‘Intro to Caving’

Monday saw me taken on a little excursion, to Iron Kiln Hole (Notts II) up at Leck Fell (info at http://www.rrcpc.org.uk/easegill/text/leck.htm ), with Rob Dean, Danny Fitton, and Dez (surname unknown, to me at least), basically to see what I thought about caves and what all their fuss was about… 😉

It was the first time I’d ever really been caving, be it scuba diving or, as in the case, (relatively) dry. I didn’t take a camera, which was both a mistake and a saving grace (I would have managed to trash it), so unfortunately what follows is just my experiences of it.

I met Rob, Dez, and Danny in the Cafe above Inglesport in Ingleton just after 2 in the afternoon which, to me at least, seemed an odd time to be just considering setting about doing something, but then I guess that’s from a diving mindset of getting places early and spending the day doing it, given the time constraints involved in being underwater.
They’d all just about finished their food and brews and so we headed more or less next door to hire me an oversuit, undersuit, and helmet. I brought my own wellies… 🙂 Then we set off in convoy, following Danny up to Leck Fell to leave the cars, get changed, and head down to the entrance to the cave – effectively a shockingly small hole covered with a man-hole cover which, for some reason, was not the entrance I was expecting to find. I say ‘for some reason’ because, whilst I expected caving round these parts to be small and tight, I still can’t explain why but I wasn’t expecting a vertical shaft access to it. Just call me naïve.

I headed into the shaft third, with Danny closing the way and replacing the cover. the LED lamps on the front of the helmets actually provided an impressive amount of light across quite a wide beam, which was nice. Straight from the outset it was about climbing down scaffolding and a bit of breeze-block-fashioned ladders, which was interesting, although admittedly I was stuck wondering at first quite how long this would go on for. Judging by how quick we seemed to get back up it on the way back, it really wasn’t as far as it seemed.
To me, the bit at the bottom was where it got interesting, if a little difficult. Getting pointers from Rob in front and Danny behind about how best to twist and turn my body to get over or around various obstacles and tight gaps was pretty entertaining at times, as I never quite realized how much movement you can have when you really need / want to. It was also pretty refreshing to be having to think about things in a similar sort of way as I had to when I was out climbing with Dicko and Rob.

At the bottom of that little stretch it all started to level out a bit and opened up into a much larger chamber than I was ever expecting to find. This was only really the start though, and the next part was a damn sight tighter and closer than I had planned on as we scrambled up a mud slope into an insanely low section, crawling on bellies for what seemed a bloody good distance until it opened up enough to, initially, sit up and take a breather and, eventually to stand up and walk around a bit, as well as seeing my first sight of some nice stalactites, by which I mean ones that weren’t around 6cm long. As ever, it sounds stupid, but I really wasn’t expecting to see much in the way of stalctites and the like as I simply wasn’t expecting to be in passages big enough to house ‘big ones’. As ever, I couldn’t be more wrong.
Back into another tight scramble we went, at which point I was getting a little irritated, not at the scrambling, but at the though of “if this doesn’t go anywhere, there’s no way I am going to be able to crawl backwards out of this bastard. And I sure as hell can’t turn around”. It wasn’t really the tight scrambling that annoyed me, in its own way it was actually quite fun, it was the fact that I was failing to get used to the idea that I couldn’t look straight ahead, as my helmet would keep hitting the roof, so I had to look to the side and angle my body accordingly.
Anyway, this didn’t go on too long and, to be fair, it was all worth while as we came out the other side above a fairly fast-flowing stream that had clearly carved it’s path through the surrounding rock over a number of years – exactly the sort of thing that, for whatever reason excites me. Maybe it’s just the image of running water that I’ve always sort of found fascinating.

