Bown Scar Cave by Ian Cummins

Bown Scar Cave: Ian, Simon (21st February 2009).

I’d spent all week at work recovering from the previous weekend – a fine trip in Dowbergill on the Saturday, was followed by a chilly but very interesting day diving in the Frakes series in Rowten, where the high water levels and snow-melt conditions really took their toll on my constitution!

As I had recovered by the following Saturday, we had an excellent afternoon trip into another esoteric Wharfedale gem – Bown Scar, Arncliffe.  The snow had gone and water levels had fallen, although Simon was in some doubt as to whether we would be able to get into the resurgence entrance.  Indeed, a quick perusal of Northern Caves suggested that entering with any water flowing was not to be advised.  Walking up the streambed, we were pleased to find only a gentle flow of water issuing from the low entrance crawl and we were soon ducking our way along the flat-out section to a bit of respite at a gravely oxbow.  Most of the cave is typical Northern Dales stuff, with black rock, not many formations and lots of water – very chilly too, so I was glad of my several layers of neoprene, feeling the numbing effect of the icy water on the one finger where my glove was split as we slogged on hands and knees upstream.

Our aim was the Scoska series, requiring some free-climbing up avens to reach a canal.  I was elected to be the ropegun and was dragging a 50m 9-mil climbing rope, climbing harness and a few slings and we were soon at the dry aven parallel to the falling water from the upper series.

NC1 describes the climbing as ‘exposed’, so I knew it might get nasty, pausing to warm my hands before climbing up the first 20-foot section.  Chimneying up, I managed to place a sling on a thin spike and reversing for another warm-up at the base, a few tugs found it to be secure.  Up again and a couple of face moves past the spike led to a chimney rest and more nice face moves led to the top.  The ‘top’ proved to be a flat-out squeeze, where I managed to turn round and arranged a spike and block belay for the rope to allow Simon to climb up with his Shunt for protection.

A crawl to the right, over sharp, rippled rock, led to the base of the upper section of the aven, which was wider, wilder and very wet, with a plume of water arcing from the gloom about 30 feet up and crashing onto the ledge.  This is a hostile spot and was obviously a no-no for the free-climb in the conditions, but I decided to have a quick look anyway.

The route is apparently found by chimneying straight up, then traversing across to the top of the aven.  At about fifteen feet up, reaching the leg-break zone and feeling the wind and spray from the fall, a decent footledge was encountered, complete with a fixed, rusty bolt runner, but such was the mist from the cascade that I couldn’t discern the way ahead and climbed down, where we enjoyed the peace and quiet at the base of the lower aven to munch on the slab of jelly that Simon had carried along.

On the way out we took our time to admire the invertebrate life in the streambed near the entrance, as well as the superb gours in the sidewalls where some small inlets trickle in.  Emerging with plenty of light left, we had the added bonus of being totally clean – always nice!

Next day I had some chores to do, but by mid afternoon I was free and on a whim decided to free-dive the Rowten sumps.  With Valley Entrance to myself and having only weight belt, mask and hood, I was soon at the pitch, soloing down to the quiet streambed and enjoying the tranquillity of the gurgling and shlooping canal sections.  Finding the water in the canals to be waist-deep, rather than neck-deep as it was a week before, I was soon kitting up for the dives, enjoying the crystal-clear water.  Popping up in the pool at the bottom of Rowten, I stuffed a floating bottle into my jacket to take out, before reversing the dives.  After the fun of the climb up the pitch, taking my time on the moves, I returned to the surface after what had seemed to be a dream, so relaxing had the trip been!  With the rat fed again, another week of work could be faced – hopefully!

(Note – schloop – the noise made by water flowing in and out of sumped air pockets!)