Column: Dales cave rescuers' ingenuity is put to the test

Based in Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, a team of skilled volunteers known as the Cave Rescue Organisation act as an emergency service for walkers, climbers and cavers. Here, team member Peter Maxwell provides an insight into a busy few months.

The Cave Rescue Organisation provides a vital service.
The Cave Rescue Organisation provides a vital service.

With more than 80 incidents so far, 2016 is proving a very busy year for the team but we still find time for regular training sessions.

In September we visited Yordas cave in Kingsdale. Having descended two vertical pitches we slid down a polished, limestone chute into a pool. Beyond the pool, a stream crossed our path. Crawling upstream, the passage, half full of water and rocks, decreased to a height of 30cm.

Undulations in the roof pushed faces into the icy stream and the chamber at the end was a welcome sight. Here we found the ‘casualties’, one with a fractured ankle, one hypothermic and one cold but uninjured which were escorted back down the stream while the fractured ankle was splinted. The last casualty was helped into a body harness with a rope attached, placed on his back and pulled head first through the narrow cleft, his face in the air space just above water level. Pulley systems were used to hauled all three out at the cave entrance.

CRO’s calls to animals often test our ingenuity. A recent call-out involved a lamb stuck in a culvert under a road. Our smallest team member couldn’t reach the sheep so a mechanical digger was used to expose one end of the pipe. Then a barrel was pulled along the pipe with a rope to encourage the lamb to escape, muddy and tired but otherwise unharmed.

Teamwork is essential. One evening recently we received a call for help from Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue. They were searching the moors of Helbeck Fell near Catterick for a missing man. A small CRO team drove through the night to join the search at 3am.

In the dark, with low cloud, visibility was under five metres and many sweeps were needed through the bogs, tussocks and hidden streams to check our area.

The moorland is a firing range and we were relieved to learn the army had suspended practice and joined the 11 Mountain Rescue teams, many search dogs - including two from CRO - and a helicopter in the search.

Fortunately, after a 24-hour search of 30 sq km involving 90 people, the missing man was found alive and well.

Fundraising is essential to keep the team operational and team members Heather Eastwood and Graham Hughes have signed up for the 108-mile Spine Challenge; a race along the Pennine Way from Edale to Hawes. To prepare ahead of January’s race, the pair recently did a 43-mile warm-up event in the Dales.

January will be a time of reckoning for trainee search dog Angus too who is set to take his final assessment on the wintery mountains of the Lake District over three days. Both Angus and handler Bill Batson will be tested and the prize at stake is a place on the call-out list with the prospect of years of service saving lives in the hills.

While Angus’ training is almost at an end, Kez, a tri-coloured border collie owned by team member Andy Colau, is taking her first steps on the path to search dog status. Kez is already retrieving toys, sitting and lying on command and ‘speaking’ to order.

To sponsor Heather and Graham and support the CRO as the pair take on the 108-mile Spine Challenge, visit