Monday, 6 July 2020

Mossdale Sessions 85 - 88

Mossdale Sessions 85 - 88

14th, 21st, 25th, 28th May 2020

(All undertaken solo)

These were the first series of visits post Covid-Lockdown, which lasted the best part of two months till some of the restrictions on travel and outdoor exercise were lifted. I was in good health and had passed the time relatively well. Pushing the Mossdale Project from my mind would have been wise though, something I'd failed to do, or even tried for that matter. By this point the vast majority of winter/early spring had been spent with the idea of getting back and making some significant forward progress very prominent in my mind. Only three sessions had been achieved during that period, one in January (82) and two in March (83-84) when the weather finally allowed just before travel/curfew restrictions were placed. My enthusiasm was certainly waning when the time came to return, but having left little else in reserve what else was I to do.. The four sessions to come were not the best of restarts and plagued with incidents. My physical state was also under question at the time, due to a virus, though at the time I had no idea. My lymphatic system had been jacked up since early April, but all I'd really been suffering from was Ear and Head aches. It wasn't till I got back to Mossdale that I noticed any issues, I was getting tired really quickly and overheating badly. I was also struggling to put the necessary food in me at the time, my appetite having gone. The weight I'd put on quickly disappeared, meaning the new wetsuit fit me properly again by session 88.

Survey of work area's (Alley Cat Series) at base.

Mossdale Session 85 - (14/05/20)

Even though travel and outdoor exercise restrictions had been lifted I still gave it some serious thought, especially whether I'd be upsetting the gamekeepers appearing so soon. I'd been ready to crack during those final few weeks so felt it was important I got back as soon as possible. My concerns though had been a complete waste of time considering the three gentlemen I bumped into on the very next trip - who were obviously completing their yearly bimble down the cave.

The most unusual element was probably the drive over, which felt like a real mission. Things were still pretty hazy regarding what you could and couldn't do and it sounded like the police were exercising their own discretion by handing out fines as and when they saw fit. If they didn't like the look of you, it was probably gonna cost. The anticipation of this definitely made it feel like the most demanding part of the whole day.

Certainly felt ready to be back, though it's been such a significant part of my life for so long now, I don't think I've ever really left.

The Swims were exceptionally clear, which was unsurprising considering that far from clement period of exceptional weather we'd all just experienced, while confined to our homes. I imagined I was the first to break the surface of the water here, as I had the last time.
I tend to think about this section of the cave more than anywhere else. That desolate purgatory calm and the cave wondering where the fuck I'd got to. No doubt content to continue prolonging the mystery.
This was the last session where I still felt me and the cave were on the same page, or that it wasn't out to get me at least. I'd known since the beginning I was pushing my luck at the best of times, even with a reasonable safety margin back then. I'd definitely been putting faith behind my corner cutting since making that initial breakthrough, when resources were becoming less abundant and did a very good job of ignoring it for the most part. Lately I was struggling with the possibility of disaster hanging over every visit.

It was while passing the more awkward sections I discovered I was flagging a bit. More than the usual slice was sapped and I was becoming severely overheated.
Sweat was pouring down my face along the final stretch to Black Edge Choke, which on arrival was accompanied with a sudden feeling of nausea. I'd put on around 10lb during lockdown and the new wetsuit had felt incredibly tight. I did wonder if it was just that.
I did question over the course of these four visits whether it was time I begin to consider alternatives to the wetsuit. Something I rarely ever have. The simplicity of that single streamlined layer has a lot to do with it.

Made a quick video in the Blue Room, then sort out the spare soon-to-be-doomed scaffold spanner. The adjustable other had long since seized up.

Stripped what remained of the scaffold from the end of Charlie's Alley, which had been there since July/August 2018, when I first started work in this section not long after it's discovery. The scaffold was actually doing very little and installed purely to protect the working position at the time from loose above.

Having just had a look back through the sessions I've discovered it's exactly two years to the day (4th July) since Session 58 when I was ferrying equipment to begin work in the Alley Cat Series. (

I then moved through to the Trench and attempted to install some form of protection in Little Shop of Horrors and hopefully allow me to enter and inspect the outlet on the other side. Very little was achieved and what I did was a twat of a job. Working again in that very awkward position, that gave the Trench it's name...
Definitely felt the draught at times and that presence of something beyond.

Made some further bits of video then headed out. Slog of a return along Ouroborous! Made some more video as I traversed Easy Passage/Righthand/Broadway and then from the main duck onwards a bit. Just a pity most of the footage is poorly lit.
The Main Dam is actually quite a sight with such low water. The full extent of what was deposited by those floods earlier in the year is clearly evident. Really enjoyed returning the Swims. Very glad to reach the surface though mostly due to fatigue. Chatted to a Paraglider on the walk back and saw signs of others back working on the fell. Even though I felt like crap throughout this session it was still a much needed day out.
Trip duration: 4 hours 20 minutes

Mossdale Session 85 Youtube video -

Mossdale Session 86 - (21/05/20)

A last minute decision to go my journal states. The weather had turned since the previous session but suddenly came good.
Early start, arrived at the Scar for half nine.
Considering my fatigue previously I'm unsure why I decided to take a one metre length of scaffold pole on top of my usual bag. Kept Wetsuit unzipped during the descent which appeared to help a little. Descent didn't feel bad at all considering the two items. The pole surprisingly made it all the way to the Choke.

