I am officially “batty” now- I have descended into the depths of a cave and followed my fellow subject of research!
This is the second time I’ve been in a cave this summer…but this time I was actually ascending and descending it with karabiners, cows clips, descenders, hand and chest jammers, D-ring and a WHOLE load of rope! This stunning cave is located within walking distance from the Horton in Ribblesdale train stop in the Yorkshire Dales of roughly 2km. We left the Leeds train station at a later time of 9:10am, tickets will cost you £16 for a return, a with a rail card around £13. The weather, as usual was changeable with sheets of light piercing even the darkest of nebulous clouds, the occasional shower then patches of rather pleasant sun. ALWAYS take your rain jacket and thermals, that’s one thing I’ve leant the hard way! I keep forgetting that summer in the UK is rather different to a Spanish one! The walk to the site was equally as changeable, but nonetheless breath-taking. I felt quite safe with the three caving members of the Leeds University Union Speleological society, Michael, who has been caving for over six years, Katey who has been on more than 60 trips and Brendan who had recently joined the society a year ago, but nevertheless experienced.
They were all so welcoming and helpful, and exceedingly patient with my sometimes futile efforts! I literally had a crash course in Single rope technique (SRT) and vertical climbing/ascending/descending the day before with Michael and Kristian… then thrown into the deep end!
The journey ahead…
There were two entrances, the wet route is to the right hand side of the walk from Ribblesdale where the stream thunders down into a waterfall within the cave, or to the left is the dry (more like dry-ish) route which is the one we selected. We got dressed in the open into our oversuites and hooked up all our kit, including a cave helmet.
Katey descending into the cave via the dry route, we didn’t fancy our chances with the wet route on a rainy day! (Above)
The wet route is advisable only in dry weather! The route was all rigged by Katey and Brendan; we descended from the entrance 6m down into the cave with a 15 meter rope. It was a little daunting at first, I must admit, trusting in the gear away from the safety of The Edge! But I was always in safe hands and so trusted everyone and the gear. It was rather fun! We got to the bottom, and could hear the discernible roar of the waterfall tumbling down in torrents. I am SO glad I put my camera in the water tight daerum drum, the spray was a bit of a nightmare for any photographer… I was also lucky that the only damage to my camera was scratches on my 600D screen!
We then moved on to the second pitch where we were carefully picked our way along the route with cows tails and avoided accidentally dislodging any loose rock. The route to the left side was far drier, which we opted for! This was only 12m down, (we had 20m rope) but still a little daunting for a first timer like me! It was a good feeling though as you glided gracefully (well, perhaps not me!) down on the rope using the descender. It takes a bit to release your hard lock then soft lock because your life is literally handing on that rope, if you slip up, its a long way down….
Once at the bottom, I could hear the others further down the third pitch, then we descended ourselves. This was the furthest one down and required two steps of getting to the edge, then staying clear of the water falling from above. This was definitely the more daunting of the two pitches, and as I peered over the edge, I was glad I had misplaced my contact lenses! It was however, really beautiful, once I was off and descending, light flickering from my helmet painted the cave with an orange glow and light danced off the wet surface of the limestone rock. The spray hung in the cave like a blanket and created a slight haze.
Mike had to shout commands to me as I neared then end as the thunderous downpour of the waterfall echoed and resonated throughout the cavern. Whilst he was doing something technical further up the pitch, I waited gazing at the bottom with the scenes of what once was an ancient sea floor. I even saw fossilized remnants of coral on one of the slabs. All around me, I could see new sections of the cave forming with soft sediment being deposited at the sides. Katey and Brendan then reappeared from the bottom which was an easily accessible hop-down into a walkable section of the cave. When Mike joined us we decided to take a couple of cave shots and used our head torches as flashlights.
I used ISO 6400 to get some cave portraits, and then used flash for some other closer up shots. Then we took long exposures (30 seconds), of Katey and the cave, whilst the guys acted as flash assistants. They did blur but they were certainly fun to take! I couldn’t progress any further without my camera get wet, so I returned it to the daerum drum and headed down with the guys to complete the walk. The source of the noise and spray became apparent as I hopped down and the waterfall was visible in all its resplendent glory. It was truly breath-taking, admittedly I was very cold and wet due to inappropriate underclothes, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits! The trip wouldn’t be complete without #CaveSelfies which we eventually got right!
We eventually reached the “Duck“, which as the name suggests, requires you to duck and crawl through to the other side. I decided to wait with Brendan, I was too wet and quite cold, and didn’t want to get soaked! But the cavern itself was lovely to look at, as was being silt being deposited with shining particles that glinted and danced in that light emanating from our head torches. We switched them off to fully appreciate how dark it was, 70 meters underground, I literally could not even see my hand in front of my face- most certainly an adept description of pitch black!
As Mike returned we then headed back up to the 3rd pitch to start ascending. Now the hand and chest jammers were used rather than the descender. This was the point at which I began to get nervous as I ascended with my hand jammer, which seemingly ‘jammed,’ and fear began to creep in! Mike reassured me I was fine and doing well, as well as encouragement from Katey and Brendan down below. Then, what seemed an age, I eventually reached the top, a little shaken but relieved. It is very enjoyable and rewarding, and I will be back for more! But it was scary as a first timer, and I feel good to have gotten over my fear of swinging from heights! When we stepped out of the entrance after a good 45 minutes (due to my inability to shimmy up the rope with the same speed and agility as the others), a gorgeous border collie greeted us, with his mane being whipped up by the blustering Yorkshire wind.
I was glad to be out, I was pretty cold and hungry but also exhilarated by a fantastic trip. I never felt in any real danger with experienced people, more of a heightened panic moment. We played with the dog, who apparently took a shining to Brendan’s yellow oversuit!
“One man and his dog…”
We got undressed then headed back down the track to the pub for a well-deserved cup of tea and sandwich. What a day! I will most certainly be joining this September. The next social is go-karting in September which will be great fun, will keep you updated on all the caving- I am officially known as Bat woman now!