© Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted.
However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
Rule, A. (1910) Gaping Ghyll: Exploration And Survey: Spout Tunnel And Rat Hole. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 3 Number 10: pp186-192. Leeds: YRC.

Gaping Ghyll:

Exploration And Survey:
Spout Tunnel And Rat Hole.

By  Alexander Rule.

Undeterred by our experiences at Whitsuntide of 1909 some of us who underwent enforced detention on that occasion, together with other pot-holing members of the Club, organised a rope-ladder expedition and met at Gaping Ghyll on Friday, the 16th July, 1909, intending to complete the survey of the Old S.E. Passage from the point at which we had found further work with the mining dial impossible owing to the nature of the ground.  As we were particularly anxious to complete the work as soon as possible, we decided that the survey party only should make the descent.

The summer (!) of 1909 will be long remembered by pot-holers as probably the worst season on record for the exercise of their craft; and although on this occasion, we of the advance party got up to the Ghyll dry, a thick mountain mist, as wetting as a heavy downpour, enveloped us before we were safely under canvas.  Next morning, whilst engaged on the usual dam-building operations, we made a most valuable discovery.  During the previous, Whitsuntide we had noticed an opening in the right hand bank of Fell Beck on a level with the stream bed and about halfway between the Camp and the Main Shaft.  This opening was blocked by a large stone but the boulder clay, which covers the rock at this place almost down to the stream bed, appeared to have been recently washed out of the crevices between the stone and the main rock.  Further search showed that the opening was really the mouth of a low bedding-plane cave which narrowed at a short distance from the entrance and continued in the form of a low and narrow passage.  As the stream-bed at this particular point is more level and free from stones than elsewhere, we decided to build our dam there and see if the new passage would take the water of which there was a very considerable volume.  We accordingly diverted the stream from the sinks higher up the stream-bed and soon had the satisfaction of seeing the waters of Fell Beck disappearing into the new passage, and by mid-day the Main Shaft afforded a dry course for the descent.  The ladders were then fixed and all was ready when the rest of the party arrived in the evening.

We had meant to descend at once and work through the night, but the weather, which had remained good all day, now appeared so distinctly unpromising that, after a lengthy discussion and with the thoughts of our last encounter with the Ghyll still in our minds we decided it would be inadvisable to venture below.  Rain began to fall shortly afterwards and continued at intervals during the night, and when we rose next morning at an early hour we found the stream running high but securely held up by the dam.  We began getting up the ladders at once, Horn and Parsons descending to the ledge for the purpose; rain was falling in torrents and the stream rose to flood height, but the ladders came up well; and when they were all out, we broke the dam and the stream rushed down with a roar and plunge into the Main Shaft.  At mid-day the weather improved and the sun came out and dried the tackle, everything was packed up and all the party, except Wingfield, Addyman, and myself, left Clapham in the evening greatly pleased with the new way of dealing with the stream.

Next day the new passage was comparatively dry and Wingfield and Addyman crawled round the stone blocking the mouth and proceeded along the tunnel tied on to the end of a hundred-foot rope, whilst I remained on guard at the entrance armed with a revolver with which to signal if rain should come on.  The slow disappearance of the rope shewed that the passage was not of the "tourist" variety, and when the whole length was nearly run out, or rather in, I attached a sixty-foot rope.  This in turn had been drawn in to its full extent when rain came on, and as it threatened to continue I fired the revolver and very soon the sound of expressive language and much groaning announced the return of the explorers; They had passed through a tunnel, resembling a drain pipe in diameter for about 80 feet, into a wider portion, where there was an 8 foot drop to negotiate, and had proceeded along the passage to where another passage entered on the left with a stream running along its floor.  The main passage appeared to continue but there was no time to carry on the exploration.

