FOUL Pot - Ben Wright/Steph Dwyer
As I was busy Saturday and Sunday, but still wanted a proper trip, we decided a Friday night epic was needed instead of heading to the crown as usual and getting wasted. Turned up at the dump about 4pm and festered for a while until Steph turned up at 5:30 with dinner. I packed rope and we headed off to the Dalehead lay-by on Fountains Fell to do the largely unknown gem that is FOUL Pot (ask Mike Bottomley what it stands for!). I'd been down a few months previous in wet(ish) weather and we'd got the impression that it was fairly weatherproof, so we ignored the slight drizzle and forecast rain.
We (unfortunately) found the entrance (which is fairly near Echo Pot) fairly easily in the dark and mist, so we ran out of excuses not to go caving. We made our way quickly through the entrance series to the bottom of the 2nd pitch where there is a section of narrow awkward rift. Last time I was here I found this fairly hard work, but this time I knew how to do it so slipped though easily and pulled the tackle through. Down to the magnificent streamway to admire the fine formations, and to the top of the lovely 40m pitch. I rigged this carefully to avoid rub and quickly got to the bottom - the pitch was fairly dry with only a very small amount of spray at the bottom. From here it’s about 20 mins caving, with 2 short pitches, to get to the sump.
Once at the bottom Steph offered to derig, as I'd rigged, so I headed up the bottom pitch agreeing that I'd wait for her at the top of the big pitch. As I went up the bottom pitch I noticed the water had risen a bit, but not to badly so didn't worry. I made my way to the bottom of the big pitch and found that the rope was at the bottom of a huge waterfall and the pitch was a little moist. Bugger. Decided to go for it anyway and prussiced up the pitch head down as fast as I could. The first 30m was very very wet, kinda like being in a washing machine, but above this it was fairly dry and I made it to the top safely. Steph followed, cursing as she came up and looking like a drowned rat once she'd got to the top. Once we were both safe we had a quick chat and decided to leave in all the tackle and just make our way out as quickly as possible. The low crawl between the streamway and the tight rift was suitably damp, but we got through it without much issue, apart from Steph complaining about her moist chest.
We quickly got to the tight rift, with Steph going through first - I then threw my SRT kit through to her so I could get through. I could hear the water hammering down the 2nd pitch and it wasn't getting any quieter, so instead of thinking about how to get through the rift, I just went for it. This was a bad idea, which I soon realised, as my knee and thigh we now stuck in the tightest part of the rift and I was unable to move forwards, backwards, up or down. Shite. To make matters worse (if that's possible) my left arm and leg were now stuck above me, so all I had to extract myself was my (stuck) right leg and constricted right arm. Whenever I tried to use my right leg I tensed my thigh making matters worse.
Steph was quickly recalled from the pitch and back though the rift to offer some help. We soon realised that the leg of my oversuit had to be removed, so with thoughts of "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", the knife came out to remove the leg from my suit, a rather difficult job considering the tight working conditions. I was getting rather worried as Steph was sharpening the knife on the side of the rift ready for the job. After about 20 minutes work, my suit was in tatters and somewhat out the way. Now we had reduced the friction between my leg and the rift we now had to extract me. There was a few pieces of wood in the rift, so I carefully built a pivot just in front of my knee, shoved the wood underneath and used it as a lever - I knew my PhD would come in useful somewhere!
With a combination of this, me leaning back and Steph pushing on my shoulders with her feet I managed to extract myself, after being stuck for over an hour, while the water on the 2nd pitch rose. I remember Steph saying to me "Ben, don't worry the waters going down", and me agreeing, both knowing full well that this was completely untrue and we were lying to each other.
So I was now free, however on the wrong side of the rift and both of us were pretty cold. So we spent 5 minutes composing ourselves and trying to warm up before heading out. The rift this time was fine, as I did it correctly, however feeling rather mean, I did joke at one point that I was stuck again and needed helping, which didn't go down too well! We both kitted up before heading up the rather moist 2nd pitch (which admittedly wasn't too bad) and out of the entrance series, which again was wetter than normal, but perfectly passable. We climbed out of the entrance shakehole at 1am after a rather eventful 5 hour trip, to a starry, clear night, odd. Apparently it had heavily rained between 9pm and 11pm, causing the rise in the water levels!
