Saturday April 16th 2016
Members present: Mark Sims
In the week before the trip, there was talk of caving, but the the forecast didn't look great and there weren't many ideas keenly put forward. Thankfully the forecast improved at the end of the week, and when Sandy tentatively suggested taking a look at Hammer I jumped at the suggestion. I've lost track of the number of times I've intended to do it, only to have the weather turn bad at the last minute.
A chilly (but sunny) change greeted us on Fountains Fell, and I have to admit it was with a certain degree of trepidation that we set off towards the cave. It's been a while since I've done a new trip with a reputation like that of Hammer. Soon this was forgotten though, as we set off through the crawls at the entrance. Nothing too unpleasant here! Next was the rifty section, which we were pleased to find out we could do just by walking along the floor for the first bit...although I suspect that might not be possible had we been any shorter or wider. This wasn't to last long, though, and we were soon up into the middle of the rift where progress was a little more strenuous, but we could admire the selection of gear on the floor of the rift below. After a couple of wooden stemples I paused, not seeing an obvious wide route ahead. Sandy had a description and read that there should be a metal stemple in front. Sure enough, one popped into view when I looked further round the corer and, having not really read the description beforehand, I assumed this would be the start of Stemple Rift proper. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised to find it was the end of Stemple Rift. The caving got easier again beyond, but I was a little aware that the bottom third of each pitch was pretty wet. Hopefully the master cave would be OK water-wise.
Sludge Crawl was less sludgy than anticipated. Although the guide book says Hammer offers no possibility of getting bored, I think we both agreed that Sludge Crawl did result in some degree of boredom, even though it was insignificant in comparison to the cold from the melt water we were wallowing through. The master cave offered some welcome respite, but progress wasn't straightforward. There was enough water flowing that the edges of the deep potholes in the floor weren't visible, and some of them turned out to be pretty deep! Soon we could hear the roar of the water going down the impressive final pitch. The quantity of water there made it quite an exciting place, but on a more practical note it meant the near-side ledge was under water, making the step across to the dry pitch somewhat tricky.
With the rope just long enough (roughly to the nearest cm!) we were down the last pitch and off to see the sump. The description seemed to ignore the face-wetting duck just before the end, or perhaps it's normally a bit lower. Either way, it wasn't hugely welcome! After admiring the foamy sump pool we were feeling quite chilly so immediately set off back. Helpfully the tail end of the last pitch rope somehow caught underwater right on the lip of the pitch when we were derigging, which was a bit faffy, but it was freed eventually. The trip out seemed to be a constant theme of fighting the cold. Having been soaked in Sludge Crawl on the way in, and in the duck by the sump (twice), we were back into the crawl and this was followed by getting moderately wet on each pitch, being nicely cooled off each time we'd come close to warming back up.
Not to worry though - Stemple Rift did a grand job of warming us up. It's fair to say that it's much harder on the return. This time we shuttled the 2 bags between us, rather than just taking our own, but it must have taken longer than on our way in. There certainly wasn't any danger of not noticing it on the way out! With the last hurdle hurdled, we were soon outside enjoying the bemusing blue sky and snow that Fountains Fell had to offer. A top day of caving.
It's great to finally have been to Hammer, and it was a lot more pleasant than I was expecting from what I'd read and heard!