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The Greater Easegill Traverse (that’s Top-Pip if you didn’t know!)

Present: George and James (DUSA), Mark and Olly (CUCC)

When we heard that Cambridge were contemplating the Greater Easegill Traverse (G.E.T.) we leapt at the opportunity and immediately invited ourselves onto the trip. The G.E.T. undoubtebly one of the Classic Trips of the Dales, being, as much as anything else, a real test of endurance. It’s about the closest Yorkshire caving gets to a marathon… For those of you who don’t know, the G.E.T. is the trip between the two furthest apart entrances in Easegill Caverns: you enter the system at Top Sink; and emerge at Pippikin*. Crucially, it has to be done in this direction, because the Pippikin entrance series is much more challenging going out than in, and also you’re knackered by the time you reach it, which gives added difficulty. For comparison purposes the trip is about six times as long as something like County-Wretched Rabbit. Or, to put it another way, the distance between the entrances is about a mile and a half as the crow files (but actually far further as the caver crawls).

Anyway, we arrived at the farm to find that the Cambridge cavers had got a little too drunk the night before and so hadn’t managed to extricate themselves from their pits in time for the trip. Therefore Mark gave George and I directions to get through Top Sink down to the main drain (the only bit of the trip we hadn’t already done). Eventually we managed to persuade them to accompany us as far as Link Pot, so that they would still be able drive home on the same day.

We got underground at 1.05pm, and set call-out for 2am. Top Sink was really exciting, with lots of unprotected and muddy free climbs. It was more dangerous than hard. It was also a complete maze, and without Mark with us we would soon have got utterly lost. After this came the long walk along the High Level Route. This was very soul sapping because, having done it before, we all found it completely tedious. After this came the Earby Series, which, again, we had done to death on previous trips (though the bit from the 88′ Pitch to Echo Aven we had always done in reverse previously). A point of note are that the rope on the 88′ pitch is a nightmare to descend on. It is far too thick meaning you have to bounce up and down to get it to move through your descender. Since I was coming down the pitch last, George decided that I knew my way through the Wormway fine, and so they all upped sticks and buggered off without telling me. When I reached the bottom I was unsurprisingly left in some confusion. Anyway, I eventually did find my way to Echo Aven, but not before visiting the bottom of the aven at the end of Cellar Passage, and the terminal sump! Ooops!

We eventually found ourselves in Link Pot and in the process discovered that Echo Aven is a lot more difficult going up than down (since by that point everyone was lavishly coated in mud, making the pitch-head incredibly slippy and hard to climb off). It was at this point that Mark and Olly realised with some distress that if they went out now, then they’d have to do the whole bloody thing again at a future date, and so they decided to drive home the next morning instead so that they could come with us out of Pippikin.

Next up was the extremely unpleasant Wet Wallows and the almost equally shite Muddy Wallows. I remember these were quite fun last time I did them, but being as knackered as we were after five hours caving, they were horrible this time. We stopped at Dusty Junction for some cave food (in my case a very squashed, wet and muddy Mars Bar). At this point Olly decided that he was a bit too tired to go out of the extremely tight Pippikin, and so George showed him the way to the Mistral exit.  So, then there were three…

We were now soaked to the skin and exhausted, and yet still had by far the hardest part of the trip ahead of us. Last time I had done Pippikin I remember hating every minute of it. It is basically just a series of tight and awkward squeezes broken up by the odd pitch. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to it this time. The one thing in my favour was that I had done a few harder caves since, and if I’d fitted through before, then I could fit through again (or be kicked through if necessary!). Last time I remember the lower reaches being quite easy, so things did not bode well when I found even these sections quite difficult. The worst part was a horrible squeeze-climb into the roof and then sideways into a tight rift, which had to be negotiated without slipping back down. I just about managed to make it using George’s shoulder as an extra foothold (cheating I know, but by that point I didn’t really care). The rest of Pip, which I remember being the most difficult part last time, was suprisingly not quite as bad as the climb. The squeezes, although tight, are OK providing you go through in the right position and stop your legs from slipping down into the rifts. Having said this, we did have to take our SRT kits off between pitches to fit through. We eventually reached the bottom of the first pitch and began to prussik out. It was at this point that George realised that his chest jammer had ‘gone missing’. “It’s OK” he said, “I can climb out using just my hand jammer and descender”. “Hmmmm…” thought I. Mark and I prussiked out and lay down in the sunshine to get our breath back. After a couple of minutes there was still no sign of George. Apparently his ascent had been slightly more tricky than he had estimated, and so I ended up sliding my chest jammer down the rope for him to use. Anyway, very shortly afterwards George escaped from Pippikin too, and we could finally go back to the farm to celebrate. It was exactly 9.05pm when we reached the surface, so it had taken us 8 hours to complete the traverse. Not exactly record pace, but respectable nontheless. Beardy is said to have completed it in four and a half hours, and then gone back and immediately done it again in the other direction in just over five hours!!! Suprisingly, we didn’t feel like doing this…

But anyway, after we had got changed, Mark and George drove to Dent to purchase some fine ales for the celebrations and Olly and I stayed at the farm to cook a Chicken Madras for our tea. Unfortunately, we were all slightly too tired for any real festivities and ended up going retiring to our pits very soon after we’d eaten. We woke up next morning feeling completely shagged… But at least we never have to do the Greater Easegill Traverse ever again now!

To quote the great Edmund Hilary: “We knocked the bastard off!”


* Alright, so technically Bye George is even further away from Top Sink, but it was only opened in the late nineties, and is apparently desperate for its entire length. The trip from Top-By George has apparently been christened the Greater Greater Easegill Traverse!!! Oh, and apparently Peterson Pot has just been connected down to Hall of the Ten, making a Greater Greater Greater Easegill Traverse. One for the connoisseurs methinks! But now we’re getting silly…