OUCC Proceedings 13 (1991)

Exploration in Britain

Dry Gill Cave

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This was actually my first exploratory dive. The idea arose from a late night poring over the Northern Sump Index. There was a very attractive survey of what looked like a nice open sump with a wide open lead! Halfway along the route to the terminal boulder choke was a big hole in the floor; there was even an airbell to psych up in beforehand. I reckoned I could handle that.

Then Paul suggested I look at the entry in Northern Caves. It became obvious why no-one had really looked at the sump much - the carry in was horrible. Low bouldery bedding plane crawls, squeezes, etc. barred the way. Still, beer-enthusiastic, I mentioned the idea at an OUCC meeting and immediately all kinds of loonies expressed readiness to carry gear.

The gear was got together, and taken up on a club Yorkshire weekend. I was psyching myself and the team up in Bernies when I was told that someone had just dived it! Apparently Fred Winstanley had had the same idea, had been down the hole and found it to connect to the main passage further down. In doing so, he had cleared out a lot of old line and made the way clear. I thought I might as well go to have a look, since I'd got my mind set on this particular site, and that it would make a nice "tourist" trip.

Phil Rose, a friend of his from Liverpool called Andy, and Gavin lugged twin forties, etc, etc. through the nastiness. At first I couldn't get in at all! I was convinced that it was because of the thickness of my diving wetsuit until Gavin pointed out the correct entrance. The crawls were rendered a lot more nasty by Andy having a relapse of the bowels part way through; unfortunately he was in front, and there are limits to how far you can get out of the way in the entrance to Dry Gill.

The stream passage was reached after some effort and it was then a quick carry to the sump. Conversation dropped to zero and the atmosphere quickly grew tenser as I kitted up. At last, I thought, I was ready to go, until Phil pointed out that I was still wearing my boots and not my fins. This was quickly corrected and I dropped into the sump.

The visibility was very good and the new line easy to follow. A very nice dive emerged in the airbell. I took my bearing and a few breaths and carried on. The hole in the floor was quickly reached; yes, there was a line junction. I followed the route down the hole. On the survey it appeared that there might have been passage in both directions from the bottom, but on reaching the floor about 8 feet down, it was plain that the only route on lay with Fred's line, and that "upstream" was only an alcove.

The passage was, in contrast to the rather smooth tube in the upper route, quite jagged and spiky on the walls, though still spacious. Soon I noticed a parallel line, to which "mine" joined. I carried on, now on Statham's original line to the end. The line ran over a large boulder that mostly blocked the passage. I came to a halt and thought about it for a few seconds, checked my air and then cautiously pulled the line over into the wider section and continued round. A second similar block needed a repeat performance. The line then ended in what was a spacious passage at the floor of an ascending ramp of boulders.

Wow! my chance to put out some line! I looped the line on my reel (OK, so I took a reel on a "tourist dive'; well, it's as well to be safe, etc) to the end and set off, breathing heavily and heart thumping, up the slope. The passage seemed to get bigger and bigger, and I was only at 2m depth (on a Bourdon tube gauge, not accurate in shallows) from the original 6m. By now my air was very close to thirds - enough to make me even more nervous - then I looked behind me and saw what I'd been doing to the visibility all the way in. Clouds of silt wafted about. Suddenly I felt an awfully long way from home. Christ! - if I'd gone to the end, I must be 160m from base! How did I get here? I didn't intend to do this!

I'd only put about 10-20 feet of line out, and it definitely felt like time to go, but I wanted to leave some evidence. I sawed through the line and tied it up to a rock, not very well, I thought. Then I WENT. For some reason I took the upper route back - very stupid, as I hadn't followed this line on the way in, and it could have been in any state or none. I didn't feel happy until I'd got to the junction over the hole. Then a steadier and more enjoyable dive back to base.

The team seemed quite pleased to see me back, and pleased to hear that I'd put some line out. I don't think I told them quite how little! They went off to furtle up some narrow little passage that my wetsuit didn't allow me to get in, so I grabbed the ammo can and made for out. "Funny," the woman at the farm had said when we asked permission, "not many people ask to go down that one." With good reason.

I phoned Fred Winstanley who, in a tolerant mood, offered me a place on his next dive down there. A pity that dates and porters never quite coincided, because it would have been nice to see the dry passage he found - but, on the other hand, since it's after a 300m dive, perhaps not.

Steve Roberts