Shark’s Tooth Cave by Ian Cummins

Shark’s Tooth Cave: Ian and Adele (2/5/2019)

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It begins.

I like the obscure; climbing at Goldsborough over Stanage any day – the same with caving – no crowds and a guarantee of a quiet day, has led me to explore and enjoy such little gems as Elph Cleugh, Hazel Bush Hill Hole, Yad Moss and now Shark’s Tooth Cave.

This had been on my list for years and I have no idea how I first heard of it, but a chance meeting with Malcolm Bass at the climbing wall re-ignited my interest.  As always, Adele was up for the challenge and armed with more information from Malcolm and Descent 102, we drove through West Burton and up Waldendale.

Walking up the farm track to ask permission, we admired the flock of Black Sheep (Black Welsh Mountain apparently) and the lovely lady we met walked us down the field to view the cave, intrigued by the unknown phenomenon on her property.  Viewing the low, dry entrance to the side of Walden Beck; surely it must also be dry in the cave?  With permission to park by the beck, we were soon back and changed into what I thought would be adequate attire, single wetsuit, double neoprene kneepads and work gloves……fat chance!

I crawled into the low entrance first…’get shot of those cobwebs will ya mate’, was the request from behind…with this job done I was aware of a bad smell…a pile of poo on the right!  ‘Otter poo mate – don’t get it on your wetsuit!’  Tarka’s little paw prints were evident along the side of the passage, but thankfully we didn’t see the little critter further in the cave to disturb it.

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The nice bit at the start.

Having surmised that this would be a tough little cave from the comments made by Malcolm and his chums, I was surprised that the initial section was a little rugged, although not too bad and there was even some calcite to admire as well as some coral fossils in the floor.  This wouldn’t last long, with the sound of falling water ahead leading to some truly nasty crawling.  A small step up indicated where the water flowed down and off out of sight and then lots of very painful progress over a very rugged floor of spiky projections ensued, demanding very careful placement of one’s limbs.  This was akin to mediaeval torture and I would have confessed to any crime to be teleported away from the pain.  With hands now frozen solid, forearms were substituted for palms, together with pushing with one’s toes, inching along, bit by bit, core straining to rise above the threatening floor. This must count as the most painful bit of caving I have ever encountered, making other crawls in Sleets and Mossdale appear to be akin to lying on a sun-kissed beach by comparison.

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Crawl over that lot!

Bizarrely, a couple of dead rabbits were impaled upon the rock spikes in the floor, their guts on display…how did they get there?  Was Tarka some kind of mutant, tired of fish and frogs, now preying upon the bunnies, dragging them upstream and displaying their entrails like Predator itself!  Anyway, the thoughts served to take my mind off the pain and some respite in the form of a gravelly crawl ensued.  Not for long though, as more spiky rock had to be negotiated, with some respite in a small, dripping aven allowing a crouching rest.

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Yes it hurts.

Adele fancied a break and was concerned about the threatening clouds seen on our entry and the severity of the situation should it rain.  I carried on over the worst of the going until the passage widened and the floor became less severe, where we decided to retreat, having lost the feeling in our hands, sporting throbbing knees and wondering how the promised showers would affect the cave.

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Near the end of the nasty bit.

The exit was hard work, with hands as uselessly numb stumps, carefully avoiding the smelly pile and emerging to the pleasant prospect of being able to stand up, having a quick wash in the stream, before changing as a heavy shower settled overhead.  With our gear lying out in the rain, we waited for the storm to pass, noting the weather-proof quality of the sheeps’ fleeces, shaking off the water from their backs with a quick wiggle, as we called back in at the farm to report on progress.

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Relief!

This was fun in retrospect, but definitely requiring a return on a drier day with more protection for my fragile body. What next….Borrowdale Beck Head has always sounded particularly esoteric.