Chain Smoking in the Dark by Adele Ward

Dowbergill the Wrong Way

Dow Cave to Providence Pot : Ian Cummins, Adele Ward (June 2017).

It’s been a few months of since I first visited Dowbergill at that time I felt like I got my ass handed to me. I recall the trip being one of those that sticks, leaves an imprint. I knew I was at the limit of my ability. However since then it’s fair to say I’ve done a bit. Whilst I still shy away from calling myself a caver, I know I’ve got better, I’ve had good mentors that have challenged yet encouraged me. Until I am able to lead a trip, to do the bits my friends do, until I’ve done solo, I can’t be a caver.

I’ve never really approached life in half measures; I suppose I don’t approach caving in half measures. With 2 fairly taxing trips within the last 5 days, and still feeling the bruises of Mossdale or Chapel Lodge, hearing the words Dowbergill from Ian… I couldn’t resist. I have no love of uphill walking to providence pot, last time, it felt like a minefield. So when Ian suggests Dowbergill up stream – im excited. 

I hope this trip would offer an insight into my progress. I’ve learnt previously, I can cope with flat out stuff, I can cope with water ( ish ) I can cope with squeeze stuff, I still have no major love of SRT but I’m working on it !

A Wednesday trip, several options are mentioned,  I home in on one of these suggestions like an Exocet missile – Dowbergill! Aware it’s been raining a bit I obsessively check met office weather projections… it’s looking iffy. Quick chat with my previous companion – Simon about the outing… I’m feeling excited. Simon tells me to give him a call with times, as he is working close by.

The drive from County Durham to park rash near Kettlewell passes quickly amid chat and checking out of water levels. Call out time is set for 10 pm with Sue, Ian’s wife.

Noting a bus parked up at park rash, a reminder there must be others in the cave. Quick change, kit bag packed, Lucozade, back up chocolate bar, harness in case we have to go high, and cigarettes – its Dow Cave bound!

I have always felt uncomfortable smoking in caves – I’m aware I can smoke like a chimney given the opportunity. Especially when stressed but the inconvenience and subjecting my friends to secondary smoke – I feel bad about. Last time I was in this cave, Simon told me to bring cigarettes, telling me I might welcome one along the way, I recall the stabilising factor a cigarette can offer – this time they’re coming along for the walk back down the hill.

So, Dow Cave – a strange entity. The Cave that welcomes all – Scout groups, Outdoor Ed parties and those keen for the …. trickier sections. Progression through Dow cave passes swiftly until we reach the other parties. One of said individuals probably aged 20 years old ( old enough to know better ) , draws my attention when he stand in front of me and picks up an armful of water and deposits it on my face…. he then runs away. I can’t see this injustice stand, “hoy you get back here” I know I’m speaking loud enough as people at the other side of the cave turn.

Unwisely he pretends he can’t hear me. Realising I’m going to have to chase him down the cave; his friend obliges and stops him. We exchange words – well mainly he looks sheepish and I tell him he is a twat.  I’m not really that bothered about being soaked, I have waterproof make-up so I can cope, but it’s just rude! Spotting the instructor of these adults – I express my displeasure. He is reasonable.

Refocusing my attentions before I know where I am; I spot a point that looks familiar. Ian beaming smile confirms my appraisal, let’s get down there mate! Yep – I’m prepped!

A short crawl leads to the water, and the duck. This time I won’t be without a wetsuit hood. I recall the ice cream head ache! This is the 4th time I’ve past this area, it was … OK.

Moving on we discuss the plan, Ian prefers the lower wetter sections. I’m not keen on traversing high stuff – so it seems like the lower bits are the way forward. Little do I know by the end of this trip – I’m gonna be spoilt for choice as to bits I don’t like.

