Okay so bats might not seem frightfully important to us…surely they’re nothing more than flying rats? You’d be mistaken! These incredible mammal species are a highly evolved flying and echolocating species- the only ones to do so. They ensure our skies aren’t ridden with biting insects, prevent crop damage, provide medicine in the form of draculin, give vision to the blind and lets be honest, MAKE Halloween! I conducted 10 months research on them a year ago, and here’s what I found out about how our urban lifestyle is impacting them in the UK.
Importance and impacts of an urban landscape on bats: Urban foraging
Each bat has evolved is perfectly adapted to each habitat, in terms of wing morphology, diet (ecological niche), echolocation call, hibernacula and behaviour (Altringham, 2011; Threfall et al., 2008). Thus, it is of vital importance to study the effects of particular habitat features on bats, as each specie uses the landscape differently (Altringham, 2011, Coleman & Barcley, 2011).
Some exhibit behavioural plasticityand can adapt to urban environments, enabling them to effectively exploit their habitat without the disruption of roads, light pollution or buildings (Russo & Ancillotto, 2014; Stone et al., 2011).
This has been seen in bats with long narrow wing morphology with a high wing loading, as open air foragers are largely unaffected by urbanization (Norbeg & Rayner, 1987).
The ability of synanthropic bats to dominate urban foraging areas can be problematic for the less well adapted species (Silvis et al., 2014, Russo and Ancillotto, 2014). Urbanization may result in greater competition between the synurbic and less well adapted species. Arlettaz et al., (2000) suggested that the decline of Rhinolophus hipposiderosin Wales may be due to the expansion of Pipistrellus pipistrellus, whose populations have increased as a result of greater feeding efficiency with artificial lights normally avoided by the lesser horseshoe bat (Warren et al., 2002; Lacoeuilhe et al., 2014).
Water in urban areas
Bats are vulnerable to evaporative water loss as a consequence of their morphology and large surface area to volume ratio (Razgour et al., 2010). Within urban areas, open artificial sources such as ponds, ditches and swimming pools provide bats with fundamental opportunities to drink and forage.
Certain species show preferences over these larger, less cluttered and open bodies of water (Seimers et al., 2001). The reduction in pulse-echo overlap, ability to detect spectral shift and high insect abundance over still water sources can attract large numbers of bats to urban and modified sites (Altringham, 2011).
Such examples can be seen in North Carolina, where studies looking at the importance of managed water bodies over natural wetlands revealed significantly higher bat activity by heliponds, despite equal densities of insects at both sites (Vindigni et al., 2009). Equally, studies on Greek islands showed that bats will also use artificial water sources such as swimming pools due to the lack of natural sources in such arid habitats, with minimal annual rainfall (Davy et al., 2007).
So this Halloween, cast a glance into the skies at night and spare a thought for this remarkable little evolutionary quirk of nature…
The rapid global urban population growth seen in the last 65 years, from 746 million to 3.9 billion in 2014, has had significant impacts on bat species richness and abundance (WUP 2014, Kunz et al 2007), due to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation (Altringham, 2011), chemical pollution, barrier effects, introduction and facilitation of invasive species and a decline in prey species (Wickramasinghe et al, 2004, Lentini et al, 2012, Berthinussen & Altringham, 2012). Many studies are currently looking into the possibility of using bats as bioindicators of environmental change (Wordley et al, 2014, Russo et al, 2014), due to Chiroptera being the world’s second most speciose mammalian order (second to Rodentia), numbering 1232 species (Kunz et al, 2011).
Equally, their widespread distribution and sensitivity to even minute perturbations means they could reflect the status or possible risk of such change in other species (Jones et al, 2009). Some of the responses to change can be seen with declines in abundances, population size, range distributions and behaviour (Altringham, 2011). Thus, it is important to determine the relative abundance of bats in urban areas compared to rural and suburban, and see whether an association with particular urban features are limiting or enhancing their ability to forage and roost there. This information has vital applications for conservation, as 82% of the UK is urbanised and is steadily increasing (United Nations World Urbanization Prospects, 2015). Thus, policy makers with knowledge regarding the ability of certain bat species to adapt (synurbic), or not (more vulnerable and sensitive species) to one of the greatest land use changes seen in the last century, can act to reduce the impact by lobbying with businesses, developers and politicians (Altringham, 2011, Russo, et al, 2014).
