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Stile Pot Project Log

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These articles are simply intended to record the progress of various projects that have been or are being undertaken in the Dales.

Introduction

Stile Pot is located in the far side of the small amphitheatre just over the stile leading to Bar Pot (see location map). The first reference to it in print was in the first edition of Northern Caves (1975) where it was described as draughting, 4.5 m deep, and probably associated with the chambers at the foot of the first pitch in Bar Pot. However, subsequent investigation indicated that it had never been more than a couple of metres deep, and that it has nothing to do with the entrance chambers of Bar Pot.

Stile Pot with Bar Pot beyond
John Gardner alongside Stile Pot with Bar Pot Beyond
Photograph - John Sellers, 26th June 2007

It was first looked at by Mike Wooding and John Gardner on the 20th February 2005, when it seemed to be a prime candidate for the origin of the passage discovered at the top of the Small Mammal House aven in Bar Pot. It had obviously been neglected for a long time, and gave the appearance of being an over-sized rabbit hole.

22nd February 2005

MJW: Mike paid a return visit to Stile Pot after removing some rope from Rat Hole. He managed to remove some large boulders and a couple of buckets of debris to expose a restricted passage trending down to the north-west. The spoil was discreetly deposited by the wall.

Stile Pot Entrance - 23rd February 2005
Stile Pot Entrance - 23rd February 2005

23rd February 2005

MJW and JWG: A trip to Stile Pot in very snowy conditions. At first, digging was very slow in the restricted passage, but this was helped by widening it by levering weathered slabs off the wall. Unfortunately, one of these rolled in deeper, and will probably need moving eventually.

The rate of progress then increased. The current situation is that the passage trends down to the north-west for a couple of metres to a constriction, beyond which it seems to open out into a vertical feature. A prow of bedrock in the floor is currently hindering progress, and a large boulder also needs to be excavated and removed. Further widening of the walls would also be useful.

Mike Wooding in Stile Pot Entrance - 23rd February 2005
Mike Wooding in Stile Pot Entrance - 23rd February 2005

Although the passage continues to look right for being the other end of the SMH passage, according to the survey it has become too deep. The top of SMH is marked as being five metres below the surface, and the entrance in Stile Pot is 4 m below the clints, and descends a further 4 m. If the two are to connect, either the bottom of the aven on the survey must be marked too high, or the surface marked too low. It was agreed that a sound test should be undertaken between the two as soon as possible.

27th February 2005

MJW, JWG and Phil Johnstone: This trip marked Phil Johnstone's first visit to SMH for almost 30 years! The purpose was to carry out sound and smoke tests between the passage at the top of Small Mammal House, and Stile Pot.

JWG and PJ ascended the Small Mammal House pitch, and just before the scheduled time they heard hammering, and responded with hammer and whistle. This went for on for about 10 minutes rather inconclusively, and so the smoke test was initiated a couple of metres from the end. The smoke went straight up the rift.

Meanwhile, MJW had been working in Stile Pot, removing the prow, widening the rift, and digging round the big boulder. The prow was removed by drilling, and hammering wedges, and it was this hammering that could be heard from inside. He did not, however, hear the whistling or hammering initiated from within the passage. He also confirmed that Stile Pot was draughting out.

After a few minutes, MJW returned to moor level and saw the last of the smoke issuing from the clints some 5 metres S-E of the path down to Bar. This point corresponded well with the survey.

A couple of hours were then spent prospecting the clint area, without tangible success, and also furthering the cause in Stile Pot, which continues to look hopeful.

23rd February 2006

MJW and JWG: After the opening up of Small Mammal Pot in April 2005, interest waned in Stile Pot. But after a delay of a year, a return was made to confirm or otherwise a connection between the bedding off to the south-east of the pitch in Small Mammal Pot, 4 m below the roof of the aven, and Stile Pot. Mike descended to the bedding whilst John loitered in the entrance of Stile Pot. Both sound and smoke tests were carried out. The sound test had a possible positive result; and a smoke test and a joss stick test had positive results. Mike also took the opportunity to clear a few boulders from the entrance to the bedding.

28th February 2006

MJW and Elaine Hill: With Elaine providing some invaluable technical assistance, Mike managed to remove a couple of protuberancies from the wall of the entrance rift in Stile Pot, which should allow progress into the small chamber straight ahead.

2nd March 2006

MJW and JWG: A brief foray was made into Stile Pot to see the damage from the previous trip. Access into the "small chamber" was now easy, and it turned out to be a cross-rift. The floor is made up of small clean boulders, which need pulling out. There is the possibility of a small vadose passage veering north from the east side of the rift, and the possibility of an undercut in the floor to the north. A day or two of pulling out small boulders should see whether further progress is possible.

