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Classic Easgill Caving Trips

Tonto's passage

The bowels of Easegill - January 1992

By T J Phillips

On my first visit to this part of the system it didn't really sink in how grim this bit of passageway could be. Of course any bit of cave that suffers from flood changes its characteristics as a result of pulses of water. What I did learn from this trip is not to take too much notice of the enticing names that are given to some parts of the system. The Silver Stream way at the end of Tonto's passage certainly didn't live up to the expectations I had given it.

Phil and myself had been exploring the far end of Link Pot for several weeks. We had even got accustomed to the dead sheep that was very slowly rotting away at the foot of the entrance pitch. The winter evenings had been bitterly cold and the warm dank air blowing out the narrow slot next to Easegill was almost enticing. Tonight the Gill was bone dry, not many weeks before there had been a raging torrent and rather than turn back we had foolishly tried to cross using a chicken wire fence. This inverted when we were half-way across and plunged us into the near freezing water. Only with a desperate struggle did we manage to extract ourselves. There were strange sounds in the cave that night, as water coursing through hidden tubes in the rock made eerie droning sounds,rather like a vacuum cleaner might on a floor above. My imagination conjured up the vision of a cave dwelling beast going about its housework.

We were now familiar with the entrance series of Link Pot and quickly made our way through the large chamber called Hylton Hall and out via the easy squeeze of Pybus Bypus. Part of the interest of a cave system is its three dimensional nature and according to our survey we knew that somewhere, about 30 Metres lower down in the limestone was a passageway called The Grind.

We were heading along to the Serendipity series tonight. Dark and dusty stooping passages took us quickly to the Black Holes, an excavated connection leading to the short crawl towards the well decorated China Dog Chamber. Here a canyon cuts down into the floor and an interesting traverse with exposed steps over 40 foot drops eventually brought us to Tiger Inlet. An awkward step up into one of those classic Easegill stream ways. After exploring the large chamber of Handpump Hall we found the route through to the large cairn and the delightfully named Death Row. This is one of those unpleasant crawls through low bedding planes and over uncomfortable grit stone cobbles. The steady rumble of a waterfall greeted us at the end of this section, here water plummets down a large open shaft into an excellent strolling passage way , Easy Street. Tonight however we were to focus our attention on the small opening in the roof, the entrance to the Lone Ranger series.

A short climb up leads into the small crawling size passageway (Necturus) that keeps you on your belly for most of the way. Once started it is difficult to back out as the width never exceeds two or three feet. A left turn at the only junction and the opportunity for a cavers three-point turn if you wish to escape. Otherwise its what feels like an endless crawl through mud and water, with a few awkward squeezes thrown in for good measure. In reality this section of debauched caving only lasts for about 150 Metres before you reach the enticingly named Silver Streamway. This is no more than a short section of stream that intersects the passage. The water flowing over dark grit stone boulders and surrounded by banks of mud, deposited here in the frequent floods that fill all of this section of the cave to the roof. We had envisaged some sparkling displays of stalactites. Instead we just carried on sliding over the slippery banks of mud in our wet suits. Finally arriving in Solitude Aven we rested for a couple of minutes contemplating the remoteness of this place. Surely only a handful of people had been here. We had to admit there was no real reason why anyone would want to. Only perhaps to fulfil that human instinct to explore and see what is around the next corner.

A year later I returned to Tonto's passage. I pointed my pals down the muddy tubes, they had sadly succumbed to the challenge! We had brought with us a postcard, sealed in plastic, to leave down at Solitude Aven. The next visitor could then post it too us. However the passages were deep in water and after Bruce, who was in front, got his face stuck in a muddy puddle and nearly choked we decided better of it that night. I wonder if our postcard would still have been there had we left it?

Phil John and Bruce, Victims of Tontos Passage

I took the names directly from the cave survey and guide, Andy Waddington of the NPC adds these notes:

Hilton Hall - Should be Hylton Hall, whatever the NPC Journal say (named after Dick Hylton, who had recently died when Link was opened up. Dick had himself found PegLeg Pot, not far away in the beck. That was named after Dick's leg, which he left on the surface to negotiate the entrance tube).Since the NPC misspelt it, we're now VERY KEEN to correct this name wherever it appears.

Pybus Bypus- Is a spoonerism of Pybus Bypass, and should be spelt Pybass Bypus or Bypus Pybass (I think the latter is correct), named after Bill Pybus, who found it on the "Night Shift" trip.

Death Row is actually the name of a set of stalagmites, rather than the passage itself.

The particularly unpleasant glutinous mud crawl in Lone Ranger is called"Necturus". Named by Graham Proudlove (who found this lot), it is meant to give you a clue to how unpleasant this series is. If you have never seen pictures of a Mud-Skipper, you will miss the point of the name (I suspect that this applies to most people). Silver Stream was simply named on the Lone Ranger / Tonto theme. I can assure you that it seemed pretty nice on the day it was found, compared to what went before !

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