Sunday 30 January 2022

27th January 2022 - Going with the flow

A rare alignment of the planets meant that both Mike and I had an afternoon off during a prolonged dry spell. As they say, it's not the afternoons in the office that you're going to remember, so 1pm saw us meeting at Devil's Bridge.

The drive across to Kettlewell reminded us that we live in a truly stunning part of the world, swathes of green grass criss-crossed with limestone dry walls shining in the sunlight. Malham tarn, nestling in a moor peppered with outcropping rock. The steep sided valley of Cow Side beck revealing some of its treasures with waterfalls spilling between scars, but hiding the marvellous tuffa pools in its dark depths. Finally we turned into Wharfdale and its archetypal Dales villages.

Parking just outside the village on the Park Rash road to shorten the return walk, our changing was interspersed with supping tea and eating the fantastic banana loaf that Mike had brought with him. Changed, we headed down the hill, a couple of cyclists passing us asking, "Are there any caves in Kettlewell?" The next finger post suggested there were, "Providence pot 1 1/2 miles".

A narrow valley, the kind you worry about being ambushed by Wargs in, led us away from the village, the navigation beginning a theme that would persist throughout the trip, follow the water. The only difference with this part of the journey being that we were going against the flow.

Unlike our recent experiences with Grey wife, there was no missing the entrance to Providence, the walls of the dug entrance shaft raised a few feet above the stream. Once in the shaft I pulled the heavy steel lid back across the entrance. A final glimpse of blue sky, before turning to the way on, illuminated only by the pool of light from my lamp.

It was then straight into what has become a well practiced routine for us, my reading a couple of lines of the description while Mike finds the relevant features and the way on, stopping at the next landmark to repeat the process. 54 Cavern, July Grotto, Terminal Chamber and then up into the Blasted Crawl (choose your meaning and it applies).

In the vanguard Mike had the dubious pleasure of being able to see how deep the water was, but we both had the joy of not knowing how deep the underlying mud was. At one point it was deep enough to allow me to crouch rather than crawl, but it was still a relief to climb up into the Palace. I'm glad the Staircase currently has a banister of a well belayed handline as, without it, the descent into the Dungeon would have felt very committing. Even with its support I was glad we were going down rather than up through this section. Passing through Depot chamber and the short crawl beyond we met the Dowber Gill water for the first time at the aptly named Stalagmite Corner. Once again, we now just need to follow the stream... 

Lovely caving took us through Skittle Chamber before a dosey doe into a parallel rift via a couple of slits in the wall is required to continue forward progress. Apprenticeships in the Ease Gill high level series served us well as we moved over the slippy boulders in Bridge Cavern. Mike pointed out the jammed boulders in the rift above us, but I tried to keep my eyes on the ground in front, Vitalstatistix's fear of the sky falling down on his head seemed all too possible in this chamber.

With some relief we dropped down off the boulder pile and were once again surrounded by the solid, water carved walls of the rift and a return to fun caving: follow the stream until an obstacle then either over, under or round it. Progress was steady until a boulder that looked like an easy climb, but the rift was just a bit too narrow near the top. It looked so doable and I felt like I was wasting significant time on not doing it. Admitting defeat, Mike fortunately said he could see a rising traverse to the top of the block and reversing a few metres allowed onward progress to be made again. 

At every pile of boulders now I started wondering if we were in 800 Yards Chamber. Looking at the Braemoor guide though, Mike noted that we still needed to shimmy into another parallel rift before reaching it. Almost immediately after consulting the guide, the slot appeared and shortly after, the unmistakable chamber. Some of the reports we had read mentioned that this spot had become a bit grim, courtesy of resting cavers enjoying a well deserved picnic. Massive thanks are therefore due to whoever it was that has taken it upon themselves to clean the spot up, there wasn't a single bit of litter.

It felt that we were bound by tradition to have a rest at this spot as countless other cavers must have done and we shared a chocolate bar while eyeing the way on ahead. 

A whiff of steak and black pepper signalled that I had ruptured my Ginsters, the first squeeze after the chamber proving too narrow for the treat stowed in my chest pocket. To compound matters the squeeze was followed by a canal and the expanding packet sucked in the muddy cave water. I was down to a single chocolate bar.

An up and over of another choke brought us to the Brew Chamber climb. Mike made his way, initially over, then up into and finally out of the choke between boulders.  I was glad when I was able to follow him through as the hand lined alternative climb over the choke didn't look too inviting.

