On the Sunday of NCHECC I found myself rather trip-less. I had no freshers to take underground and none of the other trips going out seemed particularly appealing. I’d brought my dive mask in anticipation of a Kingsdale Pullthrough ending with some sump practice, so I decided I’d go and have a solo play around in the Rowten Sumps (2m, 3m, 8m; from Valley Entrance), having had little experience in free-dives to date, and I’d quite like to do the pullthrough trip this summer because I have a very strong feeling that in Summer 2020 I won’t be able to do the trip, as I predict we will be locked down during a novel Coronavirus pandemic.
I left at a leisurely 11am, leaving a callout with a cluster of people near Tony Seddon’s car. I got to Kingsdale in time to see two gentlemen getting ready, I told them my trip plans and they said they’d been planning to do the same but they’d forgotten their wetsuits so had resorted to practicing using a small dive bottle in Keld Head.
“you know the air is very bad between the 3m and 8m sump?” they informed me, “you can take the rest of our bottle if you need?” I politely refused, it had no gauge so it could have fuck all air in it for all I know.
I suited up and went in, rushing to the inlet where Swinsto joins the master cave, I followed the waist-deep water upstream – quite reminiscent of some of the deeper sections of Penyghent. After 5 mins of slow wading I reached a low section and thought I’d gone the wrong way, I was just about to turn back when I spotted a tatty handline sinking into the water, must be the way on.
The first “dive” was barely sumped, as I approached the site my wake lapped against the rock and I could hear it break on the other side. I put my €5 Mallorcan budget snorkel mask on and poked my face in. My immediate response was “fuck, that’s cold”, I’d neglected to bring a hood but not disheartened I ploughed through the 2m sump to the first airbell, fairly small in size. The way on was clear, but the cold snow-melt had got to my head and I had to pause and warm myself up. I decided to re-do the first sump to acclimatise to the temperature before going further. I sat once again in the airbell, feeling just as cold and no more acclimatised, but certainly more confident about the dives, I went for the 3m middle sump.
No sooner than I had put my face in and tugged on the rope than I encountered a ghostly figure in the water; a silver-white fish with milky eyes and frilly gills (help me out here, biospeleogists) swam head on into me, scaring the living shit out of me. I pulled myself back out of the sump and tried to find the fish, but alas my milky friend had jetted off elsewhere. I composed myself, remembering that I’d beem told the air between the 3m and 8m sumps was bad, I wouldn’t have time to faff around in there – I needed to decide BEFORE I did the 3m one if I was going to do the lomg one. Fuck it, Get It Done; the words of Andy Chapman echoed through the water.
I plunged through the next sump, surfacing in an air bell much larger than the one I had been in, I didn’t give myself time to take in the scenery and grabbed the line for the next dive and went straight for it. I got about 2m in before the head-cold, the anxiety and the general spookiness of being where I was, on my own, got to me and I turned back with haste, immedietely reversing the 3m one too.
I allowed my head to warm up in the small airbell before going back through the first sump, grabbing my kit and heading out, to get changed in the glorious sunshine of West Kingsdale.
Total time underground: 30minutes
What I’ve learned for next time: Neoprene hood
Don’t go alone
Sack it off and do it in Summer