‘An awkward hole, full of character’ – so says the introduction in Northern Caves and in a publication so short of hyperbole, one might expect a fine cave trip. Strangely enough, I would start my description with ‘A miserable hole, full of mud’. OK, it’s not as bad as that, but if you’re a stream cave addict, then the lack of water equates to a lack of atmosphere. However, if it’s chucking it down, this cave should provide a decent day out and although there are no really hard sections, the bag haul from the bottom is quite strenuous and the slippery rock makes some of the easy downslides tricky on the return.
Although none of the pitches are large, there are 7 in total, counting the roped traverse, so to avoid carrying too much rope, the static rope set was supplemented with a couple of bits of vintage 9mm climbing rope, leaving 2 manageable bags. The entrance sink has a couple of wooden beams above, but we rigged to a block for the initial slide down to the pitch head, where a spike in the jagged black rock wall provides a belay. From the base of the pitch, a short walk leads to a sculpted passage, lowering to a blasted crawl, which actually is almost hands and knees and after a couple of short drops leads to the clean second pitch, closely followed by another short pitch, with the bigger 4th pitch dropping into a large, muddy chamber. A trickle of water here was the only flow we encountered in the cave, surprising after the deluge of the previous weekend and the sodden nature of the bog above.
Attempting to find the way on, I wound up in a gloopy dead-end and Simon pointed the correct way on to a further crawling section. Once this is passed the fine straw formations are encountered at the start of a muddy rift traverse, requiring spits to be placed for a handline. In retrospect, I would say that the risk of damaging these formations by a slip probably outweighs the gratification to be obtained from the rest of the cave. Anyway, extreme concentration is required here and I took the final section lying on my back to observe the formations around about.
Continuing, a muddy slide constitutes the fifth pitch, leading to a sudden drop-off onto the decent-sized sixth. This sports a fine, homemade rope ladder, complete with plastic rungs (CPC?), but we fixed a rope for the abseil.
The final pitch is soon encountered and it’s a miserable muddy rift, leading to a final blasted crevice. Not wanting to get my chest jammer mucky, I tried to ascend this pitch with my hand jammer for protection. Unfortunately, with wetsuit lubricated by the mud and not having the largest of posteriors, I found that my sit harness was soon down by my ankles and I had an undignified grovel out at the top! The rope ladder was used for the ascent, although it was 6 feet short of the ground, so all that old Bachar-ladder training had to be called-upon to get started!
We found a bit more sport by free climbing pitch 5, with pitch 3 and the entrance pitch also done in the same style.
Exiting in the dark, Simon got on with roll-up duty, whilst I pulled on my cheap old duvet and gloves for the cold walk down, which turned into a litter-picking exercise. Why people can be bothered to walk up all the way past Trow Gill and still chuck away their crisp packets is beyond me!
Returning home, the unrecognisable pile of gear was spread out in the moth-balled milking parlour and hosed down, with the rope requiring about 10 rinses in a dustbin to remove all the muck. Another reason for preferring wet caves!