Monday, 16 March 2015

The Best Medicine or Maybe Not (Old Mossdale Caverns trip report)

Another old article posted on Ukcaving in 2007. This was one of my first online trip reports. The spelling, punctuation and layout of the original version of this article was so terrible that I've made some corrections to the version below. 
The subject of Mossdale Caverns online when I originally posted this piece, was a delicate and controversial one. Most people were against anyone visiting the place. Those with the most averse opinion tended to be those who'd never visited the cave. 
But even then, I came to the conclusion that most of those people were just jealous and pissed off with someone who thought nothing of soloing hard caves making a name for himself, by apparently blowing his own trumpet online. 
I have since those early days tended to speak my mind uncensored, however unpalatable, to those who consider themselves spokespeople for the caving community....

When I arrived around noon at the scar the last thing in the world I wanted to do was face that place on my own again. And I kind of wished I'd taken the easier option and done Dowbergill Passage the other way round.
Due to having finally found caving partners who are into the same type of caves as me I have pretty much knocked having to solo stuff on the head. But with regard venues like Mossdale Caverns which require impeccable conditions you can't always be too picky about the when and the who. So when an opportunity arises you just have to be ready to go for it with or without a companion. 

We were quiet at work this morning, the weather was perfect so I took another day off. Yesterday, a Monday had been a rest day after helping with an underground photography trip down Strans Gill Pot the previous day.
After faffing around for ages kitting up and chain smoking I eventually got myself down the entrance slot. Things really seemed out of place in the first fifty feet and I think the last few bad floods have shifted a lot of the looser rocks that resided in there before. On arrival at the Assembly Hall, Blackpools Sands region I felt great! I was moving at a helluva pace and not clumsily either - clean and efficient. 

Once the ducks and swims were passed I was committed and really felt confident of making it to the end. Being familiar with the route to the far reaches really helps, albeit it is pretty obvious after the earlier stages and I was moving at such a rate I failed to notice any white trout in the initial wet sections or to stop for a stretch in Boulder Hall or Broadway. I just kept my head down, going, going and never looking back. Considering my mood on the surface I am not quite sure what was driving me onwards - the thing driving me seemed irrepressible, the rest of me observed and considered random stuff and dared not attempt to question the driver just in case it all went to shit.

With the near reaches out of the way in just over half an hour I entered near marathon. Marathon is quite constricted to begin with but quickly gives way to quite comfortable hands knees crawling, stooping and some walking. Tooth like fossils are in abundance here and in the sideways walking sections my exposed Wetsuit took a real battering. 
Back down on my hands and knees I was almost shaken from my trance like state when a white trout in a small pool darted suddenly!....momentarily scarring the crap out of me. Poor little sucker I thought, but at least he can breath underwater. 
Near marathon seemed a damn sight longer than on the previous occasion but eventually I arrived at the juncture of Far Marathon East and Leakey's Marathon. Due to some confusion on a previous trip here with a lady caving friend, we ended up heading down Leakey's Marathon for a few hundred yards, something I don't care to do again. 
I'd never been down Far Marathon East before and to be quite honest, from what I recall from maybe the ULSA Journals or northern caves it sounded physically pretty easy, more so than the near marathon series. And I expected to be at the Aven below the High Level Mud Caverns in 15-20mins. Yes, after the squeeze under the boulder it was easy again, more of the same etc. The rock here seemed even darker and more evil than what had come before and I started to feel pretty damn tired due to my continuous non stop push from the surface. A part of me I guess just wanted to get it over with and at around this point thoughts of the return journey made themselves unwelcome and I began to feel my nerves crumbling. Things got worse when the way on degenerated into a desperate almost flat out crawl which I wasn't expecting! Grim would be a fucking understatement! The roof and walls were thick with scummy forbidding looking flood foam. And I was presented with the same picture every corner I turned, like false summits and no end in sight, my lights were on the most powerful setting and with hindsight I should have turned it down though reducing that same monotonous view.
Eventually I arrived at an 8inch thick and about 20' long flotsam of flood generated foam, the passage ahead appeared to be sumped! How I wish! But after a little wading or wallowing I eventually entered dry passage and the end of the Marathon series for now. A slightly confusing section lead on from here, with a number of passages and a few small avens and although I appeared to be taking the correct route it wasn't always obvious. 
For a brief moment I was plunged into darkness after banging the switch on my borrowed headtorch, the oppressive atmosphere in this section was overwhelming. Had I been accompanied by someone else it wouldn't have bothered me one bit, I would have laughed about how far out it all was, but alone it's a totally different experience.
I have found that my mood prior to undertaking these kinds of trips tends to govern my mood throughout.
Not long after I'd been plunged into darkness I got my arse and hips really stuck attempting a squeeze into a parallel passage (I noticed and utilised the easier more obvious option on the return) and had to dig myself out and I remember how pleased at how calm I'd remained throughout the debacle.
I almost got stuck again while digging out the shingle slope leading up to the aven below the High Level Mud Caverns, which I'd heard was common if people hadn't been this way for a while or after severe floods. In my haste to get through I shifted just enough to one side and as I was clawing up the slope it began collapse and roll under me, almost pinning me to the ceiling.

On arrival at the aven I stopped for a quick smoke, which was a big mistake! I should have just dropped down the other side and continued to Stream End Caves. But instead I sat there exhausted after a non stop effort. The seriousness of my situation hit me and I think most of all I just wished I had somebody there with me. Not because I was scared or anything, I felt comfortable and composed, but it was more like trying to have sex without a partner or going to the pub and playing pool on your own etc... I'd never really felt that while soloing before and the aven became my turn around point for the day. Before leaving I quickly ascended part of the aven and had a quick nosey in to those eerie caverns above. I also vowed to be more patient and return when others could join me.
The return journey went without a hitch, I was very relieved to get back to kneewrecker Junction and at that point felt like I was pretty much out. On first acquaintance the whole of Mossdale seems grim, but after the Marathon series and beyond the nearer reaches seemed quite hospitable and progress effortless.
I stopped briefly at the Great Aven for a rest then headed out. I felt pretty chuffed with myself on the surface but not enough some would say to justify putting myself through all that. As is usually the case the buzz or high, the feelings of accomplishment are pretty short lived and transient and it's not long before another daunting perilous prospect comes to mind, you promise yourself you'll never have to prove anything to yourself ever again, if you just do that one last thing.

© Simon Beck, 20
15. The copyright for this article remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.


  1. Hi Simon in this article you state that you were here again, and already familiar with the route through the caves.

    Do you have any interest in publishing your first visit to Mossdale on here at any point? I am fascinated by how knowledgeable you have become on the place and would love to see how your impressions and opinions have changed as you have come to know more of the system.

    1. Hello
      Yes it is my intention to write a piece about those earlier visits to Mossdale. I began what should have been Marathon Obsession 2 earlier in the year but gave up on it pretty early on - those original experiences were the center piece of the article. I will get round to it when the time is right. Thanks

  2. Thanks Simon looking forward to more reading, can I also just ask a quick question while you're here, and I apologise if its common knowledge but;

    How does leakey's marathon differ from near and far? I presume its just more confined and desperate flat out crawling throughout? Cheers