Ian, Chris, Geoff, Matt.
Two years after the last club meet to Smeltmill Beck and very different conditions – chilly, windy and very dry. The entrance ducks were not, yet there was sufficient water flowing to make things interesting in this Northern Dales gem.
Arriving a few minutes before the civilised meeting time of 1 pm, I decided to change out of the wind and road noise beside the resurgence, finding a nice space on the sandstone flags below the limestone band, where a Dipper was foraging in the pools below.
Matt and I took the lead and after admiring the many formations, were soon at the rock window in the pool leading to the Handwrecker series. Taking the right-hand branch, it was possible to get a few feet further than I’d been before along the narrow, deep rift, before reaching a mud choke beyond the deep, blue water. Returning back to the left branch, we again investigated more narrow deep-water passage, again ending in mud chokes before meeting deeper water and ducks in the left-hand, left-hand branch (do you follow that? - a look at the survey will make this all clear - honest).
Returning back downstream, the ruler-straight inlet of Keyhole Passage demanded to be investigated, whereby some tight squeezing at floor level brought us into a muddy, blocky chamber, allowing a reversal for the squeeze back.
Washing a few mud dabs off the odd formation on the way out, we finally met Chris and Geoff not too far from the entrance, in the vicinity of Cairn Chamber, having passed us whilst we were up Keyhole Passage.
After also investigating the tight Shrimp Inlet by mistake, I reckon we had covered almost every inch of the cave in our 3½-hour trip.
Changing on the sheltered sandstone slabs, I was disappointed to find that my coffee had gone stone cold, but at least the journey home was short, although crossing the speeding A66 traffic to head back east was definitely the most hazardous part of the day.