After an early start we headed up the hill paying a visit on Redmire Farm to present the permit, who were very nice people indeed We headed up towards the cave, initially failing to find it as we headed too far south on the hillside. For future reference you head up the path and where the path bears left, turn off the path and follow the right hand wall directly up a steep slope to the top (don't follow the path all the way to the top). Continue ahead into the field, bear slightly further to the right and you can't miss it in around 100m!
With superb weather and dry conditions we were expecting a nice dry trip. This wasn't to be however and the entrance involved a good couple of minutes crawling through a canal followed by some narrower and more awkward sections to eventually reach the first pitch. We rigged this and descended, although one of our group free climbed a rift just beyond the pitch (this looked a bit too exciting for me!). From here on the going became much easier indeed, and we made quick progress through the remainder of the cave, enjoying a couple of nice avens, and an exciting mix of free-climbs, traverses, stomping and canal-wading, with some amazing stream passages and well decorated sections. After the sharp bend where the cave turns sharply, the character changes to very shaley and slippery black rock. We soon reached Shale pitch. Gary started to rig this but a large amount of water was going down, and he was unable to find a rebelay point on the ledge several metres down. As we were all getting quite cold, the decision was made that we'd all had a rather excellent trip and we turned around without completing the descent (apparantly it's just a series of short canals and then a sump beyond there anyway so we're happy that we saw all the best bits of the cave).
Birks Fell goes down as one of my all time favourite trips, with something for everyone. You can't possibly get bored with the variety of climbs, traverses, stomping and crawling, and the trip has kept me smiling for several days afterwards. For future trips I don't think I'd bother taking rope for Shale and Slimy Slit pitch, as a trip to the top of Shale is by itself and excellent trip, and not having the tacklesacks to worry about would make it all the more enjoyable.
We got our to blazing sunshine and a stunning view across the valley (and then the pub in Kettlewell) which couldn't have been a better way to end an excellent days caving.
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