I managed to get away to my caving club; “The Yorkshire Subterranean Society” at the weekend for a well-earned caving break. The highlight of the weekend was a trip to Marble Steps Pot in the Lancashire fringes of The Yorkshire Dales National Park.
I was a little concerned that the cave would be impassable since the country had just weathered “Storm Babet.” Marble Steps is known to be very “active” – caver speak for wet, and this cave is known to fill to the roof very quickly from the main chamber downwards. The entrance is also known to flood quickly, with the entrance channels rapidly becoming raging torrents. However, unusually the Yorkshire Dales missed the worst of the storm and the cave turned out to be bone dry – so the trip was on.
The entrance to Marble steps is a large open-air chasm in the ground and the first section of caving is in daylight, accessed by some easy traverses on horizontally rigged ropes. Once in darkness the way on is through fairly narrow and slightly awkward passages which wind their way horizontally into the cave – this area is appropriately named “The Sidewinder.” After some roped up wriggling around we come to the first big pitch into the Mian Chamber. This is an impressive cavern with a broken and irregular shape and is the convergence of the three different ways into the lower part of the cave.
The next pitch down took some working out as it wasn’t a straightforward drop, rather a steep rocky slope down sharp fins of limestone. Here it was important to use rope deviations (where the rope is clipped into bolts on an opposite wall) to keep the rope from rubbing against sharp rock, in order to get down the 30m pitch safely.
We are now into some horizontal caving – a mix of free climbing, walking and crawling to get down to “Stink Passage,” and yes, it was a bit stinky. I was then confronted by a small hole down which we’d need to go. Sceptical that I’d fit down, and even more sceptical that I’d fit up again, I rigged a rope down the hole and squeezed downwards on the rope to access a small chamber. I did fit after all.
After some more horizontal struggling we reached the top of “The Ninety,” named for its 90 foot abseil into the bottom of the cave. This pitch was very hard to rig ropes to as this involved reaching over the drop precariously with the rest of my body wedged into a very tight passage from which I’d start the abseil. After some swearing I managed to rig the rope and we all dropped down to the very bottom of the cave. It’s at the bottom of these large caves that you feel a real sense of commitment, knowing you are deep underground and that the only person who’s going to get you out is you. Perhaps this is why we do it?
After admiring the large and beautiful space we were in, we set off up the rope to retrace our steps to the entrance. Four cavers, 4.5 hours.
I can highly recommend Marble steps to cavers with some experience. This is a large, impressive, varied and challenging adventure which is well worth the effort.