Thursday, 14 August 2014

Bagshawe Cavern

 Abseiling "The Dungeon" in Bagshawe Cavern.

The glorious summer of endless sunny days couldn't last forever, although it had started to seem like it might. The long drought finally broke on Saturday, the rain falling with intent onto parched ground. I vividly recalled the end of summer 2006 in Suffolk, standing outside to enjoy the freshness and relief of the first rainfall after a 6 week heatwave. It was different as the downpours started on Saturday, instead I felt frustrated that summer couldn't just maintain its status quo for a good while longer.

As with everything else, the deeper I get into caving the more I realise there is to do. Each week my knowledge expands a bit more and my to-do list grows longer. And the bulk of that to-do list is made far more difficult when it's raining. If anything I'm even more impatient than I was a few years ago, and I seem to be constantly eager to be doing everything all the time. 

How wet would it be underground? Would three days of downpours have had that much effect on caves dry from two months of sun and warmth? My plan was set for an "all weather" cave system in Yorkshire, but then an email confirming permission to visit Bagshawe Cavern changed all that. I've wanted to do a trip down Bagshawe for a while - an access-controlled cave only a few miles from home. But how much water would I find down there?

Crossing "The Lake". This waist-deep section is a permanent wet feature.

Many years ago the dry upper-series of Bagshawe was run as a show-cave, and the trip to the "end" at the Hippodrome is very straightforward. It was the harder and more interesting Lower Series that I had my eyes on however. 

The crux of the trip is The Dungeon, a short SRT pitch to reach the start of the lower series. Part of me had been wondering if it might be too wet, so it was with a bit of surprise to find it totally dry when I peered down from above. So I abseiled down the pitch to see what lay beyond.

Some muddy crawling brought me to a beautiful chamber with some impressive flowstone cascades. Still no sign of any flowing water! I spent a while photographing the formations, aware that the next section was going to be cold and wet.

The beautiful chamber where Agony Crawl enters at roof level.

The Lake is waist-deep with a low roof. As I entered the water I started to have second thoughts, the passage looking much lower than I'd anticipated. But I pressed on and inhaled sharply as the cold water went up to my chest. It wasn't as bad as it looked, and all I could think was just how more uncomfortable the Giant's Windpipe had been a couple of weeks ago.

Flowstone array.

1000ft of varied passage followed, but still no sign of any flowing water! Clearly it will take more to reverse the effects of the long drought. I reached my objective, returned by the same route and jumared up my rope hanging down The Dungeon.

Extensive formations in the Lower Series.

What else will the summer allow me to do before it reaches its final fling?

James

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