16th March 2006

MJW and JWG: A couple of hours were spent on pulling out boulders from the floor. All walls of the dig are solid apart from the one nearest to the entrance, which was covered by a slab levered from a wall a year ago.

Mike Enjoying a Deserved Tea Break at Stile Pot John in the Dig at Stile Pot
Mike Wooding Enjoying a Tea Break John Gardner in the Dig with the Prow in Front

As progress was made hauling out small boulders and tin cans, it became evident that the ever-increasing draught emerged from the small rift on the west side, although the rift meandering off to the north-east is the better developed. It is likely that the main way on is straight down, and gaps started to appear, but progress in this direction became difficult with the loose wall. With a superhuman effort, Mike manhandled the covering slab to the surface, to allow the loose wall to be removed on the next visit, which will give us more room and make digging safer.

13th April 2006

MJW and JWG: MJW had created a nifty little digging container which proved to be entirely appropriate to the job, allowing the container to be easily pulled up from the digging site back to the surface. Mike descended into the depths first, pulling down the loose front wall in the digging chamber, and soon had the debris cleared. Thereafter, rapid progress was made in the enlarged chamber and a further metre of depth was attained, with the strong draught still emerging from the rift to the west. We now seem to have got past most of the mud and human detritus.

Mike Wooding Emerging from Stile Pot
Mike Wooding Emerging from Stile Pot

The deeper we get, the more it's a struggle to get back to the surface…

Finally, the debris from today's session and the previous session was discretely distributed and landscaped.

25th May 2006

MJW, JWG, and John Sellers: The addition of John Sellers to the team made the task of digging, hauling, and disposal far more efficient. Steady progress was made, and towards the end a floor of damp unconsolidated sands and gravel was reached, which made easier digging. The main draught now emerges from a thin rift heading towards the south-east down which can be seen what appears to be a floor.

John and Mike enjoying another tea Break at Stile Pot
John Gardner, Tess and Mike Wooding Enjoying Another Tea Break
Photograph: John Sellers

 

7th September 2006

JWG and JS: This was the first return made to the dig since Mike's untimely death on the 9th August. JWG first retrieved the digging canister from the Dig on the Bend where Mike had been using it, and then JS disappeared down the hole to do battle with a couple of large spiders. A frog was also recovered from the bottom. Four 30 minute sessions were managed, which lowered the floor by about one third of a metre. A strong draught was blowing up from the rift to the west, and the floor consists of unconsolidated damp gravel. The current depth is a little under 5 metres.

4th January 2007

JWG and JS: The floor was lowered by a further half a metre in four sessions. Fell Beck was in spate and the hole was draughting strongly out of both the west and the south-east rifts. The floor of the bedding in the south-east rift now seems to be not too far below us, and by the end of a day it appeared that we had unearthed what may be the roof of a bedding passage. Just above the entrance were a couple of wild strawberry flowers.

John Sellers enjoying life at Stile Pot
John Sellers Enjoying Life at Stile Pot

10th January 2007

JWG and JS: The floor was lowered by another half a metre in four sessions lasting three hours. Eighty container loads of sand and gravel were removed. Unfortunately, we have got below the level of the floor seen down the south-east rift with no sign of anything interesting in that direction, and both the south-east and the north-west rifts have closed up at the current depth. However, the undercut bedding development is still going, and digging downwards continues to be very easy (unlike the hauling up!).

17th January 2007

JWG, JS and Dave Checkley: Today, we were honoured by DC's presence. We managed five shifts, removing 20 loads in each, but progress has slowed as the floor of the shaft has got a lot wider, and there is a greater surface area of fill to remove. We called it a day when we had reached about half a metre below the undercut bedding. Digging is still easy, being mainly sand and gravel. There is no obvious cause for excitement in sight at the moment, but progress is steady. One passing gentleman told us that we are digging in the wrong place, and that our digging container is too small — he was probably right on both counts.

After six trips, Mike's nifty digging container is on the way out, and a new one will be required soon.

Dave Checkley disappearing into the dig at Stile Pot
Dave Checkley Disappearing into the Dig

24th January 2007

JWG and JS: Four shifts saw the removal of a further eighty container loads of sand and gravel. Boulders are now being found, one of which requires capping before it can be lifted out. The total depth is now about six metres, and the digging area is getting roomier all the time. There is still no sign of an imminent break through.