We walked back to the car in high spirits, picking up the stashed bottle of port on route, relieved that we had survived such an ordeal and that we were both safe. We went back to the dump, arriving at 2am to homemade pizza, Banoffee pie, Steph's bottle of Gin and a huge amount of piss taking. A week later I return to the dump to a note left on the whiteboard from Scoff saying he’d fixed my oversuit for me. He’d done an amazing job of it, complete with a sign on the thigh saying “if leg gets stuck, cut here”. Thanks Scoff, much appreciated!
Steph’s Side of the Story:
Eager to keep my caving momentum going and to experience new and less often travelled caves, Ben’s idea of a trip into FOUL seemed brill. On Friday evening however.....after a crazy week in work, walking away from the warm comforts of the BPC and into the misty cold night, we felt a little less enthused. Both determined nonetheless we marched on into the fog with a bottle of port in hand to encourage our swift exit and console us for missing out on the pub. The trip down was fun and uneventful to the bottom and I remember smiling away to myself thinking yeah this defo kicks the pub’s ass but soon everything was to change.
Oblivious to what was happening above ground I tootled along the cave, singing away to myself as I packed the rope bag but when I returned to the bottom of the big pitch the entire chamber was now engulfed in a maelstrom of water. What was a fine mist a half hour ago was now a large body of water clattering down the shaft to the floor below and now I had to try and battle this, up a 40m pitch. In an instant my mood changed. It really put the shits up me that in such a small window of time the whole character of the cave had changed so dramatically in what people assured me was the “wet weather” choice for caving. My heart sank, thinking, don’t tell me I’m gonna get flooded into a cave again, and quickly all my senses were standing on edge; I had to get out of here quickly but safely. I checked through all my gear to make sure everything was in perfect working order (getting hung up or messing with footloops etc mid flight was not an option), tucked my head down and went for it. Within seconds I was absolutely saturated and gasping for breath with the cold but was out of it shortly, thank God. Shaking with cold and exhilaration at the top, I looked at Ben and said “feck the ropes, we’re getting the hell out of here”.
In an instant my trust of all I knew about this cave had dissolved and I had an overwhelming urge to just go. We headed out promptly. I, hurrying along in attempts to try and regain some warmth and weary of the fact that there were two flat out crawls ahead of us. On our return the first crawl (a bailed out duck) had gone from a damp floor to a steady flow of water where my chest was getting wet and I was having to keep my head to the side in order to make sure water didn’t lap into my face. The rifts when we got to them were very noisy due to the obviously rising water and I was not happy to find the previously dry 2nd pitch as bad as the big one below.
Just as I grabbed the rope to make another dash for it, Ben calls me back - “I’m stuck”. I think to the world, you have got to be kidding me! We are freezing cold, the water in the blasted cave is rising, I’m worried about making it out as it is and now this happens! I come back and see that he is indeed properly stuck on the wrong side of this horrible rift. Not happy times to say the least!! I give myself a pep talk, thinking, ya gotta pull it together girly. This is the price you pay for living such a fun and adventurous life and it’s how you survive moments like this that makes or breaks ya, but feelings of “does this really need to happen now, when were saturated wet, the one time I don’t bring my KISU and when were chasing water out of the cave”, lurk in the back of my mind!!
Ben looks up at me and says “Shit Steph, I’m really properly stuck - can you get down and have a look at what’s trapped it?”. I try and fail at a few things, pushing, pulling at his leg, trying to push on his shoulders an impossible task in this tight, low and awkward space. I wish for lots of things (washing liquid, spare rope, capping kit, crow bar, our bottle of port) but I have nothing only an SRT kit, a knife and whistle.
After quite a while and several failed ideas, a cool and collected but concerned Ben asks, “What are we going to do if we can’t get me out of here”? Shaking with the cold I answer back, in an unconvincing attempt at positive psychology, “we have to, there isn’t another option, besides the water is dropping so we have time to make it work”. Inside I know I’m lying. I feel simultaneously determined but hopeless. I am very uncomfortable about the fact that I am getting colder and colder and the rift is now howling with a wall of mist ridden wind and I’m quickly running out of ideas as to what to do. Being so small I was able to get a lot closer to him than many others would have, but my strength was frustratingly failing me. There was just no room to do anything and with no technical gear there was nothing to compensate for my lack of brute strength and our arduous working conditions!