The next duck is reached, Ian progresses to check the next section is passable. Returning he instructs “come through mate”. I know what I have to do, I want to stay cool, and I see the passage. I move too fast it’s not controlled, I have to hold my breath, and my face is under. I learnt in Cliff Force – don’t raise my head in a panic if you go under. So I push forward, I daren’t raise my head … am I through? Now I need to raise my head, I need some air! These seconds in time slow down, I realise I shouldn’t be panicking, but I am a tad. I realise if I don’t breathe soon there is going to be an issue, I realise my mate is there and will drag me out. When I eventually stick my head up, I’ve cleared the duck by a fair bit, Ian is smiling. Well I don’t want to do that again so best push on.

An area of very narrow beautiful passage looms – Ian instructs I take my helmet off, and approach the task sideways. My error is to not look forward, I therefore have to progress sideways neck deep, unable to turn my head sufficiently to see the best way forward. Knowing I need to remain focused as I don’t want a trashing moment I keenly await a time to turn my head. This clearly will make progress easier. Ian confirms that’s this section over with.

A thought encountered here on reflection – its fear of the unknown that troubled me. I didn’t know how long the section was going to last, now i know its cool. We climb over the next really wet sections as its sumped. This takes a little time and Ian duly offers his usual human foothold.

Feeling fresh we end up traversing a little higher than I wouldn’t usually find pleasant but the choice below is going to be limited. My thinner wetsuit is flexible which helps; my newfound love of rubber soled wellies is a godsend. We know there will be further wet sections to pass, so we progress quickly to stay warm.

We are looking for our next markers, the Rock Window and The Narrows. Reaching Rock Window feels like a bit of a turning point, we stop for a quick picture, to show the extent of the previous night’s flood.

Rock Window.

The passage continues, route-finding seems to take a little longer. Climbs and lower bits are encountered, I’m aware everything is beginning to feel sore. I’ve passed through this squeeze before, completing this task with the water coming at me felt a little more taxing. Ian if I get stuck mate just pull me out ey? – “course mate”!19490233_10211197101858008_498633598_o

Much to my surprise I seemed to pass through with remarkable ease. Ian experienced less luck as he is carrying our Daren drum in my tackle bag; every time he moves it forward it gushes back in his face, such is the volume of water passing.


Next name I’m waiting to hear is Stalagmite Corner which we passed through; now focused on exiting at a reasonable time. In the back of my mind, I’m aware light rain was forecast and whilst I know we are clear the wetter sections of this passage, the thought lurks.

Travelling the wrong way in this system has given me some new challenges, water coming directly towards my face, when low, constantly pushing against it, travelling uphill approaching obstacles from different angle doesn’t aid route finding. This is demonstrated yet again to us awe ascent The Dungeon and into The Palace. Muddy slopes drain energy. I recall the blasted crawl is still to come.

I ask Ian if he is tired, because I know I am “yeh a bit mate, I am a bit”. I actually remember this section, I don’t mind crawling generally speaking, but last two trips have made my knees a little tender, I place them a little more gingerly.

54 Cavern is reached, chatting to Ian with high spirits, we have had a great day out, and I’m beginning to think we are out before we are. I check this thought for I am secretly superstitious, and don’t like counting chickens before they hatch!

Ian usually turns around at this point, and heads back down Dowbergill the way he has come. Not for any other reason than it means he exits the cave “clean”.

Ian scoots off to look for the exit he recalls is to the right. Watching him head to the left puzzles me, no bother – he will find it. He’s back having a look down the right hand side of the boulders. I’m stood beneath an overhanging section. I notice a bit of graffiti on the walland spot an arrow. Previous areas that we have been a little tested with route finding have always spotted some footprints, and signs of hands and bodies sliding on mud. This area I stand doesn’t seem to hold any. I join in the search, it’s not proving fruitful.  We look for about an hour.

Strangely today I’m prepared; I’ve packed a watch and several other items that will serve me well in the time to come. I look at the time it’s nearly 5 o’clock. We decide to head back to terminal junction, a place we know is definitely part of the route, and retrace out steps – did we miss something vital?

