First meet of the year and one of my favourite trips, remarkably now committed to memory after about 4 or 5 previous visits. A civilised start found me pulling into the Buttertubs layby at noon, where the rest of the party stood by the road cables, peering at the twin spouts of white water pouring out of the hillside opposite.
Being eager to get underground, I was first down the mucky entrance shaft, finding the collapse block pretty much as I had left it on clearing the debris a couple of years previously, with some care required on the transition to slide over to the right. Waiting and waiting for the rest of the party, I eventually heard ‘special guest’ Phil Parker’s voice as he descended – turned out Andy had led down a rabbit hole – followed by Caddy. Being by far the ‘bulkiest’ member of the party Jon got stuck and was coaxed and prodded through the constriction by Phil after I offered reassurance that the rest of the cave was a doddle. Jon – you’ll never be a member of the ‘B-team’ diggers!
Familiar landmarks such as ‘left turn at lone frog puddle’ and ‘twin pool traverse’ (my names, not Northern Caves) were passed and we emerged into the fine streamway. Foam on the roof here indicates how the cave backs up to ‘Fault Chamber’, although most of the passage upstream of this is not so affected.
As expected, Jon got stuck in the stream bypass passage to ‘Fault Chamber’, but the bonus was that on the way out the crawl was much more spacious!
After again admiring the fine passage of ‘Drain Queen’s Highway, the more obvious right fork ahead, normally a duck, was found to be sumped, so the left-hand oxbow was taken into the ‘Room of Dangling Doom’. The final fine section of passage and streamway to the first ‘sump or duck’ was followed, where there appeared to be minimal, if any, airspace on this day. A retreat was made, as even in normal conditions this usually requires a bit of nose-in-the-roof activity in very cold water to regain the tremendously atmospheric passage to the first real sump.
The exit was made again without error, much to my amazement and we all managed to emerge unscathed after not much more than 2 hours underground. Finding my wetsuit to be covered in muck and my wellies full of sand, a rapid change was made, thankfully without the customary tourists to avoid and we retreated to Hardraw to sit by the pub fire with the walking members of the party who had hiked down from the hill.
A super day – thanks to all who turned out.