Present: Pete H, Ian W
We had long toyed with the idea of doing Rowten Pot on ladders, and a dry, settled day in West Kingsdale with Dusa seemed like a great opportunity. The weather was clear and bitterly cold, with magnificent hoar frost on the hills, and a distant sun shone weakly all day. After showing the Swinsto pair where their hole was, Pete and I wondered along Turbary Road to the Rowten entrances. We were gladdened to see it was not already rigged, and that we would have the pothole to ourselves for our unconventional descent.
We chose the traditional Gully Entrance, and carefully picked our way over the climbs to the head of the first pitch, manhandling the five or six bags in stages for fear of slipping on the glassily smooth surface. I might add at this point that the previous night had conspired against me and I was struggling to focus through aching eyes, and having issues with balance. “Perhaps today wasn’t my day,” I thought.
At the head of the first pitch, the first of many ladders was uncoiled and belayed to a knob of rock at foot level with a short sling. The lifeline was anchored to a spit on the left (which someone has backed up with a cord thread) and I made my way down. Ice gave way to spray and algae and I was soon at the bottom. Pete lowered the bags down on the lifeline and belayed himself down afterwards, leaving a ladder and fixed line for our ascent.
Lights on now, for a brief flat out crawl along the muddy bedding plane to reach the ledge below the eyehole entrance. We had read that the spits on the traditional descent of the main pitch were unusable, hence our detour here onto the SRT route. A handline was installed across the rock bridge, and along the ledge on the far side to a Y-hang near the puddle. I filled my carbide lamp in the puddle and could now join Pete in the warming, soothing goodness of flame vision. A great many ladders were now uncoiled and joined as they were lowered down. Five or six I think; it seemed a lot and was certainly quite heavy by the end.
I had been quietly apprehensive about our trip and began now to wonder if we were doing the right thing. I didn’t want us to come into difficulty and have to prussik out and abandon the gear. I didn’t want a ladder to fail, and given that we were using every club ladder on this trip, the chances seemed higher than ever. And I didn’t want the water to rise because I knew the ladder would hang close to the fall on this pitch. All this skulked around in my head as we went about our business. A quick reshuffle at the pitch head and I was on belay.
No way on but down! After a very disjointed descent over the convex edge of the platform came a glorious free hang. Having visited Rowten numerous times using SRT, it seemed odd to be sailing down past the re-belay bolts and the rift traverse – no need for such hassles on our descent; just one hang to the floor. But what a long hang! 150 feet of gleaming electron ladder shimmied and swirled below my feet as I descended, and the daylight eyehole disappeared into the distance. As I neared the bottom I looked for the end of the ladder in case it didn’t reach, but there were no troubles; one rung was on the floor!
I untied my belay and whistled up to Pete, who lowered down the last bag. I waited at the bottom of the shaft, watching Pete’s descent: the swirling ladder; the walls in the yellow glow of his carbide lamp; the faint glimmer of daylight in the water’s spray. “Today *was* my day,” I thought.
We hopped across the stream and carried on down the short climbs to the next pitch. After debating the free-climbing option for a brief while, the sensible option took hold. A couple more coils of ladder were unpacked and rigged, belayed to two threads at knee height (we took the climb on the far side of the stream, which is not P-bolted). The climb is very short and I was soon at the head of the last pitch. The ladder was belayed to the two P-bolts in the roof and we climbed down, each going for a peek at the sump around the corner. Now all that was left was to climb out!
The first two pitches were soon despatched with, and we were back at the foot of the main pitch. I no longer had any of the worries I had had at the top; I knew I would cope and that we’d get out without problem. I mused a short while (actually I was summing up strength), “maybe a ladder will snag; we’d have to abseil back down to it, that’d be a pain”.
Pete’s lamp began to light the passageway below me and I knew it wasn’t time to hang around; I clipped in my chest ascender and began to climb. It was tiring work – “I don’t climb ladders often enough,” I thought to myself. But there was the taut ladder above me, wetted in the spray of the waterfall and glistening in the diffuse daylight. Below me, there was ladder already climbed, shimming and twirling. And far below, Pete’s lamp lit a solitary patch of rock in the darkness. What a spectacle, what an experience! With a couple of rests on my elbows, I had gained a broad ledge on which I rested and looked around a short while before climbing the last ten metres.
At the top, I whistled down to Pete, then crossed the rock bridge and sat on the broad ledge below the eyehole entrance to watch Pete climb up. It was stirring, and I decided everyone should see sights such as this, it really was that good. After a good while hauling and coiling ladder and lifeline, we packed the bags and set off back to the entrance pitch. Just a short one, this! With a little more ladder coiling and gear hauling, and a careful ascent out of the ice-coated entrance hole, we were stood on the surface. We had been underground five hours and now the light was fading. An orange glow in the east did nothing to abate the cold.
We walked hastily down to the road, chatting and rambling and burbling, full of endorphins from an exciting and successful trip. On getting back to the cars, we found the Bull Pot group waiting patiently for us. But there was no sign of the Swinsto group, and they were nearing call out time…
The Swinsto group had got a rope stuck on the main pitch and taken a long time about it, but they came out okay. Pete and Ian went and did the Swinsto trip to retrieve it. What a day!