Arun Paul, Ben Richards, David Wilson, James Wilson, Ellie Pizey, Leo Antwis, Chris Hayes, Jan Kożuszek, Julien Jean, Laura Temple, Erica Keung, Kevin Sohn, Jergus Strucka, Katie Marrow
Arriving at union after work at 6pm I was promptly told I was late, and after rushing into the bus was then also told that Leo was on the loo and we proceeded to wait another 15 mins for him. I guess someone has to when neither dubz are present. We then of course drove exactly back past my house, following almost to the road the bus route I'd just taken in, due to Kevin managing to get completely lost around white city. Deeply annoying.
To forget our internal fury we watched Shaun the sheep on my laptop and then played Shaun the sheep racer, setting a spectacular series of records for the CBeebies game. Laura directed us through a demolition site because it used to be an Aldi and still was listed as one on Google maps. This seemed to be enough for Laura given we drove right through it from one end to the other in search of food. After abandoning any hope of finding any remaining trace of the Aldi, a bright shining sign could be made out across the roundabout where a new Aldi seemed to have been built. Naturally this wasn't listed on Google Maps. Asking the checkout staff apparently this Aldi had been there for years and she seemed very confused by my recounting of our misadventures.
Quiche gang. A great impulse purchase for 80% of the quiche with the final 20% being somewhat of a slog. After setting off once again we played fire boy and water girl. Apparently it is shocking that I'd never heard of this game, but it was a lot of fun. Julien and Chris managed to nearly finish the entire game between the ghost Aldi and the TSG, but dramatically we arrived at the parking spot just as they frantically tried to finish the final level. Fortunately the terrible navigation that had plagued the trip showed no signs of stopping as they drove straight past the TSG without realising. Naturally none of us mentioned this, gaining the crucial minutes required to complete the entire game. A tremendous success.
An evening of deciding caves with very drunk TSG members ended up with a JH to JH exchange and another gang of us investigating Nettle Pot. We eventually settled on caves for 1:30 am. I had really wanted to do Titan - ever since first beginning my caving career I'd heard of this epic pitch but alas yet again the stars were not aligned, and high water meant it would probably not be a good idea to attempt the through trip to Peak, with the bottom of the Titan pitch itself perhaps being too wet to pass also. The more I heard about Nettle the better it sounded. Lava flats, the large Derbyshire hall, great formations, large pits, a cracking squeeze. All this combined with novelty factor won me over and Titan was left for another year. To bed, then to Nettle.
Nettle Pot: Arun Paul, Ben Richards, David Wilson, James Wilson, Jergus Strucka, Katie Marrow
We made it to Derbyshire Hall on Saturday. Entrance up on the hill past Oxlow. Tight entrance rift pitch similar to Link pot but a lot longer. The Freeze Squeeze was quite something, tightest squeeze I've ever done in a cave, had my oversuit and furry unzipped and still have a bruised sternum. Afterwards one of the TSG people said that you can exchange between the Elizabeth shaft and Beza shaft and not have to do a grim squeeze.
Derbyshire – the land of infinite untapped caving possibilities. Ben, Davey, Katie, James and I ventured to enter the Nettle pot – a satisfactory cave.
No currently active member has been to Nettle pot. An easy way to reach it is to walk towards the entrance to Oxlow, continue uphill until you reach the wall, turn right, walk along the wall until you reach a gate, enter the field uphill of Oxlow, walk across the field to the other wall. Once you hit the wall, turn left, and walk for a few minutes until you see the entrance to Nettle pot.
The entrance pitch to Nettle pot is tight-ish and long-ish, but nothing that should trap anyone; however, helping a person with SRT would likely be quite annoying there. Once at the bottom, you are standing on a bedding plane that sprawls in two directions (southeast and northwest) with a further deep pitch (the Elizabeth shaft) next to you. To get to the Derbyshire hall you take the more disconcerting looking muddy crawl (southeast) along the top of the Elizabeth shaft. For assurance, there are no traverse lines, plenty of slippery mud, and three pitch black holes that you must slide around (I repeat, around, not into, do not slide into them, please).
The third hole, unlike the two prior to it, has bolts that can be rigged for safe descent with a very simple re-belay which inevitably ends in a boulder choke – this passage has some underwhelming looking holes in the floor that can be traversed around (with a traverse line at one point!). Following the obvious passage, one arrives at an in-situ rope that goes up, followed by a crawl around a (surprise surprise) big hole in the floor. This is followed by another pitch down that leads into the crawl directly preceding the Derbyshire hall.
Here it is advisable to take off your SRT kit unless you are a noodle. Ben managed to get through the freeze squeeze just fine. James was quite reluctant about it but passed fine after he breathed out, but he did sound quite unhappy. Katie appeared to not notice the squeeze, truly a testament to her two-dimensionality (that’s a compliment). Davey made sure to strip down before doing it, saving valuable millimetres of thickness on his chest and squishing himself through. I (very disconcerted) did the same with just my shirt on and (very disconcertedly) managed to get through after some pep talk from Arun. I was too busy admiring Davey’s glistening muddy chest and war-scars to notice how Arun’s squeeze went, but apparently quite well.
