It had been a while since I'd felt anxious on a walk to a cave. A couple of years of largely dig-focussed trips and a more recent spate of returns to Yorkshire classics meant I was rather out of calibration with some of the more challenging trips to be had. However, Toby's enthusiasm for Marble Sink had changed that, and the anxiety was well and truly there. Recalibration was on the cards and I was anticipating maximum spice.
After reading a trip report over lunch the previous day that likened the trip to being pummeled gently whilst lifting a tackle sack at arms length I decided to end my research there, and to simply approach the trip with ignorance. This tactic failed as the description appeared after a couple of beers at the NPC the night before. "Tight", "sqeeze", "awkward", "narrow". I got the gist, but Toby's enthusiasm was still sky high. "It sounds like a great trip!" Easy to say when you're his dimensions.
Our arrival at the entrance heralded some unusual scenes as Adam cracked open his usual zesty beverage and instructed me to cut off various bits of his harness that he deemed would be detrimental to the trip. After a significant attack with my knife, his harness was looking much more streamlined, and we all opted to go for a descent sans cowstails or ascenders attached. Good choice.
Toby obviously had to go first, and totally ignored the advice to enter feet-first on the premise that he'd probably be able to turn around at the pitch head where most couldn't. He was right. Adam and I followed feet-first. Also a correct decision.
We arrived sooner than expected at the pitch where the rigging was...unorthodox. One spit and an old protruding bolt provided our only means of attachment, and Toby thankfully had a skinny sling that could be nicely(?) clove-hitched on to the bolt. The pitch head looked pretty remarkable, and not in a good way, but you've got to be in it to win it, and once in, it was easily won. A spacious descent led to the entertaining and distinctive flake climb, Bastard Hole, and further climb to meet the water. So far so good!
A couple of shocking spits didn't faze Toby on the next pitch, but the same couldn't be said for me and some rerigging preceded my descent. The subsequent enticing bedding lived up to its description, as did the less enticing crawl below, and a dampening was unavoidable as we set off into the next section of passage. At the sharp-ish corner before the next climb down I had a bit of a brain-failure, culminating in me stood in the rift unable to get back down to a level at which I could continue. After a partial reverse around the corner, the situation was rectified and I continued on to hear Toby telling us how easy Speakers' Corner was. Toby finding it straightforward was hardly surprising, but I was pleasantly surprised to agree with his assessment, and we were back in more spacious passage and soon down to David's Traverse. I following Toby and Adam along, amazed to almost immediately hear Toby announce that he'd reached the next pitch. Having taken only 5 minutes or so at this point, Adam and I scoffed slightly at the 15-20 minutes mentioned in the guidebook for the time taken for this section, before reaching the squeezy bits which took us an additional 10 minutes or so. Oh well. In-situ hangers provided a pleasing level of ignorance at this point, and an enjoyable couple of descents saw us down to the Devil's Kitchen.
We were well aware that Marble Sink is unlikely to rank amongst the most frequently visited potholes in the Dales, but we were very surprised to find the handline solidly calcited to the flowstone it was resting on! After forcefully detaching the rope, we traversed through to the pretty little grotto that was our final destination. A pleasing chamber to complete an enjoyable descent.
I volunteered to derig, and our ascent went reasonably smoothly. David's Traverse was certainly a little spicier on the return, as was Speakers' Corner. Particularly for Adam who tackled it facing the outside of the bend, although I have since read this as a recommended method! At around 6 ft tall, I had few problems tackling the bend facing the inside and would certainly not have liked to have been facing the other way! The following section of passage proved more of an obstacle, due to the enforced arms-ahead position, upward slope, and tackle sack making progress a little tricky.
The climbs between the top two pitches were easier than anticipated, aside from the Bastard Hole which well and truly lived up to its name. Some teamwork would perhaps have helped a little here; maybe next time. The final obstacle was provided by the sharp bend in the entrance crawl: Toby's bag got caught behind him and I was following with my bag ahead of me, making it impossible for me to help out. Probably. I left him to it and after what sounded like a bit of unpacking and repacking we were soon back outside after a thoroughly enjoyable 4.5 hours underground.
I think the cave exceeded my expectations in every way. It certainly provided challenges, but was also not lacking in pleasant passage, pitches, climbs and formations, and at no point was it really unpleasant. It pains me to say it, but Toby was absolutely right. It was indeed a great trip.
We rounded off a super day with a curry with the other Yorkies in Bentham that, much like the cave, was perfectly spiced. We then caught the end of the book launch at the Marton for a drink or two, before returning the the NPC for some more refreshments and copious amounts of food. Top cave. Top day.
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