Importance and impacts of an urban landscape on bats- Urban foraging and roosting
Bats form some of the largest seen mammalian assemblages, (Jones et al, 2009), with up to 40 million in a single cave-roosting colony (Seimers et al, 2001). The potential of urban areas being suitable areas to provide bats with useable roosting and foraging habitats is becoming an ever more prevalent area of research. Thus, it is of vital importance to study how bats are using such anthropogenic landscapes (Bellamy et al, 2013). It is essential that research from a wide variety of urban landscapes is conducted in order to assess the relative importance of particular variables and landscape features, as some are more important to different species, which each exploits the landscape differently (Altringham, 2011, Coleman & Barcley, 2011). It is this specificity of each species responding to urbanization differently which is vital to conservation and management policy. Each bat has evolved is perfectly adapted to each habitat, in terms of wing morphology, diet (ecological niche), echolocation call, hibernacula and behaviour (Altringham 2011, Threfall et al 2008). Thus some exhibit behavioural plasticity and can adapt to urban environments, enabling them to effectively exploit their habitat without the disruption of roads, light pollution or buildings (Russo and Ancillotto, 2014, Stone et al, 2011). This has been seen in bats with long narrow wing morphology with a high wing loading, as open air foragers are largely unaffected by urbanization (Norbeg & Rayner, 1987).
The ability of synanthropic bats to dominate urban foraging areas can be problematic for the less well adapted species (Silvis et al, 2014, Russo and Ancillotto, 2014). Some studies even suggest urbanization may result in greater competition between the synurbic and less well adapted species, as implicated by Arlettaz et al (2000). The study suggested that the decline of the Rhinolophus hipposideros in Wales may be due to the expansion of Pipistrellus pipistrellus, whose populations have increased as a result of greater feeding efficiency with artificial lights (Warren et al, 2002, Lacoeuilhe et al, 2014), normally avoided by the lesser horseshoe bat. Equally, in one study investigating the activity of insectivorous bats in Panama Canal, it was shown that only a few dominant Molossus were able to adapt to urbanized areas due to their high wing loading and aspect ratio (Jung et al, 2011). This was in contrast to a majority of clutter-specialist species recorded which foraged within the forest and the forest edge.
Advantages provided by artificial roosts in urban areas include homoeothermic benefits, in particular for pregnant females by reducing the energetic costs of maintaining their body temperature within the thermal neutral zone (Lausen & Barcley, 2006). Therefore the potential to provide bats with artificial roosts is of interest to many conservation bodies, which aim educate and encourage public concern (Altringham, 2011). Artificial bat boxes have been shown to be particularly exploited by opportunistic and synurbic P.Kuhii (Angelli et al, 2011). However, the lack of rigorous scientific testing of their effectiveness is yet to be determined in lesser adapted species (Altringham, 2011), and with thorough monitoring and further studies into ‘bat box’ preferences, a more valid account of their potential use may be of value to policy makers (Russo & Ancillotto, 2014).
Importance of Water in urban areas
Bats are vulnerable to evaporative water loss as a consequence of their morphology and large surface area to volume ratio, as well as high energetic costs with the ability to fly (Razgour et al, 2010). Within urban areas, open artificial sources such as ponds, ditches and swimming pools provide bats with fundamental opportunities to drink and forage. Certain species show preferences over these larger, less cluttered and open bodies of water (Seimers et al, 2001). The reduction in pulse-echo overlap, ability to detect spectral shift and high insect abundance over still water sources (Altringham, 2011) can attract large numbers of bats to urban and modified sites (Vindigni et al, 2009). Such examples can be seen in North Carolina, where studies looking at the importance of managed water bodies over natural wetlands revealed significantly higher bat activity by heliponds, despite equal densities of insects at both sites (Vindigni et al, 2009). Equally, studies on Greek islands showed that bats will also use artificial water sources such as swimming pools due to the lack of natural sources in such arid habitats, with minimal annual rainfall (Davy et al 2007).