Derbyshire hall is worth visiting – quite a pretty and reasonably sizeable chamber. It draughts and legends say that it might be the new lower entrance to Migovec, after all, the lower boulder choke is only about 1000 miles from the Friendship gallery. Some digging needed.
On the way back I panicked in the squeeze a bit and opted for the “flap like a panicked fish” strategy for about 10 seconds – this was enough to bruise my chest, shoulders, and hips for all the next week. Davey pointed out that this is not most efficient, and I should calm down my breathing – I passed through fine after that. Thanks Davey.
[Written up in a broken down KYW in an Asda car park at 3am, just outside Oxford, read the Y3 trip report for context]
I woke up to everyone complaining about a clock. The TSG members had apparently hidden it in our room with the alarm set to early in the morning and the alarm adjusters ripped out of the back for good measure. A slow-trigger sonic grenade. I was blissfully unaware of the detonation of said device, as was anyone else with ear plugs, but apparently it was thrown in the members room after which it was thrown outside and apparently smashed beyond any vestige of repair.
The JH and peak teams had a load of faff while nettle gang did some washing up and I packed the bags. They had to be in early for the Peak restrictions while our short trip had no rush whatsoever. Chris had his Christmas furry and Ellie had such an enormous one she was gangster lo riding. She was not happy.
Arun arrived and joined us just after the Peak gang left and sat around for a cuppa while we got things together. After the winter tour incident there were no laminator sheets so we shoved the nettle survey into a Jergus freezer bag. Heading off in the two cars, we were blissfully unaware that we had forgotten any information on how to locate the entrance.
We parked at the farm, tried to pay money to the farmer but they were nowhere to be seen. Money was hidden on the windowsill. Naturally just after we'd done this and started changing the farmer drove up to say hi. Despite being a sunny day it was bitterly cold so we quickly headed off around the circuitous route to dodge the farmer's own land and rapidly located Oxlow. At this point we realised our mistakes and so had nothing to go off of other than our own memories of heading up past Oxlow past a luminous fence post. We split up and wandered around somewhat randomly until someone found a manhole and it was helpfully labelled as the entrance to Nettle Pot. No luminous fence posts were ever identified.
James rigged down, I followed and the others huddled in a bothy. It sounded as though they were trying to name various rivers. Unclear. The pitch down was narrow and tight but not too bad on the way down at least. Quickly we made it down to the flats, with the way on unclear. Multiple paths could be seen where others had gone before, as mentioned by Jergus. I eventually headed off down the most obvious route and when David joined he complained the compass said we were going the wrong way. By this point James had started rigging the next pitch and we were going to turn around when he ran through all the features we'd seen on the survey that matched what we'd seen in the cave. There were quite a lot when we thought about it. Pushing back against David's complaints we quickly found out he'd been looking at the wrong end of the compass and given the entire cave is in a straight line this meant that we were now going in the correct direction. Hooray.
The flats were somewhat lava-esque but seemed to be made of lighter coloured tuff rather than any exciting black basalt. Still, the pattern on the roof was quite wavy and unsurprisingly very flat. Down the next pitch there were more and more stals, until we reached the far flats. Here the stals became completely transparent, so much so you could see straight through them at your hand on the other side. They looked just like ice, or perhaps melted glass, appearing almost blue against the warmer coloured red/orange rock. None of them were bigger than perhaps a foot in length, but there were many curtains, straws, stals and flowstones.
Jergus has already beautifully described the skirting around big holes in the floor, of which there was a fair amount, but the mud was by far the worst aspect of the cave in my opinion. Given I didn't find the squeeze as committing as others, the sticky brown mud that coated every surface of my caving kit and was relentlessly lunging and flowing towards my bare hands and thus my camera was incredibly annoying.
I made it to the squeeze to see James half inserted, feet first, reversing back out having not found a good line of attack. He slithered out and I headed through head first, with my helmet just fitting but with SRT off beforehand. Had my helmet been any wider it would have had to have come off as well. Everyone made it through, some having to breath out and David having to get his bare chest out. Skin to rock.
Beyond the freeze squeeze it was plain sailing through to Derbyshire Hall, with numerous beautiful formations along the way. Many were just as transparent as the ones before, with some of the flowstone flowing down the walls also being completely transparent, looking like a layer of glass through which you could see the rock encased below. Some stooping and crawling and walking and more stooping later we made it. I took a very quick photo before people started getting cold and as we didn't have an enormous amount of time left before turnaround. The two dubz poked around the dig at the bottom and then we headed back towards the freeze squeeze.
Apparently the squeeze was harder on the way back, although given I’m quite small I didn’t really find it difficult in either direction. As long as I exactly followed the largest path through the squeeze or else helmet didn’t fit. At the entrance pitch it was quite slow heading out as all 6 of us headed up the tight rift. I volunteered to derig so sat at the bottom waiting around. The derig was slow and painful in the rift, but not technically challenging in any way - I just whacked my knees a lot and everything caught on everything else.
