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Photograph of the volcano formation in Witches II Cave

Rat Hole - Up the Mousehole

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This article was originally published in Descent no. 75, April 1987, page 26.

When Mike Wooding and John Gardner came across the unexpected, but very fine descent of the Mousehole Shaft during their descents of Rat Hole, Gaping Gill, in December 1985 (Gardner, 1986), they made a mental note to establish the origin of the shaft, and of the small stream that came down it. They eventually got round to the task in March 1986.

Mousehole Shaft was originally reached by traversing across the top of the Rat Hole shaft to reach the main Gaping Gill rift towards the east. A tensioned abseil was then made along the rift, until a stance was reached overlooking the new shaft about 15 metres below the starting point.

There was no desire to commence a climbing operation from that point, but a traverse from the top stance was ruled out by a widening of the rift. A flanking movement was called for.

Mike and John returned in early March 1986 with a heavy-duty rope. This they hung down through the small entrance to the main rift, which is to be found across the top of the first pitch of Rat Hole. Making an orthodox descent to the stance at the start of the rift, this rope was found hanging through the widest part of the rift, and just accessible. Mike attached the rope to his chest croll, and with a controlled pendulum, gained a stance that was found once again to overlook the Mousehole shaft. Looking up confirmed that the top of the shaft had been reached.

Ahead, to the east, across the shaft, the rift appeared to close in. To the south, a large rift could be seen heading away from the shaft. An out-of-balance move, protected by a bolt, enabled traverse ledges along the rift to be reached. About six metres further on, the lip of the pitch was found.

The comfortably sized passage leads almost immediately into a reasonably sized flat-floored aven, with a small stream entering from above. The aven proved to be about 9 metres high, with no negotiable passage at the top. A comparison between the surface, and the surface features indicates that the source of the water is probably a boggy depression located between the Main Shaft and Disappointment Pot, about fifteen metres from the fence (survey).

Beyond a 1½ metre climb, a small crawl continued beyond the aven, to reach another smaller, drier aven a couple of metres further on. Beyond this, the passage developed into a dry, narrow, three-metre high rift, almost immediately blocked by some flags. A healthy draught blew tantalizingly inwards.

The pendulum traverse rope, which proved to be the key to the main traverse, has been relocated to a less abrasive position, and left to aid future exploration.


  1. Gardner J.W., 1986. "Rat Hole", Descent, No.69, pp 30-31


Grateful acknowledgement is given to the Craven Pothole Club for permission to make use of their Spout Tunnel and Fell Beck survey.

John Gardner
January 1987


Mike Wooding and John Gardner revisited this somewhat arcane passage in August 2005. They managed to remove the flags preventing entry into the dry inlet passage, and made about three metres of progress before it got a little too tight. The passage could be seen to continue for another three metres before it disappeared round a corner. As before, a strong draught blew inwards.

For the record, the traverse into Mousehole Inlet starts from the top of the hang for Mousehole Shaft, and requires about 12m of rope and hangers for three spits.

John Gardner
August 2005