The Lancaster Hole through-trip is a classic. Traditionally, one of the most popular routes in has been the exchange trip between Lancaster and County, following the high level passages, but the opening of the Wretched Rabbit entrance has made that a more popular exit. If performing an exchange, the County Pot exit is still to be preferred, but the described route requires a minimum amount of tackle.
This trip is a variation on the theme, which has a number of benefits:
- It keeps as much as possible away from the High Level Route (I find Montague East in particular a most unpleasant bit of passage).
- It descends Wilf Taylor's passages, which is even more fun than an adventure playground.
- It makes a full traverse of one of the finest sections of stream passages in the country.
- It requires a minimum of gear, not requiring ropes once down the Lancaster Hole entrance shaft. When soloing, I use orthodox rigging on the entrance pitch, take my SRT gear through with me, and then return to Lancaster to pull up the rope from the final re-belay.
However, this route should only be attempted in reasonably dry conditions. It involves following the stream through the boulder choke near Oxbow Corner, which rapidly becomes impassable.
It isn't a long trip - it can be covered in well under three hours easily, but it is a trip to savour and enjoy, and shouldn't be hurried.
The Lancaster Hole entrance shaft has been comprehensively bolted, allowing a number of different rigging options once below the first few metres. No matter which option is chosen, it is a straight forward descent down a magnificent shaft. It is worth looking around, as you descend, to work out how on earth the original explorers managed to have fixed iron ladders meandering up the pitch.
Once down, the way on is up onto a traverse ledge, and forward along the high rift to the impressive Bridge Cavern. At the end of this, an easy climb up the left, followed by a short traverse, enters Colonnades Passage with its impressive set of columns, which is well worth the ten minute detour.
The main route is a short drop down at the right hand side and bottom of the main boulder slope, which leads quickly into Kath's Way. This starts as a roomy crawl which soon becomes larger. Follow this until a larger passage is met at a T-Junction. Both ways lead to Fall Pot. Turn left at this point to encounter a further T-Junction after a few metres. In front of you are some deep holes, and to one side are some footsteps on a mud slope.
Follow the footsteps up the mud slope (a lot more secure than it looks), to a mud choke which is by-passed through a small phreatic window accessed by means of a short iron ladder, leading into Montague West. This is relatively easy going of mixed crawling and walking, and eventually leads to a T-Junction. To the left, the sound of water can often be heard from a crack that leads down to Waterfall Passage, which carries the water from Bull Pot down to the Master Cave. However, turn right at the junction. After a bit you will cross a hole in the floor which also leads into Waterfall Passage. The continuing passage starts to become a bit more washed out and you soon pass another passage on the left, again leading to Waterfall Passage. Soon after, you reach a drop down at a further T-Junction. This is Wilf Taylor's passage. Upstream leads to the sump connection with Bull Pot of Witches.
Follow Wilf Taylor's Passage downstream. This is a super passage, with three particular points of interest. The first is a rope climb (rigged) down into a pool which culminates in a nasty little overhang; this is followed immediately by a superbly rigged rope-climb down an arÍte; and the third is a three metre climb. All three cause one to pause momentarily at the top! The passage eventually emerges close to Lancaster Hole sump, barely 30 metres in horizontal distance, and 40 metres lower than the start of Montague West.
Having visited the sump, it's now a stomp up the Master Cave. After a short distance, a few boulders in the stream and a few dribbles from the roof mark the way down from Fall Pot (the way up is free-climbable), and then the passage starts to become narrower with splendid cascades, and even better perfectly round pools. This is caving at its best and most exhilarating.
Ten minutes from Fall Pot, another pile of boulders is met. This is the Stake Pot run-in. If there is any doubt at all about the amount of water, you can retreat here back into the High Level route. Climb up the boulders to the highest point, and you will find some steel stemples embedded in the rock. These lead onto the col at Stake Pot. The High Level Route can then be followed to the left to Stop Pot.
A better alternative, however, is to continue following the streamway, the walls of which soar out of sight. All good things come to an end, however, and after 400 metres or so, you eventually meet a boulder choke. Follow the obvious route through this, keeping close to the stream (this is why the conditions have to be dry). If in doubt, retreat back to Stake Pot. At one point you reach what seems to an impasse at stream level - retreat two or three metres, and then climb up a couple of metres through a gap in the boulders, and back down to where the stream runs next to the (true) left wall. Another few metres, and you emerge close to Oxbow corner. It is worth going on for a few metres to have a look at the oxbow, but this is as far as you can get at stream level.
Climb the boulder slope above from where you emerged, making for the wall on the left hand side. At the top, you will meet the well-worn High Level Route. Turn back on yourself, and follow the (now) right hand wall along the enlarged roof bedding above where you climbed up. This soon turns into a low discrete passage. After 30 or 40 metres, it emerges in a chamber. The route through the next two chambers is not obvious, but basically, in both cases, the exit is opposite the point of entrance. The exit passage from the second chamber - Oakes Cavern - doesn't look as if it will go at first, as the way on is down an obscured step down.
Once through Oake's Cavern, the route is straight forward. The exit from Oake's Cavern leads straight to the Minarets, which can be by-passed, but shouldn't be as they are probably the nicest bit on the whole of the High Level Route. Cornes Cavern is next, best negotiated near the roof on the left hand side. This terminates in a steep mud slope, at the top of which is the Mancunian Way, another route back into County. Cornes Cavern is soon followed by Snail Cavern, identifiable by the rope hanging down from Sideline Passage in the Mancunian Way series, and then up and down a boulder slope to arrive in Monster Cavern. The passage at the end of this leads to the quiet, sombre, and very wide Main Line Terminus. The way to the Manchester Bypass is off to the right, but we go straight across the chamber towards Stop Pot. This soon involves some balletic/desperate moves across, round, and down very greasy boulders. After a few minutes, a short climb up to the left leads quickly to a point where you can see the roof of Stop Pot. The way on is down the iron ladder at your feet. Make your way down the boulder slope back to the stream at the bottom.
The way out of Wretched Rabbit from here is described on a separate page, but after the wonderful stomp up the Master Cave earlier, it is only fitting that you should reach Wretched Rabbit Passage via Eureka Junction.