Since Gordon Batty and Frank Walker were to be surveying down Easy Street the following week-end, I asked them to give the sump a quick prod on my behalf. This they did, Gordon persuading Frank to get his feet in as far as he could, nearly drowning hte poor doctor in the process! He was then able to tell me that he personally thought it diveable, although nobody else seemed to agree with him. With thirty one active members I thought it would be childs play to get some diving gear to the bottom; however I hadn't counted on the competitive urge of the various digging teams competing for the privilege of being first into Pippikin.

The survey showed Easy Street to be snaking along under Pippikin in an alarming manner and terminating at a point somewhere underneath the Hall of the Ten. This suggested that the water either avoided Pippikin altogether on its way to LEck Beck Head or that it doubled back on itself and connected with the upstream sump in Pippikin. Either way it had to be looked at; so on Saturday, 2nd December, an offer was made at the Helwith Bridge to the effect of free beer in exchange for carrying bottles! Immediately, Stan Rhodes, Kev Millington and Roy Roebuck had me surrounded and before the night was out, Eddy Edmondson, Iain Crossley and Bill Pybus had pledged their support the following day.

The heavy snow that had fallen on the Saturday had completely disappeared, leaving only hard ice over the moors. There was a distinct lack of degrees in the air as we all trudged to the entrance of Link Pot, carrying the odds and sods necessary for the dive: one 50 cu. ft. bottle and a mini bottle reserve, two valves, a line reel with 400 feet of 4mm polypropylene on it and all the accessories - fins, weight belt, etc. The crawls were troublesome as was the mud but everything got a good cleaning at Serendipity. Here, Derek Brandon and SImon Farrow were placing a stout eyebolt for the lifeline. We exchanged a few ribald comments and were just about to go on when my lamp went out. Suddenly, out of thin air, there appeared Thunderbird I, in the guise of Tiger, who immediately exchanged my old lamp for his new one like some latter-day Aladdin's Tinker. He then set of back with Derek, Simon and Bill, chuckling someting about it costing mea dearly in alcoholic beverage.

Easy Street, at least, was well-named; it was very nice to be able to walk upright. Even if the boulders half way were a bit suspect, it was better than crawling with the gear. As we approached the sump the roof began to close down and the floor became more and more cobbly. We got to the end and I began to kit up in crouched position some 20 foot from the sump proper. In order to be able to draw a rough survey as I went, I wore a divers compass with slate to write on and the line I was using had been tagged at 100-foot intervals; hardly sufficient for an accurate survey, but then I didn't intend hanging around - besides which I had no idea whether or not the sump was passable.

Once in the water I realised that the sump, although only 18 inches high, was definitely swimmable. The visibility, to start with, was only a few inches so I trailed my legs in order to find any tight beddings to either side of me. After some 60 feet, I surfaced in a tiny airbell, then a second airbell, equally diminutive, was entered about 100 feet from base. A this point, the visibility was a lot better and the dimensions of the passage increased to 2 foot high by 3 feet wide. At 175 feet the passage surfaced in a flat out crawl floored by boulders and shingle. In a fit of elation I crawled, fully kitted up, thinking that at any minute the passage would lift and I would be exploring 'big stuff'. However, 90 feet of crawling and a bend in the passage later, I was confronted by another sump. Returning for my reel at the start of the crawl I thought 'what a ridiculous place to be!' and hit on an equally ridiculous name, 'Rablixnclod'. There being no belays in Rabixnclod necessitated laying the line through to the second sump. Here the water was almost crystal clear, so fair progress was made to a high airbell ('high' meaning I could stand up at last!); here a hole in a flake provided a perfect belay for the line. Upon submerging again the passage enlarged to about 4 feet high by 7 feet wide and the line ran out 10 feet later. In front of me I could see a rise of shingle to what appeared to be an air surface. Extremely annoyed and cold, I discarded the reel and returned to find I was overdue by half-an-hour, and that my epitaph had already been written, with my car and my new sleeping bag auctioned among my fellow cavers. All was forgiven after lots of ale at the Helwith Bridge, and a return bout with more air was tentatively organised for the 16th December.

Meanwhile, my sketch survey showed the sump to be heading towards the sump dived by D.W. (Pooh) Yeandle in Pippikin in 1975 (C.D.G. Newsletter 37). After a meeting with Pooh the following week, I became convinced that our two dives had overlapped and would have connected, had Pooh left his line in.

On the morning of the dive I decided to borrow a good aluminium line reel from Bob Emmett of the Preston Caving Club. I popped round to his place, burst into his caravan in a somewhat boyish mood, and asked to borrow the reel to clinch to connection before Pooh had a chance to do it from Pippikin. To my lasting astonishment I found that the second of the two sleeping bags contained a rather 'hung over' Pooh - 'Oi admit defeat you peasant! Oil git mi own back, mark moi words!' - followed by several utterances to the effect of wanting to be left alone to die in peace.

Back at Green Close Cottage, Bill Pybus, Roy Roebuck, Simon Farrow and John Bowers were grumbling about the amount of gear there was to transport to the hole. On this occasion I'd decided to make sure of a connection even if it meant going another 400 feet to do it. We were taking two 50 cu. ft. bottles with a special harness and another 400 feet of line (gross overkill as it turned out, but that's the way it goes!).

An efficient carry had us all at the same sump by mid-afternoon. Not wasting a moment, I hurtled through the first sump and then promptly lost half a stone in weight crawling through Rablixnclod. It cannot be called fun crawling on your belly with two 50's strapped to your hips. One of my valves got bashed on the boulders and was beginning to give me trouble, but I ignored it, knowing that I had more air than I knew what to do with. In the second sump I again took a long rest in the airbell (Pam), then continued to the end of my limit and tied on the new line, surfacing almost immediately in a second airbell (Alison) - again quite a large standing airbell. There was no stopping me this time, as I reeled out a further 150 feet of line to emerge in a low canal. Not daring to believe I was now in Pippikin, I dekitted and crawled 300 feet into a large waterfall chamber. There was no mistaking the Pippikin final sump chamber. It was a pity nobody turned up to shake hands, but I half expected to see Pooh and his sherpas hiding behind the boulders, waiting to way-lay any innocent divers passing that way.

Not being inclined to modesty, our first port of call, after getting out of the 'ole, was the Craven Heifer (a pub!), where all the famous and not quite so famous potholers were already celebrating Ann Poole's birthday (not related to Beethoven at all!). The news of the wet connection gave an immediate excuse for a booz-up - as if one was required.

To all questions of 'when is a dry connection likely?', I merely answered jestingly, "About a week or so!".


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