Ian, Nigel, Phil P, Andy, Chris D.
Following the big turnout for the recent new members’ meets, we were hoping for a number approaching 20 for this trip, but maybe a lot of people preferred a warm lie-in, rather than a chilly change in the snow!
Never mind, despite its reputation as a popular novice trip, Simon had assured me that the cave had a sting in the tail in the form of the passages after the big pitch, so I was keen to tick them off. Further perusal of Northern Caves suggested a very tight by-pass to the pitch, linking with the series beyond, again arousing my curiosity.
Finding the lay-by to be still sporting only 1 parked car at 10-15, we were surprised to see very little snow on Whernside, although the west face of Ingleborough again looked impressive with contrasting black rock against the covering snow and we were soon sweating in our kit in the still, sunny conditions as we plodded to the entrance. It turned out that new member Chris had done the trip most recently and pointed the way to the entrance. Fortunate really, as I had never done the trip and everyone else had last been in the cave decades before.
Going first, with Phil close behind, we were at the head of the big pitch in a few minutes after free-climbing the pleasant short drops in the low water conditions. Not having any rope, but holding 2 ladders for the extension pitches, I decided to back up and try to find the pitch by-pass. Reversing the short climb upstream, a passage at roof level was followed easily enough for a few minutes until a short climb down led to what I presumed was the squeeze referred to in NC2. This obstacle looked rather unpleasant, having the shape of an elongated, narrow egg timer. Investigating both the upper and lower ends of the passage told me that it would be a struggle even for my slight frame, especially with tackle bag, SRT kit and 2 ladders. So without any moral support in case of a hard fight or irreversible insertion, I reversed to the streamway, picking up another set of 1960’s Ever Readies for my collection!
Arriving at the pitch head, I saw that Nigel was almost finished rigging and we were soon down this nice drop, which is the perfect trainee SRT caver’s pitch, having a nice ledge at the top and a pleasant free hang for its 50 feet. Once at the bottom, the rest of the party rummaged around in the passages that formerly led off to Braithwaite Wife Hole, whilst I shimmied up the rope ladder to the extension passages. NC2 describes 2 short pitches, separated by the obstacle known as ‘The Corkscrew’. Arriving at the head of the first pitch, I uncoiled a ladder and dropped it down, but it soon got stuck so I re-coiled it and free-climbed down. Not too tricky with a fixed hawser being there for safety too. Rummaging around in the blocky chamber below, I soon found what I presumed was the entry to ‘The Corkscrew’, being a squeeze down a hole in the floor between blocks. This was not passed first time though, as the correct body orientation has to be found to perform the twisting motion required for success!
Most cavers will know that Northern Caves does not normally do hyperbole, hence the description of a dangerous drop-off immediately beyond the squeeze did set my nerves on edge a bit, but I was rather surprised to find a comfortable ledge with space aplenty! Having left the ladder above the squeeze, I had no choice but to free the last pitch – covered in holds that obviously want to become scree- reminiscent of the shoddier bits of Malham’s Left Wing, or the grottier bits of Gordale, so not really recommended!
Wandering around the grotty passages below, I reckoned I had better return, wondering if anyone else would be in the big chamber, although the obstacle I found to be so tricky on the descent was actually very easy on the return and I was soon back with Chris and Andy to ascend the pitch. With a bit of a cold still lingering and feeling the effects of my exertions in the squeezes, I felt rather tired carrying a bag out and it was a relief to reach the surface. Hopefully I’ll be back to crack the by-pass and bottom the cave without any tackle at all! Anyway, it was a very good day out, with us just about beating the snow as it returned whilst we changed.