Hello, my name is Mal Tabb.
Thanks for visiting our web pages. Marion & I operate a small outdoor activity organisation called Canoes, Mountains & Caves. We provide activities for: adults, young people, schools, charities, families & individuals. A key aspect of our work is the provision of a "Community Programme" which is offered free of charge to participants. If you think we might be able to help please don't hesitate to contact us, you can find out more about what we do on our main website www.canoesmountainscaves.com

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Marble Steps

With: Ferg

Weather: still, dry, sub zero, clear night

Where: Ireby Fell, Yorkshire Dales

It was a fine cold late afternoon and evening in the Yorkshire Dales yesterday, its not very often that just Ferg and I get out for an evening cave so we decided  to do something interesting.

Looking west From the Top of Masongill lane

It was about half four by the time we had finished packing ropes and began the trudge up the lane & on to the fell. By the time we approached the copse of trees that surround Marble Steps pot our caving headlamps were switched on.

The rigging guide refers to the extra traverse line that is necessary to descend the steps from the surface in snow or ice conditions, it was certainly icy - like a skating rink - as Ferg began to rig the first section. Our chosen route was the so called "sidewinder" in which the exposed shaft is traversed around above ground in a box like pattern, its an excellent traverse over an intimidatingly big hole.

Above: Caver at Work, Ferg starting to rig the traverse

Above: Starting the Descent of the Steps, its difficult to see just how slippery it was

Once the traverse is complete a short climb up leads into a short section of fossil passage where a Y-hang allows descent through a vertical squeeze. I took up the rigging here and on dropping down this small tight slot it crossed my mind that it would be worse coming back out. I've done this part of the cave once before and don't remember it being so tight. The other thing I don't recall was just how much loose rock appeared to be readily disturbed and fell down the main gully pitch, real care would be needed here if any other folk were in the gully.

Some "tightish" meandering passage leads to a high traverse and the approach to the main sidewinder pitch. We used a 65m rope here (and used just about all of it to get to the bottom) it starts with an uneven Y-hang that drops to a single bolt re-belay which is all but free hanging followed by a fine descent to a rocky slab. Here a natural provides a further re-belay point before another Y-hang, the final abseil requires two deviations to keep the rope away from the angled rock and lands in a rocky chamber with plenty evidence of  flooding in the form of lumps of trees. I believe this cave can flood quite spectacularly under the right conditions. For tonight an exploration of this area was to be journey's end. On previous occasions I have carried on via Stink Pot and done the next big pitch "the ninety"; also we once did an exchange trip from here exiting via Gully route - both of which I'd strongly recommend.

We used the exit to test for the first time the Petzl Pantin (a foot jammer which is attached to the inside of the ankle). Its a technique that will need a bit of getting used to (at least for me) but looks like something I'd like to investigate further.

Ferg grabbed a few decent photos of my ascent of the first part of "sidewinder" around the deviations:

We emerged to a fine cold evening on the fell. 

A mixture of too much talking and not enough concentration led to us walking straight past the stile that leads back on to Masongill Lane, so the need to relocate and tramp around in the dark for longer than planned was unwelcome, however, it was a good evening underground in one of my favourite Yorkshire caves.


  1. Sounds a great trip, love all the geeky detail!

  2. Hi Ian it is a good trip & glad you appreciate the "geek side". Am about to tweet to you all about latest theories of how good caving is for both mere colds & man flu!!

  3. Hello running4him - think you'd like it. Seriously if you find yourself in this part of the world - give me a shout. Mal