Also my Fenix ran out of battery just after leaving Derbyshire hall so I had my backup light compressing my head and ramming glasses into the top of my nose the whole way out. The whole way out Davey was serenading us with everything from du hast mich to the human centipede song to Carmina Burana. Such talent.
In the end we were in okay for time but we had taken longer than planned given all the entrance searching and for double checking navigation within the cave. As we exited the entrance pitch the others headed off to cancel call out and Davey waited as I derigged the very small and twatty entrance narrows. Night had engulfed us to such an extent that Davey thought he was sitting under the metal grill before realising it was in fact the perfectly black night sky. We rushed back to the cars, trying to spot the fences in the night before comparing how completely covered in mud we each were. David’s hear was so matted it had become one thick sheet of mud, since he took his helmet off for the squeeze. Arun looked like an old man with dusty grey hair and the rest of us were pretty muddy as well.
I also found a minuscule welly on the side of the road, which I brought home and instructed Chris to label in a very large size and enter into circulation for ever and ever. At the car we realised peak to JH weren’t out and so Arun car went to check up on them. They bumped into Ellie and found they were just slow, with the others on their way after a very long trip. Our car had made it back to the TSG and other members from the hut all went over with us. We mainly brought warm drinks, food and good vibes to the knackered cavers as they exited JH. Chris speedily rigged a great assisted haul to help Jan out who was last to come up the enormous entrance pitch, which was good rescue practice for us and hopefully not too weird for Jan given we explained the situation by shouting down at him before he felt himself getting yoinked by 5 people up top.
As soon as he was out we heard the horrors of his trip. We got back to the hut in high spirits with pasta bake and cleanliness in order. I then spent forever cleaning Nettle Pot out of my kit before returning to the socialising in the kitchen. As per usual the evening rapidly descended into chaos with Chris tying himself upside down for buff wrestling and Jergus getting incredibly excited about bread and butter pudding. Although Jergus seemed to claim all the credit for the pudding it seems as though Katie actually made it all. It was delicious regardless. Laura waved a big knife around a lot as she cut it up.
Moved upstairs for the comfy sofas. Chris immediately started traversing tables. He then put his legs on the table, as did James. Chris then got bored. He started rummaging around the room. He found an early ascender. Then a good rock, a piece of Blue John. Julien discovered this comes from French for blue yellow which over the years has been mangled. Various people then tried to balance said rock on them, James attempted on his nose. Next was chair traverse with Leo paused by placing chair on the table in what looked particularly uncomfortable. This was upgraded to ladder traverse, which it turned out Chris couldn’t do. Thus combative ladder jenga was born.
Davey then started tying people up in handcuff knots. Chris felt left out so David tied him up and challenged him to escape. Which he did. In less time than it took David to tie the knots. Then a tipsy gaggle of TSG members came up and joined us as Chris then tied up David, who also then escaped incredibly quickly. At this point I called it a night and headed up to bed. During the night Leo tried to roll onto me but I successfully defended against the various waves of attacks.
Jerguš had been selling Nettle pot to us as a great cave for the entire trip up from London, which is obviously suspish. However, despite the potentially terrible time in store for us, off we went :)
I was slightly concerned when I saw the tight-looking entrance pitch, as my previous SRT experience had all been nice and spacious. However, I managed to make it down in one piece, where I joined James and Ben and a lot of mud. We spent some time trying to find the right way, as the survey was covered in onions and Davey (who had the compass) was shouting to us that we were going in the wrong direction.
Once we realised that this was because he was looking at the south needle rather than the north needle, the navigation went a lot more smoothly.
This cave was very exciting for me because it was the first one that involved any level of crawling or squeezing. I had a baptism of fire (baptism of mud??) ahead in the form of the Freeze Squeeze. Watching the people in front of me try to fit themselves through was concerning. Luckily, I am smaller than I think and it was fine. Very disappointing that I didn't get to join Jerguš and Davey's bare-chested squeeze club.
The reward for passing this obstacle was Derbyshire Hall which is large and pretty, where we ate cheese, took photos, and investigated the howling draught at the end.
Overall review: many pretty transparent stalactites that look like icicles, some ominous-looking holes that you have to crawl past, one tight squeeze, mud.
