© 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:
Lovett, T. and Burrow, D. (1921) Gaping Ghyll, 1920. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 4 Number 14: pp237-244. Leeds: YRC.

Gaping Ghyll, 1920.

I. - The Meet.

In the four glorious Whitsun days, May 22-25, the summer of 1920 flamed and died. Lucky indeed were we to camp once more at Gaping Ghyll in weather even more perfect than the June Whitsuntide of 1919. Twenty-one members and eight guests were under canvas, the winch and other tackle had been set up by a sub-committee during previous week-ends, and the whole expedition was a great success. The camp, dominated by a marquee, was quite extensive. It is a happy dispensation of Providence that some people seem really to like cooking. Between Robinson, Buckley, and Booth and his boys we fared as in Capua, not as in Sparta.

As camp was half full on Friday night, many went down on Saturday, one party going to the far end of the Flood Exit Branch. The crossing of the big hole in the floor after ascending the side of the pot-hole to the final passage requires that the party shall be properly roped: The rope should be carried on, as there will be climbing done at the finish ere all are I content.

Sunday was devoted to the Flood Entrance (or Exit !) expedition. On Monday the second descent of the Letter-box Shaft was made by Wingfield, J. Buckley, Chubb, Ellis, Hudson, and Roberts. The depth is about 90 feet. Across the scree slope runs a small stream, and at the foot of it a low passage has opened out, ending abruptly in what one crawler says is twenty feet of distance, the other says is twenty yards.#

Thirty-four descents were made in all during the three days, and the tackle was all removed on Tuesday morning.

II. - Flood Entrance.
By Davis Burrow.

The discovery and history of the Flood Entrance has been so well described in the Y.R.C. Journal, Vol. III., No. 10, that I will not attempt to reiterate anything in connection with its past. I am not aware of any party having attempted serious work therein since August 1909, when this route to Gaping Ghyll was first established and completed.

Early on Whit-Sunday 1920, two members were asked if they would volunteer to conduct two parties, one to attack the Flood Entrance and the other Gaping Ghyll, with the idea of co-operating at the long ladder and changing over so that both parties could complete the through route. This had the desired effect, and at 8.30 on Sunday morning the two parties hurriedly ran over their arrangements and divided.

The Gaping Ghyll Party. - F. Booth, J. Buckley, D. Burrow, W. Clarkson, J. Coulton. The Flood Entrance Party.- E.T.W. Addyman, J. C. Appleyard, H. Booth, C. E. Burrow, C. Chubb.

It was arranged that the Gaping Ghyll party should take six 30 ft. ladders and lashing lines, and the Flood Entrance party a 150 ft. rope, two or three short ropes, and two 30 ft. ladders. As I was attached to the Gaping Ghyll party, I can only relate the adventures as they occurred from Gaping Ghyll to Flood Entrance.

As soon as our party had collected in the Main Chamber, each shouldered his burden of ladders or ropes, and after a strenuous time arrived at the ledges running round the S.E. (200 ft.) Pot. After over an hour of cold, shivery waiting, we at last saw a pin point of light which seemed to be as far above us as a star on a clear night, and almost immediately the Flood Entrance party were within hail.

It was found extremely difficult to convey information vocally from one party to the other. At length communication was established by two individuals who, through intimate association, knew the minute inflections of each others voices. The end of the long rope was seen slowly descending, and one of the Gaping Ghyll party put on a line and traversed round the pot hole until he was able to reach it and bring it back to the large square boulder on the ledge.

The Gaping Ghyll party had already tied the six ladders together and rolled them so that they could be drawn up. The long rope was tied on to these ladders, and the Flood Entrance party had the hard work of pulling them up.

At this point it might be interesting to describe the formation at the top of this long pitch. The passage opens out to quite a big width, with the water running down a shoot about 2 feet below the passage level, which has a height of only 3 feet, but there is ample room to work when standing down in the trough of the stream. Excellent belays for the ladder are to be found 10-15 feet back from the edge of the pot-hole; this edge is in the nature of a step 4 feet deep, down to a ledge 2 feet wide. The ladder below this point rests flat against the smooth wall for 40-50 feet. It is certain that a much better ladder lead could be found to the right, but from the passage the belay and ladder lead used appear so particularly good that many would be tempted to use them. The drawback to this obvious ladder lead is that the bottom of the ladder swings over the S.E. Pot, and has to be pulled out of the vertical to effect a sound landing.

