Dow Cave by Elise Ward

Ian, Simon, Adele & Elise (25 February 2017). Pre cave discussions – we started with an array of caves, handpicked for us by Ian and Simon. As the week goes on the choice becomes more and more limited, due to weather conditions.  With a message on Thursday to “dust off” my SRT kit, my bags were all pack that night prepared with excitement for the trip that Saturday!

The usual antics are involved with regards getting out the house to meet Ian.  Meeting with all the normal greetings and some kit checks, and the offer of a wet suit – off we go. The talk is of the weather, the excitement turned into uncertainly. The mention of heading to Nenthead and going off down Caplecluegh had me bouncing in my seat.  The moment approached, the excitement mounted as we came to a decision – Dow Cave and Dowbergill, whispers of a duck  hang in the air.

We meet Simon,who bravely turning up in jeans and a rugby shirt; unlike  the three of us in down jackets and enough thermals to even keep Ian warm, maybe.

Sporting what seemed the smallest wet suit ever worn – we start the walk towards the entrance of Dow Cave, wind howling in my ear and rain blistering my face.  Cold?  Yes.  Excited – definitely.  Wishing I was doing what your average teen does on a Saturday morning?  Never!

I fix my helmet on, tightly.  Lights on, check.  Trying to get a bag off someone just to make life a little harder for myself, as always.  Ian and I lead ahead while Adele and Simon ponder though.  I noticed very quickly how slippery and deep this cave is.  Ian turns to me and tells of how normally this cave is fairly tame and only usually holds a few inches of water.

Today it was definitely not the case.  First thigh-height, then waist.  Once through the powerful current that made life just that little more difficult, we walked along an ankle-wide ledge.  I was informed by Ian as I neared the edge that over it was a six-foot plunge into dark waters.  I swiftly moved away and joined him on his less head submerging course.

Wandering along the cave watching my every step, yet at the same time trying to appreciate the cave and its volume, we come to a room in the cave and I just presume that the path we followed straight ahead would be the route.  Oh how I presumed wrong, as Simon crouches down and looks up to Ian.  I comprehended that the next part was going to get hard, a lot harder.  Now heavier flowing water, and high roofs, but small crawls and freezing cold waters ahead for us to anguish….because this was Dowbergill

We all pass through a tight hole in the cold rock, on our hands and knees we began to crawl.  The space started to open out, not much but just enough to stand.  The water began to get deeper this time a little too deep for me, which involved a little bit of swimming. After listening to Ian’s rather feminine yet hilarious squeaks, there seemed to be no more clear passage for me to see.  Simon insisted I hop up on a small ledge; I face the wet rock on the other side hoping that the small duck that I had just sighted out of the corner of my eye was not really the one they were on about.  I discovered quickly as Ian pulls out some wetsuit hoods that I was in fact about to actually do this.  No more than a fist left for air on top of the water. Helmets off, I see Simon swimming though, then Adele. The adrenaline had been kicking in since we arrived and I was aware of my definite fate, keeping calm was key as I knew freaking out was not going to help me or anyone.  It wasn’t that I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, I wanted to!  Just the new experience was something my brain and body were screaming no at.  I knew I had to do it, it was the next step from all the other caves.  It gave this cave an edge, a bit more than what the rest had. Going up and down SRT ropes over massive drops and waterfalls is fun and all, I love it.  This just seemed a step in a different direction.  After the go ahead from them all I lay back, the water taking my breath back for a second as I place my head into the bitter water.  Feet up, mouth and nose above water I nudge along the walls of the cave.

Poking my head out the other side I am glad to see Simon and Adele both waiting for me, with nod of reassurance from them both I was glad that I had kept it together and therefore meaning we could carry on.  The water still as deep as ever, we explored along Dowbergill.  The water beginning to rise, we all decided the best choice is to turn round now.  The risk was not worth taking.

We head back, the water colder than ever. With my dry clothes in mind I pick up the pace, suddenly to be met by another hit of adrenaline pumping round my body. What caused this? Well… I had not figured out this much, but coming though the duck I was late to work out we would have to go back through it. The airspace seemed to be little more limited this time, but I tried to tell myself it wasn’t a big deal, it would make that much of a difference.  I suck it up, Ian goes first then I. head back body completely horizontal I nudged my way though, not as successfully as before.  Frantically trying to position my body vertical at the other end I am met with the realization holding my breath would have b een preferable to getting a mouth full of water.

Out of Dowbergill we head.  Squeezing out of the entrance crawl I wait for the rest, giving myself a few moments to breathe.  Something I felt I hadn’t done the duration of the cave.  With the space opened, discussions into where next materialize.  Straight on we go, Ian and I heading off, soon to be met my not one, not two, but three danger signs.  I tilt my head at Ian as much to say “you must be joking”, Ian replied with a much different look as to say “Oh these sign, the people who put them her are sissy”. Simon heads forwards to check what lies ahead.  With him and Ian up the boulder choke it was my turn.  I struggle along the strong force of the water hoping ahead of me was not the course, I peer up with relief to see Ian perched on boulder to help me on my way up.  A tight squeeze and careful footing we all made it up. Would not have been an enjoyable occasion for a larger caver.  Now we were in Hobson’s Choice.

A few down climbs behind us we come to the falls.  The water cascading down into pools, the noise drowns out any voice that isn’t shouting directly into your ear.  Simon scurries off into the falls.  I sit, I think and I decide.  Through the entire cave I have been asked at nearly every point without fail “are you okay with this” and my answer was always without a doubt yes, because I didn’t feel unsafe or like it was out of my capability.  Now seeing the herculean-like strength of these falls and knowing the struggle I had passing through the stream at the top I was starting to think maybe the cave has got the best of me, that maybe this was for another more experienced and equipped me.  I watch carefully what Simon is doing making sure that if he slipped or fell someone would know fast. Wrapping the rope round his wrist and pulling himself into the torrential down-pouring of water, hoping he had realized with all his experience this wasn’t for today too.  He plods back showing no sign for certain what the plan is. I turn my head to Adele and Ian moments away from announcing my sudden retirement for the day, I hear Simon take the words out my mouth.  Sigh of relief all round if you ask me.

Heading out seemed a lot simpler, knowing now how to avoid danger and keep safe.  We passed though Dow Cave this time not even my toes touching the rocky ground below.  Our head torches ever more becoming useless, we reach the entrance from where we started.  Time for a pie and mars bar, we all eagerly waited as Adele dished out the well-earnt scran!

Fueled up, the race to the car began!  Everyone was feeling the cold, the sound of teeth chattering was becoming louder the longer we walked, almost blocked out by the constant talking of Adele.  Now the hardest part –  getting out a wetsuit while still hanging on to some dignity as you strip by a muddy roadside with passing cars, every head turning in confusion of what on earth we are doing outside on a day like this!  Finally all my wet clothes on – note to self: bring towel next time.  Everyone started to warm up at the thought of heading to the pub.

Walking thought the door of the pub, being hit with the warmness of the fire made the miserable weather all forgotten. Overwhelming confusion of why Ian orders a half pint knowing full well he is going to order another of the exact same once he has finished will always be one of the his great mysteries.  My vital mistake was of ordering a black current and lemonade, if I was going to get served before I sure as hell wasn’t now!  We all sit down, relieved to be out the rain, but wanting to go back in the cave.  The usual story of Simon and Ian, or Ian and Simon simulations of nearly dying kept me on the end of my seat – you would think they would put us off, never!  Families wondering where the hell we were, our next task was heading home.  We say good bye, and Ian and Adele sat in the car start planning our next trip.  Me, as per, fast asleep.