White Scar Cave    13th. April 2013

Leader: Steve Gray.                                             .                                                                                                                                              Others:  Paul Wilkinson, Claire Haycock, Beardy, Dinny, Dave Foxton, Carmel Ramwell, Richard Timms, .             Tim Eastwood, Andy Mac, plus some others.

There was a good-sized snowdrift in the entrance to the show-cave, perhaps not the best omen and a good indicator of the water temperature inside.  Despite ample amounts of snow on Ingleborough the weather was fairly good considering the vicious snow and relentless gales from the east we had resigned ourselves to.  There was an inkling of spring as the sun came out briefly making the change into wetsuits and wellies a bit more pleasant.  Most of my caving gear had not seen the light of day (or the gloom of cave depending on how you look at it) for about a year so I had decided to invest in some new kit, specifically a wetsuit for the canals.

Being an innately generous person except where money is involved I was determined to get something cheap.  Unfortunately my four year old son beat me to it when, after browsing Amazon, I left my Kindle unattended in the living room one evening.  A wetsuit arrived few days later in the post: Ladies fit, Size 34 inch chest…..in pink.

“Have you been playing with Daddy’s computer Sammy??”  His eyes searched frantically for the corner of the room, the bottom lip curled down a bit….  ”Sorry……”

I settled for the sort of wetsuit you buy on the beachfront in Cornwall, just enough to stop me drowning and dying of exposure so I added my old furry and over suit over the top of it for extra warmth.  Claire had a choice of wetsuit long-johns or a North Sea 7mm semi-dry with integral hood whereas everyone else had some sensible caving wetsuits.

Weighed down with neoprene we paid the bargain price of £2.50 for perhaps the best stream passage in the Three Peaks guidebook.  We were under very reasonable instructions to visit the Battlefield early before the tourists turned up, not to leave after the last tour ended and generally not behave like cavers in front of the punters. A sign at the entrance warned us that high-heels were not allowed in the cave, as if we would!

The first thing you notice about White Scar is that the tunnel entrance is not in limestone but slate.  This was blasted out to give access to the stream passage further inside which ends when the limestone erodes down into the impervious layer at the base of the limestone.  There then follows an eternity of walkway above the streamway at a steady incline.  Eventually, after what must take tourists all day to traverse you get to the start of the blasted tunnel that bores up to the Battlefield Chamber.

Years ago the Red Rose was lucky enough to visit the Battlefield after the tunnel was blasted out but before the stairs were built.  It was to allow a good photographic record to be made before the walkways were installed.  I can’t remember who the photographer was but Phil Luff had brought along some PF100 flashbulbs to illuminate such a huge chamber.  These are the size and shape of a normal household light bulb but are stuffed full of magnesium wire wool.  When ignited by a foot pedal device they simulate a small nuclear explosion. Even with your eyes screwed shut you can see every vein in your eyes and feel like the sun has come out briefly.  The chamber is still impressive with a cloud a straws at one end of the chamber and the enticing Strategy Aven at the other. Who has those photos now ?

Back down at stream level we prepared ourselves for the deep canals knowing it meant a total immersion in snowmelt.  At first you can keep to the waist high ledges at the sides or use the yellow piping to pull yourself along (later we found it protected the high-voltage cables for the lights in Battlefield) but soon enough you have to grin and bear it.  We all bobbed along trying to make progress swimming in wellies that have the hydrodynamic efficiency of a house-brick.  Claire pointed out that canal passage like this is much more like Welsh caving than Dales caves.  Soon the swimming turned to wading but with plenty of knee deep boulders to trip you up and throw you headlong into the water again. Gradually the character changes to more classic canyon streamway in a morbid shade of black limestone, deep swirl pools dotted between wet climbs.  Periodically, flowstone cascades from the roof tunnel down to the stream level with the passages becoming more and more rifty until it open out at Carrot Hall.

You can spilt two ways near here:  stay in the stream and go to the upstream sumps or climb up and right into the Sleepwalker Series.  We kept low in the stream, pushing onwards towards the sump but, if you have more sense, you can traverse a few metres above on wide ledges in a classic keyhole passage.  We met Beardy, Dinny, Carmel and Rich coming back from the upstream section with plans to explore some unfinished business in Sleepwalker, or as Dinny sold it to Beardy, “a classic piece of ULSA heritage…”  Claire wanted to know what was up ahead, as I recalled it was a long series of low airspace crawls leading to a final sump.  Putting a bit of spin on it I described it as, “a bit…phreatic.” which didn’t fool anyone.  We found the best technique for the semi-submerged sections was to float on your front and pull yourself along with your hands, much better than endless stooping and crawling. You can’t miss the sump as a thick length of orange dive line starts from a mushroom of rock, and the air runs out.

Back at Carrot Hall we split up into two teams so some of us could return to the entrance allowing the rest to re-visit Sleepwalker.  There is a precarious stack of boulders to climb if you want to get to the upper levels.  Everyone, without exception, treated these with real care as the thought of anything moving was stomach churning. Up high in the roof passage we made our way along passing climbs and squeezes with names like Grommiter, Pincher and Jailhouse Rock.  One of these consisted of a downwards rift climb with a prehistoric electron ladder to tempt the foolhardy and desperate.  The team started to spread out a bit and with promises of not exiting late ringing in our ears we set off out.

As the water was all stirred-up and muddy on the way out it seemed that every swirl pool and canal had a hidden boulder or rib of rock to trip you up.  The canals seemed much longer and colder on the way out, even strenuous breast-stroke only seemed to inch you forward but it helped to keep you warm!  Back at the show-cave we made quick-progress, no lamps needed now! 

Having parked discretely in the far corner of the car park we made a quick change into dry gear without the bemused looks from fee-paying tourists.  My feet were cold and had that waxy pallor, numb to the painful grit underneath, everything was dripping wet and freezing, I felt great.

Big thanks to Steve for negotiating the trip with the cave owners and to everyone else who came along.  Even after such a long time off caving it was good to feel amongst old friends and new ones.  Anyone fancy that Dowbergill trip that was sensationally washed out last summer?

Paul Wilkinson


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