At last the first man, C. E. Burrow, began his descent, and had no exceptional difficulty until 25 feet from the bottom; at this point he had run out the full extent of his available life-line, which would have been long enough had not part of it been used to belay the ladders. Any pot-holer will realise that a man cannot unrope 25 feet from a landing when on a swinging ladder which at the same time is directly over a further drop of 150 feet, and even if this risk be taken it must not be forgotten that this man has already descended over 100 feet of ladder with an uncomfortable sprinkling of water falling on him all the time.

Under the circumstances it was necessary for a man from the Gaping Ghyll party to take a loose rope up to C. E. Burrow, who, passing it over one of the ladder rungs, made himself fast to it, and released himself from the main life-line. He then finished his descent on the rope from below, which, running over a ladder rung, acted as a top rope.

After he had reached the Gaping Ghyll party, and received the usual thousand questions, which, with a pot-holer's common sense, he ignored, it became necessary for someone to climb up to the discarded end of the life-line, and tie on a further rope to make the main life-line long enough. It is no easy task to tie two ropes together with an efficient knot when trying to balance oneself on a swinging ladder. This, however, was done, and Fred Booth volunteered to be first man to try the ascent.

All went well until the joining knot of the two ropes began to catch where the ladder first came in contact with the rock. Three times Booth had to descend 10 or 12 steps in order to free his own life-line. This, of course, made it extremely hard work, and great praise is due to him for the way he overcame these difficulties. Appleyard then roped up, and had an unpleasant descent with the knot catching, thereby misleading the top party, who at times allowed a good many, feet of slack rope to hang round his arms and body.

It was then decided that the conditions of this long climb and the severity of the exit via Flood Entrance warranted the leaders putting a ban on further exchange of men. But as no member of the top party had had previous experience of the Flood Entrance, it was considered advisable that I should go up and take the top party out. The ladder climb was indeed out of all reason and verging on the unsafe, as the life-line had got twisted at least one and a half complete turns round , the ladder, and the joining knot caught at every opportunity. The last 15 feet had to be finished with the rope slack, until a second rope could be passed to the climber, who then descended a short distance to free the main life-line; which was tightly jammed.

As arranged, the whole length of ladder was lowered to the bottom party, who took it to the Main Chamber. As soon as the ladder top was received by the bottom party, the lifeline, now finished with, was also dropped, and the exit via the Flood Entrance started. At first we were unimpeded by tackle, but once up the lower 40 foot pitch, where Addyman had been left as top man, we were hampered by two ladders and two or three ropes, plus a rucksack containing a Primus stove.

Addyman had had a very long, cold, and uninteresting wait for us, but made use of this time in exploration, and succeeded in finding two or three vertical shafts, one of which seemed, promising, commencing with a drop of about 35-40 feet. A little scheming with ropes might be used at this spot to avoid leaving anyone behind.

The three short pitches and the two crawls demanded very hard work with the tackle, but the long twisting "S" shaped passage called for unbounded patience, and it was found best to fold each ladder into two and carry or pull it along edge-ways up.

The "forty foot crack" is quite the most formidable feature of the exit, and it was here that I made the mistake of allowing the party to climb up too near the end away from Gaping Ghyll. I give this warning to others - begin to climb vertically at least 15-20 feet before coming to the end of this crack, as it is a good 6 inches wider here than further on; climb up until you can touch the roof before traversing back to the passage. Tackle can be hauled up at this point fairly easily, but woe betide those who, like us, try to ascend at the end of the crack. Not only is it narrower and without hand or foot holds, but it has a number of small inverted shelves which impede the passage upwards.

This section was the "last straw," but thanks to assistance coming from above in E. E. Roberts and C. E. Burrow, we were relieved of the dead weight of tackle and further responsibility.

Like tales of old there is a moral to this tale of woe, and one every pot-holer knows and always spurns, that is - have plenty of rope, and above all have your life-line in one length. In order to help future parties, allow me here to state the tackle which is essential and to advise that it be taken by each party as follows:

Down Gaping Ghyll - 140 feet of ladder; two shorter ropes as possible life-lines when at top of S.E. Pot; one ⅝ in. rope, about 80 feet, for belaying, to be sent up with the ladders; lighting for about 10 hours; food and a stove.

