Top Sink to Lancaster Hole - at last! 12th November 2011
Was it to be 4th time lucky?
We've had 3 previous attempts at this trip in 2011. It is a classic underground journey, entering the system at it's upstream end and travelling with or parallel to the water to the downstream sump, then emerging through Lancaster Hole. I billed it as "hardish", but there are no major difficulties, it's just quite a long way. Depending on group size / experience, it can take from around 4 hours to 8 or more. Several Easegill highlights are taken in along the route (Top Sink, Nagasaki, Easter Grotto, Holbeck Junction, Stop Pot, Snail, Monster and Cornes Caverns, the Minarets and the fabulous Main Drain).
The weather forecast initially looked hopeful with the damp drizzly weather expected to dry up towards the weekend. By Friday night, the forecast had changed and it looked as if it may elude us again. A pair of cold fronts was crossing the country and around 1" of rain was predicted, followed by a dry, decent day. On the drive over, there was evidence of a reasonable amount of rain (only slightly less than the forecasts as it turned out). We fortified ourselves with breakfast and decided to have a go.
John, Chris and I entered Top Sink at 12:40 and successfully descended the pitches through to Limerick Junction and on to Nagasaki. At this point John complained to us of not feeling too well and a bit dizzy. We carried on to Stop Pot, had a sit down, John had a Snickers bar and we took stock - it was 14:30 . John decided he would make his way out of Wretched Rabbit and was happy to do this on his own, despite our offers to accompany him. We thought there was a chance that we may coincide at Lancaster Hole, but anyway we'd know that John was out if his car was gone.
Chris and I carried on through the big high-level chambers, the Minarets and we found our way down to the stream at Oxbow Corner. We then followed the Main Drain to Fall Pot. The Main Drain was fantastic. The level was just enough to be exhilarating without being scary. We reached Fall Pot around 15:45, so decided to tag on the fun of Wilf Taylor's passage. This too was superb and we were a bit weary when we arrived at the base of the Lancaster Hole pitch. We ascended this and were out by 17:10. We got back to the farm about half past and checked to make sure John's car had gone - it hadn't (or so we thought) & thus our elation turned to concern.
Chris set off across the top path back towards Wretched Rabbit. I phoned Alison to let her know what we were doing (a short drive down the road was needed to get a signal) and set off to Wretched Rabbit via Lancaster Hole. We had an assortment of short rope and pulleys, etc. in case John had worsened and not been able to make the climbs. Chris checked down the climbs and no sign. We met outside County as he was returning. We felt it was serious and was probably beyond what the 2 of us could do, so agreed that Chris would head back and call CRO (Cave Rescue Organisation) and I would search Wretched Rabbit to Stop Pot, where we'd last seen John. I was very pleased not to find John, so made short loop via the stream and Eureka Junction, then back out of Wretched Rabbit. My mind was working on alternative possibilities and I became convinced that John wasn't in the cave and thought that the most likely answer was that he'd arrived back at the car still feeling dizzy, decided not to drive and arranged to be picked up.
I returned to Bull Pot Farm, arriving just as CRO were beginning to assemble. I told them my findings / theory and suggested they try to contact John before sending anyone underground & this should be pretty easy for them through their links with UWFRA (Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association) of whom John is a team member. This they did as their team were kitting up & contact was made before anybody was tasked. There was much relief all round and nobody was upset at being turned out, then stood down. There were a few familiar faces (Andy Whitney, Dave Ramsey) who had been quite concerned, knowing that John shouldn't have had any problem making his own way out and were very relieved to know he was fine.
We discovered from John later that he'd driven his own car away, but that whilst we were underground, someone else had parked a fairly similar car just in front of John's. I've exchanged a few emails & had a couple of conversations with CRO members since and everyone was fine about being called out. It did look an awful lot like John's car and was parked very close to where his was.
It proved an eventful day and provided us with a bit of extra exercise (funny how you can rally when necessary, even though we felt pretty tired coming out of Lancaster). It was also good to see the selfless commitment of CRO turning out to help a fellow caver in need, even though he wasn't and was blissfully unaware of the concern.