No further work was done until Whitsuntide 1910, when a most successful Meet took place at Gaping Ghyll.  The weather was in complete contrast to that of the previous year, and a large party were in camp, among whom we were especially pleased to welcome Mr. Geo. Seatree, President of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, and Mr. W. P. Haskett Smith.  A small advance party went up on May 12th, and found Wingfield already encamped and busily engaged in the construction of a permanent timber dam across the stream-bed just below the mouth of the new passage.  He had cemented up the fissures of the stream-bed with concrete and had brought with him all the materials necessary for drilling holes in the rock and "leading in" iron rods on which to fix the timbers with iron rings, and during the week-end the dam was completed.  The rods have been left in position so that timbers can be attached to them whenever required and we hope that casual visitors will not interfere with them.

On Saturday the usual preliminary work was carried out, being rendered much easier by the small amount of water in Fell Beck, and in the evening Booth descended with the telephone wire and fixed the guy rope in position.  Next morning we rose at 4 a.m., Booth descended at 6-30, and others followed in rapid succession, the windlass working splendidly.  Horn was unfortunately absent, so I had to take charge of the survey party consisting of Chappell, Barstow, Dr. H. Bassett, and myself, and we were soon at work.  Wingfield took a small party on ahead to fix ladders in the Mud Chamber and the survey of the latter was then commenced.  This work occupied several hours as the size of the place called for careful, measurement and we were anxious to check our results of the previous year, which had proved somewhat unsatisfactory.  We then pushed on to the furthest point reached in 1909, and during the rest of the day carried out the survey as far as the Pool.  At 7 p.m. we were back in the Great Chamber and met C. Hastings who had been busy photographing in the N.W. Passages.

On Monday the survey party made up of Chappell, Dalton, W. Cecil Slingsby, Bassett and myself completed the survey of the Main Passage from the Pool onwards, and then set to work on the Right-hand Branch Passage which had been left unsurveyed at the time of its discovery.  Our progress during the day was comparatively slow as the nature of the passages made it quite impossible to take long bearings, and by the time we had reached the stream flowing into the Right-hand Branch Passage it was growing late, so we gave up the survey at this point, and, after a hurried visit to the end of the passage, returned to the Main Chamber.  A thunderstorm afforded some little excitement and the distant rumble of thunder and occasional flashes of lightning were most impressive, but after a short delay, the chair appeared and by 8-30 p.m. we were all back at the surface.

Some useful survey work had meanwhile been carried out by Brodrick and L. Slingsby in the new passage or "The Rat Hole," as we called it ‑ a most appropriate title.  Brodrick had also treated the various sinks in the stream-bed with fluorescein and had obtained some valuable information about the different underground channels by which the water enters the Main Shaft and the Great Chamber.

Most of the party had left on Tuesday before what proved to be the most interesting event of the expedition took place.  There have been many discussions as to the possibility of getting into the passage which opens into the Shaft about 30 feet below the lip of the Lateral Passage, and from which the water forming the Lateral Waterfall flows; but it remained for Booth to make the first attempt and this was completely successful.  He was lowered on the chair until just opposite the mouth of the passage and then, by swinging towards the wall, he managed to obtain a hold on the rock, gain a footing on the lip and scramble into the mouth of the passage.  Wingfield then descended the short rope ladder hanging from the end of the jib and swung into the hole, Booth meanwhile securing the end of the ladder and drawing him in.  The two explorers found themselves in a narrow passage with a stream running along its floor, leading to a small chamber into which a fine waterfall flowed over a vertical pitch, 25 feet high.  Crossing the chamber they continued along the passage, which became very low and narrow and finally turned sharply at right angles so as to form a widened fissure communicating with a second fissure a few feet back by a short and high level passage into which it was possible to climb.

Booth and Wingfield discussed the possibility of climbing the waterfall pitch in the chamber but, owing to the amount of water, decided to wait a more favourable opportunity and returned to the surface.  With this piece of exploration a most successful expedition was brought to a close.