All this was being further complicated by the fact that I was slipping into the tighter section of the rift where Ben’s thigh was caught and my muscles were now cramping whenever I tried anything strenuous. At one point I had to breathe out in order to force my way back out of where I’d been trying to cut Ben’s oversuit. I was now having to fight with my head, knowing too damn well the consequences of getting tired and making a mistake. I could not afford to get stuck myself as to do so...it doesn’t even bear thinking about. Poor Ben, I thought; he was so calm and I was so grateful to him for keeping it so together.
I backed out of the rift, rested for a moment and continued attempts at cutting, pushing, levering wood and generally cursing at how strong the bloody seems were in his suit. It all seemed useless. For so many years I was a member of a rescue team at home, all this training, all these years I felt capable of being a help if ever a friend or fellow caver needed it. At that moment I was soul destroyed to be able to do so little. My friend was stuck in what seemed at the time a flooding cave and all I could do was watch. I backed out of the rift again, shook myself out and asked the dreaded question. Should I head out? “No way, I’m not getting rescued, besides I’m not going to last that long in this cold”, “No, no,” I replied “I’m just going to nip to the pub and get some washing up liquid” We laughed and I returned into the clasps of the rift and gave each other the nearest thing we could to a hug, tapping each other, whilst sat sideways, on the head.
I have always been a believer in the power of psychology but after our little respective breathers (his not actually being one), I had a renewed hope in our efforts. Ben kept coming up with loads of clever mathsy ideas to do with rocks and levers and friction, you name it and it was using a combination of all these things that eventually he managed to get himself out. I was overcome with Joy and Elation! Still at the wrong side of the rift, we hugged each other again & again but I knew I wouldn’t feel relief until we were at the right side of the rift and en route out. Thankfully for real at this stage the water levels were dropping. I started singing again, too soon it seemed, as Ben shouted out Shit I’m stuck again. AGAIN I cried! Then mid rift he started laughing. How he had it in him spare to laugh and joke I don’t know but if I didn’t kill him there and then I never will
The exit was damp but do-able. I climbed out the exit miraculously unbothered by the spiders to a beautiful, starry moonlit night. The feeling was euphoric. To finally be out, to have my friend safely with me, to no longer be in that bastard rift...... to........ah YES ......our bottle of Port A little taste of heaven. Port had never tasted so good. We laughed and joked and beamed of smiles the whole way back to car. He did it, he got himself out and now we were slugging this gorgeous port down the back of our throats. Relief is such a fabulous feeling.
FOUL pot is a very good trip, and people shouldn't be put off by this report, this piece of rift really isn't that hard when you do it properly! It seems to be passable in fairly bad weather, but be warned that if it rains heavily the lower pitches get very wet very quickly. The rigging is fairly technical and you often have to be very careful to avoid rope rub. Rigging details follow:
Unless otherwise stated, all bolts are spits and all hangers are insitu
10m rope, rigged to flake above pitch. There is an old wooden ladder on this pitch, but a handline is useful.
30m Rope, backed up to chockstone. Y-hang of stal boss and old eye bolt in roof. Deviation at top off stal then deviation at -4m with insitu sling.
Pitch 3 (optional handline)
10m rope, rigged to obvious flake.
50m rope, initial y-hang off insitu angle-iron bolts, then main hang off bolt around left corner. Then either a deviation off the bolt on the other side of shaft or a large y-hang. Deviation/y-hang needs careful positioning to avoid rope rub further down the pitch.
10m rope, backup to bolt, then thread in roof.
30m rope, backed up to bolt before slippery climb up, then y-hang of bolts at pitch head. Deviation off flake at -10m. Y-hang needs careful positioning to avoid rub.
To find FOUL pot, grab a copy of Mike Cooper's excellent NFTFH and locate Echo Pot. Follow the gully away from the wall until you find a shakehole with a 4m shaft at the bottom covered in wood and corrugated steal - this is FOUL. It is no more than 100m away from the wall near Echo Pot.