Mossdale Session 26
(Simon Beck, Adele Ward, David Rose)
It's not often I pre-plan Mossdale visits anymore than a day or two in advance. Yet this was organised weeks prior. Operating at short notice avoids disappointment but it also means I can proceed on my own terms and when I feel like it. A brief weather window had appeared during the week in question, but looked forecast to break on the prearranged day. I hadn't expected anymore than a restock of supplies as far as Blackpool Sands. It's a rare occurrence for the weather to play ball, especially at this time of year. It's also best to remain pessimistic.. The reverse psychology in this instance worked. The weather front receded at the last minute.
Correspondence with David Rose had occurred a number of times over the previous year. He was keen to join me on a visit. An injury David had sustained to his knee put these plans on hold at the time.
Timing and circumstance are always crucial factors when making plans. Co-existing with society tends to dictate. Individual responsibilities get in the way. Visiting sites that aren't always fit for the purpose exacerbates this further.
Even though I'd begun posting the 'Mossdale Sessions' back in August, via this blog. It hadn't been till the beginning of November when I shared them properly, via a link on Ukcaving. I believe this had the effect of re-igniting David's resolve to visit Mossdale. Within no time, plans were made. David was attending and hosting an event at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival. An event I've been vowing to visit myself for too many years. The day after the event was chosen.
The original plan was for us all to meet and undertake a trip together. After the unproductive previous Session (25) and the acceptable (enough) weather, I didn't feel I could face another visit without moving things forward at the choke. It was decided; I would go a few hours ahead, get some work done and hope our paths crossed later in the day.
I was late setting off by an hour at the very least. Had misplaced my knee pads, the miners type and absolutely mandatory for me. I'd also left a mode of transporting and protecting the drill box till that morning.
I had to keep reminding myself the roads would be icy as I raced to Yarnbury. Adele was on her way and David was due in Grassington for 11am. With a heavier than usual pack and my fitness of the summer some what deminished, I attempted to push hard and get ahead. I've been using a neoprene back support on and off this year, for the carries. This has helped a lot with sometimes back breaking loads. My new rucksack of choice earlier in the year wasn't exactly a wise choice. One of those big dry bags with rucksack straps but no proper back system. When filled to capacity it tends to twist and puts an awful amount on the shoulders. I can feel everyone of those carries to Mossdale in my body these days. I'd been attending a regular yoga class throughout summer up until the beginning of October. This all went to shit with my nonetheless zen but unhealthy October. Smoking again doesn't help, something I really had thought I'd put behind me! I can feel the youth still left in me disappearing by the day. I will no doubt just drop down dead one day. That's if Mossdale or some other statistical charm doesn't get me first.
The carry with the drill box, although awkward in places, was no great burden. A proper bag with space for padding will become a necessity.
I was curious what the floods had done to the Depot and the stuff in the choke. Aside from some fresh sand and cobbles, and a few buried tools, all was as it was left.
Made efficient progress breaking up the boulders I'd dropped during Session 23. The plugs and feather I'd sourced from America, thanks to Richard Gibson for recommending the supplier, were a pleasure to use. The cost of shipping and import tax incurred stung a little. But there didn't seem to be anywhere nationwide or even in europe a similar sized product could be found - 7/16 (10mm). The cost mean't they would be some way off becoming a dispensable commodity.
Blood was shed pretty soon in to the session. I was backing up with a broken off piece balanced (mid-roll) at arms reach, lost my purchase on the weight for a split, and trapped the inside of my hand between the boulder and a scaff clip thread. The virgin limestone dust quickly turned to polka dot red. We hadn't got round to taking a first aid kit down, tut tut!! So, with a good chunk from my hand missing and bits of fat spilling out I wrapped my 1/2 buff a good three times around it and continued 'carefully' working. Just glad it wasn't another finger!
Even when broken down into just about manageable chunks, limestone is still bloody uncompromising stuff! Because of the fiddly nature of the work I hadn't been wearing gloves either, another tut!
Half hour later I was done, with my view of what lay ahead returned. A cross rift with a large collection of huge wedged boulders above and a choked rift ahead. I also had access (albeit precarious) to the vertical continuation of the cross rift above. If the route up there didn't go, then forging a path either ahead, along the choked rift, or down and to the left, towards a slightly draughting cavity would be necessary. Both latter options would require scaffold to protect from and support the death above.
I took a real chance (especially alone) in negotiating the route upwards. This lead to a small cavity atop the boulder I'd built the cage under. The rift continued above to a much larger opening. A breakdown chamber of some sort. From memory I'm uncertain of the distance to the ceiling above. One thing I realised for sure was the larger than anticipated area the choke covered. Gaining further height to what lay above required the climb of a wall with the aid of a huge jammed block. I did consider continuing up, but reality insisted I was in no fit state to be making such decisions.
