The 45ft entrance pitch to the superb Hagg Gill Pot
You go through an abrupt transition between worlds when you abseil into a pothole. Not only does the environment around you change instantly, but all the complications which fill the air on the surface become replaced with thoughts of technical and navigational logistics.
The change was more apparent to me than ever before yesterday as I dropped down the 45ft entrance shaft into Hagg Gill Pot. The quiet calm of Langstrothdale was the scene of some of my happiest childhood memories, hunting for fossils in the river during the summer holidays. The world I was abseiling into is something I could barely have imagined as a kid, one of ropes and karabiners and jumars. I laughed at just how much more involved my means of having fun are now.
A few metres down the entrance shaft you have to squeeze through a constriction before the pitch opens out into a nice free-hang into a large chamber. I was a touch apprehensive about this, but after rigging the rope carefully to avoid abrasion points I set about tackling the obstacle. It gave me pause for thought, but in the end it involved less swearing than I'd be prepared for and I continued quickly to the bottom of the pitch.
The upstream passage became an instant mimic of The Crabwalk in Giant's Hole, but (thank god) not of such endless length. I knew to expect fine formations and some elaborate speleothems, but I was stunned speechless when this narrow passage opened out into a chamber containing a 40ft high stalactite column. I've not seen anything else to compare.
The very bottom of a 40ft high stalactite column.
The formations continued, sometimes forcing me to grovel in the stream below to avoid touching their pristine surfaces. A long section of narrow passageway was adorned by an incredible coating of helictites, each one of them very small but collectively a quite astonishing thing to see. My movements were slow and considered, terrified of brushing against them and ending their ancient growth.
Thousands of twisted and sharp helictites cover the walls of some of the upstream passages.
A fixed rope climb and more stream passageway took me into a huge, reactor-like chamber with multiple passages going off in different directions. I was in here for a while searching for the way on, eventually climbing up over some van-sized boulders to discover the correct continuation.
An upwards squeeze through a slot delivered me into a pool underneath a beautiful and tall waterfall, and above this some climbing brought me to my objective. The straw chamber was a hauntingly beautiful place, some of the pencil-width stalactites almost 9ft in length and hanging down over two seperate grottos on each side. Places like this blow my mind with their sheer weirdness and otherwordly quality.
The radiant beauty of the straw chamber hidden upstream.
Straw stalactites, many over body-height in length.
Going back past my rope coming down the entrance shaft, I spent an hour or so exploring the other streamway, and enjoying the multiple short climbs up waterfalls. I stopped and reflected on how all this was actually just indulging the child that remains in me, but brushed this away as I started the serious business of reascending my rope to the surface.