Ireby II: Ian, Simon, Duncan (BCC), with thanks to Neil and George (RRCPC) (5th April 2008).
‘April is the cruellest month’ – not my original words, but however they were meant, they seemed very appropriate for the return of winter after a few mild days, with snow on the hills making for tough conditions for new-born lambs, putting the mild discomfort of a chilly outdoor change into perspective.
I’d been in touch with Richard Bendall about digging progress in Ireby near the sump, not knowing anything about the other dig in progress and he suggested we have a look at this recent link into Ireby II. With a few sketchy details from Richard’s e-mail, I enlisted Simon for the trip and Duncan was keen, although a little pensive, given recent reporting of the trip in Descent! With more helpful information gleaned from Dave Ramsey, we headed off for the cave with only a 50m rope for the Bubbles Route. Whilst unpacking the rope by the entrance, 2 other chaps appeared, also heading the same way and when it turned out that Neil and George were openers and experts of the route, we agreed to follow them through and use their rope in place on the pitch. It was interesting to meet former Durham student George, having been in touch with him by e-mail regarding the mysterious hanging rope in Langstroth Pot (see past report)!
Neil led down to the pitch head and I was first down the descent, having worn my harness from the entrance and had a bit of a struggle to get the fat, muddy rope into my Stop. From the bottom of the pitch, a short crawl led to the main route and an almost immediate step up into a higher-level crawl. Neil commented that Simon and I would be hot in our wetsuits in the long crawls, with the Red Rose team setting a fast pace on the low section that followed and we met up at a slight enlargement in the dry passage, where I immediately regretted my lack of any food or drink, having an ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ fantasy beer moment, before the lower, more strenuous, crawling continued on and on!
The passage then changed in character to strenuous, slippery traversing, leading to a rest before the rope-ladder climbs began. These climbs are only short, but muddy and require a lot of care, particularly if like the author, you haven’t brought a belt and cowstails! Passing a superb, taped-off stal boss, with its companion orange formation high above, we slid down several tricky obstacles that the Red Rose lads had as dialled as I have the boulder problems at my favourite crags, with another fine stal, straw and helictite grotto adjacent to a roped slide, perhaps requiring taping before much more traffic comes this way. A handline traverse above a deep pit on this part of the trip also focussed the mind of the protectionless author, with very careful footwork required!
An unlikely climb up gained some draught and the site of the recent breakthrough, where a bit of tight crawling led us to the magnificence of Jupiter Chamber. Here Neil and George arranged their mugs under convenient drips to collect fresh water and sorted their gear for their explorations, whilst we headed up the opposite side of the chamber towards the sound of the streamway. After passing through a muddy section with material like molybdenum grease underfoot, we reached a knotted rope at the descent to the streamway. Not having any ideas about what lay up or downstream, we decided to go up the fine passage, where eventually an Echo Pot-like duck was passed into a flat-out, silty-floored squeeze. Digging through this for a few feet, I came to a bend where falling water could be heard, but given that I would have to worm my way through the muddy floor, I reversed. Back in the more comfortable passage, George appeared, complete with spade to dig through the aforementioned obstruction and thanking him for his help on the trip, we wished him good luck and headed out. Finding Duncan back at the lads’ tuck shop, we eyed the tempting array of chocolate goodies and set off out. Unfortunately Neil was off exploring, so some belated thanks are in order!
Passing the traverse in reverse was a bit more tricky at a baggy section of rope, but with the ladder climbs and the strenuous traverse negotiated by all, I decided to motor out to get to my food in the car, also feeling uncomfortable due to an aching shin and from the gravel lodged in my kneecaps, having wormed its way down my wetsuit!
I emerged into a snow shower, although the sun was still shining over to the west and my quick change by the car was completed before the snow got much heavier. Simon and Duncan arrived later, relieved to see me still there in case I had forgotten that I had Simon’s car keys with me (actually his wife’s car keys!).
This is a fine, strenuous trip and we will return to check out Duke Street II, carrying some provisions next time. Again, many thanks to Richard and the Red Rose lads for the info. and directions.