Darren, Scott, Jason, Tim K, Rhod, Ray
It must be about 30 years since I was last here. Darren had been about 12 years ago. No-one else had been at all. All I could remember was a very nice pitch down into a large chamber (Coates Cavern). NC3 and the CNCC description suggested that getting to said nice pitch may be rather awkward. They were right.
It was a very pleasant change and walk up to the entrance in the spring early evening sunlight. The entrance is now protected by a newish wooden fence, to which I fixed the rope for a bit of (largely psychological) protection on the climb down towards the actual 1st pitch. This was pre-rigged, so we just used the in situ rope, leaving most of ours still in its bag. If that pitch was rigged, would the big pitch also be? Hmmm, could we take a chance and leave the 2nd bag? Of course not. We certainly didn’t want to get to the big pitch, find it not rigged and have to come back out.
At the bottom of the 1st pitch the misery begins. It isn’t far to the big pitch, but it packs a punch. It starts as a flat out crawl, with the odd puddle just to add a bit of extra misery. Eventually a shallow trench develops. The description makes it sound easier at this point, but it just provided more opportunity for the bag to get stuck. A 2-3m climb down at least provides an opportunity to stand up briefly. Then the passage doubles back on itself as a blasted crawl. According to the description, this ends at an awkward climb down, so being first, I decided to take my SRT kit off, dump the bag and do this feet first. It’s fairly snug at a left hand bend just before the climb down, so I was glad I’d taken my SRT kit off. The climb down was easy enough feet first. Darren then came through head first (SRT still on), pushing the bag in front of him. I did wonder how he was going to get down the climb, but it wasn’t too bad. There are enough handholds to lower yourself down gently head first. I think this blasted crawl, especially the bend just before the climb, is the crux. There was some debate about whether Tim would fit (mostly from Tim), but he did a great job and squeezed through like a professional. You could almost hear the pop as he emerged cork-like. After the climb down, the passage is slightly bigger and descends quickly via a few more short climbs to the head of the big pitch. It’s worth mentioning that there was quite a strong inward draft throughout this passage.
Of course the big pitch was also pre-rigged, so we didn’t bother rigging our own rope, which we had carried all the way through the crawl. On reflection, we should have rigged our own rope. The in-situ rope was rather poorly rigged and decidedly muddy. I set off down first, sending great echoes back up to the others as I descended. I forgot just how big Coates Cavern is. It was great to be back after so long! It was especially good to lie at the bottom watching the others descend down such a nice pitch. It became a bit surreal once Darren landed as we were then able to listen to Pink Floyd on his phone while lying back watching.
We didn’t want to spend too long at the bottom, so we just had a quick look up the passage towards Ireby Fell. We’ll be back again in the daytime to spend a bit more time exploring.
Then began the awkward struggle back to the surface. We suspected that some of the awkward downclimbs would be even more awkward on the way back up, but they weren’t too bad. The odd bit of combined tactics was required, but people were mostly able to get themselves back up everything. Tim set off out first and didn’t seem to struggle at all. Good effort! I went up the big pitch next and waited at the top for Jason and Rhod to follow. Rhod had few issues with the rope not feeding through his chest jammer, but coped really well, given how little SRT he has done. Getting the bag back up through the crux section was interesting. Rhod pushed it as far as he could, so that I was able to come back in head first and grab it. Getting it out the rest of the crawl consisted of me dragging it with Rhod freeing it once it had (frequently) become jammed.
I think there was a general sense of relief once we had all reached the surface. I think everyone enjoyed it… but it may be while before we’re back.
Photos by Darren.