If you want to find out more about how YOU can help bats, head over to the Big Bat Map and the Bat Conservation Trust!
Exactly a year ago today I conducted my research on British bats around North and West Yorkshire regarding their habitat selectivity across multiple scales in rural and urban environments. I still can’t believe how fast it’s all gone in the past 10 months! I will be posting up some articles on exactly what I did and how you can also get involved with conserving these fascinating little mammals of ours too, but first I want to tell you WHY bats are so important to us all.
Apart from justifying the value of bats in terms of their diverse nature and unique evolutionary history which has lead to the only powered flight seen in mammals (Fenton et al, 1997), bats provide a range of ecosystem services and benefits to both the environment and humans (Altringham, 2011). The Brazilian-free tailed bat provides one of the largest-scale suppressions of insect pests in the world (Kunz, 1989). During their migration northwards each spring, Tadarida brasiliensis forage on cotton bollworms, saving the US economy over $23 billion dollars in terms of preventative damage to cotton and the reduced cost of less pesticide use (Cleveland et al 2006).
In Asian markets, over 70% of the fruit sold is pollinated or seed dispersed by bats, in particular the Durian fruit which is worth $2 billion (Kasso & Balakrishnan, 2013, Altringham, 2011). The alcoholic beverage, Tequila is derived from the Agave tequilana and is pollinated by the lesser-long-nosed bat, providing a source of income of for many Mexicans (Kunz et al, 2012). Guano is a source of high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, which is one of the primary limiting nutrients of plant life. Deuchamp et al (2009) studied the potential benefits of the ‘pepper shaker-effect,’ a hypothesis where bats flying from nutrient-rich regions to nutrient-poor habitats, redistribute the guano and act as a mobile fertiliser. Several countries sell guano as fertilisers and can be a main source of income in poorer regions (Altringham, 2011).
Ecotourism also boost the economy, for example as seen in Congress Avenue, Texas which generates $12 million annually (Pennisi et al, 2004). Medicine is also derived from the Vampire bat’s salivary enzyme, desmoteplase which acts as an anticoagulant for post-ischemic stroke patients (Furlan et al, 2006). This was initially trialled on mice in 2003, and was found to extend the time required to administer tissue plasminogen activator during the post-stroke period from 3 to 9 hours (Schleuning et al, 2008).
Also mentioned is their value as bioindicators of the overall health of the ecosystem, which can be seen with their importance in ecological networks and high trophic level, if removed, cumulative and rippling effects can be seen lower down trophic cascades (Jones et al, 2009).
I hope you can see how incredible these little mammals are, and stay tuned to find out about the amazing world of bats in future posts!
A motley crew of 40+ cavers, with a range of ages, will descend upon the Austrian Alps for the Dachstein summer Caving Expedition 2015. This is literally all the low down on the cave exploration scene in the Alps. It is as well renowned for its deep, tortiousand hard alpine cave systems, as the Austrians are for lederhosen and beer. A staggeringly high peak of 2995m, the possibility of a 2500m deep entrance point to the water table below is tantalisingly closer than ever before. And YOU could be part of the team that is part of this historical event!
The Winter project requires dry, frozen, stable conditions to enter the 100km long, 1.1km deep single monster cave at the main project to the far west (Sahara), deep snow, and involves a breath-taking 2-6 hour approach hike. This is however not for the light hearted, a 10-18 hour caving trip in extreme cold conditions is the likely scenario, and trust me when I say these cavers are literally rock hard and (sorry), rather insane!