Leaving Brew Chamber I thought we were making good progress at first through the narrows but then Mike stopped. He normally never stops so when he does I worry. Lying in the cold water I knew I needed to be moving to keep warm and I started a reverse shuffle back to the last foot looped rope I'd seen dangling from higher in the rift. At the top of the climb, on quite a pleasant traverse line, Mike soon joined me and we were moving forward again. Meeting another boulder obstacle, I took the over route and the guide book suggested dropping down to the streamway at the earliest opportunity. The only problem was the stream way looked an awfully long way down.  I hesitantly began descending, alternating thinking thin and fat to control my speed. Below me the rift narrowed and I brought myself to a halt.  Further ahead the rift widened and after a few metres of traverse I recommenced my descent. It was with some relief I dropped back into the stream with a solid floor under my feet. A short distance ahead a lovely knotted rope hung from the rift offering a much more pleasant means of dropping from the traverse level and to add insult to injury this was closely followed by another.

Rapid progress again through pleasant rift until my light reflected back off mounds of foam at what at first sight looked like a terminal sump. Focused on the dead end it wasn't until I was right next to it that I noticed the Rock Window, once again a parallel rift offering the way on. Sitting on the window shelf we had a read of the description before dropping into the dark, Stygian canal beyond. The water lay still, absorbing both light and sound and we edged forward taking care not to disturb what must lurk beneath. After another obstruction we came to the jammed flake and had only our second wonder about the best way on. Once again the Braemoor guide filled in exactly what we unsure of in NFTFH and we ducked beneath the block and carried on until an easy climb out of the water brought us to the bottom of two ropes. One "clean" offering an easy abseil descent from the Gypsum traverse above, the other knotted in all the right places affording a straightforward ascent.

Enjoyable caving along the traverse was interrupted only by Mike's discovery of a stick that looked like it had been left by a dog on a lovely afternoon walk. It must have left some mushed dog biscuit on it too as it sprouted fine white tendrils of fungi. A pair of ropes once again offered aid to parties travelling in either direction, but below I could see a huge void between boulders. Surely we needed to stay higher for longer to avoid this abyss? Staying at this level didn't seem to be an option though and so I lowered myself down onto the boulders. Edging slowly towards the bottomless pit, I hesitantly peered down into it, to be met by my reflection just inches below. This was no entrance to Hades, merely a reemergence of the black watered canal. Embarrassed, I stepped across and fortunately Mike was more taken with the lovingly engineered rungs up into the continuation of the roof tunnel than my making a chasm out of a puddle.

Dropping back to stream level again, once more on a drop I was more than thankful for a rope on, I stopped to read the guide. "15 minutes of easy caving to Dow Cave entrance". Had we really passed all the major obstacles. I missed out the first sentence, surely we couldn't be nearly there could we and skipped to the detailed instructions as I read aloud to Mike. Progressing down the canal the rift suddenly opened out and once again sounds reverberated around us. Looking up the Buddhist's temple towered above us and lower down our view was dominated by possibly the largest flowstone formation I have ever seen. At it's far left corner we ducked under and after a little more wading we popped out of a small hole into the expanse of Dow Cave. How the lofty Dowber Gill rift can end at this tiny exit I couldn't comprehend.

The change in scale brought with it a change in mindset too. The pent up doubts over whether we would be able to complete the traverse, pressed deeper into me by the towering walls of the rift, suddenly evaporated into the yawning space around us. The vacuum left behind quickly filling with elation. The stomp along the streamway a fitting finale to an incredible trip.

Approaching the entrance to Dow, an eerie glow appeared. Not a reflection from our lamps, but the last glimmer of day. Completely absorbed with each obstacle and the next part of the description, I'd given no thought to time and I couldn't have told you whether we'd been underground 3 hours or 10. The sky suggested closer to the former.

With a spring in our step we began the return journey to the car, unaware of a final obstacle not mentioned in the guide. Crossing the style onto the Park Rash road, the tarmac disappeared beneath us into the gloom, no mention had been made of the need for a rope to descend into the village. As we side stepped down the road my heart went out to any tired cyclists that had found themselves at the bottom of this wall of tarmacadam.

With the red lights of the car reflecting in our torch beams we decided that any true round trip should bring you back to the car from the opposite direction to that which you left it. I also decided that Mike's packing of a flask of tea, sandwiches and banana loaf was also a terrific idea.

After last week's trip we'd found ourselves in Kirkby too late to be served in our usual haunt, this week I was worried that at just after 7 pm, the pub might not be open. Fears were soon allayed and it turns out that arriving earlier also meant that the fire is still properly lit too. The earlier tea meant that our pints could be enjoyed rather than downed and with each sip we began to replay what must be one of the finest trips in the Dales.

Arriving home at the most reasonable time ever for a Thursday night and still buzzing from the trip I opened my monthly beer delivery that had arrived earlier in the day. It seemed that the planets' alignment had one last surprise in store, a can of Yorkshire Parkin stout, tasting notes: ginger and custard. I can't think of a finer way to end such a perfect day in God's own County.

As always, thanks to Mike B. for the adventure and to Mike C. (NFTFH), Terry Trueman and Ian Watson (on the Braemoor site) for the guide. 

No comments: