The Dowbergill Method by Steve Woods

Dowbergill: Fay, Jack, Bob Reilly, and Steve Woods (2nd May 2021).

There’s plenty of tales of Dowbergill trips and Dowbergill records. I’ve been reading Wim Hoff’s book recently. He’s a remarkable guy. He talks about how we are all capable of more than we think, regardless of the limits others set for us or we set for ourselves. How most of us have become too reliant on chairs, hot water, central heating, or too many home comforts. That certainly rings true when we rewind and re-read tales from a few generation ago. Bob Leakey prolonging the time available to explore more of Mossdale by camping underground (digging a bit of a hole in the sand for just that extra bit of comfort). Leakey’s adventurous life is a world away from so many lifestyle adventurers or self-limiting lives without adventure today.

I was pleased to learn the other week that our very own Wim Hoff (Denis) has been keeping active. Swapping stories over the phone I explained how the book had motivated me to keep swimming outside over the winter and the fun I’d had breaking the ice and getting changed in the snow. Denis explained how he had similarly taken to swimming and kept going throughout too but how disappointed he’d been that his swims in his local reservoir in the depths of winter had often been limited to not more than a few miles.

‘Look how young he is’. One of them shouted as I walked down from my car to meet the others at Park Rash. I don’t feel so young anymore. My partner’s daughter certainly refers to me as an old man; though to a 14 year old my 51 years are doubtless akin to oldness incarnate. I reflect on this and the above thoughts as we discuss the trip ahead and work out the logistics; Jack’s wife, Muff opting for time better spent enjoying the last of the extended weeks of sunshine photographing some of the rare flowers I’m told are unique to this bit of the Dales.

As we reach Providence Pot, the first bit which I always find warm, I opt to balance progress with taking things steady. Regardless we are soon through the opening sequence joining the ‘refreshing’ blasted crawl in reasonable time. With the second bit also surprisingly full it’s also not long before we reach The Palace, The Dungeon and then Stall Corner.

Although the start of Dowbergill is well decorated and the connecting sections have interesting bits that allow the pieces to remain memorable the final stretch from The Bridge to 800 Yard Chamber does take a bit of perseverance. I’ve been through with many folks. The trip remains a physical one. As we reached the half way point and stopped for a break, chat and shared chocolate we were all feeling the effort.

There is no stream route without an amount of diversion. An initial flat out squeeze in the water leads to a bit more space and then a climb up through boulders followed by a climb back down  a rope to the stream, now much lower below you. An awkward climb up, (every time for me at least), to the next bit where leaving the stream is necessary, found us all through the choke and climbing back down to the short traverse to avoid the next point where a third choke blocks the stream. Climbing down to tackle the second squeeze in the stream, Bob demonstrated how even with legs too long to accommodate the short bit that offers respite, experience counts.

Just beyond this section is a reasonable ledge about 10 feet out of the water just below the rope leading up the 60ft rift. On my last trip, last summer, having completed the preceding sections without a wetsuit I waited here for the rest of our group who’d gone via the high level route. I readily confess to not being as stoic as Wim, Leakey, or Denis and 40 minutes was enough to make me wish for water much warmer and a bath to put it in. Reaching gypsum on that trip I found myself to be really tired. Struggling to climb. Afterwards I put this down to how cold I’d become. Other books say this happens when you spend a bit too long in cold water.

Reaching Gypsum this time we were all struggling in varying degrees. At the first block and struggling to climb further with the water really low we bypassed the first climb opting for the route under in the water to reach the second much easier climb further on. Avoiding the rope climb down at Hardy’s found us all back in the stream, all now reasonably cold. The trip had done it’s best and we were all now pretty tired. Struggling but keeping going when you’ve given everything already is something we’ve all thought to have seen or claim to have done at some stage. I can definitely say I’ve only now really seen that truly happen once, and then some.

As we rejoined the glorious day back outside and made our way back to the cars through a valley packed with spring orchids and primroses, Dowbergill had delivered a day of shared fun, a challenge or two and perhaps even a new record. I think Wim would be impressed.

Photo by Muff Upsall