Cave: Dale Head Pot

Date: Saturday 16th April 2016

Present: Samuel Snowdon, Rob Middleton, Helen Fairclough, Mark Holdcroft, Molly Smith.

As the majority of SUSS were gathered around for breakfast, we were all deciding what trips were to be going out. I had expressed an interest in Dale Head Pot, along with Rob and so I set out to try get some other people interested in the trip. All went well so the trip went ahead.
I had got changed into my wetsuit prior to setting off and was worrying about it in the mean time thinking that I was going to overheat and I had realised in the car that I had also forgotten some drinking water. But, you will realise in the report that I was wise to wear one.

We arrived at the layby close to the cave in fair weather, a few clouds dotting the heavens and a cold touch in the air, and proceeded to get changed. The cave is fairly easy to find, firstly heading along a track to the farm and then following it round to the right until you come through a gate where the wall goes off to your right. We followed the wall along, and 5 minutes from leaving the car we arrived at the entrance to the cave.

The entrance is a really impressive Doline feature within the ground with an open pot marking the entrance. Rigging is done off 2 spits, which has to be done with care, and marks the entrance pitch (7m) down onto a ledge before then descending down the dig climb which can be done off a hand line or free-climbed with care. You will notice that the ledge has a lovely scattering of the remains of unfortunate rabbits that have met the Maker down Dale Head. Some of these remains you will still be able to find some way on through the cave (I found a mandible about 30 minutes into the trip).

Once you have descended the dig climb (10m) you now have a nice amount of water descending down from above, and fortunately, there is a small ledge out of the water where you can take off your SRT kit (of which I highly recommend). You then drop down to the bottom with care and then you have to get down on your front because the way on is an arduous flat out crawl through a stream formed by the water descending down the entrance pitch. If you are quick enough then you can get it done within a minute. In our case, it didn’t happen that quick and so I found myself laying the water as we waited on others ahead. Rob did the sensible idea and waited behind until I got out of the crawl, so I shouted back at him when it was free.

The cave passage begins as a phreatic tube, but after the entrance squeeze, you can clearly see where the stream has cut down, becoming a vadose passage and the way on is a hands and knees crawl. After 10 minutes, the passage cuts down even more where you can stand upright. It is fascinating to see the different levels of vertical erosion taking place to form the passage as you move further along the passage, increasing in depth with distance.

A stream comes in from ahead, coming in from Rabbit Inlet. However the way on is to follow the downstream flow of the stream round to the left. There are some pretties along the side of the passages comprising of columns and stalactites – be careful not to break them off! Follow the passage way along, being wary on the free climbs down where there is water flowing down. Some of the pools got surprisingly deep. You then come along a collapse where you have a choice of going either below in the stream which is a gentle shuffle and wet, or if you are a pansy you can take the route above which is dry. I chose the lower route and found myself having issues with the tackle sack, overestimating how small the passage actually was. With a bit of faff and laying in the stream side on, I managed to get through and shout the others on. You then drop down into a low yet wide bedding plane with the stream flowing along.

Shining the headlight along the bedding plane there are so many straw formations coming down from the roof of the cave, it is truly spectacular. You follow the thin bedding plane for several minutes before the stream descends to the left down a waterfall about 8m deep. Don’t go down the waterfall, instead you want to carry straight forward over the top of the rift, but fear not, you will meet all the water (and more) later on!

Shuffle along until you come across a bolt in the ceiling adjacent to a hole in the floor. This is where you want to get your SRT kits back on because the only way on is down! This is the head of the second pitch, bottle pitch, but the best way is to do pitch 2 and 3 with 1 rope (approx. 20m). After Rob had descended down to rig the other pitches, it is amazing how difficult to hear him over the constant roar of the water. Descending this pitch you come through the top of the rift, and from your left you will see the stream descending down in another waterfall down beneath you.

You have a bit of a swing across to the 3rd pitch (technically 4th pitch at approx. 15m), this is wet pitch. It has quite an obvious name because it involves descending down through a waterfall. This is where I was really impressed because the bottom of wet pitch is a shale bed, which I haven’t seen in a cave before, and then the stream descends down again, over a ledge, of which is emery pitch (A descent of around 10m).

I met Rob who had been rigging ahead of me and had run out of rope. So, we had to wait for the second bag of rope, which unfortunately, was at the back of the group and the base of the pitch had water coming down from everywhere so involved getting very, very wet.

We all gathered at the base until Helen gave the rope to Rob, and he continued rigging down. Rather than doing the pitch straight down 50m, we did a series of smaller pitches down, away from the water because the others were getting cold. This was where my wetsuit became useful because I was snug and warm.

The first pitch is only a couple of metres down to a dry, abandoned meander (the crow’s nest), and a descent down another pitch approx. 5m, until you get to windy ledge. The name again is pretty obvious, where you can feel a wind hitting you in the face, which is quite strong and coming from beneath, up and out of the cave. Windy Ledge has a pitch of 10m where you have to clamber across a rift in the roof, called The Window. This can be a bit awkward, and care has to be taken until you get to the head of the 20m pitch. Descend down this and then there is a 3m pitch until you get down to an awkward traverse along the muddy passage known as the Borehole.

We reached this point at about 2pm, which is good time to say we set off on the trip just after 11am. I dished out my snickers to everyone, and then as the others were feeling cold, we made the bold decision to make a move up and out of the cave. It was steady up through the waterfalls and such a relief at the top of the rift again where I could take off the SRT kit and walk upright. I took the walk back nice and steady, me and Molly had a chat at the end of the upright passages, preparing ourselves for the crawl ahead of us. It took me a bit longer to get through the entrance crawl than at first because I had 3 SRT kits to push ahead of me and I kept on getting caught- ended up ripping the pocket off my oversuit. But, I got up and out and could see the daylight up ahead of me and headed for it up the dig climb. As I climbed up the entrance pitch it began to snow, which was unusual because it felt quite warm, and it was sunny! This Yorkshire weather has been queer as of late, I don’t know if I like it.

Molly clambered out and we got the car keys and made haste to get back to the car and dressed. Sod’s law meant that as soon as we finished getting dressed, this weird snow had stopped falling. But none the less, I was overwhelmed with a great sense of achievement when reflecting on what I had done.

I must point out that great care has to be taken in this cave. Especially in wet weather, the cave entrance will be impassable and the pitches will become very dangerous. So make sure that you visit the cave after it has been dry for a couple of days and when you know that the weather is going to stay fair for the rest of the day. Take into account snow melt as well because we were in there and the water did peak a little bit and also became a bit murkier, which is not what you want to see! I fully recommend the cave, just make sure you wear a wetsuit because it is wet, but spectacular stream passage and formations and good SRT.