Cold day in Mossdale by Ian Cummins

Mossdale Caverns: Ian, Simon and Adele (1 December 2017)

A trip to the end of Marathon Crawls is one of the most memorable caving experiences and has become a regular autumn day out for Simon and me.  Benefiting from his knowledge of the place, we could reach the gravel slope up to High Level Mud Caverns in a 90-minute blur of smooth, efficient movement, with these trips taking advantage of settled dry spells and low water conditions.

The weather was carefully watched to plan a midweek visit and the forecast was for a dry, cold week – proving to be hopelessly incorrect, in the north-east at least, with several days of wet weather instead, although Adele’s monitoring suggested drier conditions in the dales and we decided to have a look.  Simon was visiting his dig, whilst Adele and I resolved to check out Marathon if conditions allowed.

The walk to the scar was undertaken at brisk pace into a 20-30 mph northerly wind and temperature hovering around 0ᵒC – at least one’s feet were kept dry due to frozen ground, although we were greeted by the sight of a considerable amount of water sinking at the scar – sufficient such that we could not cross the beck without wellies – not good news.

By the time I was changed, my hands were frigid, useless claws and I was glad to be first in, finding the way with a few prompts from Adele, until Simon went off ahead through The Swims.  Expecting these to be nose-in-the-roof jobs, I was surprised to be able to keep my helmet on, although the water was desperately cold.  The shingle management by Simon and Adele was paying dividends.  After the impressive walk down Easy Passage, we parted from Simon after he offered us a few words of advice on navigation.

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Looking upstream in Easy Passage

Rough Crawl was wetter and wilder than I had ever seen, with a rapid flow of frigid, elbow-deep water along its smooth sandstone floor and we had a few minutes of exciting, slightly intimidating caving to reach a pool at the small cascade, where the slightly steepening stream allowed the water to gain even more ferocity, looking like a rather wider version of Kneewrecker.  After pausing for some photos a discussion was had; with a thaw, rain or snow things would be definitely sub-optimal and the balance between a possible continuation and an enjoyable one was tipped, so we headed out.  One does not want to be in Far Marathon in any state of doubt or anxiety.

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Adele at the cascade in Rough Crawl

Tipping over our out signal cairn, Adele left a tobacco offering for Simon and led the way out.  I managed to spot the point where I had got lost last year only metres from the exit, missing a crucial squeeze up in a choke and ending up in a mucky chamber with the smell of freedom in my nostrils yet so far out of reach.  I had to retreat at that time to the familiar beach of Blackpool Sands and await rescue from Simon – what an ordeal….

As Adele and I exited the final choke, Simon caught us up and we changed in the fading light.  I had just got my socks on and was enjoying their warmth when Adele reminded me we would have to put wet wellies back on to get over to the track.  I groaned, half pulled on frozen wetsocks with numbed hands onto anaesthetised feet and waded over the beck.  Adele managed to fall onto a thistle and we quickly put on dry socks and shoes, working some feeling back into our feet with a few clumsy steps, aided by the following wind. After a brief blast from the wind gaining height up the track, the walk back was an enjoyable affair with clear skies and the following breeze, remembering a fine experience enjoyed on a hostile day, perhaps best spent in front of a warm fire – no not really.