2nd May 2007

JWG, JS and DC: This was the first visit in over three months. Steady progress was made during three hours of digging using a new digging container. More and more boulders are being unearthed from the damp gravel, some of which require breaking up, but some of which were lifted out in an old rope bag. There's still no sign of an imminent break through, but we reassure each other at regular intervals that it continues to look promising...

Dave Checkley looking up the excavated shaft at Stile Pot
Dave Checkley Looking up the Excavated Shaft

24th May 2007

JWG and JS: A lump hammer and chisel were used to help break up some of the boulders accumulating at the bottom of the shaft. Some of them were successfully beaten into submission before the head of the hammer parted company with its handle. Attention was then turned to the east end (opposite the pile of boulders), and by the end of the three hour session a floor had been uncovered which dipped under the fill towards the west. A sign of progress?

30th May 2007

JWG: A brief trip to break up some of the boulders. This was quite successful - until the handle broke - again. Some time was then spent unearthing more boulders and loosening the fill on the north side.

13th June 2007

JWG, JS and Phil Johnstone: We were honoured by Phil's presence today, as well as by the presence of a plague of midges, and an occasional heavy shower. Three and a half sessions were managed during which time the debris accumulated by JWG on his last visit was removed, and the rocks piled up in the corners were demolished with a 7 lb sledge hammer and the bits removed. Finally, work was started on reducing the floor level of the west side of the shaft to the same as that on the east. With the boulders gone, there is now more room to work.

John Sellers and Phil Johnstone - Another Happy Day of Digging at Stile Pot
John Sellers and Phil Johnstone - Another Happy Day of Digging at Stile Pot

20th June 2007

JWG, JS and PJ: It was a far nicer day than it was on the last visit, but it followed a very wet night and the bottom of the shaft was found to have a deep puddle on the south side. Some time was spent digging this puddle to drain it, but the attempt was abandoned when it was found that a bar could be pushed some 60 cm into the debris at the bottom. Attention was then spent digging on the north side, and it could soon be seen that the pool was actually held back by a floor of bedrock. A small draughting rift was then unearthed to the east of this floor, heading north, and it then became apparent that the puddle was contained within an extension of this rift, allowing it to be partially drained with a little work.

We do at last appear to have reached the bottom of the shaft. Unfortunately, the draughting rift is only about 10 cm wide, and seems to have bedrock on both sides, so it looks as if further progress will not be easy. However, the remaining fill needs to be removed before a definitive picture of the way forward can emerge.

26th June 2007

JWG and JS: The intention of the day was to confirm a voice connection with the passage in Small Mammal Pot, and clear out the remaining fill from Stile Pot so that a decision could be made about whether to progress the dig further

It didn't pan out that way. Not only did we not get a sound connection between Small Mammal and Stile, but the inlet which was smoke-tested in Small Mammal Pot is only about four metres below the pitch, and so is too high for the draughting rift found last week in Stile Pot.

In Stile Pot we first concentrated on clearing out the area where the puddle was. It seems that this is a small water-worn gully, which took water from the west wall of the shaft round to the draughting rift. Clearing it out made more space for looking at the rift. We then removed the material from within and around the rift, and managed to crow-bar some blocks from its wall. It is still draughting strongly, and can be seen descending steadily for a couple of metres in a northerly direction.

There appears to be still plenty to go at before manual digging techniques become insufficient.

4th July 2007

JWG, PJ and DC: Despite the somewhat inclement weather, this was a successful day largely made possible by DC's superior boulder-handling skills and his drill. The day started with the removal of a dead rabbit from the bottom which was interred in the spoil heap with appropriate solemnity. After that, the blocks to the west of the draughting rift were removed, turning the rift into a negotiable passage. This passage is currently a metre or two long, and heads downwards towards the north. At the end it appears to turn to the east into a rift. It is loosely filled with smallish boulders, and with fairly loose walls.

The current situation is that a section of bedrock needs to be removed from the entrance of the passage to allow easier access to the end, and a number of recovered boulders need breaking up and pulling out. These are quite substantial, and probably require capping. The total depth was measured, and proved to be about 7 m.

18th August 2007

JWG and the CPC Digging Team: The CPC Digging Team in general, and Pete Jones in particular, kindly provided invaluable technical assistance in dismantling that part of the floor which was preventing easy access to the end.

Pete Jones emerging from Stile Pot
Pete Jones Emerging from Stile Pot

29th August 2007

JWG, JS, PJ and Rosie Johnstone: Rosie was a most welcome addition to the team, although her contribution was largely limited to taking the official photographs, before escaping up Ingleborough.

The first hour was spent removing the dismantled floor. JS and PJ then spent some time making access into the passage easier, before JWG started to heave rocks out of the rift at the end.

