The crew consisted of Dan Butler, owner of Climb On Equipment in Squamish, Alex Comptois and myself - Matt Maddaloni. Just out of Sparwood near Fernie B.C. we drove up the Ptolemy Creek 4x4 road and camped at the trail head to Camp Caves and Andy Good Col. Using the car park as base camp we spent 4 days hiking extensively to various locations to search out new and old caves.
The first day we hiked up to the camp caves, met a large bible group who had hiked in from the highway and were exploring Cleft Cave and Gargantuan, and then traversed the forest plateau directly right (to the south) to a 1000 foot wall of vertical limestone that forms a fin of rock that is a spur ridge off the summit of Ptolemy Peak. From the bottom of the talus you can spot several frost pockets and possible cave entrances. W
e were able to hike up to two pockets and confirmed that they were not caves. Hiking downward along the wall to the toe of the ridge we came across a stream pouring out of a hole about 40 feet up the wall. An obvious cave possibility I got on lead and made it into the cave entrance on vary sketchy natural gear. Someone had placed a bolt insert up high and had somehow rappelled off but left no trace. The hole became a crack and was a dead end. I rappelled myself by leaving a fixed nut inside the 5 foot hole. We ended the day by continuing down the ridge and traversing over to the next wall which forms Ptolemy Peak proper and checked out three more possibilities. Up high the talus are three frost pockets, two of which were created by recent water coming down the mountain. All were dead ends. The final lead and the reason we came on this trip was the huge red hole at the toe of the wall. You can see this feature best from camp caves or higher towards the Andy Good Col. The hole is really BIG and the entrance is about 200 feet tall and and 100 feet wide. The feature was filled with loose material on the floor and walls but deeper within the hole was better limestone which seemed to suggest possibilities for more caves. The approach is dangerous with loose steep gravel and to enter the cave would require several pitches of climbing. No previous exploration showed wether in footprints of fixed gear. We decided to head back to camp and attempt to enter the next day. The best route to this area involves hiking halfway up to camp caves and traversing directly right through the forest to a meadow that cuts into the forest at the toe of the talus about 500 feet above the big red cave. I lead three pitches vertically into the cave to reach a highest bench. The first pitch starts high on the right. I placed one bolt as an anchor on a ledge. From here the climbing takes the right rib to the steep vertical rock above. Two bolts and a #2 camalot protect the start, then a traverse across the wall and a few more bolts enables the climber to reach a hand traverse ramp to the left. At the top of the ramp the climbing continues straight up to a two bolted anchor on a ledge far out on the left wall. From here I traversed back right to the overhanging step that blocks access to the loose dirt floor of the cave. One bolt allows the climber to down climb and mantle over the overlap. The dirt above is steep at about 30 degrees. Halfway up to the wall above the mantle I found a very old bolt and the first sign of previous exploration. This was the ONLY sign we found. No footprints, rappel stations or anything else existed, this was a great surprise and a huge mystery to us. It is obvious that the loose nature of the cave could of easily wiped out all other fixed gear over the
years as the bolt was circa 1970's. I placed another two bolt anchor on the left wall and where the dirt becomes easily ascended without a rope as protection. Our crew scrambled to the top of the scree / dirt for about 100 feet to the back of the cave. From here a 15 foot terrifyingly loose and mostly unprotected vertical step gives access to more 30 degree dirt and a final loose ledge on a upper bench where I placed another two bolt anchor. The only gear I used during the pitch was a #1 and #3 camalot at the belay below. The anchor was torqued upward during the climb which welded the #1 into an un-retrievable position. It was left fixed unfortunately. From the bench above we were able to explore several leads in the better limestone. Back all the way left resulted in nothing. One reachable hole at the right went nowhere. There was another hole just past this that would require a rope due to the extreme loose nature of the vertical talus. We had run out of rope so we left it unexplored. There were three holes in the ceiling of the cave that were possible leads but again we didn't have rope or more bolts to check these out. It would require bolt ladders about 30 feet long in overhanging terrain to reach them... at least the rock would take bolts well.
The only lead that seemed to actually lead to more caving was just before the right false hole at the end of the upper bench. A very tight pocket starts from a sitting position and leads up into the wall about a body length. The hole then turns up and right and we were just able to see with our lamps that it continued. It was hard to see but looked as though it was growing in size. A hammer would be useful here to knock the tops of a few sharp spikes that constrict and catch the material of your jacket at your chest. This would make it far easier to continue. As it was we had lost motivation as we had hoped the caving would of been more extensive, especially as it was obvious that any leads here probably lead to upper exits in
the mountain that are vie
wable from outside. We rappelled and pulled our ropes but if anyone is interested in returning I would suggest exploring the tight squeeze or bolting a ladder along the ceiling to the three other great leads above that are big enough to warrant easy travel once reached.
Day three: Gargantua to new areas near Two day junction.
I wanted to show the boys the route through Gargantuan and along the way came across my fixed line that I left two years ago that headed into an overhead passage just after Two Day Junction. After climbing back up it and heading down the clean Phreatic passage I became aware of the huge amount of traffic the area had seen since we discovered this place. When Corey Dyke, Paul Cordy and myself dropped out of a slot 15 feet from the fixed line we had turned left which luckily took us to two day junction where we left a rope for future exploration. If we had gone right we probably would of had to reverse the entire 2 hour adventure back to where we discovered these passages near the end of the Dipper Series and would not of realized how close we had been to the new exit. As it was many others had climbing through here since and foot prints littered the right passage. This passage split into endless choices that were way to confusing to continue down. We will come back and survey a map to enable further exploration.
Day Four: Mendip to Octopus Room in Backdoor series
I have never been in Yorkshire cave and by looking in the book it seemed Mendip to backdoor seemed to be the easiest place to start for a trip into one cave and out another. After descending into Mendip and finding the first rappel it was obvious that no one had been in here for a very long time. The anchors we incredibly bad. Mostly rusted bolts and ancient pitons. We fixed lines behind us and dropped into the blackness. The topo is really hard to follow and many times we were somewhat lost as to where on the map we were. It took us much longer than anticipated to reach the bottom chambers to where Mendip joined Backdoor. The main problem being that I didn't draw in the side profiles to my topo. The cave drops in height far more than what seems on the overhead view and without profiles the drop in height becomes confusing. Won't make that mistake again. I also left out that the link to backdoor was in the second to last room of Mendip. We almost free soloed a ridiculously dangerous overhang of 15 feet to explore the only way on we could think of. Luckily we gave up after trying to stand on each others shoulders and gripping wet and mud covered holds. Turning back we spent a while in the second to last chamber and eventually found a hole behind a block that dropped down beside the last chamber. From here we made quick progress and found the upper series of the Octopus chambers. The Octopus room was a vertical drop with many side passages opening up into it. We only had enough rope to rappel to a fixed line halfway down that was fixed between two passages. We explored these... one way was blocked with a big drop and a missing bolt to protect a sketchy traverse, and the other went forever. The bottom of Octopus room had a rushing water fall and made for some awesome sound down there. Heading back we found the way to the exit in Backdoor but the difficult caving up to that point made us turn around and head back up through Mendip. Super fun!