Magnetometer Pot, Below Caton Hall by Ian Cummins

Magnetometer Pot: Ian Cummins and Simon Beck (28th July 2007).

Simon reckoned Magnetometer to be one of his favourite systems and with the choice of a trip between Echo Pot and Magnetometer, we chose the latter, not wishing to have a trip wasted by finding the ducks in Echo to be sumped. I had read the excellent NPC journals on the discovery of Magnetometer and also found some nice photos on the Web from the Swaledale club, showing the fine, wet passages of the Styx canal. An added advantage of Magnetometer is that long trips are possible throughout the maze of lower passages with a minimum of gear, indeed the entrance pitch is a nice free climb and the Caton Hall pitch looks to be a reasonable chimney for the most part, with only the lower few feet widening to require more difficult manoeuvres – definitely worth checking as a handline climb next time to dispense with the harness and other paraphernalia.

It was fascinating to see the railway line girders and slate slabs at the base of the entrance pipe – what a find this must have been! The trip to Caton Hall pitch is a decent outing in itself, sporting a lot of crawling in nice smooth passages, a few climbs, a curiously cold section of water and a rubbly crawl leading to the deeper water of the Styx canal. We took the detour here to check out the Styx sump, with its fine, deep banks of gritty sand lying a long way up the steeply-sloping passage down to the sump pool.

Some well-decorated passages lead to the aforementioned Caton Hall pitch, rigged from a couple of bolts and it’s a fairly tight descent down the rift, with a few decent little ledges all the way down onto the rubbly-floored chamber. From here on the nature of the cave changes, with the way on down the small hole in the base of the chamber and the well-featured Rough Crawl to follow. Much of the passage we followed was flat-out crawling through foam-coated passage, with an eventual escape into a nice vadose streamway. More confusion followed, with ducks, sumped passages and more inlets and crawls to add to the experience – definitely a place to be studied! At one point we came upon a deep pit and I quite fancied the climb down on the sharp grey rock, finding more tight passage at the base, without a clue where I was going.

At this point we headed out and checked out the First Well pitch, requiring a 20 m abseil into a sump pool. Simon had visions of a landing into a deep lake, but I went first, suggesting that if that was the case, I’d be straight back up! It’s a fine free descent, passing mud-coated, fluted walls and the end of the rope was reached just as my feet touched a deep, sandy slope. Whilst waiting for Simon to come down, I discovered that this place is the home of dropped caving gear, finding all sorts of swag in various states of decay – it was exciting opening up the big container I found, although most of it ended up in the bin at home, including the Snickers bar dissolved away to leave only the peanuts. It was a shame the container was cracked otherwise it would have been a fair haul. Mental note – explore all such passages in future!

Magnetometer is not the place for a wet-weather trip, but I am keen to explore more of its complexities. Like Simon, I could well become a devotee of this place.