We met outside the Settle Down cafe at 09.45 and waited. No sign of a smiling face, an open door or even `Ivy'. Mike felt we should make our presence known by knocking but Dave advised against this (and against calling the proprietress `Ivy' if she should appear). Finally, we gave up, walking briskly away as Mike knocked to no avail. We had breakfast instead at a café-cum-baker a few doors up from the Spar shop. Various comments were made about the vintage of the crockery, the age of the cakes, the small unwelcoming handwritten notes posted at intervals and the lack of decor. Most memorable though was the mean size of the breakfast and its excessive greasiness. Settle remains a barren place when it comes to caving breakfasts.
We were nearing Horton by the time we realised that John had no light or helmet. When we stopped to head back to Settle WaterSports (no longer in Settle), Jim stopped behind us and we were lucky to discover that he used to be a boy scout and had a spare helmet and light with him. Between the 7 of us we forgot a few other useful odds and ends... wellies, belt, balaclava ... Dave had been back to Wakefield market and picked up another job lot of balaclavas so a few of these were distributed. By the time we'd finally got our gear on and were trudging up to the pot (after Mike and Dave O had put in a bit of digging to encourage a minor resurgence in the lane...) it was raining. I already had a feeling of slight unease due to my last trip down Alum (with Jim C and Dave) being made more `interesting' by lots of water. Anyway, we carried on, stopping to admire the sizeable waterfall cascading into Alum Pot main shaft! At the entrance we met a group of kids equipped with waterproofs but not much else. A couple of leaders with head torches, some hand torches for the kids and not a single helmet in sight. They were heading off up Lower Long Churn to Dr Bannister's Handbasin. Mike had a word with one of the leaders but his comments about inadequate gear were given short shrift. We also bumped into Martin Smith (Bradford Pothole Club) with a mixed group of cavers and novices - not for the last time...
Almost as soon as we were underground I managed to get lost. I lost sight of any lights ahead and got no response to any calls. I followed the stream passage to a point where the stream flowed into daylight again (Resurgence entrance). The roof dropped to less than 18" off the floor with the stream taking up much of the depth. I doubted whether the others would have got through here so rapidly (and without a lot of noise!) and there was no sign of feet at the other side but somehow the daylight was more attractive than a retreat back to look for a passage I must have missed. I emerged, thoroughly wet to find Martin and Co. about to descend through Diccan entrance. He confirmed that the others had not come this way and suggested I join him. So far things were getting worse rather than better: I'd lost the others and instead of going back to find them or sitting tight to be found I was now joining another party. So how were the others to figure any of that out when they found me missing? I trusted that we would meet up again in the system without feeling entirely comfortable about it.
After a bit of maneuvering through narrow spaces including reversing back 20' through one section on our stomachs after Martin chose the wrong passage, we met up with Mike and the others shortly before the Dolly Tubs pitch. Well, most of the others. The 2 Daves had gone back to look for me... Mike began to rig a ladder and life-line (with Italian hitch!) and Dave R soon turned up having left Dave O with a party of mates from Liverpool Uni planning to descend Alum Pot main shaft. (They'd been up to Dr Bannister's handbasin looking for me and wandered down the path a bit…). Dave had brought along some SRT rope because he doesn’t share Mike’s enthusiasm for ladders so he set about rigging too. I was first down the ladder pitch which is broken by a ledge about half-way. I lowered the ladder down to the bottom of the pitch before proceeding to catch my tackle bag and then a rolled-up ladder on the edge of the ledge. I got down eventually and John, Phil and Mike followed (with John life-lining Mike from the bottom!) - Dave and Jim came down the rope. At this point it should be said that the waterfall coming down the pitch was fairly light and only likely to wet anyone on the rope, the ladder pitch being completely dry.
We walked out into the main shaft, admiring the waterfall again and watching some figures descending the main shaft on ropes. Mike and Dave had a tete-a-tete and recommended that we shouldn't proceed further down but we went to have a look at the greasy slab and generally pottered about as if waiting for something to happen. It did.