Peak Cavern to JH: Ellie Pizey, Jan Kożuszek, Julien Jean, Kevin Sohn, Leo Antwis, Chris Hayes, Laura Temple, Erica Keung
‘There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men for my experiences on this fucking trip’
~J.R.R. Tolkien, probably
It all began at 3 am with a call to prayer. I had been having trouble falling asleep and submitted to my recent obsession with the Rivers of London series, when a strange sound pierced the room, like the shriek of a wounded animal played back from an old speaker. Within a moment, the sound was gone. I held my breath and before I could react, the sound was back, louder, longer, then gone again. There was now motion, as those who’d managed to fall asleep were brutally summoned back to the reality of the bunk room. And the reality turned out to be an alarm clock, inexplicably shaped like a mosque, and, even more inexplicably, hidden under Davey’s mattress. We had, in fact, been warned by someone from TSG that there might be an alarm hidden somewhere in the room, but they neglected to mention it being set for 3am (though a later investigation revealed that the clock had read 6am at the time). It was James who managed to yank the demonic device from under his brother and took it out, followed by some loud bangs as he chucked it in the members room in a fully justified act of revenge. The clock was later to be found lying on the kitchen table, stripped of its little minarets and constricted by several zip-ties. I would have smashed the hideous thing, but this works too.
Sleep came to me swiftly after that, which was good, as the wake-up call came brutally early, and it wasn’t even 8am when I found myself at breakfast. This was because there were to be two groups doing the connection between JH and Peak, and the one starting at Peak had to be there at 10am sharp. I was also informed that I was to be part of this Peak team. This being my first time caving in Derbyshire, I did not know I should have taken those news as I would a brutally unfair prison sentence. The warning signs only continued, as it turned out that Ellie’s kit bag had been left in stores, and she had to assemble everything she needed from the spare kit. Also I had two left gloves, but this was solved quickly by simply flipping one to the wrong side. We then went to leave our change of clothes in the minibus, and would be ready to head for the entrance to Peak, were it not for the truly Olympic levels of faff generation that Julien was reaching. Still, after the second time we’d had to walk back to the hut, we were finally off for good.
I will give the cave this, and this only: the entrance is awesome, in the literal sense of the word. We walked under the tired gaze of the Peveril castle ruins, getting ready for another day of their hard work as a tourist attraction, longing for the days where all they could see was a valley filled with trees. Instead they now saw us, making our way to the vertical cliff face marked by a gaping hole, like a dark, toothless maw open onto the world. The effect was ruined only somewhat by several signs cheerfully announcing that we were about to enter the Devil’s Arse.
And so into the Arse we went, together with a TSG group, and quickly made it to the end of the show cave and onto a concrete slide leading into the deeper parts of the system. We tried our best to make the slide work, getting our bums muddy and wet first, but it wasn’t quite as smooth a ride as it promised. ‘Where are you heading today?’ somebody from the other group asked. ‘JH’ was the answer. ‘Ah – you got the short end of the stick’. Neither me nor this caver probably knew how right they would turn out to be. Within 15 minutes, we were already lost.
In our defence, we only had a set of directions for going the other way, and while Ellie had been to the system before, it had been much drier and many passages changed their appearance completely. Regardless, we made our way through several ducks, past Victoria Aven, all the way to what looked like the end of the main passage. We could still hear the voices of the other team, following not far behind. From here, we found a climb to the right, going past a wooden door abandoned on the floor, and emerging at the foot of another climb, this time more steep and muddy. Up we went, Kevin leading the way and disappearing in the passage at the top. Soon, he was back. ‘No way to go’ was the verdict. ‘Too tight’. This despite his best efforts – he’d just completed the first of his many side quests that day. Concerningly, we’d also stopped hearing the other group, proving beyond reasonable doubt that we’d gone the wrong way somewhere. But where?
We climbed back down and Kevin again disappeared on a side quest, off all the way back to Victoria Aven, checking every side passage he could find. We followed behind him more slowly, finding only a dead dig somewhere off to the left. He was actually away for quite a while before returning, having found nothing useful. We walked the route again, there and back, desperately trying to find a ‘rift’ mentioned on a set of directions from 2017. Nothing. We sat again by the climb with the door, trying to figure out what to do next. Except the climb wasn’t really the only way out – there was another way we initially dismissed as a sump. But now someone remembered overhearing a caver from the other group saying ‘I hate this part’. So I bent down to look, and discovered the sump might actually be a duck, connecting to a passage forward. Without much deliberation, not wanting the resolve to leave me, I stepped into the water. Deeper than I expected, and I lost balance, darting forward into a half-swim in the ice-cold water. Still, I turned the corner and found myself on a gentle shore, facing a silent passage into the darkness. The way forward. After enjoying the various sounds made by the others as they stepped into the duck, I was ready to put the less-than-ideal start of the trip behind me and have fun. Ugh.
Without further delays we made our way to Treasury. Despite its name, it housed just a few formations remarkable only for their tiny size, and one admittedly cool rock. The way on was up a strange ladder which changed its angle halfway up, and through a metal gate that seemed to serve no clear purpose. Behind it, the nice, walking-height passages I was beginning to enjoy were no more, replaced by crouching and crawling in deep mud. It was no ordinary mud, either. The stuff was thick, like clay, and sticky, turning my gloves into disgusting rags when I took them off to try and eat one of my chocolates. It was covered in mud too. We had found ourselves in the Trenches and Ellie was loving it.
