Dowbergill – End of the Decade by Ian Cummins

Dowbergill: Leif & Ian (31st December 2009).

Remembering the same week last year, with its cold, settled weather, I was hoping to have an equally productive time this Christmas holiday.  However, having struggled to get to Langstrothdale in the hope of diving, I was unable to even to park my car and returned home to go for a run instead.  A few days later and with not too much extra snow, a new plan was formulated.  With Scandinavian-named Darlingtonian Leif for company on his first cave trip, I decided to have a look into Dow and go along Dowbergill Passage to the Rock Window and back.

I’d managed to convince Leif that the best caving in Yorkshire was in Wharfedale and that although there were some caves to the west of Ingleton, they were just nasty wee-smelling holes full of students and string hangers and like French caving, just glorified hill walking!  Well, that’s my opinion.

A freezing-cold New Year’s Eve saw us make the tricky journey to Park Rash, via Buckden, as I reckoned that the Coverdale road would be impassable and we managed to park in front of the shed after a bit of shovel work to clear the banks left by the snow plough.  Canoeist and climber Leif was well-equipped with a wetsuit and kayaking jacket, as I’d informed him of the neck-deep water that we would encounter and I’d also warned him to watch out for his knee, recently reconstructed after a nasty tumble from his boat!

The walk up the valley over pristine snow banks was picture postcard stuff, with the snow flurries making me a bit concerned about the return journey and the white landscape only interrupted by the mobile brown forms of the abundant rabbit population as they ran for their burrows upon our approach.

Making progress into the cave, the water was indeed cold, but crystal-clear and with Leif feeling warm and enjoying the experience, we were soon negotiating the low-airspace section of canal below Gypsum Traverse, which is one of my favourite sections of cave anywhere, scooting along sideways, helmet held ahead, with feet pushing on the sandy floor and only one’s head out of the frigid water.  Being rather lanky and not quite used to cave movement, Leif was some way back and when he appeared, I noticed that his kayaking top seemed to be holding air quite nicely and wedging in the narrow confines of the passage like an inflated lifejacket.

After negotiating the more pleasant passage to the Rock Window, we returned, with 1 slight hiccup when we encountered the sumped section where I had pulled Beth through on our trip last year.  We had chimneyed over this on the way upstream, but Leif didn’t fancy diving through and having long legs and a fragile knee, he couldn’t make the slippery moves out of the water to repeat the manoeuvre on the way out, forcing a retreat to climb up to the traverse and descend the fixed line back to the canal.

Pausing again to admire the optical illusion that is the flowstone below Buddhist’s Temple, we were soon out in the chilly air, where I was pleased to don my jacket that I had stashed in a poly bag.  The always-treacherous slimy limestone of the streambed was carefully negotiated and the snow-covered path was followed back to the road.

Leif compared the chilly change to some of his winter surfing experiences and we had to stop off at Cray for refreshment on the way home.  Last trip of the decade!