Jason, Sophie, Pete, Yolanda, Ray
I hadn’t been down Tatty Wife for 30 years or more, so was really looking forward to this one. Would it be as good as I remembered? Jason had been there more recently, but still many years ago. No-one else had been before. Would we find our way down the cave? Would we even find the cave? Had Jason and I over-stressed how good it is?
In anticipation of a potentially long day, Sophie, Pete, Yolanda & Ray stocked up on slow-release energy (i.e. a fry-up) in Inglesport and met Jason at the parking spot. There is ample parking a few hundred metres past White Scar Cave, just before the quarry. The rather large elephant in this particular room is the enormous escarpment that must be climbed just to get up to the plateau where the entrance is.
The walk-in is at least as bad as I remembered. It takes quite a while just to get to the foot of the escarpment, then it’s a right pain to climb. There is, at least a vague path to follow up through a gully. The stile that used to enable crossing the wall at the top of the escarpment seems to have disappeared, necessitating climbing the most broken down section. Even then, there are quite a few false summits before the upper slopes of Ingleborough come into view. Then it’s a simple matter of trying to locate the entrance somewhere in the distance across the moor. Visibility was good on this occasion, so we could actually see the shakehole from a long way off. Jason’s GPS confirmed that we were indeed heading in the right direction. Overall, I would estimate that the walk-in took around 45 minutes. We set off underground on the stroke of 11am.
The entrance climb looked rather uninviting, particularly with the water flowing down it. This clearly wasn’t going to be a dry trip. Once down the initial climb, the passage descends quite sharply and becomes really quite impressively proportioned. Before too long we reached a short climb down… at least we used to climb it. It’s now anchored as a pitch, complete with drilled thread (which we couldn’t find), fixed anchor and deviation. Jason showed his contempt for such dumbing down by free climbing it on the way out – not sure what he did on the way in. The rest of us were happy to use any assistance available.
Some really fun passage eventually leads to the next couple of pitches, close enough to be rigged with a single 45m rope. I really enjoyed these pitches, although they were a bit on the damp side. There is an optional deviation on the top pitch, which we decided not to use. This was probably a mistake as it was definitely a bit moist. A rebelay around a jammed boulder then facilitates a descent towards the lower pitch. We definitely used a deviation on this pitch… and probably could have done with another one. It was decidedly damp for the last section.
At the bottom, Sophie and Ray sped off to rig the next pitch. The passage eventually diminishes in size to become a slightly awkward crawl, filled with projections that could have been specifically designed to grab tackle sacks. All very frustrating, but it doesn’t last too long. The next pitch is rigged as a Y-hang, without any traverse line or backup. It’s safe enough, but I wonder why the usual convention of an anchor well back from the pitch head has been neglected in this case. Again, a deviation was required to pull the rope away from the water. The pitch lands on a ledge. A short side-step then leads to the top of The Ramp, a hading rift down which the water pours. The rope from the previous pitch is tied off around a very convenient chockstone and continued down The Ramp. While the cave is not generally tight, I struggled to reverse the side-step off the Ramp on the way back out. In the end I had to unclip my chest jammer. No-one else seemed to struggle at all, so let’s blame bad technique.
We decided to regroup at the bottom of The Ramp, before setting off along the rift towards the famous duck. The regrouping took slightly longer than expected due to a breakdown in communication, leaving Pete stranded at the top of the Ramp for longer than he would have liked.
There had been some apprehension about the duck. Jason & Ray had assured the Tatty Wife virgins that there was nothing to worry about – it really wasn’t that bad. They were wrong! It looked particularly uninviting on this occasion due to the high water levels. It would have been a real “lie on your back with your nose in the air” job. One or two people had a half-hearted look at it, but we agreed that returning on a drier day was the better option. Jason had a look at the bypass, but didn’t fancy it. Again. I don’t remember the bypass being that bad, but it looked horrific.
So, out we went, with Ray & Sophie derigging. Jason & Ray free climbed The Ramp, which was probably easier than trying to prussik it. As on the way in, the tackle sack jammed on just about every projection. The best way of progressing was for Sophie to drag it behind her, with Ray freeing it from snags. I always find it really hard work getting out of this cave as it’s quite a climb back up the sloping passage. If anything it’s now even harder! The last man emerged just over 3 hours after the first descended. Thankfully, the walk back to the cars didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as the walk-in.
A debriefing over tea & cake in Inglesport was called for. All agreed that Tatty Wife is a great trip. It deserves much more recognition than it gets. I imagine we’ll all be back before too long… but in drier conditions.