Providence to Dow: Masochist’s Paradise?
Saturday, 12 May 2012

Two weeks without caving had already passed, and I started to get impatient to get some new bruises and experience yet again some real physical exhaustion. Luckily, every time this happens, a John Hollowaycomes along and offers to take me on a more interesting trip.

During the YUCPC training, we started hatching plans for a little bit of weekend hardship, and were looking for at least one other team member. John was being mysterious about the cave he wanted to do, but said that it may not be suitable for complete freshies. In the end Laurent was recruited, knowing that he would sign up for something slightly more absorbing than Yordas or Upper Long Churn. Finally on Friday Laurent and I were let in on the secret of the planned trip. Quoting John, it was one of those in “the black book: Providence Pot through Dowber Gill Passage to Dow Cave. After some research online on the cave system, I realized that it would be a physically demanding trip despite the apparent straight line of passage in Dowber Gill, and started to be excited to get there.

A car was rented, and just when we were leaving the York University campus on Saturday morning, I got a call from an unknown number. It was Adam Walmsley who was at the NPC hut and was looking for somebody to go caving with. So he was to join us in Kettlewell for lunch. It was great having two cars, as we could leave one near the exit of Dow Cave, and use the other one to drive as close to the hiking path leading to Providence as possible. The walk up was very pleasant with lots of sunshine and wild flowers everywhere. I was impressed that the guys were able to walk up the hill in their full gear without getting slow-roasted. Having carried everything and having only worn the base layers, I was nevertheless feeling way too hot and couldnt wait to get wet underground.

The first few meters of passage were not too bad, and contrary to the other team members complaints I really enjoyed the muddy water passage in Blasted Crawl. This was positively refreshing after the warmth on the surface. We made fast progress through Providence and only stopped for a short photo session. After about two hours we reached 800 Yards Chamber and decided to rest a little bit and have a snack. Until then I was thinking that even the squeezy bits hadnt been too bad, and wondered if it would get harder.

Surely it did. Navigation did not seem to have been too much of an issue, because John and Laurent always kind of knew where we were in relation to the cave description they had with them. It was more the constant alternation of free climbs, slippery traverses and narrow and wet stream way passages that made the whole trip “not for the faint-hearted. It was interesting to see that lack of space did not make me get claustrophobic. It was more a question of judging my own body dimensions right before forcing my way through one of these narrows. Admittedly, there were some moments where I said to myself, “I shouldnt be here, especially when my camera case got smashed between my sternum and the cold lime stone wall yet again, preventing me to make any progress, or when my small tackle bag got stuck behind a boulder I had just spent several minutes of swearing and sweating to climb up at.

At some point, which was described as an “esoteric squeeze in the guide book, even John, the skinniest in the party, struggled and took a seemingly endless time to get through tight gaps between the boulders. The other option was an exposed 8 meter free climb, free because the in situ hand line was very slimy and thus not particularly helpful. Not wanting to become a cave rescue case being stuck between boulders, I chose that option and clipped my cows tails into the hand line. Knowing that Adam is a very competent climber, I asked him to follow me and spot me, and give some support to my feet when there was no foothold at all. It was an interesting and awkward climb, because it was tight and boulders were sticking out, preventing my knees to bend properly. Eventually I got to the top, and finally could see John and Laurents lights another 8 meters below me. Adam followed easily, but admitted that the climb was indeed very odd.

The climb down on the other side was just as odd, but in a different way. One option was to use another slimy hand line, and the other option was to “think fat and slide down to join the others in the narrow stream way. In fact, this cave passage is an alternation of extremes, free climbs, squeezes, “thinking fat and “thinking skinny, sweaty hot struggles and icy murky stream passages. The traverses were quite demanding, because the walls were very slippery and often there was not much of a ledge. At that point I was grateful that John decided not to traverse all of the stream way from the beginning. There was one spot where the traverse suddenly widened and had no ledges at all, which was impossible for me to pass without help as my upper body strength started to diminish. A rope-sling-knot mechanism was rigged so that I had some kind of hand line to hold on to whilst crossing this section, and Laurent was happy to do the Sam Allshorne.

It was another wise decision having brought a rope, slings and krabs. Now my strength was rapidly diminishing so that for the remaining up-wards climbs a life line was rigged, and for the downwards climbs I could abseil off a karabiner ‘ bliss! It was reassuring that not only me, the girl in the party, was getting very exhausted. However, despite the growing sense of fatigue and exhaustion, I kept smiling as the trip was somehow really entertaining. It was an immense joy to finally reach the beginning of Dow Cave, even if that included yet again waist deep murky water. The Buddhist Temple was magnificent and I regretted that I started feeling a bit chilly; otherwise I would have stopped for some photos.

After almost eight hours in narrow rifts and boulder chokes, having made it to Dow Cave was a truly rewarding experience. Every bone was aching by then, so that the cold water was welcome to cool the bruises as we stomped through the spacious passages. When we reached the exit, it was already 10pm, but we just caught the last beams of light. All the hardship was suddenly forgotten when we marveled at the beautiful countryside shrouded in dark blue and Mars and Venus glinting in the skies. We made it back to York by half past one in the morning.

The next day I felt like having gone through a shredder with all muscles aching and shins, elbows, knees, shoulders, chest and hips badly bruised, and couldnt quite decide if it had been my best or worst
trip ever. It was surely one of those where people tend to say, “Sophie, way are you doing this?!, and I know that tomorrow at work people will think I get regularly beaten up by a jealous husband. I dont care. It was definitely worth it. However, they should put a squeeze machine at both entrances with a warning that anybody fatter than this would be a cave rescue case. And should rename Dowber Gill Passage “Masochists Paradise.