Being of larger-than-average size for a caver, I often find that others can move much more quickly through tight passages. This was the case presently, and soon I was virtually alone, swearing under my breath as I threw myself into more and more mud. Fuck. Does it never end? I could still talk with the others, of course, and heard Julien worry about his wellies getting stuck. Finally, after what seemed like decades, I heard the good news up ahead – there was a small chamber. Not enough to stand up, but enough to at least stretch out. While the rest dealt with the route finding, I propelled myself forward with new enthusiasm. And then - Shit. Fuck. The SRT kit stuck into my abdomen, my arms were getting in their own - and in my way. I pushed with more strength. Nothing. Fuck. Ja pierdolę. I was stuck, but I could see the other side. More strength. More nothing. This wasn’t going to work, so with great discomfort I managed to wriggle myself back out and began to detach stuff from my harness to pass it ahead to Ellie – a process not made easier by the fact that there was not enough space for my body to bend more than a couple degrees. I pushed forward again, this time planning ahead where my arms would end up. Coincidentally, this bit of the cave turns out to have the resonant frequency of a large man’s grunting, and so I heard the squeeze vibrate back at me (I later confirmed this finding with Kevin). But I got through it – and collapsed onto the floor of a small chamber, only to be informed by Ellie that we had not even reached the bit of the crawls known affectionately as Colostomy.
Colostomy turned out, of course, to be horrible, long and muddy and wet, large sections lined with black rubber mats that made moving up their slight incline even harder. At least it wasn’t as tight as the bit before. Piece of shit. To make matters worse, my harness fell from my hips at some point, having been loosened and pulled down by all the squeezing. After what felt like another fucking decade we arrived at a ladder going down into a large chamber. I stood upright for the first time in years and stretched, before washing my glasses and my gloves and my chocolate bars in the streamway while Kevin and Ellie did some quick exploration.
Again there was the question of where to go. The 2017 guide specified a crawl and the need to move upstream. Well, we went left from the ladder, through some ducks (I had to go on my knees for the last one, that’s like a crawl, right?), and stopped before a roaring waterfall jutting from the passage on our left. Surely this wasn’t the way? Ellie remembered nothing like it, but then it had been far less wet on her previous trip. Very carefully, she and Kevin shimmied their way forwards and climbed up the side of the streamway, avoiding the risk of being swept up by the furious current. They went up ahead before stopping for a discussion. I could hear nothing of their words over the roar and the rumble of the black-and-white rapids – only see their figures contoured by their lights, crouching, looking at the survey. Eventually Ellie called me and Julien to join. ‘Let’s not split up’. This was reasonable, so I was surprised to find upon reaching her that Kevin had gone ahead into the violent darkness to look for a path forwards. ‘We don’t think this is the right way’, said Ellie. This did not make much sense to me but the deed was done. We followed Kevin’s footsteps, part crawling, part waddling against the cold current. Still, I somehow preferred that over the awfulness of the Trenches. Julien, however, was having a terrible time of it, and progress was slow. Eventually we decided to perch ourselves on a bit of rocky shore and wait for Kevin to return, which he did in what felt like hours, but was actually no more than five minutes.
The passage upstream apparently kept going, reaching a junction at which Kevin had turned back. There was no way this was where we were meant to go, and we turned around and made our way back to the chamber with the ladder. Going left hadn’t worked, so we went right, and again Kevin darted ahead, checking tiny side passages, though this time I wasn’t far behind him. But this way seemed to end in a choke and we were ready to walk to the ladder again and strategise, when Kevin stopped and dropped to his knees by a small, almost imperceptible passage to the left (we were facing the ladder chamber now, though if you’re trying to use this report for guidance then God help you). Ellie had actually noticed that passage a minute earlier, but I thought I’d seen Kevin check it out already. Nope – that was a different tiny passage in that wall. Either way, this one did not seem promising: a tight crawl over an undisturbed sand bed with no sign of human activity. So of course that was the right way forwards.
Not only was that the right way, but once inside and crawling on the pleasantly soft sand, I heard voices from ahead. Could it be? Yes – when all hope seemed lost, Chris’s voice came from the dark like a message from a higher power. Kevin’s sidequest was finally a success. We finally met up with the group coming from JH. Rather amusingly, both groups tried to convince the other that the worst was still ahead for them. We told them of the mud and the squeezes, they told us of the bung. What is a bung? As it turns out, it’s a ladder in a waterfall. What is wrong with this cave???
Despite the warnings, I actually rather enjoyed the bung, despite two separate waterfalls bashing into my head with full force. It felt cleansing, both figuratively and literally, getting rid of all the mud from my suit and gear. Then there was more cold water, deeper this time, and we had to walk on a narrow bit of scaffolding, complete with random bits of metal jutting out ready to trip you and send you falling into the inviting Whirlpool. Again, what is wrong with this cave?
Also, there was another metal gate serving no clear purpose.
