Ian, Chris D.
Moral of this story – don’t believe everything you read, especially if it’s in Northern Caves! Having mislaid my O.S. map, I took a photocopy of the Chapel-Le-Dale area map from the guide along, hoping to find either of the cave’s entrances by interpreting the scale on the plan. After about half an hour of inserting myself into every snow-plugged shakehole in sight, we eventually managed to find the entrance after working our way back towards Great Douk – well at least we got well warmed up.
I had very little information on this cave, although I had dived in from Great Douk a couple of times with Simon and by myself to reach the bottom of the final pitches and upon asking Steve Warren, I received a cautionary tale of near hypothermic conditions involving crawling for ages in freezing water and Simon’s recollections weren’t much more promising either.
This is definitely a trip for the connoisseur, to be avoided in wet conditions for sure, since much of its length comprises a crawling section not unlike the Penyghent Pot entrance series, although Southerscales is perhaps more restrictive, but less gloomy, with the abundant hanging washed-in vegetation also bearing witness to total flooding.
Having no ladders, we unfortunately had to drag SRT kit through the cave, which has no anchors for the SRT purist and a few tapes are required to fashion some sort of safe hang. The first pitch just inside the entrance being rigged off a fine spike full in the water and the final Zoology Pot utilising a nice boss well back and a tiny spike rebelay (reminiscent of the crucial runner on the Langdale frightener, Centrefold – but that’s another story) to keep one almost out of the water – but not quite! Upon loading the spike with my not huge weight, I asked Chris to see if it was flexing at all – but I’m writing this and all was well. Whilst Chris was descending, I walked round the corner to check out the President’s Passage pitch and was curious to see where it connected above, not having read the description in the guide too closely. It appeared juggy enough and not too wet, so it was gloves off and into climbing mode, reaching the small chamber at its top at the expense of a few cuts on the sharp-edged flakes.
After following the tortuous crawling passage for about 5 minutes and finding no sign of a connection, I decided to reverse and down-climbed the pitch to reach a patient Chris – the President can keep this passage!
The fine streamway to the sump was a pleasure to follow and we were soon at the pool, with our new line still tied to its flake belay, thank goodness. With sore knees, I would have liked to dive into the clear water and get out, planting the seed of an idea for a future outing. Pre-placing kit from Great Douk would make for a great through trip!
As is usually the case, getting out seemed much easier, as I elected to take a steady pace with Chris leading off, although I heard his cry of relief upon reaching the exit pitch, which I managed to climb with a self-belay, although the final few feet required more faith in friction than I would have liked! Walking down the hill, my hands quickly turned blue in the chilly air and a swig of coffee at the car was most welcome before stripping off the soggy neoprene.
Cracking trip – cheers Chris!