But nevertheless, it’s a most exciting trip to be had if you’re fed up of a gentle walk up Ilkley Moor, and if your local Hyde Park snowball fight isn’t quite giving you enough frost nip…get your crampons and ice picks at the ready and sign up to this winter’s expedition! For more info head to their Facebook page and have a chat with them, they’re a really friendly bunch once you get past the grimy remarks and jokes about your incompetence (I kid of course). A plan of the cave route can be seen here:
As for THIS summer, the project involves connecting the hysterically named “Wat have U-got-Pot” and the Hirlatz (yes I think its German). So for the fit and keen there will be the opportunity to take part in the exploration of the mighty Wot-U-Got Pot (800m+ deep and 6km long) which requires camping underground for 4 days at a time. But do be warned, this is a dangerous, cold, flood-prone pothole that demands skill, ability, bloody-mindedness & a twisted sense of humour which I must say was provided by the bucket load this weekend (I can’t remember or understand most of it, but do join us if you want to hear some).
It is this cave that gives Joel and his team the best hope of breaking into and connect to the massive Hirlatz Hole from WUG Pot- then it will become a 1.5km deep monster system and mastercave (1.5km+). Recently over the past few years teams have shortened the distance between these two mega cave systems to under 500m. If the connection is made the journey from top to bottom could well be the ultimate adventure sports challenge involving winter mountaineering, abseiling, caving and cave diving taking several days to complete.
SO just think of all the mud, sweat, darkness, smelly feet, lack of sleep… I mean- ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT, HEROIC APTITUDE, SWANKY CV BOOSTER (a ‘what scenario shows teamwork skills’ drill), and most of all FUN 2 weeks of caving during one of the most exciting times in caving exploration history in Europe. The price really is fantastic too (£250 for 3 weeks). Here’s a little break down courtesy of Joel:
Expedition fees (to go towards metalwork/hardware, ropes, communal food, etc) £60 for the duration;
Weekly allowance(fresh veg, fuel, etc) €10 (so €30 or €40 for the duration);
Accommodation of approx €3.50 or €4 a night = approx €80 total;
Travel: very rough guide but maybe £100
The team are insistent that it’s not necessary to be a pro but the willingness to train and have a go! I think I may be going to simply take the photographs, document the expedition and have a nice hike and climb until I feel ready to undertake the caving trip- so if you fancy a nice sight-seeing holiday, come along! It’s not just all about that hard-core exploring, there’s plenty of other activities to do and get involved with, including prospecting in the mountains looking for new caves, continuing the exploration of previously discovered caves, assisting with the re-rigging as all the ropes and much of the metal work needs to be replaced.
And if deep dark caves aren’t your thing, there’s even an ice cave nearby that makes for a stunning tourist trip, just so you can pose with those new ice picks you’ve bought (lads), and girls yes you can pretend to be Elsa.
For all you animal lovers out there, Joel tells me there are marmot colonies near by, gams in the hills at dawn (similar to chamoix), foxes, snakes, etc… Where you’ll be based at 1850m its about 100m below the transition from the superlative carpeted green slopes to more bare alpine scenery- a haven for wildlife, and wild ADVENTURE!
This is the greatest cave exploration project in the world: no discussion!! Matt St Clair will be organising & will appoint key people to the role of “Dachstein Reps” as some of the lifers cannot commit 100% these days. If you feel you would like to assist in the organisation then please make yourself known. Dates are provisional but will probably be 3 weeks in total, see their dedicated Facebook page for more information: info.https://www.facebook.com/events/1490999744511831/
First of all, before you go jet-setting to the Alps with your shorts, T-shirt, trainers and multi coloured running leggings… there’s a few things you need to know about surface gear and caving gear, as well as the health and safety aspects to the trip. I’ll try and make it as painless as possible I promise!
Recommended 2 sets for caving (one for each trip) and one for the hut. (You could get away with two sets one for caving one for the hut relying on the drying room – it should be noted that the term drying room is a misnomer, it just makes all things marginally less damp)
DO NOT BRING JEANS TO CAVE IN!!!!!!
(When wet they get cold, heavy and chafe, they also take ages to dry, fine for the hut though.)
