Birks Fell by Ian Cummins

Birks Fell Cave: Ian Cummins, Simon (BCC, CPC, etc.), Fay (BPC) (2 June 2007). 

Looking back at past WRPC trip reports, Birks Fell seems to have inspired people to apply fingers to keyboards and I was keen to get along on Simon’s Burnley permit. Arriving at Buckden for 9 am, I found Fay waiting and soon Simon turned up. With no other takers, we were what I regard to be the optimal party size of 3 for a trip. It was a hot walk up in a wetsuit, with a call to drop off the permit en-route and I drank half my drink ration at the entrance.

We carried ladders and lifelines, testing Simon’s theory that this method is better than SRT in many instances, although I still haven’t worked out which pros outweigh which cons. Truth is, carrying gear along crawly caves is always hard work!

Despite the relatively dry weather, some rain during the week meant a small stream at the entrance, but lots more water inside. The high, flat-floored entrance streamway had only a little water and the cobbly Connection Crawl was soon passed, leading eventually to fine cascades over clean, white rock. The impressive waterfall in Shooting Box Aven, demanded to be sampled, although examination of the fixed rope hanging here did not inspire me to want to jumar it.

The problem with a trip so long as Birks Fell is that the knowledge that much passage has to travelled prevents a leisurely enjoyment of the sights so abundant in the cave, but some pristine gours and flowstone formations come to mind, particularly the superb display in Perfection Oxbow. Route finding was not always obvious either, with the many collapsed sections and chokes to be negotiated. I entered the large choke into Moon Milk Cave in the lead and popped up in the large chamber only to find I was now behind the others who found a simple route up!

The Cascade Pitch offered an exhilarating descent, which I chose to do by using the ladder for my hands and bridging the walls to keep out of the considerable force of the water, but it was nice to have a good dip in the pools hereabouts, feeling warm in a wetsuit.

Shale pitch offered another wet drop, where it was impossible to keep out of the water and Fay gave me and Simon a lifeline, but not having enough rope or gear to get herself down, she stayed at the pitch head, having been to the end before.

It was cold and draughty at the base of the pitch and the change to black rock makes the cave rather more forbidding. We had a vague idea of where to go and set off looking for the Slimy Slit. Our first effort brought us to the dark, foam-coated Styx sump, bringing chuckles of delight from Simon, who likes such grim, dark places and I admit I like the atmosphere evoked by passages like this too!

Reversing back, we followed a traverse of a high rift to its conclusion, exploring every nook and cranny on the way, before reversing back and dropping down the rift to the streamway below. Again we followed both ends of this passage to sumped passage. We were not sure if we had found the final sump or not, but reckoned Fay would be getting cold and we returned back to Shale Pitch.

The trip out was not too bad apart from the inevitable pain of carrying the gear and for a bit of amusement I climbed the front of The Block, while Simon squeezed back up the more conventional route. We wondered why new P-bolts were here and reckoned they could only logically have been placed for rescue purposes, as otherwise they are totally unnecessary. Again, I was glad of Simon’s amazing memory for route finding and it was a relief after an 8-hour slog to reach daylight. Birks Fell is a fine trip, with no really nasty bits, but there is still plenty of potential to fall on the many climbing sections and with my light going into power-save mode on the way out, I was very careful with my footing. Perhaps a further trip will solve the riddle of the final section, since Fay described it later as being very obscure. Back in the car park I got my stove out and made tea, since we had spent too much of our meagre funds on parking fees to justify a pub trip and we enjoyed the peaceful evening before setting off for home.