Water levels were noted to have risen a little.

Made a quick video before I started, which was the only one that was useable. Even though the camera memory card is 30+GB the camera appears to only store so much. The previous sessions had not been deleted from the memory, due to the masses of space still remaining. Now I know but everything else that day became corrupted and couldn't be opened.

Straight to the Trench - Alley Cat Series. Two piece waterproofs on, which are keeping me warm far longer. Continued where I'd left off, installing scaffold protection, Little Shop. Got somewhere close then dropped the bloody Scaffold Spanner down a hold in the floor. I'd been meaning to install a lanyard to avoid just this. I was mostly upset about the fact it was barely used and one of the few tools I had down here that I actually paid for. The spanner wasn't too far below so I began to shift a few boulders in the floor and see if I could retrieve. The whole floor dropped moments later, taking me by surprise. Later in the session I deemed this the moment I used one of my lives.
Little Shop was then abandoned with all the scaffold installed stripped out. Most of it was removed without having to take to much risk. That previously mentioned heavily corroded adjustable had to be smacked into life before I could begin dismantling anything.

Inspected the lefthand side of the entry slot to Little Shop and noticed that very little was now holding up that side, which also held the weight of Wharfegate's floor/slope, or at least some of it. I wasted no time in grabbing a scaffold pole to give the key stone a bash. With very little effort on my part, one or two bashes with the pole and the chamber collapsed with the pole suddenly snatched from my grasp. The lefthand curtain (flake) sliced down like a guillotine. With nowhere to go I was fortunate the Trench and scaffold provided the security it did. Had that occured when the floor dropped I'm unsure whether I'd still be breathing.
Although I instigated the collapse it goes to show how dangerous all that time had been sticking my head/upper torso in there, scaffold or not..
The slope of Wharfegate had also slumped leaving a debris cone and a hole, which gave the impression the passage may continue, that Wharfegate isn't terminal. This collapsed moments later and my memory took on the guise of fiction. I really questioned what I'd seen, but concluded that Wharfegate Chamber was possibly the top of a much-larger rubble-filled passage or vertical rift feature.   

Spent a little time attempting to punch open the collapsed hole in Wharfegate, but finally saw sense after another scary collapse of the slope. Headed back along Charlie's Alley and spent a little time working near Charlie Say's on a partially mud-filled unpromising rift, heading SW.

Most of the above was punctuated with the making of video, a complete waste of time considering it was all lost.

Though my journal says little on the subject, I left that day feeling totally demoralised and once again back at the drawing board.

On arrival back at the 3rd Canal I noticed my water level marker from the previous session had been knocked over. Then just after Assembly Hall I came across a reflective marker, the like of which I've annoyingly collected a few times before. I suspected I knew the group and was not surprised to bump into the three of them getting changed as I made the surface. So much for social distancing I thought sometime afterwards.
Trip duration: 4 to 5 hours

Mossdale Session 87 - (25/05/20)

Another one of those on impulse. Didn't think I was well enough but packed the night before to see how I felt the following morning. Had just completed a week course of antibiotics, which had had no effect. Intended on calling the doctors first thing to see what next, that was until I realised it was a Bank Holiday. By that point I hadn't been aware what day of the week it was for weeks.
Decided on a short session today, sort the doctors tomorrow and have a longer session Wednesday. Coming to a decision regarding what next at the choke was now once again on the agenda.

First time my legs had been out in shorts for a Mossdale approach since the previous summer. Was one of those days when Sun Cream was absolutely mandatory. Felt good to be getting plenty of sun.

Arrived at the Scar just after one pm to be greeted by a family, who it turned out were cavers themselves. Noel, Holly and their baby.

Water levels were noted to have risen 3 to 4" at the Beachhead marker. Swims were a little murkier than previously.

No decisions about what next made, but feel it's important I persevere with the Alley Cat Series. Excavating into the Wharfegate Ch slope/floor was one idea, though it's a big job and I'd have to scaffold/shore my way into it, possibly making use of the bedding, which extends away from the Pot/Fluted Column to the left of Wharfegdate, as an addition. Earlier in the sessions I'd considered digging down into the slope/floor against the backwall, but now I know it's dangerously false that's a no go.

Partially cleared out the area around the Pot/Fluted Column, the stuff I'd dumped in there from Little Shop.. If I can push the shoring I have back into Wharefgate and make a little more room, accessing the bedding may be a little more feasible. At present it's almost impossible to make use of due to the squeeze to access it from the Trench.
Work position on knees began to annoy me very quickly today.