BRING WHITE STUFF AT YOU OWN RISK
(Water in caves is often a bit muddy and can dye white clothes a permanent brown)
WARM STUFF FOR THE HUT
Caving huts can vary wildly in temperature (also good to keep warm on the way to the pub)
A FLEECE to cave in
Fleeces are ideal to cave in as they are warm and drain relatively quickly when wet.
THERMALS to cave in
Very good for keeping you warm in wet caves. (A cheap set can be made with any tight fitting top e.g. modern rugby tops and a pair of thick tights (yes even for the blokes) looks silly? yes Warm? Definitely. I mean, who can resist a guy in tights? (Definitely me…guys don’t go for the 1D look outside of caving, only wimps wear girly tights for fashion).
WELLINGTON BOOTS (gum boots) to cave in
Wellies are quite simply the best footwear to cave in. The club has a good selection which it is happy to lend out but please email to request them as unless you were born with 3 size 9 left feet we may not have any in your size (particularly true for small/large sizes)
GLOVES (marigold washing up gloves) to cave in
A controversial one this (some cavers like gloves some don’t) but good for keeping your hands warm they are cheap and can be god-send so you might as well bring them
HAT to cave in
A wooly hat/balaclava is good for keeping warm underground. People with long hair should bring some stuff to tie it back e.g. hair bands, buff e.t.c
To sleep in. No really.
So you can find your way to your bunk/ back from the pub. Oh and the cave.
WASH KIT (Tooth brush, soap, deodorant etc.)
PLEASE bring this guys to wash with. Don’t bother with beatifying stuff (hair straighteners), but perhaps a hint of mascara and eye liner..oh and concealer for those equally dark eye circles around the eyes from days of no sleep. Trust me everyone will thank you for it. Shower gel- many cavers don’t even bother to shower after a trip, merely washing will make you look like a god/goddess compared to the other muddy and smelly cavers.
To dry off with / avoid flashing everyone when getting changed and to hide from the prying eyes of cavers
Money for the pub crawls and to buy dinner and any drinks
There will normally be quite a few drinks had Friday and Saturday night. We normally stop on the way at a supermarket. Even if you don’t drink alcohol it will probably be worth bringing some coke/ squash to quench your thirst. Missing something? The club has some spare kit it can lend (particularly wellies).
A length of foam mat to keep you of the tent floor and hence much warmer.
OPTIONAL KIT (if you have it please bring it):
Any PERSONAL CAVING KIT
Some caves have some great (if cold) swimming opportunities. Chances of using one is slim but swimming in crystal clear pools deep underground is worth the effort of packing it. Please don’t pack your bikini.
FURRY / Thermal Undersuit
A giant adult sized fleece baby grow. Known universally by cavers as furries they are also sometimes used by sailors and divers under dry suits. These are the crème de la crème of caving insulation and many cavers’ first purchases. They can be very expensive so if yours is a non-caving one for use under a dry suit you use it at your own risk.
Oh! I almost forgot. Warm underpants…I’m not fooling around here, its vital to keep yourself nice and snug down there. Nothing worse than soggy bottomsis there Mary?
Well that’s all from me, write up on first aid and cave photography soon!
Almscliff Crag is located between the verdant green sloping hills of Harrogate and the bustling city of Leeds, and protrudes on top of a small hill. Made of Millstone grit, it optimizes the hardiness of the great Yorkshire people- tough and gritty is most certainly the way up North! It was formed out of the destruction of the surrounding softer and more fragile shale and mudstone strata, which left this hardier famous landmark which is extremely popular with walkers and climbers alike. I headed up with the Leeds University Mountaineering society (Climbing) to try out my first outdoor climb, having had several indoor and seemingly difficult routes indoors at the Depot (Pudsey) and The Edge (Leeds). I could only really manage the Blues and Black holds at that point, so wasn’t too sure what to expect on an outdoor trip! But I was rearing to go and try it out.
Beautiful views of Otley and the Chevin from the top of the Almscliff crag.
Ed and Dan were my teachers and were incredibly patient with my incompetent movements that resembled a seagull with broken wings that had been coated with tar… rather flailing!