Looking up at an Aven, the yellow, grey rock looks different to the rest of the cave; it looks shaley, there is water running down. I recall from my previous visit to the shaft at Providence there was water and a similar-looking type rock…. but it’s in the wrong place. I follow Ian back down the boulders and he heads off down again to the left, Ian is gone for a while this time, I’m begin to get a bit cold in my thin 2 mm wetsuit – so I wander back to the Aven. It probably wasn’t the best idea to stand in the Aven for a while, water falling on me, looking up thinking – am I missing something?

Ian’s back we have a chat – I can see before he tells me he can’t find the exit and is getting tired. He is saying sorry – there would never be a need for this. I am equally responsible and should have learnt the survey, or brought it. Ian looks a little more tested than I have seen him before, but I know he has a cool head, I know we will sort this – one way or the other.

Its approaching 6 pm, Ian has been systematically searching for over an hour. I’ve been stood around a while – I can feel myself beginning to shiver. My thoughts range from – We are in a safe part of the cave in terms of flooding, our call out time is 4 hours off. I hope that my message to Sue delivered. Simon had told me to send some details of our trip times to him, just in case. When I came to do this – I had no signal. I wished I had sent a message to Simon confirming we were going to Dowbergill. Ian adds another thought – “my biggest fear is the entrance shaft has collapsed” …. I hadn’t even thought of that, I add it to my list of mild concern.

Time to plan – Ian says what we both already know, he is going to go back through Dowbergill and Dow cave, to the car, then back up to Providence Pot. This seems a hell of a task, Ian is already tired. I know I’m more knackered than Ian and I’m beginning to feel really cold.

I have to be honest – me going back with Ian will put us well past our call out time, I’m not sure that rather than cold and lost, I won’t end up stuck and hurt or worse causing my friend strife! I know Ian can move quicker than me. We weight the balances up and Ian is heading off, to phone Simon who we both know, knows this cave like the back of his hand, and alert Sue and Elise, we might be a tad later with our return to the north east than the original time. I shout after him for a second – “Ian the code for my phone is …. yours might not work”. Repeating it back to me, I predict he ain’t going to forget it… its 6 pm.

So how do you spend 3 hours in a cave alone after being down here since 12 pm? I approached this in a systematic manner. I plan – I need to set a routine, I keep my thoughts in check, I recognise some of these thoughts might run away with me from time to time and this is to be expected, finally I turn my main light off and put my longer living lithium battery lamp on low. I have plenty of time so I approach the tasks slowly.

I quickly decide it’s not a good idea to continue the search for the illusive exit. Points I considered – Ian might come back and not be able to find me, I might slip, pull a boulder on me or some other horrible stuff I’m not clever enough to have considered.

I conclude a routine is required, so every 15 mins; I will stand up and run on the spot, and stretch. I feel stiff, and sore already, my fingers and toes are totally numb. I have a space blanket inside my helmet.

Warming my fingers I pull it out, and begin to unravel it,  deliberately taking my time with all tasks, hoping to ward off boredom. Wondering if it was supposed to be lacking any silver lining, or if my eye were deceiving me, a huge sheet of clear plastic is reviled, it’s perished….Shit.  Never mind something is better than nothing – it helps.

Next task finding somewhere to sit, deciding were I am standing is a good as anywhere, I know I’m tired. I emptied the tackle bag and sat back on that to try and offer some protection to my back, and core areas I wanted to warm up.

With my knees drawn in, I reach for the Daren drum. I’ve been saving this to raise my spirits.

My fingers are not working well; I slowly empty the contents to an area in front of me,  so what do we have here?  A tea towel, this is used as a hat under my helmet. A drink… I’m going to save that. My watch that I place on top of the lid is directly in front of my gaze. Finally I see my cigarettes; my hands are wet and cold so I leave them for now. It’s 6:30pm and I’m already behind on my “prevent hypothermia routine” – crap I’m always late.

Jumping up I manage to bang my head and rip a chunk of space blanket off – awesome! I jump around, run on the spot for a while. Sitting back down filled with guilt that I’m polluting this cave; I reach for my cigarettes as a little reward.