John and Phil peering down Stle Pot - Photograph: Rosie Johnstone
JS and PJ - "Do you think he's still down there?" - Photograph: Rosie Johnstone

The current position is that the short length of passage leading off from the bottom of the shaft finishes in a cross rift, which seems to head both down and to the right. It is loosely filled with boulders of various sizes, and is draughting strongly. It is a little narrow at the moment, but the far wall is loose, and can be widened. Working in the rift is confined, and would be easier if the right hand corner between the passage and the rift was removed.

All in all a successful day which saw the removal of a lot of material, including one very smelly rabbit

5th December 2007

JWG, PJ and DC: This was the first visit for over three months. It's not the best of time of year to hang about on the surface for three or four hours, and there was much competition to be down the 'ole away from the wind and the rain.

DC had brought the materials for capping, and he made a start by taking off the top of the prow above the shaft, to make hauling easier. He then moved on to play merry hell with the pyramid of large boulders at the bottom of the shaft. These were cut down to bite-sized chunks and hauled up to the surface.

PJ joined DC, and after receiving a lesson in capping, removed the right-hand corner at the end, making access into the end rift easier. After some more boulder removal, JWG replaced DC and after receiving his capping lesson from PJ, he set about demolishing more large boulders in the rift. By the time we finished, the rift at the end of the passage is about a metre deep, and descending straight ahead, and had a very healthy gale blowing out. A large boulder is currently blocking progress.

21st December 2007

JWG, PJ and DC: We had an interesting walk between the Cave and Trow Gill dodging pheasants blasted from the sky by so-called "sportsmen". There was a hard frost, but the warm draught that has been howling out of Stile Pot since June has created a warm and damp microclimate around the entrance, allowing one herb robert to be in full flower, and another to be in bud.

Herb robert in the entrance of Stile Pot - Photo: Rosie Johnstone The Gnome of Stile Pot - Photo: Rosie Johnstone
Herb Robert in Flower The Gnome of Stile Pot
Photographs: Rosie Johnstone

Good progress was made down the hole, largely as the result of some carefully-positioned capping by Dave, and some heroic hauling by Phil. We finished with a steeply descending loosely filled cross-rift descending straight ahead, which still requires a couple of blocks to be removed to permit full entry. We also have a huge pile of debris at the bottom of the shaft, as DC was able to extract rocks far quicker than they could be hauled up.

9th January 2008

JWG, JS and PJ: The first session of the New Year had to manage without Dave Checkley who was at home suffering from man-flu, but John Sellers did report back for light duties following a two-session absence due to epicondylitis.

Phil rock bashing in Stile Pot - Photo: John Sellers John Sellers on light duties in Stile Pot - Photo: John Sellers
Phil Johnstone on Heavy Duties John Sellers on Light Duties
Photographs: John Sellers

Some sterling work was done by PJ who demolished the pile of boulders at the bottom of the shaft with the sledge-hammer, and some equally sterling work was performed by JS who discovered that "light duties" meant having to haul the said boulders to the surface. JWG then dived into the rift at the end and removed the remainder of the loose material and manageable boulders to prepare the way for the next capping session.

This was a short, but productive day.

13th January 2008

JWG, DC, Colin Boothroyd and Brian Judd: John Sellers and Phil Johnstone were unable to report for duty, but DC managed to press Colin and Brian to serve as substitutes on a particularly damp and dismal January day.

CPB and BJ had first go in the hole, and after capping out the boulder blocking progress, made short work of removing the others behind it. They managed to reach the far wall and expose a small passage off to the right.

The Way Ahead in Stile Pot - Before. Photo: John Sellers The Way Ahead in Stile Pot - After. Photo: John Sellers
The Way Ahead - Before The Way Ahead - After
Photographs: John Sellers

DC and JWG replaced them, and before long DC was able to squeeze through the passage to a free-climbable 3 m drop into a shattered chamber. The east wall was made up of a wall of loose boulders, and the floor consisted of large boulders through which a gap could be seen. CPB and BJ came down for a look, and after heaving a couple of boulders out of the way, CPB was able to drop feet-first into a steeply descending rift with solid walls, past a bedding development, for about a further 4 m. The rift continued down for three or four metres, but was too too small for immediate progress.

A reasonably successful day, with the depth of Stile Pot being more than doubled from about 7 m to about 15 m.

16th January 2008

JWG, JS, PJ and DC: A full compliment reported for duty, all anxious for a share in the glory.

