Volume 32 Number 3 Article 6
The Dowbergill Traverse
Team: Dave Edland, Terry Regan, Peter and Julie Mohr, Dave Wotsit and Paul Wilkinson.
Many, many years ago when I was truly a youth and not the pretend youth I am now I had the good fortune to do the Providence Pot to Dow Cave traverse. At the tender and impressionable age of sixteen and armed with my brand new "steam-away-the-heat" oversuit and sleeveless neoprene jacket that Paul "Scrotty" Saville had lent me we had an enjoyable if hypothermic trip. At the time there was six feet snow drifts on the tops at Fleets Moss and plenty of snowmelt gushed boisterously through the classic, high, rifty streamway. Popping out of Dowbergill Passage into the spacious luxury of Dow Cave and facing the frozen landscape of the Dales through Dows large, verdant entrance was something I will never forget. Not so much a caving trip, more of a rite of passage. Limestone was my love now and it provided an escape I have never questioned.
Strange then that I had never repeated it till now despite the urge to regain some of the adolescent enthusiasm that had faded with the £30 oversuit. There was nothing for it but to go for it myself and put it on the meets-list and promptly found myself the co-ordinator.
Mindful of the complex vertical puzzle that Dowbergill Passage can be I was somewhat wary of freeloaders and liabilities turning up on the day with no idea of what the trip entailed. With this in mind I made it clear that this was not a typical Saturday morning SRT meet and was once graded 5. However, in the event this proved not to be a problem and a varied and manageable team of six appeared at Kettlewell after some dubious route finding by the co-ordinator via most of the Yorkshire Dales.
A most disconcerting fact emerged at the entrance, namely that I was the only one to have done the trip beforehand and that was only a distant memory lost in the mists of time and plenty of cheap student beer. "Parties are advised to familiarise themselves with both entrances before attempting a through trip.", warns the guidebook. It'll be reet, if we get lost simply retrace our steps (in disgrace of course).
Inside the entrance and through the crawl we emerged in the muddy obstacle course not too far removed from Easegill. Following the guidebook description the draught and the more obvious telephone wire we picked our way towards the more enticing Dowbergill Passage. Of course we had a few false starts and ended up in some blind muddy pits where Paul found a king-sized Mars bar half submerged in filthy bilge. Overcoming the urge to devour it there and then in case he contracted some incurable trogloditic gutrot he kept it as a souvenir. The draught helped with route finding here and led us through to the wet crawls and eventually to climbs down into Dowbergill proper. I have no shame in admitting that my heart was racing with excitement and nostalgia when we descended into the streamway. We moved along at stream level until we were forced to bypass some obstacle in the floor.
Just after Brew Chamber Terry and Zig and Zag climbed above to bypass a squeeze. It was the first challenge of Dowbergills "vertical maze" as I scouted forward then back at a different level to report the best route. Further on from this is a rope climb out of the stream, the problem is the rope is belayed to what appears to be a few specks of dust and requires an awkward Z-bend climb to safely avoid it. Zig (or was it Zag?) was almost through but had his legs stuck and swore most fluidly in a way I am sure other neurologists do not.
We became temporarily disorientated (or was it lost) at this point and our efforts to progress downstream at all levels were hafted by tight rifts or impenetrable boulder chokes. As waves of humiliation and the thought of retracing our steps to Providence occurred the team found two ways on. One was a desperately tight rift in the stream (guess who found that one!) the other a more spacious traverse at mid-height. Relieved we pressed on in a perfect, towering streamway content that we were well over halfway there. This years drought provided another route finding problem as we waded underneath Hardys Horror duck not realising that it was there! only to be faced with a huge obelisk barring the way on. A climb over the top revealed the other side of Hardys Horror and the correct way on for the rest of the team. Disappointingly the duck at the Buddha's Temple was only waist deep and nobody fell off the climb into the water.
In no time at all we were yards from the exit. Zig and Zag led out and I hoped they would be awe-struck by the sun flooding through the steamy entrance bordered by lush vegetation.. I hope we all were. In the balmy heat of the Indian summer of '95 we reflected on a fine trip that I hoped would inspire us all to go caving for no other reason than our own enjoyment and sporting pleasure.