Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Kingsdale Master Cave

Abseiling the pitch into the impressive Kingsdale Master Cave

My solo trip down Magnetometer Pot two weeks ago had been a testing experience. At times I'd been briefly convinced I'd bitten off more than I could chew, and it had taken a fair degree of control to stop doubt from dragging me straight back out the entrance shaft.

During my time as a climber in Scotland I had more experiences like that than I can name. After a year or so of soloing, I discovered the importance of taking a reflective step back after the days when I'd got scared. Why had I felt that way? Had I pushed it too far? Often the perspective gained from doing an easier trip would help clarify things.

My descent into The Kingsdale Master Cave was to do just that. A week on from Magnetometer, a high-quality but un-stressful caving day was needed.

A few months back I'd been left totally awe-struck by a descent into another Kingsdale pothole, the formations amongst the most beautiful natural wonders I'd ever seen (at the time). A trip into the Master Cave would feature almost nothing similar, instead it would be about seeing an absolutely immense subterranean river passage.

The pitch into the Master Cave. The water behind me disappears and doesn't appear again until 2000m downstream at Keld Head.

In the perfect streamway of the Master Cave. The roof a long way above my head.

Many cavers experience their first "duck" in the Valley Entrance to the master cave, a low passageway almost flooded to the roof. After a few of the other ducks I've done recently, this one wasn't anything more than interesting. Hundreds of metres of easy stooping passage, and suddenly I was at the top of a 7m SRT pitch.

Abseiling the pitch delivered me into the streamway of the Kingsdale Master Cave, and I was not disappointed. This is the largest subterranean river passage I've seen to date. I'm ashamed to admit how seldomly I stop to appreciate just how old these underground places are, but the sense of it down here was humbling. How long had it taken for such a huge trench to be cut by the water? 

Approaching the Master Junction.

Three hours later and I was in a similarly impressive but extremely different cave passage. Crackpot was wall-to-wall beautiful decorations, all leading nicely to the climax of the iconic column that defines the cave. For the passage to be so large and so obviously old, what must lie beyond the currently explored short length of cave?

Photos are more appropriate to do Crackpot justice

In the iconic Column Chamber in Crackpot, Swaledale.

"Dripping flowstone" formation in Crackpot.

An impressive array of decorations.

Blade and stalagmite.

Straw stalactites, flowstone, carrot formations.

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