Layby Pot - Alan Brentnall
Just the five of us this week. We met at the second layby, conveniently placed between the two entrances to Layby Pot. As soon as I was changed, I nipped over to check that the lower entrance was accessible, and didn't have a big boulder on top, or anything else which might obstruct our later exit. Steve and I then took the tackle over to the shaft entrance and rigged ladder and line. Steve clipped on and descended, finding the ladder some two metres short, so I lowered the spreader krab, using a sling, until Steve said it was OK.
Shortly afterwards, the other three arrived and I belayed them down and then abseiled down myself. The pitch deposits you between a low hands and knees crawl, and a lower mined level, known as the Old Man's Slabbed Level. We democratically ignored the latter, and followed Steve through the hands and knees crawl as far as the hole in the floor (the Cheese Grater), Over this, Steve explored a dead end side passage, before carrying on to and upward section which led us to a junction. Steve opted for the left hand crawl which passed beneath an Aven and took us into the well decorated (if a little grubby) Calcite Passage. This is well worth a visit, although it is not the way on.
Back at the junction, I led through low wide crawls to a low chamber, where we re-grouped before performing an entertaining downward wiggle into a low, wet crawl. This took us through to a section where we visited a series of very pretty avens, before taking the low and lumpy crawl through to Big Chamber. This gave us another chance to re-group, and to have a chat about other trips into this place before passing through the low, sloping passage to Phil's Dome Pit - a tribute to Phil Brown of Caving Supplies fame. You know that you're at Phil's Dome Pit because it is festooned with dangling tat which has been rigged from various dodgy natural belays in an attempt to provide easy alternatives to "the squeeze". However, I've climbed the tat on several occasions in the past, and I believe that the squeeze isn't so bad, and certainly doesn't merit taking the kind of risky aerial flyer that would be the result of a belay failure in this place. And besides, I was still feeling quite knackered and crampy following a monster bike ride I had done around the Brecon Beacons on Sunday.
So I slid into the first part of the squeeze, which isn't tight - just a little thin on things to push against with your feet. Levitation appears to be the name of the game, and, if you get it right, you end up in a snug but reasonably large passage leading upwards to squeeze number two. This is yet another "footless crow", but with the added problem of making you guess which is the largest part of the orifice through which you must push your upper body. Get it wrong, and you can end up with a very strenuous thrutch! Finally, a low grovel lands you at the foot of a short spidery pitch up to an oil drum capped with wiggly tin. The exit!
Layby Pot certainly isn't on most people's list of dream trips in the Peak District, but, considering that it was something like grade 2 in the original COTPD, it is an excellent work out and epitomises Stoney Middleton Caves in a nutshell. I recommend it to the house!