Friday 11 January 2019

10th January 2019 - The Iron Way

Satellite picture - Google. Surveys - New Northern Caves Guide
The via ferrata of the Dolomites were created using iron melded with rock in order to allow safe passage for troops through hazardous mountain terrain.  Diggers in the Dales have too being using iron (well probably steel) to shore up their digs, allowing tourists to venture safely in places previously inaccessible.  The trip from Death's Head Hole to the Iron Kiln Hole entrance of Notts II, makes use of three stunning pieces of engineering.  Tony takes up the tale...  

This was the piecing together of the two known ends and the unknown middle bit. Conditions were right and the moment had to be seized; cold symptoms were suppressed with a slug of Day Nurse. At the bottom of the big pitch in Death’s Head, Alistair noted the traverse line of bolts that would have avoided the precarious rubble where we landed. We stuck with what we knew for speed, and trod carefully down to the ‘Y' hang leading to the main chamber. Arriving at the bottom of the more recently excavated shaft, we set off towards the final descent into the streamway. Once down, drysuits were unpacked and put on over caving suits.

We set off on the walk upstream, and it wasn’t long before we were wading into deeper water, eventually up to our necks, with the roof not far above. There was soft collapsing sand underfoot, and we made for the shallower sides of the winding passage to keep our heads above the surface. Tell-tale fragments of grass stuck to the scallops above, although no reminder was necessary that there are times when visits to this site are not possible. Our movements caused gentle waves that made an unearthly ‘gloop’ sound as they hit the sides.After a couple of hundred metres the passage became increasingly more shallow and the roof got higher. We strode on until we arrived at a narrow inlet on the left. ‘Groundsheet Junction,' Alistair announced with a grin. It was almost exactly two years since we had reached this point via Lost John’s, and I wouldn’t have recognised it. I was heartened again by Alistair's route awareness and very reliable memory. Another 150m and we were at the start of the ascent into Lyle Cavern.

After the scramble up we stopped to take in the atmosphere and spectacle of this large chamber. There at the back was the in situ rope and our climb to the very beautiful Helictite Rift. We removed our drysuits and geared up for the ascent. Once up, we continued along the rift to the distinctive free-standing flake that marks the beginning of the 140m crawl - the last challenge of the evening.This was our third trip through this impressive excavation. I’d like to restate our admiration for the endeavour and commitment that created it. At times I find this contorted, corkscrew crawl bewildering. Pushing my tackle bag ahead, I got confused. ‘Alistair? Alistair?…ALISTAIR!' Nothing. 'It has to be this way.' I followed my bag headfirst down a drop and turned my head at the bottom to look along the horizontal tube. There was the reassuring loom from the headtorch of my speedier fellow earthworm. The route becomes easier as you get towards the exit, not withstanding a couple of wet crawls that allow the muddy water to finally find its way into your underwear. Emerging into the welcoming space of Sir Digby Spode’s Inlet, we had a congratulatory hug. What a journey!

After the precarious downclimb into the streamway, we splashed and tramped along to the Notts II inlet and made the final climb up out of the pot, burdened somewhat by the tackle bags. The evening still allowed time for a beer in The Royal Hotel in Kirkby, where we reflected on a very satisfying journey, a trip through richly varied and sensational caving terrain.

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