We headed further up against the stream through the fairly narrow but high parts and carried on that way until the flow slowed off as things got a bit wider, flatter and, in parts, deeper. We carried on up that way, towards the sump (I can’t pretend I remember where it’s meant to lead) and Rob and co. were commenting on how the water level was a lot lower than the last time they were there. That struck me as odd as it started to reach testicular level on me… shortly after that though we were, indeed, at the sump, and had to climb up and across to take another small-ish route which involved a lower rough, making crawling on hands and knees the ideal approach (if a little uncomfortable without gloves and, before rob gave me his elbow pads, any knee protection).

At this point Rob and Dez continued a pretty intense mud fight, which was entertaining to spectate  on at least. The next stretch continued the mud theme, along with the crawling, all of which was easy enough, although I was becoming increasingly more aware of the added weight from having a suit that had become fairly waterlogged (if not actually too cold) and still thought we were going to have to crawl on hands and knees for a large distance on the return journey. After passing some more impressive formations, myself and Rob stopped whilst letting Danny and Dez go ahead and, quite literally, test the water at the next block they came across. To say it was deep would be an understatement. Turns out it was another sump, apparently leading to ‘a huge chamber’ (Danny’s words, not mine). But to get there we were going to have to swim across it.
I think if we’re honest, Rob and I were all for turning back, but we cracked when Dez came back to encourage us. I have to admit, even when I was stood waist deep in the water on the edge of where I was going to have to swim, I was having doubts, but I figured I’d got that far, I might as well give it a whirl. Besides, the rest of them were already on the other side. Turning back would have made their swims a waste of energy. So I finally went for it.
To say it was cold would be an understatement. It was fucking freezing. The sort of cold that takes your breath away (although, admittedly, I was impressed with how well the simple wooley bear and oversuit worked at slowing the influx of water).

So we’d manned up and swum across the gap (probably a couple of metres across). We then got out, shook around a bit to try to keep warm, and set off towards the ‘chamber’ Danny had promised. It got narrow, and before long the water got deeper again. Expletives were uttered, albeit in a light-hearted manner, and we turned back, for another swim. It was no warmer, but we were having a laugh at least.

The way back was largely uneventful, following a similar route. Before we got back to the spot we’d belly-crawled through, Danny took me on a diversion to show me Curry Inlet. There were some simply stunning formations on the way to it and I’d love to go back and spend a little more time around the area just admiring the formations.
The route back took a slight variation as we got to the point where we’d crawled through as, instead, we followed the stream down and winding around through the narrow passage back to where Danny and Dez had left the bags. This was a great way to end the walking around as well, for me at least. All down hill, water rushing all around, various rocks that had fallen lodged at different angles to duck and weave around. Great stuff.

As mentioned right at the start, the climb out was both a lot easier and a lot quicker than it had felt on the way in and before long we were back above the surface, where the visibility had improved, providing a simply stunning view right out down the valley and over the bay towards the offshore wind farms. Again, the lack of camera irritated me although, to be fair, if I had one it probably wouldn’t quite have captured what a good view it was.

Time to change again, try and put dry clothes on, and then down to the Marton Arms for a swift point before the drive home.

Overall impressions? It was a lot of fun, and in many ways lived up to everything I expected it to be. I wouldn’t say any of it particularly surprised me, although I did expect to find generally a lot more smaller passages and a lot less of the open spaces that were there, along with the formations.
I don’t know a lot about caves in general, and in a way I kind of like that, as it leaves me just appreciating things as they are and as I see them, rather than knowing all the reasons why they’re like that. Of course, it would be nice to know why as well, but I’m happy to have Dez, Rob and Danny tell me instead for now!

Would I go again? Definitely. I mean, it’s not something I can see myself ever really getting into and being as passionate about as I am with my divin but, just like with climbing (which I really need to start doing more of) I could definitely se myself doing it every so often, having a laugh and just getting out and about.

And that just about wraps it up. I’m pretty sure there was more I initially wanted to conclude with, but I guess if that reappears in my head I’ll add it later. Muchos thanks need to go to Danny, Dez, and Rob for letting a numpty such as myself tag along with them and for showing and teaching me some really cool things. Was definitely a good way to spend 4 hours in the dark!

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