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Trip to Ireby Fell Cavern -- 11th May 2008

Group: Paul, Mary, Dave, Ian, Dennis

Having had a couple of weeks settled weather and with Sunday promising to be warm and sunny we loaded up the car with cavers and rope and headed off to Masongill lane. We parked up near the water authority treatment station and decanted the kit. Since there were no other cars it looked like we had beaten the crowds and could have a leisurely time rigging. The sun was baking hot at 11.0 O'clock and so most of us dressed lightly and opted to don oversuits at the entrance.

We headed up the lane and over the stile and then onto the next one. Dennis seemed to be making heavy weather of the walk in and was some way behind and so we opted to carry on to the shakehole and sort out the kit. Dennis arrived about 10 minutes later, looking very hot and complaining of a headache -definitely heat exhaustion. He decided to cool off while the rest of us got ready. At this point Alan, a friend of Ian's, arrived to head down to do some digging. He was going down the 'bubbles' route and would be rigging the 'well' pitch and staying down for a few hours. He kindly suggested we use his rope to save having to rig 'well' ourselves and noted that some of the pitches may already be rigged.

The four of us headed down the concrete pipe, which sported both a rope and a steel ladder for access and down the boulders. These have been cemented and leveled to form a series of steps and the entrance to the bubbles route was marked by some scaffolding poles.

We headed past this to the top of the main pitches and Dave rigged the Ding & Dong pitches. The CNCC guide suggests a 35m rope for these two pitches but we actually used a 45m rope and were rather surprised to find only a couple of metres spare at the bottom of the pitch! So be warned: Don't always believe the rigging guide! (it seemed to be correct for the rest of the pitches). Paul rigged the Bell pitch, but didn't bother with the deviation as there was no water!

Shortly after the Bell pitch was a bit of a climb down and then we ended up at the top of the pussy pitch, There were a couple of reasonable bits of rope already in place and it wasn't hard to shin down them and into the streamway. Water levels where pretty low and we popped through the letterbox entrance and followed the streamway. There was a bit of water near the ducks, but it was fairly easy to keep the upper half of the body dry.

After a bit more walking we came to the top of the Well pitch which Alan had rigged. We dumped our spare rope at the top and headed down the pitch. At the bottom we followed the streamway and found the rope pitch also rigged. It didn't take long to climb down and carry on the passage passing various flowstone formations and climbing over or under various blocks which had fallen into the passage over the years.

Just before Duke Street there appeared to be a dam and some pipework, presumably some of the work of the digging team. We had a quick look around Duke Street.

We then decided to press on back to the Bell pitch just in case Alan decided to go home early. Ascending the rope pitch proved fairly easy for the taller members of the party, but judicious use of footloops helped the shorter ones. When we reached the well pitch, we could hear voices and at the top we met 5 members of the York University Caving Club, just starting to rig the pitch. We scrambled past them and headed back to the pussy pitch. The York crew had rigged this, but we found the original rope was easier to climb up with judicious use of foot loops to gain a bit of height and then a quick thrutch up.

The return along the rest of the streamway was uneventful, but getting off the rope at the top of the Bell pitch is slightly awkward if you are short as there are not a lot of places to get your feet. We noticed the York crew had hung their rope a little further round and had used the deviation (which has a eco hanger, rather than the flake mentioned in the guide). We derigged our rope and headed up the other pitches and out to a rather more sombre sky and the odd flash of lightning and rumble of thunder.

Dennis was at the car, he had decided not to bother going down the trips and had just sat in the entrance till he cooled down and then returned to the car. After getting changed we headed to the Marton Arms (which was shut!) and so ended up at the Craven Heifer Inn for a well deserved pint. A really excellent trip enjoyed by all!

Overall trip time about 7 hours. (6.5 hours underground)