It’s difficult to explain the level of pissed off ness I felt at this moment. After several attempts at trying to get my lighter to work with wet cold hand, when it finally did – my semi wet hands, cause the cigarette to fall in half….. crap!

Drying my hand on my newly acquired tea towel hat, I ain’t going to fail this time! The lighter refused to work. I decide it’s the amount of water vapour rising from my wetsuit, holding the lighter away from me … ignition!

So all is well in the land of deserted caves, I’ve got my regime, I’ve got an ashtray in the form of the ripped of bit of space blanket, Ian will be back in a bit. It’s just before 7; I decided the safety option is to chain-smoke.

Thoughts that occur to me, I’m shivering – I don’t think I have ever shivered for this long it’s probably been 2 hours. How long does it take before this becomes an issue? One thing I do know is that keeping thoughts like that in check is required, so again its Prevent Hypothermia regime time . This time I manage to poke and arm out of the space blanket …. oh well, I’ve always been a little clumsy.

Sitting back down, my toes are numb, my foots going numb, my wet socks feel full of cold water.  The situations  I don’t want is to be unable to climb the shaft when Ian or Simon lands, I remove each wet sock, wring the water out, and dry my feet, and this improves the situation.

It’s probably 7:30 around now, and I can’t be arsed standing up. Every time I do initially I feel colder, and something goes wrong! Deciding I’m fairly snug, and it’s time for a smoke, I listen to the water failing in the Aven … is that rain water? I hope the ducks are not sumped, I hope Ian is ok. Thought check! I know Ian is a resilient bugger, and will get the job done.

Time passes slowly for some odd reason, I keep singing twinkle twinkle little star for some unknown reason.

I look down on my drawn-in legs, they feel tired from shivering. I occasionally turn all my lights out and listen, this isn’t an unpleasant experience, but occasionally I think I hear voices, I conclude its the sound of water playing tricks, or possibly my tummy rumbling.

Looking at my watch; 8:30 – I wonder whereabouts my friend is, and hope he is ok. Realistically I can sit hear all night, I might be cold and a bit lonely, but eventually someone will twig I’m missing and cave rescue will find me – I hope my friend hasn’t slipped or hurt himself….. thought check, get over it Adele. More time passes.

I felt a little sleepy around this time so decided the best way not to fall asleep was to sit on an uncomfortable rock, time passes. I can defiantly hear my tummy rumbling, but thought I heard something else. I’m deaf as a post generally speaking so I opt to pull my teacloth back from my ears and cup my ears …. This time I’m sure I hear something! I shout loudly IAN!!!!!! and wait – a nano second passes before I hear a response – “Adele keep shouting, I’m coming”.

I’m going to express this next bit carefully, I don’t want to portray myself as not understanding the gravity of the situation or being fool hardy. But the elation I experience knowing my friend is back, safe and we are heading out is beyond my words. Where else do you feel that?

Ian has followed my voice and I see him, happy days. Ian had remembered my phone code and confirms Simon is on his way, he has spoken to Sue and Elise.

So how do I get up that huge wall of certain doom Ian has climbed down? Ian now has to find the Proper exit, rather than the climbers exit. Even if I was feeling fit, I’m gona struggle with that. However now knowing the general direction, the exit quickly found.

So I think we move up a boulder choke, I’m struggling not to shiver so much my memory is not 100%. But I recognise the area from my past trip so I know I need to dig a little deeper. Ian tells me to head down a wet- looking crawl, deep joy. Spirits lift when I realise I’m stood in the shaft; I’m so cold nothings working properly, but bollocks to sticking around here. Looking up – I see Simon! Our friend’s come to help – this lifts my spirits, with Ian spotting my back we exit Provi.

Hot coffee, grub, towels and clothes are all waiting – my friends are awesome. I feel elated. We walk back to Simon’s car; he offers us a lift to Park Rash. Changing, the mood is of adventure, of friends and tales to be told. We aptly sneak a quick half in at the pub, and begin the long drive back. It’s going to be a late one.