But you learn fast, it literally is a steep learning curve, with all the different names for pieces of kit, it can be a bit overwhelming! Firstly, rock climbing involves two people or a small group including the use of ropes which can either be done indoors at a local climbing centre OR outdoors. Other types of climbing without ropes involves bouldering where crash mats are places strategically in order to prevent any accidents. This is usually done in indoor centres without rope as the crash mats provide sufficient padding to cushion a fall whilst you build up your strength and stamina, to prepare you for an outdoor climb. You can use ropes indoors where another person is strapped into a harness and tied up whilst one person belays you- basically pulling up the slack rope as you climb ever higher and ready to catch you if you slip and fall. The different types of climbing are:
# 1 Traditional (or trad if you want to sound cool and mingle with climbers, ALWAYS use colloquial language to get in with the climbers!). This is where one climber will “lead” up along the rock face and place in all the bolts, cams and screws through which the rope will be placed through. This not only keeps the lead and first climber safe but allows the second climber to follow. Then at the top an anchor is built and three ropes are attached with into the rock with hexes (you will see why, they resemble hexagonal metal pieces) and then attach yourself to them by the rope with a special type of knot know as a clove hitch. The second climber will follow up after the first has yelled “OFF BELAY, FREE TO CLIMB” and they have secured the ropes up at the top. The second climber will also remove the gear as they progress.
(Left) Your nuts, bolts, cams and clip ons to keep you safe! All of this should be provided with your climbing society. (Bottom) Nick Belaying Fergus, (Bottom Right) Nick being lowered by the belayer, Ed who is at the top.
# 2 Sport climbing is where climbers clip onto already placed bolts that are securely fixed into the rock for people to ascend. This is the much easier and quick way to climb, but not as exciting as leading a climb.
#3 Soloing is where climbers will ascend under their own steam without any rope and by themselves, DON’T TRY THIS FIRST!! It can be very risky going it alone, so make sure you have many months of experience before you try this out. Ed, (see below) has done this for years and so is experienced enough to know the risks.
#3 Ice climbing involves, as the name suggests, ice or snow with use of particular equipment such as ice picks (who doesn’t want those awesome looking pick axes?) as well as crampons, boots, thermals, rope and harness. This isn’t for the faint hearted, not only are the cold conditions tough, but the technique is better off perfected indoors before you go out there, but it looks beautiful.
# 4 Competition climbing is more competitive climbing primarily done indoors in climbing walls, check out these amazing videos of insanely good comp climbers!
# 5 Bouldering is as I mentioned earlier without ropes, and is frequently performed indoors with different coloured holds which indicates their level of difficulty. Hand Jamming, crimps are all part of the technical lingo…watch out for the Climbers chat guide coming soon!
Here is Fergus Bouldering up Manhorn…quite a long way down so crash mats were used! I was going to do this but then again….
Here are the essential basics to Traditional climbing:
#1: Belay Kit– can be bought in many outdoor stores, I personally bought mine at GO Outdoors as you can get a £5 discount card which will save you a whole load, and my gorgeous black and orange harness as well as purple screw gate (to clip rope through) and orange belay device (where the climbers rope is threaded through and to control the climbers ascent/descent). This will usually set you back £50 with all of the above and a chalk bag for when you get sweaty palms! If you have a bit more cash to splash, you could probably get a harness for £46 alone then buy the rest of the gear separately. Check this Climbex one similar to the one I got on Go Outdoors.co.uk:
#2 Climbing shoes- I can’t stress how IMPORTANT SHOES are… always get a size above your normal shoes size, as they can be quite tight! It is supposed to be just uncomfortable so that you can really grip the rock face and have the friction to push up against gravity and the wall. Also you want them to be super comfy!
#3 Chalk– is placed into you bag and attached to the back of your harness, used to stop those sweaty palms of yours when you’re up high from sweating up and losing grip!
The cheapest and best way to start climbing is to join your local university club and pay the membership there: your covered for insurance purposes and can borrow all the gear for a small £30 a year…think how much you will be saving if you don’t have to buy all that rope, harness, shoes, cams, nuts, clip ons, ect!
