Cave modifications in Ease Gill Caverns

10 March 2019

Photo: Using a battery powered angle grinder to remove the protruding metal stubs in County Pot (photo by Gary Douthwaite).

At the CNCC AGM on 9th March the matter of the Ease Gill Trident staples was discussed (metal staples on the Upper Trident Climb in County Pot, installed by persons unknown and subsequently partially cut off by persons unknown), along with the recent damage in Wretched Rabbit due to capping of footholds on the entrance climb. The AGM had a healthy turnout; 17 voting clubs (more than 50% of our membership) and 36 people in total, many of who contributed to a very friendly discussion.

Several people emphasised the importance of us not attributing blame or making assumptions about the person(s) responsible or their motives. The consensus was however that the CNCC should take a proactive role in these matters, evaluating each situation on a case-by-case basis.

A proposal was accepted that the CNCC should make safe the remnants of the Trident climb staples and evaluate the damage in Wretched Rabbit for the possibility of restoration.

After the meeting, a CNCC team set off across to County Pot. The remnants of the staples on the Trident climb were easily located; six in total, each protruding from the wall by 2-5cm and rather sharp where they had previously been cut off by persons unknown. An unsuspecting individual sliding down onto this climb could easily rip their suit (or worse) on these.

Using a battery powered angle grinder, the metal remnants were cut off flush at wall level and then hammered as flat as possible. They were covered with a small amount of resin. The repairs are fairly discrete, and we expect that once a few months’ worth of caver traffic has rubbed them smooth and transferred a little ‘cave filth’ onto them, they should blend in nicely to the surrounding cave wall and few people will even notice them unless specifically searching.

It is worth noting that this pitch is equipped with safe IC anchors to enable a ladder and lifeline to be placed or for a rope to be installed. Many confident and long-legged cavers will free-climb this completely. There are ample options for safe descent of this route.

The team then headed to Wretched Rabbit. The damage was quickly located; one hole has been drilled just once to cap a sizable chunk of rock (about the volume of a football) half way up the top climb just 15m inside the entrance. Another smaller chunk had been removed by means of at least three converging drilled holes three climbs lower.

In both cases the damage was to a smooth rock surface, thus exaggerating its visual impact.

The team quickly established that the lower damage was beyond repair as the removed chunk of rock was shattered completely. Some resin was used to fill in the remnant drill holes. On the upper section where the damage is more obvious and extensive, about 30 minutes was spent rounding up the fragments to assess repairing the wall with resin, but it quickly became clear that the result of this would look worse than leaving it be. A small amount of masonry work was performed to smooth off the obvious drilled hole running down the back of the foothold and make it look a little more ‘natural’ and, in time, we hope that caver traffic will smooth this off and help it blend in a little more with the surrounding smooth walls.

Note that there are safe resin bonded stainless steel anchors installed at the top of the Wretched Rabbit climbs that can be used to belay a ladder or rope for anyone unable to negotiate the climbs without equipment.

We would like to appeal to the individual(s) involved in installing these staples, capping these walls (or considering other such projects), to please consider your actions carefully, taking into account the comments expressed here on this forum and the details below.

These caves are for everyone to enjoy and share. Unilateral and irreversible action, particularly where simple or less damaging alternatives exist, risks upsetting other visitors to the caves.

Clearly modification to caves happens often; and for many different reasons. This may vary from new exploration, safety (e.g. dealing with a precarious hanging block), anchor installation (which has had its fair share of controversy over the years too). We have all ‘modified’ a cave simply in the act of passing through it. In this case however, the damage has been particularly emotive because it has occurred despite anchors already being in place (thus providing a non-damaging alternative), it was undertaken unilaterally, and is in such a popular and well-loved cave system enjoyed by hundreds of people each year.

If you are reading this and thinking of undertaking any such modifications elsewhere, we urge you to get in touch with the CNCC Officers to discuss your plans. In many cases, a solution may be possible avoiding damage, or which can be agreed by democratic consensus rather than unilateral action.