Tatham Wife Hole: Ian, Simon (6 January 2008).
Driving down to Catterick on Friday evening to see Moldywarper John Dale’s excellent slide show on Swaledale caves and mines, the rain was so intense that I had doubts about doing anything outdoors over the weekend and I wasn’t too surprised when Gen cancelled the Ireby trip. Since Saturday was miserable, but not actually bucketing down, I hatched a plan and Simon was keen to get out as well. Reasoning that Tatham Wife is high up and steep, I reckoned we would be able to do most of the cave and since Sunday dawned brightly in the North East, I was pleased to have made the effort of getting up. Driving past Ingleborough to meet Simon in the café, clouds obscured the summits of the 3 peaks and patches of snow were still apparent, together with a slight drizzle, but at least there was no full-on rain.
Arriving in Inglesport, the Lakes climbers were already ensconced at a table and asked me what the weather was like east of the Pennines, before returning to what seemed to be a pub quiz – sorry lads, the D in FDR was for Delano, not Delaware, one point to me! There was also a large throng of cavers from Earby, ULSA and probably other groups as well, all getting very excited about pumps and other paraphernalia down Ireby, so it would not have been particularly pleasant down there for the meet anyway.
Following Simon to the lay-by, it was sufficiently cold for me to don my wetsuit in the car and put on duvet, hat and gloves for the walk-in. This walk might be a decent day out in itself for a lot of folk, being steep going through a notch in the scar, following cairns, to eventually reach the boggy plateau, not too far from Quaking Pot.
There was a decent flow of water down the entrance, but nothing too dramatic and easy going leads quite steeply down into a large, impressive chamber.
The cave is what Simon calls a ‘gear washer’, offering superb, clean caving for the whole trip and some of my still off-white ropes from Trapdoor got a good clean. Simon took the lead and rigged, fixing a rope for the first, short pitch for emergency only, since this is a steady climb, until the increasing roar of water indicated the head of the big pitch, split by a ledge, which we rigged with a 50m rope. We noticed that several of the P-hangers in the cave had a lot of flex and whilst they are all horizontal placements and unlikely to pull out, we wondered if the resin was not quite perfect. I’ve certainly heard of cases at Kilnsey crag where batches of resin have failed to set on some bolted routes, necessitating replacement.
After more pleasant stream caving, the proper 3rd pitch and ramp were rigged with a 30m rope, although we climbed down the ramp on the fine, white, spray-lashed rock – great fun! The duck soon follows and we were able to get through this without total immersion after removing helmets and donning hoods, although the squeeze directly above might be possible for the very thin and Simon reckoned that a bypass climb up had been rigged on a prior trip.
Much of the passage is impressively high and some fine formations are scattered throughout to maintain one’s attention and after descending the final pitch we were soon at a low, wet section. Simon suggested I go first, to enjoy the sight of the undisturbed foam on the long hands and knees section of passage leading to the sump. After following the dive line for quite a way, with numbing hands and feet, we reversed when the airspace reduced to a few inches – an impressive section of cave indeed!
On the way out we inspected the North Branch inlet – again a fine section of high, narrow passage, eventually closing down, but well worth a look.
On the way out I noticed how steep the cave is, making progress quite strenuous, despite Simon carrying most of the gear, but very enjoyable at the same time. We emerged after a pretty quick trip of about 3 hours of very pleasant caving. As it says in NC2, this is a superb pot.