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Photograph of the volcano formation in Witches II Cave

Ingleborough Cave

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This series of articles is intended for the guidance of experienced cavers, who may not be familiar with the details of the best routes through the more complex systems in the Yorkshire Dales. To echo the sentiments in Northern Caves, it "is intended as guidance for the wise, not the obedience of fools"

Ingleborough Cave used to be a popular trip in the 1960's and 1970's, but the eventual connection with the Far Waters series in Gaping Gill took away some of the glamour, and it became somewhat ignored by the caving fraternity. John Cordingley et alia achieved some fine results in connecting the Beck Head resurgence cave to the Abyss in the show cave, and Fox Holes to the Far Eastern Bedding Cave, thereby creating two new entrances, but such activity has been the exception rather than the rule.

The cave became popular once more, however, during the foot and mouth restrictions of 2001, but many clubs no longer had members who were familiar with the cave, and this description is intended to give people more confidence in accessing the "Back End". A very reasonable entrance fee is charged, and you also need to be covered by the BCA insurance.

Ingleborough Cave is a super place, and well worth a visit, but it should not be taken lightly. The route to Terminal Lake is very vulnerable to flooding, and should only be attempted when weather conditions permit. Near misses have occurred in recent years, and any advice offered by the management should be heeded. The trip can be done in a furry suit, but a wetsuit is better. Knee pads and gloves are also recommended.

The show cave matches any in the country, with some superb formations and fine rock architecture, and is well worth taking your time over. It finishes a little short of where Long Gallery is largely choked with consolidated sand and pebbles, at a small barrier of rocks. From here, clamber into the bedding a metre up the left hand wall, and crawl into the roomy Cellar Gallery. This is a very fine phreatic tube, of stooping height, half filled with high quality sand. There are two things to know about Ingleborough Cave sand: first, it's incredible pervasive (you'll still be emptying it out of your gear for several weeks); and secondly (as bare elbows have testified) it's incredible abrasive.

After a few metres a wall has been built across the passage with a door where a radon extractor fan used to be installed. The area in front of this has been flushed out of sand by flood waters, making the full size of the passage apparent.

The next feature in the 200 m long passage is the Styx - a good Victorian name for a puddle that extends across the width of the passage. Shortly after this, the phreatic tube develops into the Second Gothic Arch, with a hole in the floor leading down to a sump. Proceeding on for a few metres, the large passage appears to terminate. There are two ways on from here, neither of which are straight on. You can either follow a crawl down a slope to the half left, following a belayed rope, or you can back up a few metres, and crawl through a sandy bedding to the left (facing into the cave) into Giant's Hall, the name of which is another fine example of Victorian hyperbole.

The way on from Giant's Hall is down a slope with a handline into a small rift (this drop is often filled with sand, in which case you should return to the Second Gothic Arch). Following this leads to the base of the descent from the Second Gothic Arch as above. Here you find yourself in a bit of rift, with a sandy crawl leading off into the soggy gloominess of the Giant's Hall Bedding Plane. You are better off crawling under (or over) a constriction in the rift into what is known as the Oxbow Pool. Carrying on over this down a rocky crawl leads to the Gaping Gill water flowing through a wide bedding plane, with a crawling board placed over the main flow, placed for tourist "adventure trips. A few metres downstream, the floor lowers, and the passage hits a T-junction. Downstream, to the right, leads through some reasonably sized passages to Lake Avernus - a flooded joint passage. This is deep, but in dry weather and suitably equipped, it is possible to swim to the end, and duck through a lower section to the left to enter Lake Pluto - a larger and deeper section of passage. From here, the water flows through a 200 m sump to Beck Head cave.

The way to the "Back End" is a crawl leading off in the other direction from the T-junction. After a few metres a Y-junction is reached. Follow the more obvious passage to the right into the Far Eastern Bedding Cave (FEBC). This is a 100 m long rocky flat-out crawl in a 5 m wide passage, with a couple of pools near the beginning. When you reach the first, which extends across the width of the passage, ascend the rocky barrier to the left.