DC and PJ disappeared down the extension to work out a battle plan for the next phase. At the bottom the steeply descending rift continues for a few metres, but gets too narrow. To the right of that another shaft descends in the same rift, but would be more awkward to work. Two or three metres above the current bottom, a further, lightly watered, small shaft is located within a bedding developed along a shale band. This shale band is likely to be the same as that 6 m above the floor of Small Mammal House, and 19 m below the main moor level.

Rambling Syd Rumpo in Stile Pot. Photo: John Sellers
Phil Johnstone and John Gardner in Rambling Syd Rumpo. Photograph: John Sellers

Eventually, it was decided to work on the main descent, using the other two holes for spoil disposal, and a start was made on capping the bedrock until the drill batteries ran out. Although the situation looks promising, it's going to be a long job, and it was resolved that the priority for the next session should be to tidy up the route to the work face. At least we have some motivation for continuing - we need to retrieve the lump hammer DC dropped down the rift!

30th January 2008

JWG, JS, PJ and DC: Once again, we had a full compliment reporting for duty.

DC and JS descended Stile Pot, and continued capping. Steady progress was made, and another metre of the rift was made accessible before the capping protection mat elected to join the lump hammer and a glove in the inaccessible depths.

Dave Checkley at the Coal Face in Stile Pot. Photo: John Sellers
Dave Checkley at the Coal Face. Photograph: John Sellers

Meanwhile, JWG and PJ surveyed from Stile Pot to Small Mammal Pot, and down into Small Mammal House, where the noise of the other team could be heard permeating up out of the floor of the chamber. This is made up of loose blocks of various shapes and sizes, and seems to go down for at least a couple of metres, presumably to the second shale bed. They then surveyed Stile Pot to the coal face, which proved to be about 17½ m deep, and finishes up a few metres above and 8 m from the bottom of the rope in Small Mammal House at a bearing of 130°.

On the way out, a small wall of boulders threatened to drop on three members of the team from the top of the rift, and a few anxious moments passed before things were sorted out. All in all, however, it was a successful day, but it will take at least three more trips before the bottom of the rift is reached.

16th February 2008

JWG and DC: With JS in Madeira and PJ recovering from skiing, the team was down to two on this beautiful February day.

JWG was suffering after a bad night's sleep, so DC took responsibility for the technical work. Steady progress was made, and we can now see about four metres beyond our current limit. We are following a small gully carved into the floor of the descending rift, which seems to enlarge after a couple of metres. We'll probably need a further two sessions to get beyond the constriction. Our main problem is that the only sound bit of rock in the cave is the bit we're trying to remove…

22nd February 2008

JWG and DC: The weather was miserable with heavy showers and gale-force winds, Clapham Beck was in full spate – and DC had forgotten his wellies…

Once back at the coal face, steady progress was made. There is about a metre of constriction left, and although not a lot of rock needs to be removed to make it negotiable, space needs to be carved out to be able to work on it. However, a maximum of two further sessions should see us through.

27th February 2008

JWG, JS, DC, and PJ: A relatively disappointing day… JWG and PJ disappeared off to Small Mammal House with capping gear, where they tried working their way through the boulders alongside the wall where the noise from the Stile Pot team was loudest. Steady progress was made, but nerves gave out when all the boulders in sight seemed to have some part in holding up a two ton boulder perched above their heads, and a strategic withdrawal was made.

John Sellers at the coal face in Stile Pot. Photo: Dave Checkley So near and yet so far - in Stile Pot. Photo: John Sellers
John Sellers at the Coal Face.
Photograph: Dave Checkley
So Near and Yet So Far…
Photograph: John Sellers

DC and JS descended Stile Pot to continue work at the bottom of Rambling Syd Rumpo. Some progress was made in the very cramped conditions, but the batteries gave out before the breakthrough was made. Next time?

5th March 2008

JWG, JS, DC and PJ: DC and PJ descended to the coal face, and working under severely cramped conditions eventually removed enough rock to allow DC to pass the constriction, now known as the Molestrangler, on a ladder. It proved to be very tight, so a little more rock was removed from below.

The descent led into a small chamber at a depth of about 20 m, with a shale bed, which is probably at the same level as the floor of Small Mammal House. The chamber has two parts. Immediately at the bottom of the pitch it is 2 m by 6 m and 1.5 m high, with a crawl on the far side leading to a small chamber 3 m in diameter. The roof of this goes up to the narrow shaft, down which the tools were dropped. The floor of the entrance chamber is of angular boulders, and in the floor in front of the entrance is a tight slot that you can look down for about 4 m. There was no sign of a possible connection with Small Mammal House.