Down Flood Entrance - One ladder 42 feet long (worth making specially with narrow rounded rungs and this actual length); one rope to belay this, 30 feet will do; one rope 150 feet in one length, as life-line; one 30 foot line to assist at the three short pitches, &c; one 60 foot rope to be left hanging down first 40 foot pitch (that is, the "squeeze"). This latter can be knotted if desired.

It would be an extremely good plan, and one that would save time, if the Flood Entrance party took about 150 feet of thin, but strong, cord, which would go in a pocket, and let the Gaping Ghyll party take the 150 feet of life-line, as well as the 80 foot belaying rope, both of which could be hauled up to the top party, by this cord.

Everything possible should be lowered down to come out via Gaping Ghyll. Whistles for signalling must not be left behind. Further advice, which is important. Don't use the obvious ladder lead as seen from the Flood Entrance, as a much better one, but more awkward at the top, is to be found to the extreme right looking down.

But to finish. The party who had returned by Gaping Ghyll were out long before those from the Flood Entrance, and had removed the most prominent dirt, and - lucky beggars had had tea. However, when the last man struggled over to the main camp he was received with a true Y.R.C. welcome, improved by the offer of three different beverages, one from a bottle, another from a froth-covered pint pot, and a third from a brown pot with a spout.

It was a disappointment to all that only four out of the ten were able to complete the circuit, but I feel sure the leaders will be forgiven for their decision when the unfortunate six do complete the whole course, which I trust they will do very soon and under better conditions.

III. - Fauna And Flora.
By Dr. T. Lovett.

Two or three hours were spent in the Main Chamber and some of the lateral passages on 23rd May 1920, searching for evidence of plant and animal life.

Main Chamber. - In this place there is a fair amount of light coming down the shaft. It is also subject to floods, which may rise to a height of 30 feet. Any fauna or flora of the surface must frequently be carried down. We should therefore expect to find living examples of those organisms that are (1) able to survive the fall, and (2) capable of adapting themselves to the altered environment.

Ordinary earthworms abound among the stones - they were all small, the largest being about 3 inches. They did not appear to differ much from earthworms on the surface except that they were a little paler and more sluggish. I also saw here a small black beetle, a tiny spider, a white centipede, and an insect flying across the light of the lamp. The three former were among the stones, and I was unable to secure them.

Among the flora were mosses, grasses, and dicotyledons. The mosses were the healthiest, and some appeared as if they might reach sexual maturity. But all the higher plants were exceedingly delicate and anaemic. There was a specimen of what may turn out to be a mountain ash. It had taken root firmly, and four or five shoots had come off, with long thin stems, and at the top of each stem a cluster of small partially opened leaves. Both stem and leaves were pale, with only the smallest amount of colouring matter. I have since planted this organism above ground, and it is putting out short, vigorous green shoots.

A few vigorous fungi were seen, but really very few, perhaps on account of the frequent floods.

As one .left the Main Chamber the signs of life became rapidly less. In the "dry chamber," after a diligent search, I found only three earthworms and one small white centipede. It may be remarked that this chamber is not absolutely dark, a small amount of light coming in from the Main Chamber.

A cursory search in the passages and pools that were perfectly devoid of light revealed nothing either animal or vegetable, but a thorough search ought to be made here, as any fauna or flora found ought to show distinctive features.

Among some heaps of drift rubbish were the lower jaw bone of a fox and several limb bones of birds.

IV. - Names.

There is confusion between the various underground passages of Gaping Ghyll, owing to the use of "south-east" to describe two of the most important. It has been agreed by those of the old explorers now at hand that the names shall be as follows. Roughly the Main Chamber runs east and west. The west end is filled by the Great Mud Bank, and above it rises the West Slope, with the West Chamber opening from the top, and the Letter-box half way up.

The east end is stony, and is closed by the East Scree Slope, straight ahead up which is the East or Old East Passage (first named S.E.), leading to the Mud chamber. Far to the right on the East Slope and actually in the S. Wall of the Main Chamber will be found the South or New South Passage. The branches of this are to be "Stream Chamber Branch" and "Flood Exit Branch." The subterranean pot-hole called 200 Foot Pot or S.E. Pot is to be "Flood Exit Pot-hole." For Booth and Parsons' crawl between East and South Passages "Bedding-Plane Crawl" is suggested.