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Gaping Gill via Bar Pot, (24/08/13)

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So finally after around two years of "Are you going to go caving?", I give in. Karli suggested a visit to Gaping Gill. It was a winch weekend, meaning that the main chamber would be flood lit, and ideal for photographs. There are a number of alternative entrances to Gaping Gill and Karli chose the Bar Pot one.

A very punctual meeting at 08:45 (helped by the agreement of whoever is late buys the beer) saw us meet up in Clapham, get kitted up and then start the 4km walk up to Bar Pot. Shortly after setting off, the weather took a u-turn and it became very sunny, great if you're just out walking, but not if you have a load of gear with you coupled with a under and over suit. Just under an hour later, we arrived at the sink hole for Bar Pot.

We crawled in to the entrance and shortly had to rig the first pitch. The limestone was really polished, something I had never seen before, only ever experiencing hard limestone down mines. Karli abseiled down first, whilst informing me that it was a bit on the tight side. I'm sure that for seasoned cavers it was nothing, but once I was on the pitch, the fact that I could stop myself from abseiling down by breathing out was an eye opener. Down I went, automatically not relishing getting back up. Did I have any money on me to pay for a winch exit? No. Pete followed and we gathered at the bottom of the first pitch, underground, but in a totally alien setting for me. We made our way to the Greasy Slab, slid down this and entered Bridge Hall. From here we climbed further down along Horrock's Way and finally got to the Big Pitch. Karli started to rig the traverse round to it and then the pitch itself. The Big Pitch is a 30m deep shaft, which connects with South East Passage. I've often seen caving photographs of shafts and they always fascinated me, now I was actually in one and it was rather amazing.

Once all of us were down we headed northwest along the South East Passage until reaching South East Pot, a short distance away. Here we took the right turning opposite it and then had a crawly time in a intestine shaped network of passages. Most of which were low with occasional high sections. After a while, Karli tells us to be quite and listen. In the distance we could hear a roar of water - the main chamber. Following an orange glow, we came to the entrance to the Gaping Gill main Chamber and it was spectacular.

I knew it was big, but never thought it was that big. Compared to mines it was one of the largest underground cavities I had ever seen - power of nature. We wondered around, took photographs, had lunch and chatted to other cavers. Our planned exit was to do a circular via Mud Hall and Hensler's Series. With this in mind, we set off climbing the high rubble mound on the eastern side of the main chamber, which led to the Old East and then Mud Hall. Passing through the Old East we finally saw some formations that every cave has in your mind's eye. Soon after these the ground really changed and we encountered sticky clay mud - the prelude to Mud Hall. Clipping onto a hand line, we traversed the top of a slope and then climbed down on a chain. From here we could see the massive cavity that was Mud Hall. Some other cavers were on the opposite side and they were making their way down and as their lights got further away it even made it look bigger. Following another traverse line we reached the opposite side and carefully climbed down into Mud Hall to see all the clay models people have made.

After looking at the models we climbed back out of Mud Hall and attempted to look for the connecting Hensler's Series crawl back to South East Passage, but none of the ground was looking familiar to Karli. Hind sight and all that, looking at a survey, we did actually enter Mud Hensler's Crawl, then came out and carried on towards Avalanche Pot. With time getting short we ended up retracing our way in.

Exiting the final pitch wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, with the knack being to get under the correct ledge so you don't get stuck. Once out, we had the hour long walk back to Clapham. Why can't most caves be near roads like mines?