Dowbergill, 14th January Brrrrrr!

Gareth and Darren, knowing that we had undertaken the traverse from Providence Pot to Dow Cave on 2 previous occasions, had asked if they could be included on a further trip. What further trip?!! Was my response. The first time had taken us 6 and a half hours and was replete with arguments caused by neither of us knowing at what point it was safe to descend, several wrong descent decisions, a very scarey traverse and feeling bloody cold. The second time had been faster (just over 4 hours) but this was more by luck than judgement. We didn’t find the scarey traverse and instead found a rigged line down to the streamway. We had ventured along to the swim under the boulder but, without having read up on how long a complete submersion was needed, we retreated and climbed up onto the Gypsum Traverse in a near hypothermic state. On the positive side, it was a sunny day and we warmed up considerably with the long walk back to Kettlewell.

This time, the date chosen followed the snowfall and coincided with the snowmelt. Andy and I checked out the possibility of leaving a car at the end, feeling sure Gareth had a 4 by 4. He doesn’t—so even the drive to Dow was quite eventful! We almost got the correct gear in correct cars. Gareth was left at the end without shoes (& I’d left home in wellies, so had none either) and the flask of hot drink was left in the car at Kettlewell. But beer and tea bread were ready for us on exit.

A beautiful walk through the snow was followed by a swift passage through the entrance series. I could remember it all—except the Blasted Crawl through muddy water—how could I forget that! About 1.5h into the trip saw us enjoying hot chocolate in the 800yd Chamber—the half way point in distance terms. I had managed to get very wet and so was beginning to feel cold but everyone else had successfully navigated the climbs, traverses and squeezes staying relatively dry.

‘Is this Brew Chamber?’ was the much asked question over the next 2.5hrs. We did several boulder choke climbs and several squeezes at stream level, but still nothing fell into place. And it was only a short distance on the survey. We knew when we had reached the choke though. A dodgy handline stretched 12m up the vertical rift and was navigated without (major) incident by Darren and Andy. Gareth and myself had considerably more difficulty. By the time Gareth had reached the top I had tried on 3 occasions to squeeze myself through the very awkward short cut (an upwards and leftwards squeeze that wouldn’t let me through) and I had lost functional use of all points of contact before it was my turn to climb. Needless to say, Andy and Darren did a fantastic job of hauling me up the difficult bits and soon (ish) we were all in Brew Chamber.

We found the line down to the stream again and so, 20 minutes later we were standing in water, in an impressive rift passage varying between sideways walking and thrutchy traversing just above the water level. The levels had risen in the time we’d spent in the cave and the final portion of the passage to the sumped boulder necessitated a helmets off, chin (just about) above water level approach. On arrival at the boulder, there was no going back—we were far too cold by this point. So, aided by Andy’s leg as a dive line, one by one we submerged and re-emerged, ecstatic at having survived the ordeal! 

Dow Cave is an amazing passage and we did stop twice for Gareth’s photo shoots but, teeth chattering uncontrollably, we probably didn’t appreciate it’s full geological worth….well there was a beer and tea bread waiting!