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Birks Fell Cave, Wharfedale - 21/09/2002

Written by RobEavis.

Report by Jase Rider
Cavers: Paul (Paz) Vale (EPC), Steve (Stik) Rider (EPC), Jase Rider (EPC), Bernie Maddison (EPC), Wayne Ricketts (EPC), Richard Aldham (EPC)

Good hard caving in a superb location.

Arriving at the car park in Buckden, Wharfedale, we (Stik and myself) were introduced to Eldon members Bernie, Wayne and Richard. It should have been a 30 minute walk (at most) up to the cave, however, once on the open fell, we spent the best part of an hour trying to find the cave entrance! (Paz, Bernie, Wayne and Richard had all been to the cave before so I had, wrongly, assumed that at least one of them would know where the entrance was! ). Paz eventually found the unassuming entrance, taking a small stream in a diminutive limestone gorge (it’s to the right of the track, just above the wall - nowhere near the plantations to the left of the track - and definitely not higher up the fell on the gritstone!!!)

The cave set it’s stall out pretty early on with a flat out crawl (The Bradford Crawl). Soon after this the stream entered from the right and there was more awkward crawling in the water. This eventually opened out at the head of pitch one, a 9m pitch which we laddered from a boulder. The cave continued in a wider stream passage, with plenty of climbs up in to avens above the streamway. Back in the stream, we continued to 40 Years’ Corner where we were met with some fine formations. There then followed three successive flat out crawls in water (the bedding caves). It was now that I realised a wetsuit may have been a better option than an oversuit/undersuit! The cave now continued in a slightly more hospitable manner, with lots of climbs up climbs back down. One of these was a calcite climb up into Moon Milk Cave (now only a shadow of it’s former self). We continued in boulders above the stream until we reached The Block where we had fun negotiating an awkward drop and subsequent tight hole in the floor to rejoin the stream. We quickly came to the second pitch (Cascade Pitch) which we rigged with an 8m ladder. The pitch is in the stream but is was possible to just about avoid the water. High water would quickly make the pitch impassable. A stretch of deeper slow-moving canals followed, preceded by plenty of sporting cascades.

At the remarkable Elbow Corner, we stopped for refreshment among some outstanding flowstone formations, although Bernie and Richard carried on down a narrowing rift passage to the top of the third pitch. (We hadn’t brought the gear to do the final two pitches as those that had done them before didn’t especially want to do them again!). Getting back out of the cave proved a lot more tiring than getting in. Even though it’s not an especially deep cave, it is quite a long cave and there is a lot of climbing up and down in and out of the stream.

Route finding wasn’t always easy and we had to retrace our steps a couple of times (however, this had it’s advantages as on the way back out we managed to avoid two of the three flat out bedding caves by keeping to high level routes!). To cut a long story short, some five hours later we emerged battered and bruised into the late summer sunshine having had an excellent trip. Before long we were enjoying pub grub and a pint at The Kings Head in Kettlewell.