It’s also a great way to make friends and get shown how to climb with a good technique. Most members would have been doing this sport for some time and are experienced. So don’t splash your cash on all these fancy pancy climbing courses all the time- although I learnt how to belay at the edge for £25, I could have learnt the exact same thing with the climbing society showing me. I did my first outdoor climb with them too.
Me checking out my harness, belay device and screw gate.
So back to Almscliff! Classic climbs include the Chimney which is categoriesd as very difficult and Wall of Horrors. But as a beginner I would highly recommend doing Stewpot and Easy man– I am seen here doing Stewpot, which I also led a climb for. The rock is lovely and firm here which is reassuring, but it really makes you move your body in a way that makes you a more cautious and perceptive person. You need to be aware of where you’re placing your feet at all times…if you get a bad foothold then finding an equally dodgy handhold is of no significance.
TRUST in your strong powerful legs and push up always from them and straighten your body right from your feet, all the way through your legs, through your core and UP you go! Onto the next hand hold. I must say, when I first started climbing, I had my doubts whether or not I could do it. My arms are like spindly gibbon arms, not much muscle at all! My legs are strong with all the cardio I do, and I was assured that it’s your LEGS that are the key to climbing. Whilst climbing Stewpot, in one of the cracks my friend shouted out that he saw a bat! I had to come up as I must say I didn’t initially believe him! But indeed there was a small wrinkled up Pipestrelle, sat snuggly between the cracks. We wondered if he was dead but he stirred as soon as we took a photo of him. Hope he was alright. You need a special license to handle them so it’s best that we left it alone. One then route had been led for me and it was safe for me to climb, I tied up my harness and headed up.
It was a gorgeous warm and sunny day. 25ᵒC-perfect for climbing the warm baked rocks of Almscliff crag. The scenery is truly spectacular up there. You can see why it’s a popular haunt with climbers, ramblers, boulderers, painters and walkers. Prior to joining the group, on my way up from the side car park, I wandered the crag to get a couple of panorama shots, and found a whole host of insect wildlife there. Swallows dart up and down catching their ready packed meals that are equally agile and astute on the wing- talk about fast food!
My climbing friends tried the much harder Chimney, and Nick and Fergus gritted their teeth, and push and pulled harder to get to the top after attempts to get past the notoriously difficult mid slab of millstone rock- gravity ALWAYS wins. Funnily enough as I am writing this I just watched the film Gravity last night, brilliantly composed and shot, but a rather pessimistic film! Its unnerving to see your climbing buddies take a fall, even when attached to rope that can take the weight of a ton. We shout out support down at the bottom to help spur them on.
The sun was beginning to slide further down the clouds, providing the perfect opportunity for me to get a silhouetted head shot and create a double exposure- check it out!I was very happy with the results after a tinkle on Photoshop CS3, I will be posting up a video tutorial on how to do it shortly. I hereby name it “Fergus and the Ferns!” after the plant I used to create it and the guy posing for it!
After a long and gorgeous afternoon of climbing and photography, it couldn’t have ended more perfectly. I OFFICIALLY have the climbers bug, despite the climbers calluses and cramps in your toes after wearing the tiny shoes, climbing really makes you feel alive and brings out the best in your abilities- it MAKES you have to believe and trust in your judgment and work as a team to help them through the climb.
“Nothing beats that feeling when you get your hand at the top of that rock…”
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.
The climbing team looking summery in their shorts!
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…
Selgil cave, the dry route which we decided to try out.
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, rearing to get going! (above). Mike posing for the camera with all the kit.
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.
The depths of Selgil, Mike shines his torch and the wet surface of the cave reflects with enough light for my long 30 second exposure.Some more light painting in the dark with Kate as our model.
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!
Cave selfie! We got it just about right, but Brendan was just out of the shot, sorry man!
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!
Ready to catch his new chew toy. Photo taken with flash, Aperture mode, 5.5, ISO: 800
“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 womannow!