Situated on the slopes of Ingleborough mountain, Alum Pot is a large natural pothole 340 ft deep with a stream cutting down the back side. Shaped like a large sock – with a deep sump pool in the toe end it has attracted many visitors throughout the ages. It was first descended in 1870 and there are a few varied routes to the bottom, notably ‘Long Churn Cave’ which is the easiest and most common, and the route to the bottom this way is by a series of smallish pitches along the inside walls of the main shaft.
‘Diccan Pot’ is another way to the bottom with several large extremely wet pitches which takes you directly to the end of the cave – for experts only! Two ways straight down the main shaft are also possible – the ‘wet way‘ where you go down via a series of ledges and wet pitches, and the second way is via a full free hanging 280 ft abseil. Few do it this way…you need lots of ‘bottle’ and have to be fairly fit too. You should also have a head for heights and a good rope!
Our caving club existed on a shoestring and our ‘tacklemaster’ Bryan was also a mechanic by trade. The inside of his old van was covered in bits of old engines, oil and tools, amongst other items. One day we decided to bottom Alum Pot the ‘big way’ but we didn’t have enough rope to do it. Eventually Bryan showed up one morning and called us outside. Opening the van doors wide we saw a brand new 350 ft caving rope lying in the back. Instead of it being nice and safe in a protected bag it was lying there sprawled out covered in bits of old engine and leaking battery. It had an old very heavy metal tool box resting on it. ‘Stops it moving about’ he said.
Bryan was very proud of it – ‘What do you think then, I have just bought it?’ he asked. ‘It’s knackered’ I said…’It is ruined with all that junk on it – it’ll be cut to ribbons’. ‘It’ll be alright…what’s up with you..not bottling it are you?’ he replied. Well maybe I was, but I wasn’t going to admit it. Anyway I said I would do it if he went first…
Getting the others we set off up the Dales – I for one was a bit nervous because caving rope really needs to be kept safe and clean, no shock loading or nicks as your life depends on it. Battery acid isn’t good for them either. And this one had a large toolbox perched on it as well – not good!
On the way to Selside we spotted a car in a field and a bit of smashed down wall. Stopping to help the driver, who had gone through a wall, I was horrified when Bryan tied one end of the new rope to his car and the other to the wreck and started to pull it out of the field!!!
Eventually we arrived at the pothole and we belayed the rope to a tree. Bryan set off down and when it was my turn I inspected every inch of that rope before it went through my descender. 280 ft is a long way to fall and you can see all the way to the bottom too. No lifelines here!
We had a quick walk to the sump (it isn’t far) and then it was time to return to the surface. The journey out was even scarier – prussicking is very slow – it is where you ascend the rope with mechanical devices attached to your feet and body and you climb the rope a bit like a caterpillar using your body strength to move up. The rope bounced a lot and I was wondering when it was going to snap! Looking down I could see the others a very long way below and the walls of this amazing shaft were too far away to touch – I felt just like a very small spider on a silken thread. I felt very small and vulnerable.
Eventually we all got out safely and as I languished in a hot bath later on everytime I closed my eyes I could feel myself bouncing on the rope and hearing a faint fizzing noise…