18 August 2021

The Curse of Dihedral

Rhys Tyers

Saturday 14th August - The Curse of Dihedral

A prerigged Gaping Ghyll was a succesfull lure to draw our party of four up the slopes of Ingleborough. The long tramp up Clapdale lane is not so long with shoulders unburdened by tackle, and the day was welcomely mild and overcast. On our way up we met a behatted Craven member who was descending after rigging Dihedral the previous day. This piqued our interest significantly as we have some history with the entrance. 

A friend who shall remain nameless once attempted Dihedral in pretty awful conditions on the advice of a man in the car park of Ingleborough hall. The mysterious stranger had claimed that Dihedral was passable in all weather, which is extremely untrue, and this advice resulted in a very moist and traumatic retreat. This time however it was prerigged and the weather fairly settled, what could go wrong?

At the top we found the Craven encampment and after a quick chat we were helpfully led to the top of the main shaft and pointed at Dihedral. We would be the first people to actually descend to the bottom since it was rigged the previous day. One of the other riggers let me know that he was pretty sure the rope reached the bottom.

The view is spectacular from the top! Looking down from Dihedral the darkness melts away as light and water stream in from the main shaft. You can see a long way down before the darkness rallies once again and precludes any view of the bottom. As I rigged I gibbered about how intimidated I was, about how far down it was, about how scary it all seemed. Then I thought that as I was nominally one of the most height happy of our party that I should stop saying these things in earshot of the others. 

I began my slow descent, and what a long way it is! The spray builds up again and again but each time I was relieved to find another deviation pulling me away from the column of water. Truly awesome in every way. The scale of the cave, the water, the light, combine perfectly.

At the ledge I waited for Jack, and once he arrived I descended the second half. The hang down was more familair this time as I dropped into the main chamber, but still a very new vantage point. At the bottom I scrambled to set up some flashes but a miscommunication above meant that I had ample time to take photos. 

One by one Jack, then Fiona, and finally Cecilia descended equally awed (and all dazzled by my flashes). We regrouped and set off in the direction of mud hall. None of us had really been in the Eastern half of Gaping Ghyll. We had discussed various options but the lack of wetsuits seem to be quite limiting so we settled on going as far as we felt like towards the Whitsun Series.

This bit of cave is very good value and I'm surprised I'd not been there before. The large mud hall is obviously quite impressive but beyond is some quite classic caving. Even the crawls are fairly pleasant. And well decorated for something so accessible! We did wonder if even the prescence of a duck further on puts people off this bit of passage.

Just before the drained sump of the font we giggled childishly at the noises we made squalching through the mud. Fiona elected to stomp straight through and was rewarded with a depth of mud that the rest of us managed to avoid. We stared into the canal for a few minutes before deciding that being soaked would add nothing to our trip and turned around.

Once again in the main chamber we just caught up with Clive as he was about to ascend Dihedral. Cecilia and I decided we wanted to exit this way too, as it seemed like it would not be rigged very often. Jack and Fiona sensibly decided to exit via Bar and complete a nice through trip. We parted and Cecilia and I climbed in turn.

I was pleased to be able to appreciate the shaft for longer though when we arrived at the ledge we found 6 people up there! Luckily (in some way) two of them were trying to head down (and had been waiting for an hour they said). With me and Cecilia up they were finally able to descend. It is not a terrible place to queue. Plenty to look at and the waterfall brings down warm air from the surface so it is also not too cold.

Finally Clive had ascended leaving just me and Cecilia on the ledge. We waited and waited for the rope free and after what seemed like an age we realised that someone was descending slowly. I wondered if Clive had run into trouble and turned round but it turned out he had told some people at the top that we wouldn't mind waiting for them to descend! This, for the record, was not true. As pleasant as the ledge was we were still getting colder by the minute.

We urged the descending caver not to shout rope free. She claimed to have been waiting on the surface to descend Dihedral for 2.5 hours. I think Cecilia and I had been on the ledge for well over an hour so I had little sympathy for that. As soon as the new arrival was off the rope, Cecilia hopped on and ascended quickly out of view.

Once Cecilia had gone the other caver told me that she'd seen a bad rub point on the rope, near the top. She seemed unsure about exactly how bad and felt bad for not remembering to mention it before Cecilia had left. I would say this person did not give the impression of being a _very_ experienced caver so it was hard to know what to make of this. Surely they would not have descended a badly damaged rope?

I have decided that in the future I would not ascend a rope in these circumstances as there was no real way to know the condition, and there were other safer ways out.

I was grateful to quickly here a rope free from Cecilia and ascended as fast as I could partly to avoid any criticism from people waiting on the surface and partly from some fear of this unknown damage. As I approached the final deviation I saw an alpine isolating a section of rope. That rope had it core completely exposed. I did a terrified and not very skillful knot pass and met Cecilia at the top. And pity her! She had found the damaged rope and isolated it for me, holding the 60m length of rope in her teeth so she could tie the knot! I am somewhat sure that she saved my life by doing that.

We were both angry and confused at this point. How had none of the other ascending cavers seen this? Why had the descending caver descended past this and not told Cecilia about it? We told the two cavers waiting at the top that they should descend another way to find their friend, and answered some questions from the Craven cavers who's job it would be to replace the rope. Apparently it was a pretty new 120m! 

We found Jack and Fiona, and a few other Imperial cavers dossing on the grass. We quickly changed as I was quite keen to get away from the cave at that point. On the walk down we discussed what could have happened. 

We decided it was unlikely that any of the ascending cavers had missed it because it was exactly at the deviation, where you would certinaly be looking at and handling the rope. The rope could not have been worn by the rock (it was miles away) and that the deviation seemed much to shallow to have caused it either. The only way we think it could have happened is perhaps if the descending caver had somehow damaged the rope? Maybe they locked off to pass the deviation and they had sharp edges on their bobbin? Most of their gear seemed extremely new though so this was not a satisfying explanation. Either way we think it was definitely irresponsible of this person to descend, and also they were well within shouting distance of the pitch head so they could easily have told one of their friends about it! I don't think there's any way to know for sure what happened. Very confusing.

Still the walk and time soothed and I was soon thinking mostly of the epic descent, beautiful passages, and good friends in whose company I had been.

Sunday 15th August - Rumbling Hole

As a balm for the previous day we picked a more straightforward cave. Matti was blessed with a late train so Cecilia and I grabbed him for a not-quite-Sunday-cave, Rumbling.

Matti and I thought we had not been, and Cecilia had not been to the bottom so it seemed like a good choice. Arriving I realised I was missing my chest harness, hand jammer, and footloop. However I did have many slings and a tibloc so I decided to practice my ultralight caving rather than return to the hut.

Matti did the first half of the rigging. He admitted that rigging the entrance shaft was as close as he had come to saying he could not do something because of fear. Unfortunately he didn't outwardly show this so I think Cecilia and I spent most of his time rigging playfully mocking him and his rigging.

I rigged the second half to ensure we would finish the cave in time, though in the end I am not sure I went much faster than Matti!

At the bottom both Matti and I realised we had been here before, and that we had eaten cake here for DKPs birthday. Ah well, still a lovely cave! Cecilia demanded to derig as usual, as she believes this is the way to do the least work. I am unconvinced as I managed to go the bottom half of the cave without carrying anything.

The tibloc works though it does slip if you engage it too quickly (with a stamped rope-walking foot :P). I would still opt for a hand jammer next time though.