Fatal Accident at Priests Hole, Dovedale

© Dan Bailey

On the night of Saturday 15th October a walker was killed in a fall from the access route to the Priest's Hole on Dove Crag. The 50-year-old man was a member of a group of eight who'd been planning to spend the night in the cave, a well known bivvy spot. He fell around 150m down the front of the crag.

In light of the site's increasing popularity, and following a number of recent incidents here involving people attempting to locate the cliff-side cave in the dark, Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team have issued a reminder of its seriousness. With a complicated approach route above one of the steepest mountain crags in the Lake District, it is certainly a location to treat with care.

It's a popular spot, but not one to take lightly
© Dan Bailey

"We really would like to remind people that the cave is on the front face of a vertical cliff, and it is only accessible by one route. It is always best to plan to stay in good weather and to arrive in daylight"

Mike Blakey, Team Leader said: ‘the helicopter was able to direct the Team straight to the man’s location, approximately 50 meters below the bottom of the main crag. The man, who had slipped from the ledge, had fallen approximately 150 metres vertically and had sustained fatal injuries.’

‘The helicopter was unable to get close the scene but provided lighting from a hover position a few hundred metres away from the crag. Rescue 999 then returned to the valley bottom to uplift equipment and members of Penrith MRT who had been called to support us.’

‘Unfortunately, due to the weather conditions the helicopter was then unable assist further and the Team evacuated the man over a large boulder field and then down the valley on a stretcher to a Landrover ambulance.’

‘This kind of evacuation is always complex as it involves belaying the stretcher down the mountainside and team members literally man handling the stretcher over each boulder, through dense bracken and over streams.’

‘We also deployed four Team members to the Priest’s Hole to assist the remaining members of the party back to the safety of our base.’

‘The rescue lasted lasted for seven hours in total, and involved over 25 members of Patterdale, Penrith and Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Teams. The Team were assisted by seven mountain rescue search dog handlers who were en route to assist at the time the man was located.’

‘We had also called for the early assistance of Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit (COMRU) just in case the man had ended up on a ledge below the cave. This area is notoriously difficult for the Team to access as there are no safe locations to attach ropes for a safe lower and COMRU have the ability to place bolts for us if required.’

‘This Priest’s Hole has seen an increase in visitor numbers since the BBC covered its location in a documentary this year. Earlier in the summer a man sustained very serious injuries whilst attempting to access the location one evening and prior to this we were also called to assist a father and son.’

‘This group of friends were very well equipped and prepared for their adventure. However, as a team we are seeing more and more people who are attempting to locate the Priest’s Hole in the dark and without the right equipment. Indeed, during this rescue at about 2300 we came across three men who had been searching for the cave for a couple of hours. We really would like to remind people that the cave is on the front face of a vertical cliff, and it is only accessible by one route. It is always best to plan to stay in good weather and to arrive in daylight. An Ordnance Survey map and good navigations skills are prerequisites.’

‘Finally, and most importantly, our thoughts are with man’s family and friends including those were staying the night with him. No matter how many times we deal with such incidents they are always tragic and very sad for all concerned.’

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