Black Shiver was on the meets list for Easter but did not materialise on Good Friday and I went on a fun photography trip down Sunset Hole instead, learning about the additional parking beside the St Leonards church in Chapel-le-Dale, the footpath through Southerscales and the way back to Ingleton along the road beneath Twistleton Scars (the other side of the dale from the B6255). This would be helpful the next day!
Dave, Diss and Úna arrived on Friday evening looking for something decently exciting to do. Denied during the day, I now suggested Black Shiver, confident that Dave could rig it. To my surprise they agreed to the trip. It was only left for me to psyche myself out of it, which very nearly happened come Saturday morning, but soon we were on our way to Chapel-le-Dale with four tackle bags.
We didn’t even bother with the Hill Inn, as it would be heaving with walkers. The church car park was full of terrible parkers so annoyingly we had to park on the side of the road beyond the cattlegrid. The farmer(s) went past a few times with various adorable lambs and dogs and obviously did not care that we parked there though. It was a very pleasant change.
We went up the side of Southerscales under noontime sunshine. It was warm so we didn’t rush. The hillside below the farm was covered in patches of beautiful yellow primroses. Using a phone to get us most of the way there with some additional advice from cavers sunning themselves next to Meregill Hole, we didn’t have any issues finding the entrance on Black Shiver Moss. I could describe it but blah blah blah, take a GPS. However, John Dale’s photograph of the entrance climb was invaluable, reassuring me that we were in the right place.
We slowly changed into the rest of our caving gear. Úna discovered she had lost her fleece containing her glasses on the walk up. She would therefore possibly be scowling at everybody for the rest of the weekend out of inability to see them. (And would also not have an additional layer to wear underground…)
Dave despatched himself down the entrance climb. “Is there an uninviting crawl?” I asked from the top, which is what I remembered the description saying.
“Yep,” he said. “It’s not dry.” (People had said it would be dry. Liars!)
It was flat out over cobbles in a small stream. Dave wriggled in and complained good-naturedly about getting wet. I followed and also complained about getting wet although it was high enough to keep my chest out at that point (not as easy on the way out when I was cold and more tired). The flat-out part eased after a few metres into just a crawl which was slightly narrow and sideways-ish for a bit, and full of irritating rounded cobbles.
You are following the water along a stream the whole time in Black Shiver so there are no navigational issues. Imagining what it would be like in high water made me uncomfortable, but I had fun with the pitch heads and the gleaming wet rock was very atmospheric with the sound of running water.
At the third pitch I found Dave wedged into the upper part of the passage rigging, presumably staring down into the ominous Black Dub Lake. Maybe we were influenced by the fact that we knew the surface world was glorious, but we agreed we couldn’t be bothered with the duck at the bottom of the Black Rift and left the final bag in an alcove. Good thing really as it was starting to rip open at the base and would later spool out along the entrance crawl creating fun times for Diss and Úna.
Dave descended into the cold Black Dub and traversed to the end of the pool along the ledge, definitely thigh deep. Nobody stepped the wrong way and got a wetting… Not that it matters anyway as you get soaked in the wet crawl at the end. The water was chilling.
As Dave finished rigging the fourth pitch (Thunder Pot) Úna and I shivered appropriately. Diss sang. It wasn’t a long pitch and we were soon waiting again at the top of the 80m Black Rift, Diss and Úna in the Eagle’s nest and me on the ledge under Thunder Pot. The Black Rift was probably terrifying but I didn’t look, jigging on the ledge to warm up instead.
At this point, with Dave literally astride an enormous pitch and everybody else shivering, somebody questioned whether we should go down. We felt we could meet our call-out but maybe it wouldn’t be quite the leisurely fun time we wanted. The memory of sunshine is alluring at the best of times but especially on a day like this and when you are wet through beyond Black Dub. The idea of going to the pub is also appealing when you are wet through beyond Black Dub. Plus we could do with having a look for Úna’s lost glasses and that would be easier in daylight.
But we’d come this far without experiencing the big pitch. Everybody shrugged and said “I’m happy with whatever” in the hope that someone else would make the decision. So I did. If we were feeling a bit uncertain, which I definitely was given how cold I already was, I didn’t think it was a great idea to all go down an 80m pitch and just get more cold waiting for people to prussick back up, since we didn’t have the rope to do the final parts of the cave. Thankfully everyone else just seemed grateful somebody was being decisive rather than annoyed I was calling time on the trip!
Dave derigged the top bit of the Black Rift and I took over the rest of the derigging. I made hard work of Black Dub. This is an ‘hourglass-shaped’ passage, described as awkward, where you have to get on and off the rope at a lower unprotected level. On the way down I had been vocally disagreeing that the passage was awkward, although the lack of protection was a bit concerning. I now regretted saying this. I got off the rope at the lower level because the pitch head looked more awkward, crossed an inconveniently placed pool of water and climbed upwards into the narrow rift. The pool had no footholds in the pool I could use so to ‘climb’ up I rocked over the step on my hip and wriggled along the bottom of the narrow rift. My leg then fit like a glove into a perfect thigh-sized groove in the floor so I couldn’t move it. I was beyond the back-up anchor, which is miles away from the pitch, before I managed to push myself upright! It was easy then though to climb up to the higher level and return to de-rig the pitch.
On the way in the bits of streamway in between the pitches had felt much longer than they were. Everything passes more quickly on the way out as per. It was fun figuring out how to derig pitches that were a bit more awkward than I’m used to. The only not-fun part was the entrance crawl, which I laboured through as every clean-washed cobble wedged against the tacklebag.
I climbed out into a lovely warm evening, very happy with the company and successful reconnaissance mission. After delicious isotonic drinks and selfies we all un-kitted enough for the walk and off we went back down the hill. Úna’s fleece was nowhere to be seen, which was disheartening for a while, but back at the Southerscales turn-off it was hanging conspicuously from a wall. Hooray!
I would thoroughly recommend Black Shiver. It’s thoughtful, but not hard, which makes it fun. Even the first part was a cracking trip. But it requires good weather and I’d thoroughly recommend warm clothing; I regretted not having thermals. I would even consider wearing some neoprene next time.
April 20th 2019