At the end of all that we found ourselves at the foot of a ladder. I went first, and, at the top of the ladder, I found myself at the foot of a ladder. This ladder was a good meter off to my right, with no platforms to stand on anywhere around. Still, it wasn’t hard to reach after I attached my cows tails to it for extra reassurance. I went up, and at the top of the ladder, I found myself at the foot of a ladder. And guess what I found at the top of that ladder? A ladder. And at the top of that ladder I finally found a trap door, complete with a warning to keep it shut because of radon. Of course, in addition to everything else, the system is also radioactive.
We were now in the old mine and following an extremely long pipe into a big chamber. This was the bottom of Leviathan, where we found the rope rigged by the JH group. It was time to start prussiking. Before the trip, I had thought I would try to practice de-rigging, but by this time I only wanted to get out. It was decided that Kevin would de-rig, and I made my way up through a bunch of rebelays and on to a new rope, eventually emerging at the top in front of a little passage. The way on wasn’t obvious, again. I first went left and found myself overlooking the pitch from a different angle, seeing Ellie’s light climbing towards me from below. I then went right and again looked down a pitch, this time with what looked like a few possible crawls leading to the sides. And back in the middle, there was a short in situ handline up a rather dodgy-looking climb. Julien, who’d joined me in the meantime, managed to get up fairly quickly and reported that there was a large chamber that did seem to be the correct way forward. With some encouragement from the newly arrived Ellie and some tactical wedging I finally got up the climb and found myself surrounded by the remains of old mining equipment. This must have been the Workshop, and it provided the second cool rock of the day. What joy.
Then it was time for yet another rope, going up the wonderfully named Bitch Pitch. I was tired before, but it really started catching up with me now. The climb was tight, often allowing me to only have one boot in the foot loop for long stretches, all the while a heavy tackle sack hung at my waist. A few steps up – rest. A few steps up – rest, catch a breath, find a foothold to make the next push up easier. The others below were starting to get worried and impatient, asking at different times whether I was ok and whether this or that bit of rope was free. Finally, completely exhausted, I made it to the top of the pitch. The walls were actually quite nice here, covered with shiny little crystals. There was also – of course – a traverse, consisting of some very narrow bits of rusty metal affixed to the rocks. Fuckinjesuschristshit Having no choice but to go forwards, I pulled myself up and propelled myself onto what little footing I could find. I took a step forward, when something yanked me back. My long cow’s tail had somehow wrapped around the wrong side of my body and was preventing me from moving forward. Kurwakurwakurwaaa I stepped back, managed to unclip it and move it to the stretch of rope ahead, and felt the tackle sack get stuck on something, and felt my wellies start to slip on the tiny, rusty, piece of shit bits of the traverse. I think some part of me accepted this fate as I half-fell down, hanging on my cow’s tails from the traverse line. My legs hit a bit of solid ground, an infuriatingly small distance ahead, but all that did was send an avalanche of rocks all the way down the pitch. I became motionless, listening to the clatter of the rocks and the shouts of warning, first from Julien, then from Ellie, as they fell further and further down. I had already been feeling bad for slowing the whole group down – now I had to add attempted assault to the mix.
This was the low point, as I hung suspended, too tired to even throw expletives around. But there was no choice but to keep going. I managed to pull myself up and forwards with some of the bars that formed the traverse ahead of me, and eventually I was up on my feet and able to move off the traverse and finally have a bit of real rest while I waited for the others to prussik up. If I hadn’t been so tired by this point I maybe would have even enjoyed some parts of the walk that followed – having to skirt the sides of deep, cold pools and wading straight through the shallower ones. But I was tired, and all I could feel was the insult of having yet another dodgy climb with a tiny, thin, colourful in situ handline and a rusty, diagonal bar of metal for all the help. Julien made it up first, and after a few attempts I figured out you could use the bar to push your back against the other side of the climb and managed to haul myself up too, getting a hand from Julien. Before we could reach the final pitch, the cave had to throw in one final fuck-you in the form of a tight rift in which I got stuck and for the second time had to wriggle back, detach half of my gear and try again, shouting incomprehensibly in pain and frustration to concerned Kevin and Ellie. Allow me to indulge here too, even if briefly:
When we finally sat at the bottom of the entrance pitch, it was getting close to 8pm, our callout. Ellie, who seemed the least destroyed by the experiences of the previous 10 hours, went out first to reassure everyone that we were not in trouble, just tired and hungry. She basically flew up the straight 60m pitch and it was Julien’s turn. He took much longer, leading Kevin to start losing his sanity, singing and then shadowboxing while I hummed ‘the Eye of the Tiger’. We talked a bit about physics and a bit about how fucking hungry he was, interrupted by his asking Julien how far up he was every now and then. Finally, the long awaited ‘Rope free’ came echoing down from the top. A this point I was somehow feeling more sane and stable than Kevin, so he went up first and I sat alone in the peaceful darkness, not fully comprehending what the fuck I’d just been through. It felt like Kevin also took a while to conquer the pitch, but it honestly could also have been very quick: I wouldn’t be able to tell.