Phil Johnstone and Dave Checkley below the Molestrangler in Stile Pot
Phil Johnstone and Dave Checkley Below the Molestrangler. Photograph: John Sellers

Meanwhile, JS and JWG had spent the time tidying up the bottom of the entrance shaft, removing the threatening slab at the beginning of the squeeze into Rambling Syd Rumpo, and removing some of the squeeze to facilitate tackle handling. A start was also made on softening the spoil heap.

9th March 2008

JWG: A couple of hours was spent softening the spoil heap with soil recycled from nearby molehills, and the hauling bags and other detritus were taken down the hill.

14th March 2008

JWG and DC: This was a trip to work out whether whether there was a way on below the Molestrangler. Once down, JWG had a good look round, and located the missing capping mat, as well as a sling and karabiner which had been dropped down one of the parallel shafts.

Directly below the Molestrangler, the shaft continues as a 1½ m wide rift with the draught emerging. Unfortunately, the rift is loosely packed with boulders, the top of the shaft is overhung by large loose blocks, and the back wall is unstable. Much effort was put into clearing the top of the shaft of the said boulders, and stacking them in the subsidiary chamber. JWG then retreated back through the Molestrangler before DC trundled the loose back wall.

Another trip is required to stabilise the top of the rift before a proper assessment can be made on whether emptying out the rift is feasible, or not.

26th March 2008

JWG, JS, DC and Judith Onions: We were honoured by Jude's presence today, who wanted to see how old men spend their dotage. Two short sections of scaffolding were taken up to the hole.

Once down, the Molestrangler ladder was replaced with a knotted rope, and DC set to work clearing up the remnants of the wall he collapsed at the end of the last session while JS and JO stacked the debris below the wet shaft. JWG began the day by descending into Small Mammal Pot to try to establish where the the bottom of Stile and the Small Mammal House were in relation to each other. He could hear voices emerging from under one wall, but there is no hope of a connection between the two. He retreated to join the others.

Dave Checkley below the Molecrusher in Stile Pot
By the Molecrusher - DC Contemplating the Way On. Photograph: Judith Onions

After DC had disposed of the wall, he set to trying to stabilise the area and working downwards in the corner. Good progress was made, and the way on is now obvious, albeit blocked with boulders, and has the draught fairly whistling out. Next time, the priority must be to shore up the large overhanging boulder below the Molestrangler, now known as the Molecrusher.

9th April 2008

JWG, and DC: DC's sixtieth birthday! With JS sporting in foreign climes and PJ feeling poorly, we were down to a skeleton crew. Some scaffolding and the capping equipment were carried up to the cave, where DC placed a couple of poles in the vicinity of the Molecrusher to provide an element of psychological support. The boulders in the rift below were then carefully capped and removed, always with the expectation that the next cap would cause the lot to collapse.

Towards the end of the day we could see a low passage going off horizontally at the bottom of the slope, but to get there safely the slope needs supporting with more metalwork. Time was called when an ominous creaking caused DC to leap out of the hole with the alacrity of a forty year old on vitamin tablets.

16th April 2008

JWG, JS, DC and PJ: Spring is at long last evident. A mountain pansy and a few strawberry flowers adorned the entrance, and a skylark serenaded us from above. The draught had reversed.

More scaffolding was taken down the hole, and the previous psychological support dismantled and replaced with a solid steel cage, with DC giving the others a master class in scaffolding techniques. Unfortunately, the Molecrusher slipped a couple of inches, which persuaded us that yet more steel would be useful. The passage at the bottom is even more apparent and DC managed to peer along it for two or three metres.

DC Scaffolding below the Molecrusher in Stile Pot. Photo: John Sellers JWG testing DC's handywork in Stile Pot. Photo: John Sellers
DC Scaffolding below the Molecrusher. JWG Testing DC's handiwork.
Photographs: John Sellers

2nd May 2008

JWG, JS, and DC: Another pleasant spring day saw us at the entrance armed with connectors and poles. DC let us down a little by not bringing the promised birthday cake for luncheon, but the disappointment was alleviated when JS plucked a chocolate rabbit from his helmet.

Once down, the steel cage was strengthened at the top, but some large protruding boulders proved to be a problem half way down. After carefully evaluating the situation DC and JS trundled the boulders from the end of a long scaffold pole while JWG cowered above the Molestrangler. The tactic worked and the cage was extended downwards until we ran out of scaffolding. JS then demolished the large boulders at the bottom, and used the remnants for back-filling. Soon he was able to crawl into the passage. This proved to be a little confined, with a floor of sharp cobbles. After about three metres the floor began to drop into a small rift with the draught blowing out along which we could see for a couple of metres.