On June 11th, 1909, a small party went up to Clapham and spent a delightful time in camp on the moor just above Clapdale Farm, in splendid weather.  We started early next day and Booth and Wingfield got into the Spout Tunnel as before by means of the chair and ladder, Brodrick, Davidson and I following by the ladder which they had drawn in after them.  The descent is short, but decidedly sensational, especially the latter part of it, as the lip of the opening is cut back several feet and and at this point the ladder approaches the horizontal; but the presence of good handholds in the rock on either side, and, of course, the additional security of the life-line are both steadying factors to anyone whose equanimity is disturbed by a glance into the chasm below.  I need not enter into details of the dimensions of these new passages as we hope to publish a plan of them in the next number of the Journal, but we were able to make a complete survey with highly interesting results.  Brodrick and I surveyed the main passage while Booth, Wingfield and Davidson went on ahead as far as the waterfall pitch.  Our survey as far as the chamber was soon carried out and when we arrived at the waterfall we found the pitch had been successfully negotiated under Wingfield's leadership, and all three were already at the top.  We continued our survey to the end of the passage where we found a good deal of standing water and a considerable trickle from the roof of the passage and on our return found the others descending the waterfall pitch.  From a spectator's point of view their aquatic performances were very entertaining as most of the holds appeared to lie well in the path of the fall.  They had climbed a second pitch beyond the fall, about 10 feet high, which landed them directly over the chamber, where a narrow passage ran E. for some distance and then turned sharply N., becoming narrow and difficult and ending in a low bedding-plane cave from which a stream of water emerged.  At this point they had fired a revolver several times, thinking that as they had been ascending all the time the end of the passage must lie not many feet below the stream bed and the shots would be heard by those outside, but they were not.  On the return journey the climbing party roughly surveyed the upper passage and soon after mid-day we were all back on the surface again.

In the afternoon we plotted out our measurements on the surface, and found that the Spout Tunnel passed directly under the stream-bed a few feet above the Main Shaft, the main passage ending below the boggy ground near the sign post on the moor due E. of the Main Shaft.  The water found at the end of this passage is doubtless the result of percolation from the bog.  The branch above the waterfall pitch runs E. for a short distance and then turns N. W., and the bedding-plane cave at the end lies directly under the stream-bed between the Rat Hole and the Camp and only a few feet from several of the "sinks."  Before its position can be determined with accuracy a careful survey of the stream-bed itself will have to be made and this work is now in progress; but in any case it is satisfactory to know that the source of the Lateral Waterfall has at last been discovered.  The Rat Hole still called for further investigation, and Brodrick, Wingfield, L. Slingsby, Robinson and I devoted the next day to this work.  The three first named went in, leaving Robinson and me outside to listen at the Main Shaft for their signals in case they reached a point from which communication was possible.  After waiting about half-an-hour the sound of falling stones came up from below and was repeated at brief intervals.  We returned the signals with interest, heaving all the loose rock we could find down the shaft.  Some time afterwards the party emerged from the Rat Hole and reported that they had reached the end of the passage where it fell away into space.  A partial survey was carried out and the relation of this passage to the rest of the system is now clear.  It ends over the Great Chamber in a shaft which enters the roof to the W. of the Main Shaft, and it was down this secondary shaft that the huge waterfall poured during the flood of Whitsuntide 1909. A portion of the Rat Hole still requires surveying before a complete plan can be drawn, but we hope to accomplish this work at an early date.

During the year several minor pots have been discovered on the moor to the E. of Gaping Ghyll, one of which, Car Pot, is described at p. 174 of this issue.  It seems probable that they bear some relation to the passages of Gaping Ghyll or, at any rate, to the fissures in which these passages lie.  A systematic examination of the moor would no doubt lead to interesting results and it is hoped that before very long this work will be undertaken.

Note. - To avoid confusion the following new names are suggested :-

Tunnel:- Previously known as "Side Passage " or "Lateral Passage.
Spout Tunnel:- The passage entering the shaft about 30 feet below the end of Jib Tunnel.
Spout Waterfall:- Previously known as " Lateral Waterfall."
Rat Hole:- The passage in the right bank of Fell Beck between Jib Tunnel and the Camp.