Friday 14 December 2018

13th December 2018 - An unexpected journey

Dick beginning to rig in the biting wind
It's been wet so the plan was to rig Death's Head, a new cave for Tony and I, before negotiating the dug connection to the Lost John's master cave and then turn round once we saw what we presumed would be a raging torrent heading towards the sump.

For the second week in a row we found ourselves parked next to other cavers, it's definitely becoming a very popular sport!  We changed under clear skies and in a biting wind, before heavily laden with a 100m rope, set off across the moor in the trail of all the other cavers. 

Despite the crowds, we had Death's Head to ourselves and Dick was soon rigging from a post in the encircling fence.  We're not sure if the pin from a bolt, hammered into the top of the post signified a survey station, or a specially reinforced belay fence post, but it certainly seemed less rickety than the others. Fortunately it's just steep ground down to the belay tree below, rather than a vertical drop, so it wasn't going to be taking that much weight.

Down the rabbit hole...
Dick soon had a sling round the tree and set of down to the first rebelay.  Joining Tony at the tree I was glad to be out of the wind. Putting my gloves back on after taking photos had left me with sickening hot aches, though I was glad that blood was returning to my fingers again.

Meeting up with Tony again at the rebelay we both looked skyward as the wind rushing over the top of the pot emulated someone blowing over an enormous milk bottle, producing an eery, resonating howl.

As rebelay followed rebelay, I realised it had been a long time since we'd done a cave with 'big' pitches. I'd love to do this pot again in the light as I'm sure much of its glory was hidden in the shadows.  The howls of wind noise from above was now replaced with hollers of delight from Dick below as he dropped the final pitch and landed on the boulder slope floor of the main chamber.

While I could see the other two below me, my attention was grabbed by the huge jammed boulder that acts as the take off for the final pitch. Sometimes it's best not to think too much about these things.

The main chamber is an incredible place and the dug shaft at it's base an amazing piece of engineering,  completed in just 7 weeks. This must have been a much more comfortable place for the diggers after their travails in the link between Notts II and Lyle Caverns. A lone bat had decided it was a nice place to spend the winter too.

The clever mammals know how to avoid all the brexit twaddle

Tony soon had a rope down the scaffolded shaft and Dick swiftly followed.  In readiness for the squirminess I believed to be ahead I stopped at the bottom of the pitch to take off my SRT gear, the other's voices disappearing down the continuation crawl.  The crawls and short squeezes completed a handlined climb dropped us into a beautiful piece of streamway and suddenly we were there at a short, rigged pitch down into a gently running stream.

Tony on the dig pitch
Tony with his gear still on was soon down into the Lost John's master cave with Dick not far behind. Kindly Tony passed his harness up and I was able to join them as they returned from upstream, where they had turned round at a deep pool. The stomp was now on down to the sump. Despite both Tony and I having been to the bottom of the Lost John's pitches and down to Groundsheet junction, we'd never actually been to the sump, so it was great to be there, especially as we hadn't been expecting to be able to make it down into the streamway.

In spite of the increasing weight of rope below and the worrying rubbing of the rope above as I removed a deviation, I felt really pleased that we'd all made it down to the sump, an added bonus to an already great trip. Shouts of, "Hurry up, we're freezing.", signalled my proximity to the tree and I hauled the now burgeoning tackle sack up the steep slope above, rope spilling from it as it was dumped finally on horizontal ground.

It was then back into the long line of everyone making their way back across the moor to the cars, headlights acting as a homing beacon to weary cavers. Though the moors had been crowded, we were the only customers in the welcoming Whoop Hall, though we hope they did have at least one other guest, a large gentleman in a rabbit onesy passing the bar causing me to lose track of the conversation on a couple of occasions.  

A few years ago the barman had complained that no one had mid week work's Christmas do's anymore and though he didn't raise it again, it certainly felt that things were even quieter this year. Changed social attitudes to drink driving (which I'm definitely not complaining about); cheap supermarket drink (which I definitely appreciate); a decade of austerity?  Whatever the reason I hope that there are enough people stopping in each week to keep country pubs like this one open, it would be a sad end to the night without half an hour of chat round a warming fire.

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