Made video of Easy Passage/Righthand/Broadway during the return again, this time with better lighting. I will add this to a later video. Had a drink from the stream on arriving back at Broadway, was so thirsty! Water is not something I generally carry while underground due to it's weight. Brian Judd told me he'd never had any problems drinking the water in there so that's good enough for me.

Whilst crossing Boulder Hall, a set route I stick-to religiously, I detoured slightly to the side and stepped on an apparently large flat block. Next moment I was flat on my back atop the not so firm rocking block, glad not to be hurt and cursing myself for straying from the usual program. That was now two incidents over two consecutive sessions. I said to Gina afterwards that if things come in three's then I'm in for at least one other.

Took the much longer but more direct route back to Yarnbury, via Gill House Beck, in the hope of catching others active on the fell, which I did. If I hadn't felt wasted enough post Mossdale then I definitely did after the hike back. There is little escape from Solar Radiation up there.
Trip duration: 3 hours

Mossdale Session 88 - (28/05/20)

Wednesday was postponed for Thursday due to a blood test first thing, which was enough of excuse to have an easy day. Spent the day in Burnsall after at least making an attempt. Made it ten minutes down the track from Yarnbury before I called it.

Took me two weeks to write this in Journal, which sums up my post session mood without the need for much else.
I now know I was ill, but at the time I really thought it was just me beginning to lose it for good.

If only....

I think I was worn out before I'd even started on everyone of these four visits.

The lower choke was visited before I got started on this one, large pinch bar was grabbed and an effort was made to see if I could feel any moving air. Only Featherstone and area around the Healey Av/Pas Grave junction were actually inspected.

Back in the Trench an attempt was made to push the retaining wall back/further into Wharfegate Chamber. Some of the slope was removed to allow this, but one large boulder down low requires shifting if any progress is to be made accessing the left bedding.
I was wary at this point about being in the firing line of several precarious blocks positioned at the top of the slope in Wharfegate. These had barely registered before the collapse of the slope, but were now an obvious hazard, though not enough of one considering I continued regardless, without any form of shield, working directly in the firing line.
At some point after struggling to make any real progress pushing the shoring back and realising I couldn't continue winging-it any longer, I decided enough was enough. I would get all the remaining scaffold out of there, back to Charlie's Alley, and start a fresh if/when the time came.

Flooding has washed away a lot of the mud that once resided here. Especially off the ramp that lead to the aven at the end of Charlie's Alley. At the same time it's also exposed lots of instability. It did occur that maybe I should leave this area for a few floods, in the hope more of the Wharefegate slope is washed away, but I can't ignore the fact I've the resources to at least begin forging a route there.

Anyway, whilst clearing out, a small stone whizzed by my head followed by the sense something bigger was on it's way. There's nowhere to go in the trench due to the awkward exit, so I backed-up as far as I could immediately. No sooner had I shifted from where I was a block landed right there and cracked the back of my hand. If I was in shock it was from disbelief I'd escaped with only a sore hand, or the matter it had stopped and not bounced on impact with the ground, which was due to my matting, the mud or the flat sided angular nature of the block.

The camera was with me that day but I made no video, nor felt like it. I will get some video of the block and the situation there next session.

Spent five/ten minutes back in Charlie's Alley checking my now swollen hand and listening for anymore collapse. Made decision to leave the clear out till next time when things had settled a little. As I write we've just had a week or two of on/off heavy rain, more than enough to penetrate this region, though I doubt enough to make any radical changes.
Something else I noticed whilst passing Rightism during this series of visits was the undermining that's occurred under the block which forms the step down, and that key boulder to the side I shaved to gain entry to the White Hotel. Fortunately it's easy work to solve this, but I do need to think about it sooner rather than later, can't afford to get stuck on the wrong side.

Before leaving I did a little further work enlarging entry to the SW rift near Charlie Says.

Exit from Ouroborous was a soul sapping bastard.

A very slow plod back to the car followed.

Even though I'm back it feels very different to what it was. The Mossdale Sessions of 2017/18 were bathed in Neon Light. Whereas now it's just a dim reality. I'm obviously very glad to still be in the game up there. I guess it will just take time for me to re-adjust.

Trip duration: 4 to 5 hours   


© Simon Beck, 2020. The copyright for this article and photographs, remains with the author. It should not be reproduced without permission.


  1. Fucking hell Simon! You must have been a cat in a previous life! is Charlie Says named after the Prodigy tune? Is there any draught in the Wharfegate chamber? In my humble opinion it sounds like this area may well be worth pursuing with great caution. Stay safe mate [and I’m not just talking about Covid]

  2. Hey! Yeah Prodigy and a friend's much loved Cat which had sadly passed away when I first started working there.. Yes the Alley Cat series and area around Wharfegate has always had an airy, well ventilated feel to it.