Cavers: Chris Scaife, Don Miller, Chriss Shaman, Dan Jackson
For our first Saturday’s caving in 2019 we chose Dale Head Pot, one of several varied classics on Fountains Fell. Shaman rigged the Entrance Pitch from two metal stakes and then a rebelay bolt just over the edge. This 5m pitch was immediately followed by the Dig Climb, which is an easy, shored descent. Although water levels seemed pretty low in the Dales, the bottom of this climb was not a place to linger, unless ice-cold monsoons are your passion. We were then relieved to get into Heartburn Crawl, flat-out along the bedding plane in shallow water, getting progressively easier.
Dan Jackson, not content with once bottoming Black Shiver without his hand jammer, had a minor issue in the flat-out crawl when his light went out completely, but all was soon under control and we pushed on through some more spacious crawling to Boulder Junction. Looking at the survey, there’s really quite a lot of cave passage upstream from this point, but we headed downstream, a mixture of walking, stooping and crawling with some easy cascade climbs thrown in, until the stream disappeared down a hole and we traversed over the top for the driest 17m of the entire cave.
This short waterless section ended with Bottle Pitch, rigged by the Shaman from two P-bolts in the ceiling. Just below the Y-hang there was a bit of a constriction, but nobody struggled going up or down. A hanging rebelay out from a large ledge then took us down Wet Pitch, which was indeed wet, and as we sat in the large chamber while Don rigged the next few pitches, Dan, Shaman and I huddled together for warmth, like musk oxen in the Arctic tundra. The 8m Emery Pitch is followed immediately by the main shaft, which we descended by Crow’s Nest 1 and 2, Windy Ledge Pitch and Window Pitch. This takes a dry alternative for part of the pitch with the intention of staying out of the water on the main shaft. However, this still means you’re on the main shaft for 20 out of the 37 metres, so not sure how worthwhile it is really.
There was a small pitch just below the main shaft that I rigged with a sling around a big spike, or knob if you will. After this, we traversed across a deep hole to get into The Borehole – a muddy section of cave involving thrutchy climbs, squeezes and a couple of fairly tricky traverses. I slid down a slippery slope into a deep pool and then felt the sheer joy of having Don slide down into me. This surprisingly deep, and unsurprisingly cold, pool was followed by Pool Pitch, which I rigged from a P-bolt Y-hang. Below, the low airspace duck was all that stood between us and our Dale Head apotheoses. I was umming and ahing about this total immersion into the piercingly cold water, but I was persuaded to cross the pond by my friend from across the pond, who pointed out that we were already completely soaked, so we might as well.
The return journey was all very pleasant, albeit cold and wet, conditions to which I may have alluded already. Don had the very helpful suggestion of dragging the tackle sacks through Heartburn Crawl on a rope, which made things easier. And then on Twelfth Night, we four emerged into darkness, like the bedraggled survivors of an Illyrian shipwreck.
Thanks for reminding me why I did not want to visit for a 4th time. Such a cold,wet and muddy place.
It’s only muddy in the lower half of the cave. We were all very clean by the time we got out!
My light went out on the way out of the crawl as well…in fact the bloody battery pack came off completely (thankfully only at the very end so was easily retrievable)…there may be some merit to the Don method after all…or I need to get a little fitter so I don’t end up thrashing my head against the ceiling like a rabid seal as a result of my exertions.
I don’t know why everyone always knocks me for taking off my helmet in narrow spaces and for occasionally entering squeezes and narrow crawls feet first. I haven’t lost my helmet yet. And I was very surprised to see Mr Scaife passing through the duck feet first, particularly as I was the first through and entered head first. Maybe others are finally starting to realise the wisdom of my ways…
It looked like the sort of duck that would be better feet first. I went through head first on the way out and I preferred it feet first. Feet first on your back makes it a lot easier to see where you’re going than head first on your back.
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