Juniper Engulfed by Ian Cummins

Juniper Gulf: Ian, Simon (4th October 2008).

Hoping to get some more diving done, I knew that the fine Friday would be followed by a grotty Saturday – and so it proved, with October 4th destined to be remembered for quite a while by many cavers and their rescuers!

I had hoped to dive back into Middle Scar to take some photos, but we reckoned that the entrance canal would be one long sump and a back-up plan of a trip into Juniper Gulf was formulated.  I’ve enjoyed this classic trip a couple of times in the last 2 years, both in dry, cold December conditions, when the cave was particularly benign and the caving easy and straightforward.  This trip was to prove to be different!

Walking up in steady, but unremarkable rain, we found the pot to be free of ropes and we descended at the north end, as I had always done before, ignoring Simon’s choice of the other end of the chasm (could have proved to be a mistake!), dropping onto the wet, but still exposed cobbles, adjacent to the noisy fall from the stream above.

Dropping down the wet, but still easy cascades, we began the traverse to the next pitch.  In dry conditions I had previously always taken the ‘old’ route down the narrow rift, with a rebelay from spits at half height.  Too wet for this route today and Simon suggested traversing further forward, through a bit of a shower, to a dry hang.  With the handy bit of 8mm used for a traverse line through the wet section, the nice dry hang was arranged and we continued on to the long traverse.

On my previous trips with Ed, we had always done the ‘bad step’ section free, enjoying the swing off the nose to the finger hold and sloping ledge, but Simon was feeling a bit under the weather and arranged another bit of 8mm on this obstacle, before we continued on to the fine penultimate pitch.

With the roaring of the water close by, this pitch was still dry, although the ledge below was spray-lashed and noisy, as I tried to remember the way on.  Traversing forward, I recalled a bit of a blocky squeeze onto the platform above the magnificent final pitch, but this was totally obscured by a sheet of white water.  Sticking my head into said phenomenon, I could not see a thing or recall if I was facing a drop of 60cm or 60m, so I decided to retreat.  It was a shame not to see the final waterfall in such conditions, but we were not anticipating getting down it in such high water anyway.

Returning, we were aware of more water flowing down the cave, but we were soon back at the traverse above the second pitch, where the footholds were now obscured by a sheet of white water.  Pulling through this, we had a tricky job getting up the cascades, which were now well underwater and a bit of bridging ands traversing was required to reach the bottom of the entrance shaft, which was now a foaming lake, being above knee deep in angry water.

Back on the surface, still in daylight, we decided to check out the top of Nick Pot, to experience the noise down there too.  Finding the path down through the karst to be a fast-flowing stream, we advised some walkers of the way down to Horton and nipped over to the Vulcan Pot entrance.  We were surprised to see a tackle sack stuffed in the hole and crawled in to see what was up.  Amazingly, we caught up with the last of the party who were on their way down at 6pm.  The chap seemed to be surprised when we suggested that venturing to the bottom of the big pitch would mean a trip into very hostile territory, but with advice given, we set off out, being amazed by the flooding in the valley floor as we walked down to South House.

With huge amounts of water flowing through the village, we managed to get a quick drink in The Crown before the lights went out and beginning the drive home through a lot of floodwater before conditions eased north of Hawes.