Then it was finally my turn. I managed to recover a bit while waiting for others to ascend and was at peace with having to do this one last effort, when a voice came down from the surface. ‘We’re gonna help you a little bit!’ It was Chris. ‘What?’ How were they going to help me from up there? ‘Just keep prussiking!’ Before I could say anything in response to this, the rope began to move. I was being lifted up, finally released from the underworld. I heard the commands from above. ‘Slack!’, then ‘Pull!’, and every time I’d stop prussiking and watch as another bit of the pitch moved past me. I expressed concern at the unnecessary effort being exerted, but Chris assured me they had a 2-to-1 ratio on the pulley and four guys pulling on the rope. It was really a clever bit of rigging and I hope the schematics make it into the gallery.
Finally, I was out in the moonlight, greeted by many faces I wasn’t expecting to see. They’d been worried we weren’t coming back and set off from the hut to help even before our callout. I guzzled down around 70% of the large bottle of tea I was given and rejoiced in the sudden spaciousness of the hilltop. On the way back, I didn’t even have to change as Davey let me sit in his car in the wet – but clean from all the waterfalls – gear. Back at the hut I showered and consumed whatever food was in my sight, telling anybody who’d listen just how much of a piece of shit that trip was. Of course now, a week later, it doesn’t feel quite as horrendous, even though some of the bruises and scratches are still visible. So much effort and pain for a cave that wasn’t even nice – we saw all of two pretty rocks – and still if I ask myself honestly, I can’t say I will never come back to it. Though, by God, if I do, let it be JH to Peak and not the other way.
Big thanks to Ellie, Kevin and Julien for bearing with me throughout our 11 hour extravaganza and to Chris and the lads for the final airlift.
What a fucking trip.
JH -> Peak: Ellie Pizey, Jan Kożuszek, Julien Jean, Kevin Sohn, Leo Antwis, Chris Hayes, Laura Temple, Erica Keung
After last years attempt, I was extremely nervous. Not only was I organising the trip, but the safety nets were off! We four young cavers were on our own.
With the ropes packed the night before, and myself up at 6am (by accident) to cook breakfast, we were off to a smashing start! Things took a dip when I forgot the "derbyshire Key" and had to run back to get it. Things turned even more sharply downwards after I realised I had left ALL OF THE DESCRIPTIONS in the hut, but alas, it was too late. Sick to my stomach we pushed on anyway, trusting completely in my memory of a cave I had never been to.
Laura rigged the first pitch with no difficulty. Absolutley nothing went wrong. A 60m rope was not tied in a knot around a scaff bar. Once rigged we tentativel descended careful not to glaze the rope, though our descenders still got very hot, and hissed when they hit a damp patch! In future, I will take water to wet the rope before walking to the cave as there are no rivers or nice puddles on the way.
Once down, we marched confidently and quickly through cartgate faltering only once for me to climb the wrong way down a loose boulder slope and out again. Bitting B---- Pitch my nerves were still high so I rigged rather quickly, and Laura fixed some tensioning problems. After a short break in the workshop we started on the final pitch, and quickly made it to the radon door. The ladder climb was a lot of fun, hitting the sweet spot of 'just about the right amount of dodgy'.Reaching the river, we were a little cold and hesistant, but pushed on regardless. At the whirpool we had no idea what was happening and prepared for a swim at the other side. Mercifull it was only 'nipple deep' as the descriptions foretold. Taking the obvious right turn to the bung, we were extremely concerned about the waterflow, and almost turned back. Fortunately, no one drowned.
We met our counterpart team as they exited the short bypass, and shared tales of how worse each others route ahead would be. It was only 2pm by this time, and I could finally relax. rejoining the streamway after the crawl, ignaro aven could not be missed, and we prepired for an hour of awful awful crawling. Nevermind! Colostomy and the trenches were great! By far our faveroute part of the trip! Leo serenaded us through with his Borat. Good luck if you ever have to endure this yourself.
We bore left and carefuly downclimbed the ladder into the treasury and proceeded boldly onwards through the obvious passage on the other side. A little chilly, we wasted no time at the ducks, marching straight through, simply assuming this was the right way - and it was! Leo, after barrel rolling along between the ducks, dove straight over the damn for a wash, and the rest of us reluctantly took part in the cold scrubbing.
Our route finding was a little troubled here, as the big ladder seemed the obvious way on - it isnt. It is also terryfying and shaky! So, once again we proceeded downstream and hit the slide! Exiting through peak, I signed us out, and had completely forgotten about the key to exit. Rather annoyed that the gate was locked, we broke out through a hole in the fence and stumbled back to the TSG. 5 hours in all. We were very pleased with ourselves.
After last night's antics (perhaps better left unmentioned) I was - in my classic style 'Violently Hung Over' and barely made it on a trip. P8 was a Charming trip, and reminded me a little of Swildon. Full of weird intersecting passages, streamways, sumps, and digs, I remember nothing about the route. Everyone seemed to have a great time, with Leo even sliding out of a bypass crawl and into a sump of depth greater than one ID (Imperial Davey). Wanting to leave Castelton in good time, we turned around and left swiftly.
