Frakes’ Series by Ian Cummins

Kingsdale Master Cave, Upstream Rowten Series (Frakes’ Series): Ian, Simon (5th October 2014).

Unsupported cave dives that begin well inside a system afford an arduous, yet very satisfying day out – one carries all the kit in and out, which is extremely hard work, since there is only so much one can carry in a tackle sack whilst carrying 2 bottles.  Therefore this very sweaty, overloaded caver had to make the normally trivial trip through Valley Entrance to the Roof Tunnel Pitch wearing far too much neoprene, wearing waist and ankle weights and having the aforementioned loads to carry.

Simon had arrived well before me and had already dumped his kit at the first Rowten sump, before returning to help me lower my kit down to the streamway.  A CPC logjam allowed me to lie down and cool off a bit before descending Simon’s ladder and continuing the slog upstream.  An awful crawl over a cobble bank pushing the kit finally brought the Rowten sumps into view and we geared up.

The water was about as warm as cave water gets and my decision to start wearing 2 hoods certainly kept my cranium nice and snug.  I prefer to dive without gloves, as far as possible, to make sorting any problems easier, although there is a trade-off between numbness and lack of bulk – nothing is perfect.

The line on the first short upstream section seems to come and go, but 2 were actually present on this day and Simon led off to the first air section.  Depending upon water levels, the airspace can vary considerably between the sumps and we met up in the neck-deep water where Simon tied off a new line to replace the old, thin orange cord of the middle sump.  I followed on and had the first dive into the final sump, where Simon advised me to hold the line in my right hand, there being a bend to the right at a constriction. So it proved and I was able to spot the cockled wall to my right, with a gravel/silt bank to my left, proceeding through the final sections with some airspace where it is easier to keep on finning underwater.

One emerges in a gloomy, mud-coated bedding, where a further hands and knees crawl allows one to stand up and de-kit.  Walking along and around a bend brings a very pleasant surprise – a fine elliptical-shaped passage with hundreds of dagger-like stals – the sort of lonely, pristine situation one rarely encounters in a cave.  Continuing on, the water becomes deeper and the line is belayed to the roof for the longer dive into Aquamole – one for another day when using stashed gear for a more pleasant experience, or to be done in the opposite direction.  Interestingly, we both noted that the water in this sump felt much colder than that we had just dived.

I dived out first, line in left hand, finding that the current made the distance feel much less and I lay on the ledge at the bottom of Rowten with my lights off, looking for the glow of my emerging partner.

The exit was an ordeal, straining my creaking knee and elbow joints and aching back, before the never to be tired of clean passage down to the pitch, where I hauled up the kit, electing to carry out my bag, have a coffee at my car and return for my bottles.

Refreshed, I left my flask in the cave for Simon to have a drink and found that he had even carried my bottles some way back – cheers mate!

We changed, had more hot drinks and enjoyed the tranquility of the evening, reflecting upon the day’s experiences that felt even better after a long hot shower at home.