Though not such an obvious destination as Hall of the Mountain King and largely considered to be rather a collector’s piece, North West Inlet is a really memorable and worthwhile place to visit for any cavers not averse to a thorough soaking. This relatively short trip can be done in just a couple of hours, ideal for an easy Sunday or evening trip. Highlights include the pleasant Things to Come Passage, a railway and a dragon.
Warning - The initial section of the North West Inlet streamway is prone to flooding and this trip is best avoided in wet or unsettled weather.
There is no tackle required for this trip, though a wetsuit is highly recommended. See the Hall of the Mountain King or Promised Land route descriptions for tackle required if continuing further into the cave.
Due to the risk of rockfall, it is best not to loiter at the entrance longer than necessary. Once inside the safety of the cave it is only a short distance to the first chamber where the logbook is situated, this should be filled in with the names of those on your team. Beyond this Straw Chamber is soon reached, which has a flowstone and gour pool floor and a large array of straws on the ceiling. Continue following the streamway to First Choke which has two short metal ladders then a scaffolded climb to emerge in a much larger passage above. Ignore the taped route heading upslope on your right as this doesn’t continue far before closing down, and instead continue to follow the streamway which lowers to a wet crawl at Gasoline Alley. This section of the cave sumps in very wet weather, so if air space in minimal and rain is forecast is would be wise to abort your trip!
Next you’ll reach a junction, with a low and very wet tube heading off on the left, this is North West Inlet; the beginning of a much wetter and colder adventure. If you are planning to also visit the further reaches of the cave, it is wise to do that first before committing to the chest-deep immersion in freezing water that lies ahead. This is walking height throughout, but the first 9m has the least airspace above the water and usually the added pleasure of a cold wind howling through it. After this the stream passage gains height, though the deep water continues for a further 90m before emerging into the surprisingly large and dry Things to Come Passage. This continues for over 500m in an almost straight line exactly below Travertine Passage and the route to Hall of the Mountain King. The passage is quite well-decorated and pleasant, if a little muddy, the most impressive feature however is The Dragon.
Beyond this formations continue, becoming more impressive as the passage goes before reaching an end as suddenly as it started. A ramp heading up to almost roof height reached the start of 70m of railway line installed to remove digging spoil in an epic endeavour to dig through the mud and boulders to the possible continuation beyond. It is possible to continue a little further to reach a slot with the sound of water below and some voids within the boulder choke, but great care should be taken to avoid dislodging loose rocks.
Description written by Mandy Voysey. Photos by Martyn Farr, Dan Thorne, Nick Chipchase and Matt Voysey.