Towards the end, there is a low passage in the roof leading into the Upper Series - which is a good emergency escape route from the "Back End". Also at this point, a telephone cable may be found belayed to a rock. This leads down a low slope into the Near Wallows - a waterlogged section once again containing the main flow.

Follow the telephone cable past a diving line through a very wet section of passage, towards the sound of water. You will probably get an ear wet. The next 100 m of passage is wet and formidable, but the Near Wallows is the only place which qualifies as a duck, and the telephone cable makes a reassuring companion all through this section. Towards the end, the water gets deeper, and the air space reduces again, and you meet the sting in the tail. You suddenly enter the very impressive Inauguration Caverns, and you have to be careful not to get too excited and fall in the deep pool which guards its entrance.

The 100 m long Inauguration Caverns is the finest section of passage in the Gaping Gill system. It's wide, lofty, well decorated, and has the main flow from Gaping Gill cascading through it. An aven immediately on the right as you enter the Caverns enters the Upper Series, and leads to the Wallows bypass. This route is described below.

There are no notable side-passages until you reach the final cascade which leads into Terminal Lake. Here, on the right, a walk round a ledge leads into Rimstone East. This is a small chamber with a superb calcite flow leading into a rift. From here a voice connection has been made with Gandalf's Gallery, which one day may provide a bypass to the first two of the three sumps leading to Radagast's Revenge in Gaping Gill.

On your return, make sure that you keep hold of the telephone line when returning through the Near Wallows - the route is not nearly as obvious without the sound of the water to guide you. It is also possible to carry straight on when emerging from the FEBC rather than turning right towards the crawling board and the entrance. From the crawling board, follow the belay rope back towards the Second Gothic Arch.

A trip to the Back End is not a trivial undertaking - particularly in a furry suit. The Wallows are wet and very cold, and the whole section between Cellar Gallery and Inauguration Caverns consists of mainly flat-out crawling. In compensation, however, the Show Cave and Inauguration Caverns include some of the finest passages in the Dales.

The Wallows Bypass

The Wallows section of the cave between Inauguration and the FEBC can be bypassed in the event of rising water levels, but the route is by no means a soft option. It includes a tight section of passage, masses of mud, a mini-wallows, and loadsa crawling. It also takes twice as long. However, it is a route worth knowing, and it allows an interesting round trip.

The upstream entrance to the Upper Series, as it is known, is found by the deep pool at the downstream end of Inauguration. There is an alcove in the true left of the passage, and a knotted rope may be found ascending a 5 m climb. Climb this easily. At the top you can crawl through to a T-Junction. Turn left. At first this is fairly comfortable, but it becomes lower over bedrock and calcite, before relief is found at a descent of a metre or so into a cross-rift.

Follow the slope in the rift down, and at the bottom it is possible to slip into a passage, mostly full of water. This is about 10 m long, and requires getting an ear wet. After this, the passage is a muddy hands and knees crawl, with the only entertainment being an aven just off to the right. Some 10 to 15 minutes after leaving the rope climb, a low passage will be seen diverging off to the left. Enter this: it veers further to the left, and becomes very low, and constricted. This section lasts for just a few metres, before widening out. In another couple of minutes it begins to descend, and you soon find yourself summarily ejected into the FEBC close to the start of the Near Wallows.

If going the other way, make sure you turn right at the passage above the tight section. After a couple of minutes you will meet a Y-Junction. Both routes will take you to the climb down into Inauguration Caverns, but the way to the left is easier and shorter. The rest of the route is reasonably obvious from the above description, but if you find yourself looking down a drop without a rope, backtrack a couple of metres, and the knotted rope is just off to the right (going in).

Most of the passages in the Upper Series flood appear to flood, probably from below, but you can find some avens where it is possible to escape, if you follow the main passage instead of descending down in the FEBC.