Aside from the very sore hand I was more than pleased with the progress made that session. There was little doubt a handful more of these will bear some fruit. Knowing which way to go is the major hurdle, getting there's a given.
I exited Ouroborous wondering how Adele and David were progressing and whether I'd bump into them. I'd asked Adele to leave some form of marker at the Serpent to signal they'd gone beyond that point - further into the cave etc. There was non so I began to make my way out. I sensed their presence on reaching Broadway and met them coming the other way several minutes later.
Adele appeared rather shocked and asked why there was blood all over my face. I showed them the damage and then quickly washed my face with a few cupped handfuls of water - ouch! Adele insisted I pay a visit to A&E. The risk of infection would be high and there may have been nerve damage. I took some convincing but came round to the idea slowly.
I then joined Adele and David for a visit to Rough Chamber and Great Aven. It was the first time I'd met David. With hindsight it was rather a novel turn of events, to be making our introduction down there. David appeared in his element and commented to a great degree about how much he was enjoying the experience and surroundings.
We conversed at great length during the walk back to Yarnbury. David provided endless anecdotes relating to his almost fifty years of caving! I'd read a book David had co-written/authored some years back about the late Alison Hargreaves - 'Regions of the heart'. I felt honoured to be hearing more on the subject, especially regarding the journey David and Ed Douglas had faced in publishing this work. It isn't everyday you meet such a prolific author and journalist. A rewarding encounter it was! I ordered a copy of the book the following day. I seldom get the chance to read these days, but will be making time to re-read this book asap!
A visit to Airedale Hospital A&E was made during my return home with a speedy turn around. They cleaned and taped up the wound and gave me some antibiotics. Bless the NHS! And Adele's maternal dictatorship!
Mossdale Session 27
(Simon Beck, Adele Ward, Ian Cummins)
'Strung Out In Heaven'
Ian and Adele made plans to visit the further reaches the previous evening. Although I was wholly dis-organised and undecided initially, I managed to scrape it together, with partly charged batteries and still damp kit and met them just before lunch. I wasn't intending on a far reaches trip though. I would go and do some work while they headed off on their own path. I had my reservations which I didn't really force upon them, relating to the high volume of water still running off the land. The River Aire was close to bursting it's banks again the previous day.
The drill stayed at home so I took a short pole and couple of clips instead. A resupply of bits will be required if one of several options are to be acted on.
We endured yet another cruel tempestuous approach. The likelihood the Scar would provide shelter was something we once again debated.
Mossdale Beck was still heavily swollen, but passage through the wet bits would be more than feasible. A dam and shelf of ice extended back from the sink. Ice mushrooms were in abundance piercing the waters surface along it's length. Partial shelter from the fierce breeze above was at least offered.
The sky began to turn threatening as we got ready. Snow was forecast for the evening. I was under no illusion this visit was the wisest. My only concern were the call-out arrangements of 11:30pm. I was gate crashing on this one so didn't feel it was my place to push for amendments. Under the circumstances I would have scheduled a far later time.
Ian and Adele went ahead during entry but I insisted on going through the swims first. All would be passable for sure but I wanted to set markers and make my own judgements unobstructed.
The current throughout was a fury of crashing water. Ian and Adele had by this point submitted to the fact Marathon was probably out of the question. They would go for a recce and decide en-route.
Water levels had definitely risen slightly over the previous hours. Trout were in greater numbers than usual and swimming in the main current. I've observed this a few times in the past, but it does makes sense. It's the only thing of certainty that exists in their blind limited state - feeding time.
We parted at the Serpent with a small cairn built to signal the exit of one or the other. I was unsure how long I was going to be working for, or whether I'd catch up with them again during the visit. I left a call-out of 6am with Adele knowing they'd probably be exiting before me.
Little of note was done during this visit to the choke. Removed what manageable boulders I could from the pile ahead, but spent most of it probing and thinking about the next stage. Whether I go straight ahead (choked rift) or down-to-the-left (towards a slightly draughting cavity) a support of the menacing boulders above (work area) will be necessary. Constructing this in a way that doesn't impede on space or progress via both routes, should I swap, was the main consideration. I concluded that committing to one of the two was the best way forward, so straight ahead was decided upon at the time.
There was a definite feeling of tension in the air down there that day. Even the way light reacted to the cave appeared altered slightly - as if dulled. A sense the weather had turned topside was also strong. I would happily sit it out if I had to, but I knew we didn't have the margin regarding call-out to allow this.
The cairn, as I'd expected, had disappeared on arrival back at the Serpent. I made a speedy exit and in passing noticed my markers showed an insignificant drop in water levels. I caught up with Ian and Adele as they were reaching the surface. They'd made it as far as the pool (Rough Crawl) just shy of Kneewrecker, but turned round in the face of what sounded like a fearful flow. Snow had fallen while we were underground and continued in to the night.
