Myers’ Passage, Fairy Holes, Weardale by Ian Cummins

Ian and Adele, 5/01/2019

After many trips into Fairy Holes, this final section of the cave had to be investigated.  A previous attempt at a surveying trip a few years previous had ended when my companions lost interest, so I felt fortunate to have the ever-keen Adele in support this time.  I had a feeling that this passage needed a thorough survey and investigation, since information on it is sparse and NC1 devotes a dozen words to it, which I surmise are incorrect….since a very comptetent acquaintance said he had given up trying to get to the end after an eternity of crawling.

Having been in Mossdale a couple of days prior, double kneepads were in order and the cold, but dry and windless morning found us at the cave before mid-day, with no gate or lock problems this time.  Unlocking the outer gate, a scurrying half-ermine stoat caught my eye as I scuttled into the pipe and with this task performed I slid out to let Adele carry in the bags of jackets and other warm kit for the exit walk, plus a small pack of soup, munchies and my chum’s ciggies.

We know this cave well now and with the water being quite low and clear we were soon at The Choir, a place that holds a special place in my memory, with only one deviation from the stream level the whole way.  A quick break to have some soup for me and nicotine for Adele, as well as taking in the gloomy grandeur of the chamber, saw us leaving the bag behind, with Adele carrying her phone as a camera.  The pit traverse was swifly performed by my chum as we followed the sinuous crawls of Via Dolorosa, remembering the mantra of ‘if in doubt, keep right’, but this all went smoothly and passing the pits down to the impassable stream below, we soon made the exit to Sarcophagus Chamber, so easily at the squeeze this time, I felt sure it was ahead!

I was pretty sure our objective was immediately up on the right, asking Adele to wait whilst I checked it out…..a scramble up some dry muck….a tight little crawl….maybe over the block?  The mantle performed, I crawled on, impressed by the unfolding architecture of the place, sliding back under the block this time to ask Adele to follow.

49653979_786376998377318_5150429707967135744_n Performing the mantle onto the block to enter Myers’ Passage….one can crawl under it!

I was expecting a tight struggle, but much of the going was pleasant hands and knees going, with the occasional walking section as a bonus and just as we thought the end was nigh, another bend yielded more ruggedly-walled crawling.

50060781_546402322542267_6585226115164405760_n49898594_377058786402598_7374255411811057664_n Some of the fine passages in the initial sections.

Much of the passage here is walled by mineralised mud and its relatively pristine nature attests to the low volume of passing traffic – take care please if you come this way.

With some evidence of previous human passage observed due to floor markings, we continued to find a fine, mineralised pit, about 2m deep…the end?  A quick climb down revealed more and more crawling, casting further doubt to the 275m stated in NC1.  With Adele down the climb, we continued on and on.  49896620_501990796958111_644034413369229312_n49315628_2026019271024309_1904682657061535744_nThe mineral-walled black pit!

Again, in contrast to the vague surveys I have seen of a single, straight passage, we found the going to be much like Via Dolorosa, with jointed bends, small offshoots, much mineralisation and a definitite bifurcation, where we chose to follow the draughting right-hand branch.

Finally reaching an undisturbed floor, save for the many worm casts, a squeeze under flake yielded another 50m or so of tight going, where a jutting chert obstruction led me to call it a day, with more black, shiny-walled squeezing beyond.  My internal compass, for what it’s worth, gave me the impression of heading back towards The Choir, probably totally wrong, but we resolved to return and re-survey.

As I returned to Adele, feeling rather tired, we faced the daunting prospect of crawling back out, having found this section of the cave to yield a far harder trip than that to the upstream sump…..

Muddied pads kept slipping off, stopping to re-adjust…..pausing for a breather……which way…..to the left….keep ticking it off…..and finally popping out to spot my chum over the pit traverse back into The Choir and some welcome soup.  45478383_189179441992026_8299576935726448640_nMy favouite cave chamber!

Only the streamway to go!  Adele will freely admit that the boulder obstacles on the way are not her favourites and it was a case of steady away to the end, always being confused by which bit of vadose trench was the final one, telling my companion that this was surely the last 3 times!

Spotting a solitary white trout, we thankfully exited the final muddy crawl to gain the entrance chamber.  Adele flung the bags out to be carried by the flow, as I gratefully locked up without any bother.

The total darkness of the night and our failing lights led us to get a little lost in the quarry, thankfully re-tracing our steps before going too far wrong, with only the miserable change to be done, where I was glad to have worn a Lifa shirt to take off the shock of the wetsuit unpeel, whilst Adele stuck her toes into the car vents to get some life back into them.

A final task of texting the keeper and we decided to head up-dale to the pub in St John’s Chapel – good call!  Kudos to Adele for the fine pics and commitment to this tough day out, as we resolved the next trip should have a sunny exit!