Ireby Fell
Saturday, 31 January 2015

After the misshapes of South Wales; it had been decided to have one of the most organised caving trips in ULSAs 50 year history , this unfortunately was not to be. With this on mind the trip was planned. Starting times to the extreme of 6:00am were suggested but this was deemed to be too keen. A much more reasonable time of 8:00 was decided upon. With the de-rigging team intending to follow on behind once they had sobered up. Unsurprisingly the morning of the trip people where marginally less keen and more tired than the day before, so after a leisurely breakfast in the jelly coated kitchen of Beasmly terrace, the rigging team set off at the reasonable time of 9:00. With Sarah driving everyone felt a lot safer, but bad memories of previous journeys in to the Yorkshire dales meant Nathaniel couldn’t help pointing out when traffic lights where red.

Upon arriving we found Sweeny finishing off his breakfast in Inglesport and so set off to Ireby Fell the road was fortunately clear of snow and no urine was needed to clear the ice. This didn’t stop it from being freezing when we briskly got changed in the biting cold wind. We set off with intention of rewarming our bodies and the potential of getting caving before midday. However by the time we had reached the cave a queue was in the making.

Once in the cave this became even more obvious how many people had the intentions of descending the Ding & Dong. With two ropes already rigged and a team behind us it was starting to look like what I believe is technically known as a “cluster f**k and there was some disappointment that we would not get the joy of seeing someone try and de-rig this tangle of 4 ropes. The entrances excessive use of concrete which continued until the first pitch seemed to suggest a time when this had once been an unstable boulder choke. So as me and Nathan sat shivering on this unstable shored up ground, watching a fingers turn painfully white. Sarah was rigging the first pitch, which I’m happy to say withstood all are descents. Sweeny took advantage of the many choices of rope rigged by early cavers, descending down in to the cave to rig the next pitch to speed up the process. Once SRT was in process we quickly warmed up and descend quickly. After months of not SRTing every decent felt slightly sketch but that could also be down to the morbid conversations.

Reaching the bottom of the pitches we had a few wet free climbs down to one of those passages which probably has a name but I don’t know. It consist of a passage following a stream about shoulder width which it is possible to move at quite pace occasionally having to side step and crawl under features all together quite pleasant the guide book suggests this last for about 400m but felt a lot short before opening out in to stomping passage known as Duke Street. This continued until a non-free dive able sump was met. Believing that was the end I was slightly relieved because it meant there was now a chance of exciting the cave before I needed a wee. However this was not to be case Sweeny had another option for us. There was a way of circumnavigating the 20 m sump which involved a 176 m crawl and nipple deep water. This does not sound like a route to any normal minded person but unfortunately the overly keen cavers in my group where all up for it. To get to the crawl you needed to SRT up and swing yourself in to the crawling space. So the crawl began; at the beginning I could distract myself with the excellent job which the team who had dug this passage out had done and the many man hours it must have taken. Unfortunately with people behind me there was no chance of stopping. So my knees continued to take a pounding. I was informed by some more experienced cavers of the group that this was a delightful crawl with its muddy bottom and ample shoulder space. This was a lie and by the time I reached the end I was looking forward to the deep cold water to soak my knees. After wading through water which turned out to be only hip deep we turned in to a passage which was large enough to be worth of train. We didn’t spend nearly enough time there and before I knew the prospect of another 176 m crawl made me think that free diving the sump may actually be a pleasant alternative. On the crawl back I positioned myself at the rear of the group insuring there was no one behind me. So I could take my time during this monstrous crawl. With no one behind me I could crawl for 5m then take a little break this made the journey back slightly bearable but no less painful. When I finally reached the end my descender caked in mud would not let me overcome the friction in the rope and was left dangling between the crevice of the crawls entrance and the ground below. After eventually making it down l was handed a tackle sack with the explanation that more character building was needed. This was soul destroying and made the SRT back feel even more sketchy especially with a hyperthermic Nathan waiting impatiently behind me. By the time we had made it to the last rope the cave had emptied out there was still no sign of the other half of our team and so our rope hung silently by its self. We eventually found the other group in Lindees pub; where it appeared they had spent most of the afternoon. Who in there right mind would spend hours waiting at the top of a pitch to wait for half the cavers in Yorkshire to make there way down Ding Dong Bell when there is a Pub within driving distance.

We quickly left and headed home where I believe at least one ULSA record was broken with‚ £9.54 filling the hire car with diesel the cheapest and most efficient journey to the dales that has been achieved in living memory and this was despite leaving a substantial puddle of highly flammable liquid on the forecourt.