When we returned to the foot of the Dolly Tubs pitch the waterfall coming down it was looking considerably more impressive. Mike was first up the ladder, life-lined again by John and Jim followed rather more slowly. In spite of the water now crashing down Dave decided to prussik up, attaching a tackle bag to the rope and doing contortions to keep out of the water. Down below, John decided that he couldn't match Dave's acrobatics and decided to go up the ladder. By this time the noise of the water was making it increasingly difficult to make out the shouts from above (and they were many as John headed up) and the water level at the bottom was visibly rising. We thought that Mike was having problems throwing the lifeline down clear of the ledge so I agreed with Phil that I'd go up as far as the ledge, attach a cow's tail to the ladder for additional security and lower the lifeline back down to him. Getting up to the ledge was fine but as soon as I was on it the water came crashing down on my helmet. Staying there was out of the question so I carried on up the ladder. The force of the_water was incredible. All the descriptions I've read of folk getting into difficulties and worse under waterfalls came rushing back to me and all I could think of was to keep going. Mike was shouting encouragement at me from the top with each slow step I took and with him, Jim and Dave all hauling at the rope I got up. Unaware of the amount of water falling onto the ladder, Phil had volunteered to carry a tackle bag up. Although the water was now heavier than ever he climbed up faster than Jim, John or me. With all of us now up, Dave and Mike detackled.
At the 8' climb by the pool, water was shooting over. Dave tried to climb up keeping clear of the water but fell off into the pool. Deciding we couldn't negotiate it, we headed round to the alternative - the Cheese Press. Mike wriggled through and pulled the tackle bags through from the other side. The rest of us wriggled through with varying degrees of difficulty, John taking his SRT gear off to get through only to have to put his belt back on at the other side and Jim too finding it a snugger fit than he might have liked. The next obstacle was a climb with, yes you've guessed it, loads of water pouring over it, corning apparently from `the dry passage'. Mike was first up and lowered a rope to help the rest of us up. The water level was still rising rapidly as we watched Phil and Jim in turn struggle up this climb with Dave, balanced precariously at the bottom, sticking his head under Phil's bum to heave him up and providing a knee for Jim to balance on. It was my turn next and, true to form, I couldn't begin to get myself up the rope or see any footholds. Dave and Mike started looking round for alternatives and Mike managed to rig a ladder which with strenuous pulling on the lifeline I got up. It was a huge relief finally to be sitting on a ledge well clear of the water below. Dave and John followed me up. We sat huddled on that ledge for about 3 hours waiting for the waters to subside. We entertained ourselves with `I Spy' and 20 questions or just sat `bagged' (Phil, Dave and me) in survival bags looking, according to Mike, as if waiting to be collected by the dustbin men. We rationed out chocolate and Mike disappeared periodically to investigate the status of the various possible routes out reappearing to report. Finally, we set off out. To cut a long story short, we got past the dolly tubs, made our way through Baptistry crawl and had our final wait as Mike and Dave discussed how to get ourselves with or without tackle bags out of Upper Long Churn without being dragged by the current over the waterfall. We ended up with Mike tying up the tackle bags in the stream on the end of some SRT rope because we were afraid that if anyone carried a tackle bag and lost their balance they could be dragged under by the weight of it. We made our way out roped together only to be met 60' from the entrance by a bloke from the CRO summoned by Dave O to rescue us! The problems weren't quite over. The current was exceedingly strong and in crossing the stream Phil was swept off his feet. We came out abandoning the tackle bags and not sure if we would see them again. But the CRO controller treated us kindly and we got a lift back down to the cars.
Meanwhile Dave O had been busy preventing a disaster in Alum Pot main shaft by reverse prussiking down the rope to shield Martin Smith who was struggling below from the full force of the waterfall pouring onto him and then clipping onto his D-ring to help him back up the rope. But I'll leave Dave to recount that story...
On Monday at work I was still trying to relax, having difficulty concentrating and contemplating hanging up my caving gear when I got a call from Dave - `Do you fancy going caving this evening...? 'You are joking!?! Well, it turned out that he and Mike had had the same idea - to go back into Long Churn and recover the tackle. On the promise of the loan of a dry furry suit, I agreed, but was saved from this particular `fun night out' by the CRO controller who, as promised, had gone back in that morning to recover both the CRO gear and ours.
If I've learnt anything from being terrified out of my wits in a rising flood it's not to go caving without balaclava, oversuit hood, survival bag and essential sugar supplies. Oh yes, and to stay home and read the paper when the MPC crazies next go caving down Alum Pot in the rain ....
Present: Mike, Phil, Dave O., Jim D., John, Dave and me (Catriona).