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Photograph of the volcano formation in Witches II Cave

Wretched Rabbit to Easter Grotto via Spiral Staircase Passage

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This series of articles is intended for the guidance of experienced cavers, who may not be familiar with the details of the best routes through the more complex systems in the Yorkshire Dales. To echo the sentiments in Northern Caves, it "is intended as guidance for the wise, not the obedience of fools"

This route has been made possible by Red Rose connecting Spiral Staircase Passage with the entrance series of Wretched Rabbit, allowing an attractive round trip. It enters Wretched Rabbit, and reaches Holbeck Junction via Spiral Passage. Easter Grotto and Gypsum Cavern are then visited, and a return made via Stop Pot and Wretched Rabbit.

At the end of the entrance rifts of Wretched Rabbit, a large walled hole dominates the floor. This drops into the top of Spiral Staircase Passage. Spiral Passage used to be one of the more obscure passages in the system, but it is now rapidly becoming a major thoroughfare. Soon after an area of attractive 40 cm straws (careful!), the passage divides into two. To the left is easier, and leads to a 6 m rope climb, followed by a 2 m rope climb. Being of a timid disposition, I prefer to take the more restricted and longer passage to the right, which leads to the same place.

The chamber at the end of Spiral Staircase Passage leads into the top of Green & Smelly Passage. A shallow boulder-strewn hole to the right leads into the bottom of the Borehole; to the left leads to a 3 m drop which we need to descend. You can traverse along the rift for a couple of metres and find your way down through a couple of boulders, but I find it easier to drape a sling over the obvious chockstone and climb down directly.

From the bottom of the climb(s), a rift passage leads to a junction with Lower 'T' Piece Passage, from Pool Sink. Follow the obvious route downstream. After a couple of minutes a huge block sitting in a pool of water appears to block the passage - a reverse s-bend to the left easily circumnavigates the obstacle, entering a large chamber. Following the water, the passage becomes a little smaller, and just where an elegant water-worn pinnacle protrudes from the floor, a dry passage branches off to the right. This leads onto an obvious traverse line, which leads to a boulder platform overlooking Holbeck Junction. The floor can be reached by traversing round to the right, some 20 minutes after leaving the surface.

It is worthwhile getting oriented at Holbeck Junction. Facing the platform from which you have just climbed down, in front of you is a hole leading down to the main stream into Thackray's Passage. To the left, a clamber up some muddy boulders leads towards Gypsum Cavern. Behind, a large passage leads to Stop Pot.

The route to Easter Grotto follows Thackray's Passage upstream. This is negotiable in all but the very wettest of conditions. The passage leads into a dry ox-bow, and then through a letterbox crawl back into the stream. After a few minutes, start looking for a step-up on the left into what appears to be an oxbow, but is, in fact, the start of the White Way. Following the water leads to a very dangerous boulder choke, from which the water emerges, and should be avoided. The well-decorated White Way leads into the Assembly Hall.

An easy but exposed climb at the top of the slope, leads to a short crawl over some boulders which enters another chamber. The way into Easter Grotto is to climb up the small buttress on the right of the chamber to a small ledge, and then up the chimney above. From just below the top, a traverse back over the climb leads towards Top Sink and the upstream passages, but the way into Easter Grotto is on and forward.

The route just followed can be reversed, but a more attractive alternative is to return to Holbeck Junction through Gypsum Caverns. Follow the taped route through Easter Grotto, until a low crawl goes off up the left. This leads into a parallel passage. At first this passage is well decorated and has a calcite floor. Once the passage becomes a lot sandier and a lot less calcited, a hole on the right leads into a low passage which develops into a flat-out crawl over a smooth calcite floor. After 30 metres or so, this debouches a couple of metres up the wall at the end of the beautiful Gypsum Cavern.

Follow Gypsum Cavern back to its start, where a 3 metre climb (normally with handline in place) leads through a short passage into a chamber. Initially following the right hand wall over large boulders, soon returns you to Holbeck Junction with the route back to Stop Pot off to the right. It isn't possible to follow the floor all the way to Stop Pot, and it is soon necessary to proceed at a higher level. However, do try to keep as low as possible, and don't be tempted into the boulder choke above. The lower area is reasonably stable, but the upper area is dangerous, as freshly scarred blocks testify.

From Stop Pot, there are two main ways of getting into the Wretched Rabbit passage. The main one is the same as if you are going to exit via County Pot. From Stop Pot make your way downstream. This is best done by following the water, but in higher water conditions, a low bypass crawl may be found a couple of metres above the water on the left hand side of the choke (not recommended!). Once in the stream way, make your way to Eureka Junction, and turn left. This passage soon divides into two, the left hand branch being Wretched Rabbit Passage, and the right branch being Pierce's Passage. Turn left into Wretched Rabbit. Note that in high water, this route is inaccessible. Follow the passage with the stream until you crawl up through a slot under some boulders into a lower section.

If you spend any time at all down Ease Gill, it is important to know the second way into Wretched Rabbit, as this is the all-weather route. At Stop Pot ascend the boulder choke for a few metres, keeping left until you arrive on a shelf about 5 metres above the stream. Follow the bedding plane passage leading off from here, to the right. At one point you have to go through a constriction, but in general it's easy going.

After a few metres, the floor turns to rock, and the passage exhibits signs of vadose entrenchment. This leads into a small chamber. To the left is a hole into Four Ways Chamber, which is where you next want to be. You can't climb down from the hole, but to the right of the hole, you can climb up through a slot which leads you onto a shelf in the chamber. This isn't obvious at first.

Traverse into the chamber, and follow the right wall to the end. A surprisingly easy slither down drops you in to the Wretched Rabit streamway. Follow this upstream for a few metres until it is necessary to crawl, and then follow the left hand wall to a high cross-rift. Turn right, up over a boulder into a deserted rift passage, and follow this. Some greasy traversing is necessary. After some 50 metres the stream is rejoined.

From here the route is easy-going and straight forward. At one point, soon after climbing some pleasant cascades, you are forced to climb up just before a junction of two streams. The Wretched Rabbit stream is the one coming in from the right, but you have to climb into the passage on the left in order to reach the one you want! Interestingly, there is a devious route back to Stop Pot if you do go left.

There are no further major landmarks until you near the surface, where you enter the entrance high rifts after traversing round the hole into Spiral Staircase Passage you originally descended.