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Ireby Fell Cavern round trip

Saturday January 4th 2014

Members present: Adam Walmsley,  Kevin Francis,  Mark Sims,  Toby Buxton

Report by Adam Walmsley

As usual, I had no prior knowledge of this trip and gave it very little forethought. This one turned out to be an absolute cracker. It had been on Mark and Toby’s to-do list for a while, and I now know why.

A bit of rain had fallen overnight and more was forecast that evening. Taking advice from Tony, we decided it'd be reet down Bubbles route. Apparently if we missed call out, he’d be sent to fetch us and presumably eat his words.

We arrived at Ireby around midday and saw that the streamway outside was surprisingly low, so any residual worries were put aside. We set off down Bubbles with Toby rigging. Bubbles is smaller, more convoluted and more interesting passage compared to the classic route of ding dong bell. A few hand-lined climbs and rifty sections bring you to the top of the single pitch, which essentially drops you back into the main streamway.

From here, we climbed up into the Glory Holes and the beginning of a great deal of flat-out crawling. At the start of the Turtle Crawl is an aven containing various turtle paraphernalia, and some spurious tortoises. We rested here a while. I can't remember the conversation, but Toby heard everything as innuendo and had a good five minutes of hysterical laughter.

Cripple Creek is where the fun begins. It starts with a rifty canyon passage (Numpty Rift) which Kev and I both struggled with. There is then a climb up an in-situ rope ladder into the beautiful Womack Chamber. After this, a delightfully varied section of climbs, rope ladders, squeezes and obstacles, much of which is well decorated. It was here I began to really enjoy the trip, having so far struggled to 'get psyched'. Eventually the passage opens up; we traversed across the edge of a deep pit and arrived at Jupiter Cavern.

Our route description by Patrick Warren had thus far served us well, but here it faltered. The description states that (from Cripple Creek) "The recommended route out of Jupiter Cavern involves turning to the right and climbing up into a short crawl...”. In fact the way on is to the left. By this simple error we were left thoroughly confused and searching the chamber's exits for the best part of half an hour. Mark discovered the route to Milk and Honey, though didn't proceed as we were far too muddy. Helpfully, there is a laminated survey in Jupiter Cavern and after looking at this we quickly found the way through to Escalator Rift.

The in-situ ropes in Escalator Rift are chunky monkeys and well imbibed with mud. I found C-rigging my stop to be the best option. The bottom pitch also has two knot passes thrown in for good measure. From there we were into Duke Street II and familiar territory for Mark and Toby. I was really impressed with Duke Street II - a spectacular place and apparently very ancient.

A quick splosh in the canal and up a short rope led us to Skylight Passage which is an easy ten minute crawl on sand. This was the scene of the breakthrough in December 2008 which enabled the Ireby round trip to be done for the first time. Abseiling down into Duke Street, I was struck by a profound sense of journey. We had come full circle. The loop had been closed. We had travelled from one place and arrived at another. Things would never be quite the same again. As we left the cave, the world looked the same and yet somehow different. I pondered all these things as we walked back over the fell towards the bright lights of Morecambe Bay.