CRAVEN's mountain and cave rescue volunteers and a highways team were called out after a party of cavers were reported late in returning from a climb into County Pot, Leck Fell, Kirkby Lonsdale. 

Clapham based Cave Rescue Organisation were called by Cumbria Police just before midnight on Saturday after concerns were raised over nine cavers, seven women and two men, aged 19 to 22 years old. The cavers had entered the pot, a popular entrance into the Ease Gill caving system, between Leck Fell and Castleton Fell, and were late coming out. 

Because of the number of cavers in the group and the potential of it being a long drawn out search, support was also requested from Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue, based in Grassington, and Swaledale Mountain Rescue.

Initially, snow drifts made accessing Bull Pot Farm, the base for exploring the system, difficult with the CRO's all terrain Honda Pioneer, the only vehicle able to pass. Happily, the cavers, who were well equipped, but tired and cold, were located  and guided back out of the system, checked over and given a meal before heading back home.

A spokesperson for CRO said: "Two underground teams were deployed to carry out a hasty search of the route that had been given whilst surface personnel set up a control room and communication relay. Search teams located the overdue group who were cold and tired.

"Due to the large number in the group, and potential for a long drawn out search of the wider system, additional support was requested from colleagues in Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team and Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue teams. Cumbria Highways also responded, clearing the snow drifts and enabling easier access to Bull Pot Farm.

"With support and encouragement from the team, the overdue party were able to make their way out of the cave and, after a quick assessment by surface members, made the long walk to Bull Pot Farm, where hot food and drinks were provided."

The spokesperson added that the cavers were well equipped and had an effective call out arrangement which ensured the alarm was raised promptly.

"As always, thanks to our friends at Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club for use of Bull Pot Farm. Thanks also to the members of UWFRA and SMRT who, in the end, were not required underground but gave up warm beds in the early hours to make the journey across, helped carry equipment and assisted the weary cavers in making their way safely back across the fell.

"A long night for everyone involved, and then the process of cleaning kit - and cavers - and restocking vehicles began."

The rescue involved a total 253 hours for CRO volunteers.