Out Sleets Beck has been on my wish list for several years so it was nice to finally have a day dry enough to go and do it!
After meeting John at the parking area (where the track goes off along the south edge of Penyghent Gill, as described by Selected Caves), and a brief drive half a mile further up the road and back to ask permission at Penyghent House, we were soon kitted up and ready to go. A nice flat walk for around 20 minutes along the track reached the third wall heading down the valley and Out Sleets Beck. Only 50m down the hillside in the side of the river was the obvious entrance (not to be confused with another hole some 20m further down which, as we found out, is definitely NOT the entrance).
The dam holding the stream back was sound, and the water seemed low.
A squirm down the entrance led into a thrutchy passage, generally standing height but narrow and slightly awkward, soon reaching the 2-3m climb down for which Selected Caves said a handline might be useful. It didn't appear to be needed at all on the way down, but, see later, on the rather more strenuous journey out we were very appreciative of this!
The passage soon descended into a tubular crawl, with a pronounced left bend half way along, soon reaching the first pitch, which Selected Caves says is free climbable but I would disagree. Despite it's short length (barely 3m) there are few handholds and getting up or down without the rope would be tricky. A 7m rope is quite sufficient.
Immediately beyond the first pitch an inlet brought a fair flow of water in from the left (ignore). The downstream passage was a fine section of walking streamway for maybe 100m to the first significant pitch, Cascade Pot. We took a 28m rope and it just reached, using all P-bolts in the traverse line (the same was later true for Deluge Pot, where we had a 29m rope, therefore add several metres to the lengths specified in Selected Caves for these... I'd suggest 30m for both). Cascade Pot is reached by a climb up before the pitch head, and is very nicely P-anchored to allow a spectacular takeoff and descent to avoid the water. The Pot itself is magnificent, a paradigm Yorkshire Dales wet pothole, 15m deep, maybe 6m wide, beautifully round, a photographers paradise (see the pictures here on our website), with a dark swirling pool of knee-deep water at the bottom. One of the most beautiful short pitches in the Dales!
A crawl at the edge of the pool leads onwards, and immediately bears slightly right, becoming quite cobbley and soon joining the flowing water again in a wide, low crawling height passage, with brief sections of being flat-out with belly in the water. However, this is nothing concerning, and your upper body can be kept dry with care. This passage reminded me why doing Out Sleets Beck Pot in or after wet weather is a VERY bad idea!
After maybe 50m of crawling the passage floor cut down and walking resumed, soon reaching some delightful white 'cauliflower' formations. Beyond these Deluge Pot is reached, and once again a climb up to roof level a few metres back is required to follow the P-bolted route. Another spectacular descent of a magnificent pothole alongside the roaring water (but staying dry) followed.
From the bottom, the walking stream passage continues for maybe 50-100m before I suddenly knew what was coming next: The canal and duck! I was wearing my neofleece in preparation for this but had no idea how wet it would involve getting. Gary and Rachel went first, entering up to their neck (!) on the first bit but then disappearing waist-deep through the canal. This did not please me at all and I was contemplating simply waiting here, but Rachel persuaded me through.
Basically, the canal starts when the nice walking passage abruptly reaches a very deep pool, maybe 5-6ft deep. Only a metre across this the passage continues narrower and waist-deep. Therefore to cross the very deep section it is possible to launch yourself across. This is surprisingly effective if successful (avoiding a chest-wetting) and surprisingly unpleasant if not (brief submersion up to neck). Needless to say the latter happened to me. Beyond the deep pool, the canal is a narrow zig-zag passage for only 6-8m. Immediately beyond the first corner is a tight section where SRT kit is certainly an encumberance and I was glad to have left mine before the pool. This tight bit is too constricted at water level but easily passed by posting yourself sidewards through above water level. Round the next bend is the duck, which is actually little more than a rock arch meaning a stoop with belly in the water. But given that I had already got wet to the neck it didn't matter.
The whole 'wet' experience is over in less than 60 seconds and is really nothing to worry about. A 3mm wetsuit or neofleece is a nice accessory though.
Saying that, for those not wishing the wetness, a trip just to this point and back would be a fine and enjoyable 3hr trip, although the river passage beyond is worth seeing.
Beyond the canal is a truely superb section of meandering stomping river passage, leading down several cascades. Once the cascades end, the passage narrows in and the way on is a narrow thrutch at river level (possibly called Shatter passage or something like that). A left hand corner at the end of this leads quickly to the sump and some further reminders of why coming here in wet weather would be ill-advised.
The journey out was very quick indeed. What proved a particular surprise was how arduous the section from the first (proper) pitch out to the entrance is when slightly more tired than on the way in, now carrying several litres of water in our clothing, and with gravity against us. We were glad of the handline on the first climb. Rachel and I had headed out unencumbered (i.e. without a tacklesack) and found it strenuous, but Gary and John were cursing as they arrived to the surface.
Total trip time around 4hr, at a gentle but reasonably efficient pace.
A truely magnificent trip, with something for everyone: Beautiful pitches and wet pots, crawls, climbs, a canal, stomping winding river passages, cascades, some cauliflower formations (quite unlike anything I have seen elsewhere in such abundance), and overall a huge amount of fun. Out Sleets Beck has flung itself into my top ten Yorkshire Dales caves and I can strongly recommend it to anyone - But only when the weather is certain to be settled.
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