County Pot to Lancaster Hole trip

Published: 3rd January, 2022 · Tagged: caving

On Christmas Day, 2021, I undertook a solo through trip of the Ease Gill cave system, from County Pot at the upstream end to Lancaster Hole at the downstream end. I’d previously explored the Ease Gill over a couple of trips — one into Lancaster Hole, and one from Lancaster Hole to Stop Pot and back — however this would be my first time going into County Pot and navigating the Manchester Bypass route back to the high level passages that form the “trade route” down towards Lancaster.

The entire trip was filmed using my helmet mounted GoPro, and the footage is available on my YouTube channel. The footage is quite good in places, especially the first half of the trip where the passages are smaller. Unfortunately, when I arrived into the gigantic dimensions of Monster Cavern where the passages enlarge significantly and remain so for the duration of the trip, the video quality degrades considerably.

The dry, rocky riverbed of Ease Gill
The dry, rocky riverbed of Ease Gill between Leck Fell and Casterton Fell

I wouldn’t recommend that anyone watches the full three hours of footage, but all of the locations along the route are listed in YouTube chapters so you can easily skip between different points on the trip. The fine streamway between the County Pot entrance to Battle of Britain Chamber was a highlight of the trip, as well as the section starting at Spangle Passage and ending at Main Line Terminus — an excellent bit of caving with lots of narrow squeezes and crawling, and even includes me going mad and talking to myself for a short period.

The footage was lit using only my 1600 lumen headtorch (Fenix HM70R - highly recommended), and whilst it provided enough light for me to see, the camera could not quite keep up and you often could only see the floor immediately in front of me. While not ideal, I do think it gives a nice sense of the scale of the chambers to be able to see darkness around me. I’m waiting for the arrival of a Fenix LR40R search torch with a 12,000 lumen output — more than most car headlights — which I am hoping will improve the situation somewhat in large passages. The LR40R has received some very good reviews by other cavers, particularly Keith Edwards on YouTube.

After dipping into Lancaster Hole to pre-rig my exit, I ascended into the daylight again and made my way across the fell to the dry, rocky riverbed of Ease Gill before walking up it to the County Pot entrance. This was probably the hardest and most frustrating part of the trip — it was bitterly cold, extremely windy and did not make for a pleasant walk at all. The relief once I finally got into the relative warmth of the cave was palpable.

Main Line Terminus; a spacious chamber that is well decorated with straws
Checking the route description in Main Line Terminus: a beautiful, spacious junction chamber in between Stop Pot and Fall Pot (taken by Gracie on a previous trip)

The Manchester Bypass route is somewhat notorious in the caving community for route finding problems although I think that this is perhaps unwarranted, I did not find it a struggle at all with the excellent CNCC route description and RRCPC survey to hand. There were a few locations where the way on was not so obvious, but quickly checking each way would reveal that one choked or was impassable, leaving only one reasonable choice.

The traverse took me around six hours in total, which was quite a bit less than I was estimating. The earlier trips to familiarise myself with the system really helped here — once I got to Main Line Terminus and into the high level passages I was able to make fantastic forward speed, taking only just over ten minutes to get from the bottom of Stake Pot to the bottom of Fall Pot. There are some nice climbs in this area of the cave which I had not previously attempted, and I was quite pleased when I managed to get myself up Stake Pot and Fall Pot unassisted — the climbs are nowhere near as sketchy as they first look.

The tight confines of Spangle Passage
Spangle Passage: a long, arduous crawling height passage on the Manchester Bypass that is well decorated with straws and columns

There was only one route finding issue and funnily enough it was on the section of the cave that I already knew — I failed to recognise that I had arrived in Main Line Terminus from the southeasterly direction and charged straight past it into Monster Cavern, which led me to being very confused about five to ten minutes later when I was still expecting a stooping height chamber and was instead met with one with a ceiling some ten to fifteen meters high.

It was lovely to be alone in a cave again; I feel totally at home in the environment and even put some music on during the latter parts of the trip which lifted my mood even more. It’s quite meditative to be in such a magical place without distractions — trekking through cavernous chambers where darkness surrounds you on several sides and focusing only on putting one foot in front of another with enough care not to slip or fall. That isn’t to say I don’t like caving with other people; I think there is space for both types of trips if you feel happy and confident enough to go alone occasionally.

The rest of the trip was quite uneventful (just how I like it!) and it was a great feeling to sight my exit rope dangling down from the top of Lancaster Hole when I did eventually arrive there. Prussiking out with just enough daylight (and sunshine) remaining to make it back to the car without a torch was a lovely end to a very relaxing caving trip and a wonderful Christmas Day.

— Authored by Andrew Northall