Summary: The Near End series consists of those passages on the level of the bottom of the 204a/b entrance pitches. It communicates with the mid-level series via either Thread Pitch or Pendulum Pitch, while a side passage leads to a pitch dropping into 'King Carbide, off No Pain No Gain. Alternatively, in 2006 a link (Death or Glory) was discovered leading from the Near End to the Colonnade).
The 204a entrance is directly opposite a 10m x 5m stone bridge from which it derives its name. The entrance itself is approximately 8m high and 5m wide, and leads down a boulder slope and round a right hand bend to the top of the first pitch. The 204b entrance is 15m away to the north; this was used in 1999, but involves a rather shoddy sloping descent down a gully, so in recent years the 204a entrance has been used.
The 204a entrance leads, via a short climb down, to a ledge overlooking the first pitch, Trick or Treat. This is rigged with a traverse line and a Y-hang in the roof, giving a superb and very airy free-hang to the bottom. The landing is by a large snow plug with an ice corridor round the right-hand edge leading to the top of a boulder slope. A rift passage on the right becomes too tight.
The snow level varies: in 2000 it was much higher than in 1999, rendering the original route onward impassable (see here). A revised route was explored, which was the main route in 2001. In 2002 and 2003 the snow was lower again, and the original route was back in use.
Descending the boulder slope (care required to avoid kicking rocks off) leads to the head of the second pitch, Jim'll Fix It (18m in 1999 but only about 10m in 2000/2001 due to increased snow levels). An unexplored passage is visible from the pitch head, which could be accessed by a bolt traverse round the right hand side of the pitch head [C1999-204-01 C] (explored by Brian?). The pitch is rigged from a bolt in the left hand wall with a deviation from a spit immediately after the pitch head bolt. This protects a marginal rub point and also avoids a jet of water which spurts from a crack in the wall after heavy rain.
If the snow level is high, one lands directly on the snow plug. Following the wall around to the right (facing the wall on which the pitch is rigged) leads to a 2m climb into a rift, which quickly descends to the head of the impressive third pitch, Stitch This (30m). A Y-hang rebelay on the left wall is shortly followed by a deviation from the opposite side of the shaft to obtain a free-hang into Wolpertinger Way. This pitch is in fact an (upwards) continuation of Thread Pitch.
In 1999, 2002 and 2003, the snow plug was much smaller and it was possible to complete the descent to the floor, landing in a sloping phreatic passage. There are two ways on: Right leads uphill as stooping/crawling height passage for 30m to emerge at the top of Umshitshimbo. Left leads downhill into The Near End and is the main way on. There is a further unexplored passage in the wall above the gap between the snow plug and the rock [C1999-204-03 C].
The Near End is a collective name for a complex network of high level phreatic passages which slope approximately 20° following the dip of the beds. Heading downhill from the base of Jim'll Fix It in a stooping height passage leads round a double bend to a 2m climb down to a junction. Right leads to more side passages whilst the main route is straight ahead to a crossroads. Right leads into the same side passages as the previous right turn. Left is Needle Crawl past an unexplored passage on the left [C1999-204-04 C] and a crawl on the right (feels like straight ahead) which becomes too small after ~8m. Straight ahead (feels like a left) leads to the head of a fine 4m diameter circular shaft, Thread Pitch. This pitch of 17m corresponds to the lower half of Stitch This, and leads into Wolpertinger Way. A continuation of the crawl is visible at the opposite side of the pitch head; this is choked after 5m or so.
From the crossroads, the main route in 1999 was straight ahead, downhill in mostly stooping height passage with a short section of sandy crawling. After 15m is a short climb down to the top of a 4m deep pit with a too-tight passage at the bottom, with the phreatic passage continuing to the right. After a further 10m the passage is intersected by a large rift with a big rock partially blocking the passage. Climbing up to the right leads back into a tall rift in the side passages. A climb up to the left leads to a passage containing attractive white mud which was not entered, however a visual connection to the Pendulum Pitch was established.
Straight ahead leads to a further junction after 15m. Left opens out to the head of Pendulum Pitch, the main route to the bottom of Wolpertinger Way used in 1999. Right leads to a narrow stooping height passage which continues for 25m with several clear pools in the floor to a widening. Around the widening, most routes ahead and to the left are choked with boulders. There are two ways on. On the left-hand side is a small awkward chamber, from which a short pitch leads into 'King Carbide. On the right, crawling up over unpleasant sharp mobile boulders leads to a body sized tube sloping slightly upwards. After around 15m it twists left to land in a muddy puddle at a slight widening in the passage, which continues for another 3m or so to a low chamber, Kidney Bean, possibly an enlarged bedding plane. A hole in the floor in the chamber is blind. At the northern end of the chamber is a narrow crawl; this connects with a wider crawling passage leading off from a junction at the end of the body-sized tube. The combined passage enlarges to stooping size and continues past old gour pools to a low mud squeeze. This was passed in 2006 after some excavation to emerge in a low bedding chamber, Death Or Glory. Straight ahead is a horrendous boulder choke (Death), with a propensity to drop large rocks on people. Slightly to the right of this is a narrow crawl with a hole in the floor; this is a 3m chimney climb down (Glory), emerging in Waterfall Chamber at the end of the Colonnade. Back in the bedding chamber, one can crawl up to the right to a junction with several small tubes, all of which are too tight.
The first two right turns encountered when heading downhill from the foot of Jim'll Fix It unite in a walking sized passage. After 10m the bottom of Umshitshimbo is passed on the right, whilst straight ahead leads to a junction with a large keyhole passage. Left leads after 15m to a climb up behind a precariously placed boulder, to an immediate climb down of 4m which emerges in the 1999 main route through the near end before Pendulum Pitch. Right leads immediately to a 8m pitch. A difficult and exposed traverse round the left hand wall leads to a further 30m of passage with a steadily lowering roof culminating in a boulder choke.
Umshitshimbo is a fine phreatic ramp, 2m wide and about 4m high, which heads uphill in a straight line for 40m. At the top a passage doubling back on the right leads back to the base of Jim'll Fix It and there is a climb up into a rift passage heading south over the top of Umshitshimbo which becomes too narrow. Large passage continues uphill past a 2m deep blind pit on the right to a junction.
Left leads uphill past a choked inlet on the left to a steep uphill section with a crawl on the right, which leads shortly to a 2m climb down and immediate choke. At the top of the steep section the passage to the right immediately chokes, whilst left is Dolly Parton Climb, a 2m climb up with huge jugs, to a further 15m of upward trending phreatic passage, terminating in a boulder choke with a slight draught (air coming into the cave). There are two small steep phreatic ramps on the left hand side of this passage, both very small and both choked.
Straight ahead at the junction leads through a short section of rift to an enlargement with an alcove on the right and a keyhole passage ahead. The rift section at the bottom quickly becomes choked, with a slight draught coming in. A 3m climb gains access to the phreatic section which goes over the top of the choke, and about after a further 3m reaches a large boulder, which almost blocks the passage with a strong breeze blowing through the gap (into the cave.) Squeezing through yields a steeply ascending rocky crawl which chokes after about 5m.