Mossdale Session 28
'Knocking on Huxley's door'
Had scheduled an early start for this one due to dinner arrangements that evening. My wake up call at 6:30am was unsuccessful and I slept over. Still dis-organised at 9am so scrapped the visit and resigned myself to a day writing stuff up. For the next hour I was plagued with the feeling I was going to miss out if I didn't go that day. The original plan of taking the drill was dropped with a sense I would find plenty besides.
A light and brisk approach under far lenient conditions. An hour and a half after leaving home I was at the Scar.
Levels in the beck appeared little different to those of Thursday.
Paid little attention to the limited head room of the 1st canal. I'd been carrying stuff on Thursday so maybe hadn't noticed. Arrived at Razor Rocks and realised instantly why! Water levels were even higher! The difference was obvious.
I reached the usually dry oxbow bypass, between the two canals, and couldn't believe my eyes. Down the oxbow's entire length ran a stream. Witnessing this section running with water was a definite first.
I paused at the head of the 2nd canal to consider the situation. Did this visit, with little on the agenda, really justify taking this chance?
Temporary confinement beyond the Swims felt a real possibility.
The option to turn back was unquestionable.
The conclusion I drew for sure was one of uncertainty - it could go either way!
Strangely, especially under those conditions, I never came close to heeding caution and turning back.
I paused merely to do what math I could on what I thought the water was doing.
One factor I definitely established (either at the time or later in the trip) the abundance of ice present at the sink on Thursday, had lent Mossdale Beck a far larger presence than it deserved.
It's quite possible these were the wettest conditions anybody had ever attempted passage of those water logged sections.
The Duck, which only required a wet chin, would have been a sump for sure. Only our flood proofing remedials made passage of it possible. Unless the main Dam has been lower in the past (than it is at present) then I doubt passage of the Duck (Drown or Glory 1) would ever have been possible in those conditions.
The Swim, which hasn't lived up to it's name since it shingled up some years back, was almost just that. I was on tiptoes and the cusp of losing to + buoyancy.
The marker placed on Thursday was 3" underwater.
Boulder Hall to Cigarette Junction was as exhilarating as it was disquieting.
I let my imagination follow the water at Cigarette Junction. I could only imagine what it was like further downstream.
The really strange thing about defying the rationale that day, was the absolute certainty I was going to find something worthwhile. Enough in fact; I would've put money on it.
It was not discovery that was calling me but direction, altered.
An easier solution to the problem set in moving things forward.
The choked rift (ahead) had been the decided course of action previous (Session 27). A plan of attack had been schemed. Hence today's originally scheduled visit.
With no drill and the resources to execute the plan, the first thing I did was look for an alternative. Or more to the point, something I could do with the things to hand.
My search on arrival at the choke was short lived. A feasible route appeared, via the left side of the scaffold, to reach the beckoning cavity below. This route offered a possible means to avoid dealing with the loose and hanging boulders of the cross rift. I was cutting the corner. To advance in this manner would require placing all my faith in the scaffold cage, by removing what may well be, the very foundations supporting that side of the block above.
Time was spent improving my exit before I went to work probing with the bar. The ease with which I progressed suggested I had nothing to fear. Although stubborn the work was, little of what I removed gave the impression it was bearing the load from above.
Still! The feeling my head was in the lions mouth was something felt throughout.
By the time my one hour limit was reached, a huge hole existed where there had been a solid and secure left wall.
Progress hadn't come without the odd moment. I trod carefully throughout but my influence and actions are definitely testing the integrity of my surroundings. A dislodged object was heard crashing down and at one point I was covered in harmless debris via a ceiling crack.
A session breaking up the larger boulders, blocking this new route, will be required before I can positively say what next.
Whether the cavity offers a route forwards is anyone's guess, reaching it will not be.
I returned to the Depot an hour after leaving. A productive hour!
I made my exit of Ouroborous incredibly pleased with my progress that session, maybe even proud. I'd overcome incredible laziness at dawn, but most of all; I'd continued in the face of conditions nobody would have questioned me for aborting under.
I returned to the main Streamway filled with uncertainty about what I would find. I was uncertain enough that I'd brought the watch (part of our depot survival kit) just in case I did have to wait it out.
Aside from the inconvenience and discomfort of sitting out high water, it's not something that worries me too much. It's not an outcome I would choose but neither is it one I will ignore. My methods dictate an acceptance of the risks and the possibility of disaster. I may well have the advantage, but the unforeseen will never cease to place me at a disadvantage. Being better prepared is definitely something to be done sooner rather than later.
The first marker I encountered during my return was in Righthand Passage, placed at the Stream's limit of invasion. This showed a minuscule fall in water levels. The same was also displayed by the one placed before the Swims are re-entered.
Despite the proffered salvation, recur in haste those menacing waters!
© Simon Beck, 2017. The copyright for this article and photographs remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.