Cliff Force and Birkwith, again and again! by Ian Cummins

Cliff Force x2 and Birkwith x2: Simon & Jane, Ian, Beth, Steve Warren, Andy Cole, Chris, Jeff and Matt Dudman, Phil Ryder (14, 15, 21 and 22 March 2009). 

More dive practice with Simon and the aim of doing the round trip from Old Ing to Birkwith, with a few of Simon’s BPC chums, as well as Mrs Beck along to carry some kit.  Diving the Old Ing sumps with gear felt a bit strange after free-diving them before, but the deep dive through the arch was fun, pulling down feet-first to the porthole before popping up on the other side.  With Simon following on and the others taking the dry detour, I was soon at the rather wet cascades.

Normally, this is a fun climb down, done without the fixed lines, but with about a stone of lead, plus 5 l bottle and regulator, it was quite a testing climb and getting Simon’s kit and everyone else down proved to be rather tricky.   Simon and I swam along the canal, whilst everyone else took the detour above and we prepared for the short, but quite deep dive.  Finding the line underwater, Simon pulled down and was soon shouting that he was through.  I followed, pulling down and down, below some pointing arches, before rising up to be greeted by Simons lights as he watched me underwater!  Thoughts of doing the final sump and swimming along the Birkwith canal seemed to be less attractive than climbing out of the Dismal Hill shaft and so that ‘pleasure’ was deferred to the following weekend.

Next day saw the club meet to Cliff Force, relatively close to home in the spectacular Buttertubs Pass.  My daughter Beth fancied some exercise and joined the team of Steve, Andy, Chris D, Jeff and Matt.  I’d followed some of the Moldywarpers through to ‘The Room of Dangling Doom’ a couple of years back and had a vague idea of a complex entrance series leading to one of the finest sections of streamway that I’ve seen anywhere.  Turned out that Steve hadn’t been in the cave for a couple of decades, but after following a couple of false leads, we were soon romping along the sandy-floored streamway, before crawling into the sombre ‘Fault Hall’, with the classic ‘Northern Dales’ streamway beyond – fantastic stuff.  Beth was enjoying it too, but when we reached a duck, and with everyone else being without neoprene, we decided to turn back, even managing to get out without any wrong turns.

While Steve brewed up in his van, I decided to treat Beth to a meal in the Muker café, before taking the scenic route home over The Stang.  Perusing NC1 Later in the day, I found that we’d missed a bypass to the duck and received an e-mail from Andy the next day saying that he had noticed the same thing!

Back at Birkwith the following Saturday, we aimed to dive through to Dismal Hill.  Carrying 2 bottles and regulators, fins, weights and other stuff proved to be a little taxing and after an hour or so of wading, flailing and struggling along the canal, with no feeling in my toes or hands, wrestling with free-flowing kit and loose fins, I was not too distressed when Simon suggested a retreat, finding the complex of lines and murky, deep water to be rather unpleasant.  I was very pleased to plop onto the ledge back at base to get some life back into my extremities, before heading off to Malham for the annual dinner.

This turned out to be a top do, with full marks to special guest speaker, Mr P Ryder, introduced by our own Mr P Ryder!

Next day saw me and Mr and Mrs Beck back at chief Moldywarper PWR’s great discovery, Cliff Force, again, hoping to find the sump beyond ‘The Room of Dangling Doom’.  Passing the duck was fun and Jane went through too, demonstrating her Muscovite hardiness again and we were soon climbing out of the far end of the chamber beyond, approaching the sump.  Finding the line in deep water, but with a bit of airspace, I decided to swim on through with Simon, getting right to the far side to my amazement.  The remarkable slab-strewn passage beyond was followed for about 300 metres until the sandy final sump was found.  This section of cave certainly has the feeling of remoteness that I have not experienced for a while – what a great place!