18 June 2021

Ireby Fell Cavern

George Linnane

On Sunday 12th June, a team of four CDG divers (Josh Bratchley, George Linnane (me!), Mark Burkey and Mitchell Parry) completed the diving traverse from from Ireby Fell Cavern to Committee Pot (Notts 2) via Notts 1 with sherpa support from Clive Westlake, Bartek and Paulina Biela and Ellen Cooper.

A lot of work had been carried out the previous weekend, with support from Chris Jewell, Andrew Rice, Craig Eley and Louis Phelps, including rigging of Ireby Fell Cavern from top to bottom, rigging of Notts Pot from top to bottom (though all but the final pitch was then de-rigged, meaning we had a path between the sumps but could not use it as an escape route to surface) and digging of the gravel bank and checking of most of the guideline in the Notts 2-1 sump.  I hadn't helped with any of this preparatory work, choosing instead to swan off to Cornwall with my partner for a bank holiday weekend and just turn up to soak up the glory of the actual through trip (which I did as a rather lengthy day trip from Bristol).

We all parked up by Committee Pot and had a sweaty walk over to Ireby.  The inbound trip involves about half a dozen abseils down Ireby, with a couple of caving sections, mostly through winding narrow rifts but with the odd crawly bit and a bit of stompy stuff down the bottom.  Mitch came to my rescue when I stupidly tried to traverse through a narrow section of rift with a 20kg bag of cylinders on my back, jamming myself in said rift, finding I was unable to move in either direction due to misuse of cowstails and generally making a right balls of it.  Cheers Mitch.

We kitted up at dive base in Ireby 1, opting to dive the low, silty and unpleasant sump into Ireby 2 rather than climbing into and crawling the bypass.  This was followed by a fairly cold and depressing walk down the streamway in Ireby 2 and wait while Josh checked the guideline through to Notts 1.  Having waited a good 10 minutes and convinced ourselves that Josh had probably made it through the sump and probably wouldn't be met head-on coming back the other way in zero visibility, the rest of us dived through at intervals of a few minutes.  This is a chilly 15 minute dive in poor visibility with sketchy line into Notts Pot.

It was now Mark Burkey's turn to make an arse of himself, as he jammed himself in the rift whilst scrambling down from the perched sump and had to be coaxed down to floor level by Josh.

I then took the crown once again by abseiling the final pitch of Notts Pot straight past the sump passage down to floor level, realising what I'd done, attempting to free climb back up to it, failing miserably due to awkwardness of dive kit, falling on my arse in the streamway and shouting a very rude word.

We all managed to compose ourselves enough to dive the 15 minutes through to Notts 2 and all agreed that it was the nicest dive of the trip.  Our sherpas met us part way down the Notts 2 streamway and we packed up properly into bags.  Clive Westlake set a fairly blistering pace out, I guess it must have been past his dinner time.  There was barely any time to admire the streamway so I must come back one day without dive gear and just enjoy the cave.  Once at the end of the streamway, Clive and Josh disappeared like a shot, the former carrying 10kg of my kit and the latter carrying all of his own, leaving me grunting and puffing my way up the greasy climbs behind them with my 20kg of diving cylinders.   The rest of us moved at a more sedate pace once the going got vertical and formed daisy chains to handle the kit through the more awkward sections before hitting the scaffolding for the final climb out through the impressively engineered shafts.  When I got to the top of the final shaft, I was fed three cola-flavoured boot laces by Josh and had my bag taken off me before dropping back down the shaft as far as the dog-leg to help Mark with his bag of kit, which must have weighed a good 30kg as he had bigger cylinders than the rest of us and it was all in one monstrous bag (which is now affectionately known as Kermit, after the founder of Warmbac as opposed to the frog).

Glad I've done the trip, which Josh reckons has been completed by less than 10 people ever and it was a good test for the SRT-dive rig I put together late last year (basically an SRT sit and chest harness, integrated to approximate a diving harness to avoid the need for carrying an actual dive harness on this type of trip).  It's the first time I've done abseiling and diving on the same trip, which I found a bit faffy, kit-wise, but everything went to plan.  Not sure I'd do this exact traverse again but Aquamole to Valley Entrance is now of interest and I'm open to suggestions of other diving traverses that people are interested in doing!

Credit for all photographs - Bartek Biela.
Instagram: @bartek_biela