Eldon Hole: Ben Richards, Erica Keung, Kevin Sohn
I woke up at 10 to find everyone else still asleep. Amazing. Chris was curled up in a chair in the common room after the adventures of the night before. Although tempted by the chippy and a walk, I really wanted to do Eldon hole as I’d heard it was high quality and similar to Alum, plus the weather was nice. This was enough to convince Erica and Kevin to join, so the three of us set off in the minibus.
Driving off I noticed a "same ETA" route on Google maps which went in the opposite direction to our usual route, up the hill above Castleton. This had amazing views back across the village and across the valley and continued up around the outside of a giant quarry. All was well until we hit a closed road, which meant driving down a ridiculously bumpy dirt farm track in rallycross style, which was very entertaining given the state of the minibus.
We made it to the farm, probably 10 mins later than normal route given the diversion and that Google presumably wanted us to go 60 mph the whole way. Quick change, minimal faff, pro team. The walk up the hill was made even more fun thanks to Kevin bringing his very loud speaker, while also dressed in his hut clothes plus a coat. It immediately started clouding over but the weather was still fine. At the cave we spent a while figuring out which route was which and eventually picked Erica to rig the west route and Kevin the East. Kevin zoomed down with the banging tunes and I followed after him on his rope, keeping an eye on Erica across the chasm and shouting words of encouragement. This is an amazingly convenient setup for supervised rigging practice.
Both Erica and Kevin’s routes ended up being very tight, so the rope lengths have very little leeway - pack extra long next time. Despite this Erica did a great job and rigged all the way to the bottom completely by herself. At the very bottom we both simultaneously descended down in parallel as if in a heist movie, about to steal Kevin from the Eldon Hole bank vault.
The main chamber down the scaffolding is enormous! I was not at all expecting this, it looks very European with it’s enormous flowstone formations down the walls and towering ceiling. We tried the pull through string, but couldn’t get it to work the first or second time so quickly gave up. There was duct tape there so the head of our rope didn’t seem to be the problem, instead some knot on the string seemed to be catching and we couldn’t be bothered to diagnose any further. Instead we took some photos in the main chamber and headed back out.
I derigged west and Erica derigged east so that we could swap routes, and given it was a Sunday trip with no freshers I thought I’d experiment as to whether I could just undo all the maillons on the way up and haul the rope up from the top. My logic for this is I wouldn’t have to carry the rope at all, making prusik incredibly easy, but near the top it got a bit scary feeling the enormous weight of the rope dangling beneath me. I told myself it was completely fine, given the weight obviously can’t have been as much as a grown adult and two people are completely fine on a rope, but still, it felt weird. After topping out I then paid my price for the easy ascent with a heavy haul, but it rapidly got easier and was probably still worth it.
Zooming back to the van we changed even faster and then zoomed off the hut. Clearing the hut speedily we headed home in very good time, especially given the drive home is so much shorter than from Yorkshire.
Dinner was a service station Leon in a forbidden seating area, for some unknown reason. The staff serving us were friendly but completely incompetent, even asking Laura to tell them what the kids menu she ordered actually contained so they could make it for her. After this Laura understandably required a lie down, so she constructed a bed in the space between the seat rows in the minibus and proceeded to optimise it to an impressive extent. Eventually it consisted of layered sleeping bags in the gap between the rows, with additional bags to even out the base. Roll mats were then on top of this to form a mattress and a sleeping bag was dug up from the back for her to lie inside. Once the creation was complete we heard a “night night mfs” followed by a prolonged period of silence.
Bella ciao finished at a very reasonable half ten ish as we pulled into the union. Speedy unpacking was followed by rearranging as much of climbing stores as we could, using their convenient ice axe tied up to their door and big bag of shiny gear left right by the hole in the door.
After my experiences on Saturday I had no desire to go caving again, and was slowly joined by a trickle of people with the same idea. After a nice morning trip to a café, Jergus, Julien and Katie set off for a hike to Mam Tor, I went to check out the castle and Ellie went back to the hut, assuring us she had much work to do. The castle was neat, although the various information boards painted a picture of truly spectacular historical irrelevance. Soon the weather turned and I headed to the hut, where I found Ellie cocooned in her sleeping bag with the laptop still closed. The hikers also returned early and we all went to the chippy. Due to an incident involving dropped fish I ended up having scampi, which were very nice, and all the non-Brits present could learn about the incredible dish of chip butty, a sandwich made of white bread and chips, and we returned to TSG changed forever.
Julien and I then began to untie and organise some of the ropes from Saturday. The ones from the Nettle trip were in such a state that Julien was prompted to figure out how the rope washer worked, and we spent the next hour or two washing and coiling ropes before the caving trips all returned. We had some excellent cheesy pasta and a speedy journey home, with the added entertainment of watching Laura go to great lengths to create an appropriate sleeping space at the back of the bus, a task she finally completed successfully as we were already driving into London.