It was a successful day, with another obstacle overcome. To progress safely, we need to make a little more room at the bottom of the shaft, add a bit more steel to the cage at the bottom, and remove some cobbles from the floor of the passage to allow us to properly evaluate the way on.

Stile Pot continues to be coy about giving up her secrets…

Dave Checkley investigating the way on in Stile Pot
DC Investigating the Way On. Photograph: John Sellers

3rd May 2008

DC and Colin Boothroyd: With the main troops unavailable, Colin was pressed into service. The crawl was cleared out, and after about four metres it was found to drop into a small chamber with room for one to work. The floor is made up of boulders, and the draught emerges from a dangerous rubble slope straight ahead below a roof of hanging death.

The floor was dug out to a depth of one and half metres, but the rift closed in, and unfortunately it looks as if the way on will be over the rubble slope. The best strategy may be to collapse the lot…

14th May 2008

JWG, JS and DC: More scaffolding was taken up the hill. Once at the end, the hole in the floor was filled in with debris collapsed from the boulder slope ahead. However, it looks as if the easiest way on is at roof level, but to get there a calcited bridge of boulders which is holding up a large amount of debris needs dropping. Poking and prodding from a (relatively) safe distance had no effect - nor did pulling with a rope. It was agreed that something more vigorous was required, so we retired to drink tea in the sunshine at the BPC Gaping Gill camp.

The draught today was positively bracing, and made the more confined passages distinctly chilly.

16th May 2008

JWG and Ged Benn (BPC): Ged had kindly agreed to subject the boulder bridge to some rapid chemical weathering. The reaction was initiated from the surface from where a soft boom could be heard. The fumes failed to emerge from the entrance, but the draught at the time was minimal (as it was also in Small Mammal Pot).

Ged Benn emerging from Stile Pot. Photo: John Gardner Gedd Benn popping the boulder bridge. Photo: John Gardner
Ged Benn Emerging. Ged Benn Popping.

22nd May 2008

JWG, JS, and DC: PJ was unable to join us today as he was rune carving. We were a little late starting as the capping gear was first employed on some conservation work on a boulder protruding from the estate track.

JS went to the end first to inspect the damage caused by the last trip, and to take some photographs. The boulder bridge had collapsed as we hoped, but so had quite a lot of other material and the roof seemed to have slumped by half a metre.

It was not feasible to assess the possibilities as it was, so DC capped and cleared most of the fallen material, which was passed back and stashed behind the Molestrangler. JWG then went to have a look, and entering the cleared space was immediately struck by the sound of hollow dripping. He then heard voices, and before long Jimmy Rattray's light could be seen shining through a couple of boulders in the roof three metres above him. Jimmy was in Small Mammal House, standing in the dig started by JWG and PJ.

Our visions of caverns measureless instantly "melted into air, into thin air". However, a couple of weeks work in Small Mammal House should see a secure connection between the two, and a tackle-free exit for slender connoisseurs of Gaping Gill entrances.

On exit, a start was made on removing the digging equipment from the cave.

The Three Wrinklies. Photograph: John Sellers
The Three Wrinklies. Photograph: John Sellers

29th May 2008

JWG, JS, and PJ: This was a short detackling trip. JS and PJ descended Stile Pot and JWG descended Small Mammal Pot using the BPC rope. A visual condition was made between the two, and JWG removed a couple of small boulders from above to produce a definite gap. Scaffold poles and the crow bars were passed up through this, and stored in Small Mammal House. JWG then trundled a few more boulders to make a man-size connection. JS and PJ came out of Stile with some bits and pieces, and JWG detackled Small Mammal for the BPC.

A safe route can be engineered between the two caves, but the kawasaki-sized boulder overhanging the dig which had previously discouraged JWG and PJ (see entry for the 27th February above) first needs dealing with. With this in mind, Ged Benn was approached to see if he could help to make the problem disappear.

7th June 2008

PJ and Ged Benn: The day of JS's Birthday and Anniversary Bash! This trip was arranged at the last minute with the intention of demolishing the kawasaki boulder in Small Mammal House. Unfortunately, an Imperial College team was descending Bar Pot so the demolition itself was postponed, but four holes were drilled, which took up the power of just over one battery, and the wire was laid back to the entrance.

PJ noticed that someone has been digging at the other end of Small Mammal House, and reached a considerable depth in a mass of hanging death.

16th June 2008

JWG, JS, DC and Ged Benn: JWG and JS met Ged and Edward early in Clapham, and took the opportunity to carry up more scaffolding material. DC joined them on the moor later. A quick trip into Small Mammal Pot by Ged and JWG was followed by JS making the magical connection on the surface. Ged and Edward then went off to play in Nettle Pot, and we went furtling on the Allotment. After a day sunning ourselves by unlikely holes, we returned to derig the pitch and pull out the cable. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to inspect the damage inflicted on the kawasaki.

17th July 2008

JWG, JS, DC and PJ: This was the first opportunity to inspect the damage inflicted on the kawasaki, and unfortunately the weather was most inclement. More scaffolding and clips (generously donated by David Bellerby) were taken up, with Sue Jarman equally generously transporting it as far as the show cave, and it was all stashed in Small Mammal House.

Ged had done a great job on the kawasaki, but one large residual block required several cappings before it could be removed. Much material was removed from round the hole, and it is now starting to look a little more stable although another couple of sessions will be required to manufacture a safe through trip.

JS made good use of his time in Stile Pot by offering words of encouragement through the connection, and rebuilding the mounting block on top of the Molecrusher.

31st July 2008

JWG, and JS: We were short staffed today with DC visiting the land where the Guinness flows freely, and PJ offering an equally feeble excuse. After walking round the problem a number of times, a scaffolding cage was laid on top of the dig to allow capping to take place with at least a solid footing. The larger boulders were gradually whittled down, and scaffolding inserted whenever a likely looking place was found. Eventually the remaining boulders were trundled leaving a large hole into the bottom of Stile Pot.

The hole still isn't safe to descend. The next step is to to work in Stile Pot, removing the boulders which have collapsed into it, and building them up under the overhanging boulders which form one wall of the dig. More scaffolding will be required at the bottom, and also up the sides to allow people to climb up and down without putting weight on the boulders. Before we left the site we enclosed the top of the dig with barrier tape to discourage people from stampeding around the area during the CPC winch meet.

John Gardner Drilling. Photo: John Sellers
John Gardner Capping. Photo: John Sellers
John Gardner Drilling. Photo: John Sellers John Gardner Capping. Photo: John Sellers

13th August 2008

JWG, and JS: Again, we were short-staffed, but we staggered up the hill with the capping gear and tackle for Small Mammal Pot, and descended Stile Pot. The view up towards Small Mammal House from the bottom was rather discouraging, with a couple of large boulders delicately poised above us, blocking the way.

These were dropped and capped, which permitted access to the bottom of the climb up. JS then moved the remnants, and stacked them neatly half way up the climb where they helped to stabilise the mass. This allowed JWG to climb up into Small Mammal House, and using combined tactics the rest of the scaffolding was placed where it was vaguely hoped it might do some good. More scaffolding is required to make it safer.

View up to  Small Mammal House. Photo: John Sellers
John Gardner Entering Small Mammal House. Photo: John Sellers
View up towards Small Mammal House.
Photo: John Sellers
John Gardner Making the Connection
Photo: John Sellers

JS also made the connection, before we retreated back to the surface after what had proved to be a successful day. A quick visit was then made to the CPC Winch Meet camp to tell them that they needed another of their little Gaping Gill entrance signs!

16th August 2008

JWG: Some more scaffolding and shoring was taken up to the entrance of Stile Pot in preparation for a trip on Wednesday. Some of the scaffolding, donated by Bob Jarman, was reputed to have been first used in Langstroth Cave in the 1960s!

20th August 2008

JWG, DC, PJ and Dave Bellerby: Our final trip!

Today we were honoured by Dave Bellerby's presence for the first time. Suitable armed with capping gear and yet more scaffolding kindly donated by DB, we made our way down Small Mammal Pot having first paid homage at the CPC Winch Meet tent. Once at the face, DC proceeded to upset JWG by completely demolishing the left hand wall and thereby firmly blocking the way on, but then made amends by constructing in partnership with DB a steel cage that made the route down as safe as houses (well, possibly as a caravan in a hurricane!). PJ capped the last boulder at the bottom, kicked it through, and the route was once more open. DB had an explore as far as the top of the Molestrangler before all equipment and rubbish was removed from the cave.

26th June 2013

JWG: After seeing a report of someone taking an hour to extricate himself from the Molestrangler, a quick trip was undertaken to replace the in-situ very tatty and very ancient dynamic rope with a length of more appropriate, suitably knotted, 11 mm Black Marlow. For some unfathomable reason access was gained through Small Mammal Pot - what's the point of opening up a new entrance and using the old?

Finally, Some Project Statistics

Total trips52
Trips by John Gardner48
Trips by John Sellers27
Trips by Dave Checkley23
Trips by Phil Johnstone17
Trips by Mike Wooding9
Trips by other people11
Total man trips135