March 17th:

A large Gaggle of Cavers (Brace of Cavers? Flock of Cavers?) met at the TSG on Sunday morning. The largest turnout for a long time, and after sorting paperwork and payment soon set about getting changed. 

Jon was dressed in a blue boiler suit, giving the impression he was on his way in to fix the show cave lights. The two Grayson brothers looked like a couple of tramps who had just been picked off the streets of Sheffield. Only the Old Man and Martin had waterproof oversuits - one 20 years old, borrowed, with no knees, the other brand new and still blindingly shiny. They all looked, for lack of a better phrase, like a bunch of cretins.

Luckily Team A were slightly better prepared. And after walking together through Castleton, we soon arrived at the impressive entrance to Peak Cavern where we split up and said our goodbyes. Leaving Team B and its merry band of bizarrely dressed cave botherers behind. Would they all return?

 

We set off at a reasonable pace, aware we had a long way to go, not wanting to wear ourselves out and not wanting to dislodge Ian’s helmet sandwiches. (A technique he’d loosely based on an African lady bringing water back from the village well). However, as we made our way through into Upper Gallery, despite Ian’s sandwiches being secure, it became apparent that Ed’s tourettes wasn’t – and had taken a turn for the worse. Due to a toxic combination of extreme fear, aggravated by a bout of bouncy rope syndrome whilst on a trip down Titan, Ed had recently lost his mind. Since then he’s been a gibbering mess of a man, continuously blurting out incoherent cries of “rope-free!” “bloody ‘ell” and “wow, bloody wow” – all mimicking the distinctive call of poor old Syd, who’s had to endure a constant stream of imitation ever since. Characteristically, Syd’s taken it all in good humour and has yet to lash out at Ed with a large chunk of galena.

Making swift progress we soon found ourselves climbing the ladder up into the Trenches and began the long, muddy, monotonous crawl through Colostomy into Speedwell. On a recent Peak trip we’d ventured through with minimal fuss. But now carrying SRT kit, food and a heavy 60m rope between us, it was a bit of a struggle and phrases such as “this is dragging on a bit” (Syd), “it can’t be much further now” (Rob) “are we there yet?” (Ian) and “rope-free!” (Ed) were commonplace. Yet just as we were beginning to get fed up, we wriggled through the final tight section and down the ladders into Egnaro Aven. From here the going is easy with one final crawl, bypassing a low wet section, before a fun walk up the Lower Bung Streamway and into Block Hall. For all of us, this was now new territory and marked the start of the ‘up’ section of the trip. So after a quick bite to eat, we got kitted up. For those who had carried their SRT kit through Colostomy this involved putting it on, for those who had gone through Colostomy already wearing it, this involved having to wash half of Colostomy Crawl off of it.

Block Hall turned out to be really good fun. In its 80 odd metres you pass what must be around 6 re-belays, several of them hanging, and one of them particularity awkward towards the top. It’s a fantastic place, and would be a hugely enjoyable trip if it were a separate cave in itself. It was this sporty nature and the amount of ascending involved that slowly began to grind down Ian’s Caramel Galaxy powered energy reserves. Having only recently been trained up in SRT, but improving with every trip, he required a bit of verbal slapping from above (Mike) and below (Rob). A process that began with some gentle words of encouragement, and ended with some gentle words of “get a fucking move on”. The final re-belay was particularly awkward, and care had to be taken not to get snagged up in the middle of it - as one rope pulled you to the left and the other forcefully to the right. Ian got round this problem by inventing the new sport of Bungee Caving. However, he suggested the new sport wasn’t particularly enjoyable, and it was decided by all those who witnessed it that it wasn’t particularly safe either - it is unlikely to make it into an IRATA list of approved manoeuvres anytime soon... or ever. Despite the various disabilities of the party, Ed (mental - tourettes), Syd (physical - age), Rob (geological - rock fetish) and Ian (Scouse) we all made it to the top. And found ourselves in the roof of a hugely impressive aven with a large cascade of perfectly white flowstone marking the entrance to the final awkward crawl into the White River Series.

Discovered in 1991, the White River Series contains the most spectacular formations anywhere in Derbyshire. Despite now looking a bit shabby in places, it remains an incredible place. The size of Upper Gallery for most of its length, the ceiling is littered with perfectly white stalactites, helictites and fragile curtains. Along the floor similar formations are found, and after carefully crossing the gaping hole of Nameless Pitch, a vadose trench is then followed. This carries the stream down into The Moosetrap, a six-pitch descent down a series of waterfalls, described as “a classic Yorkshire pothole, in the middle of a Derbyshire cave”. Something we’ll definitely have to return for. This time though, we carefully stepped across it, gaining entry to the start of the White River itself. Now running along the floor of the passage, banked by mud on either side, is a continuous flow of white calcite and crystal gour pools – the ‘river’. It’s an incredibly beautiful sight, and was unfortunately over all too quickly. Wish one of us had had a camera! We were hoping Syd would be so impressed that he’d be inspired to create a whole new expression, as he had whilst entering Revelations a few weeks before. Unfortunately his Shakespearean-like grasp of descriptive prose failed him at the opportune moment, and “wow, bloody wow!” was adequately reused (echoed seconds later by Ed).

Soon finding our way through to the top of Fever Pitch (our way back down), we decided to delay our exit by having a little look at the passages on the other side. This involved a hairy climb up a flowstone ramp, perched precariously above the gaping mouth of the first 20m pitch. Carefully negotiated, this led to The Source of Perfection, a beautifully decorated aven coated in yellow and orange flowstone frozen into a series of cascades. Beyond it lay a long crystal-gour pool, almost pristine white, with a series of tiny tooth-like crystals lining the rim. Unfortunately, the other end of the passage is looking very sorry for itself. Named White River Passage, it should probably now be renamed Brown River Passage as it’s been heavily walked over, rendering the original pure white calcite beneath almost invisible. Despite this, this high-level series of passages remains a remarkable place, and we felt very privileged to have seen it. But now we had to get back down.

Rejoining Ian back at the top of Fever Pitch, having taken the opportunity to have a quick rest whilst we explored, we re-grouped and set about our descent. (It’s been suggested that Ian should take part in a Rocky styled training montage to whip him into shape before the next big trip. This would involve repeatedly running up to Oxlow dragging a full tackle bag behind him, bench pressing a wet 80m rope and doing pull-ups from the P-bolts at the top of Leviathan, all to the tune ‘Push it to the Limit’. This would take place under the watchful eye of Syd, carefully observing from the sidelines - giving nothing but the occasional knowing nod of approval). Anyway, the descent.

The descent was the reason we’d dragged a 50m rope all the way through the cave with us. Our intention being to exit the White River by doing a series of pull-through abseils down the Ventilator, pulling the rope down with us as we went. So it was with mixed feelings that we found the first pitch already rigged. However, the convenient’ insitu rope turned out not to be so convenient, or indeed just ‘a’ rope, as it was in fact two ropes tied together halfway down.

The 2nd pitch is much more fun. This involves quite a dramatic traverse, swinging along a daisy chain of ropes in order to reach the abseil point in the middle of a steep blank wall. A quick transfer from one rope to the other and down you go. I headed down first, Ed soon followed with Syd not far behind. But where was Ian? He should have been down before Syd. We weren’t sure what was going on, so took the opportunity to sample some of Ed’s gourmet sandwiches whilst waiting for Rob and Ian (plus our rope) to join us. It was during a particularly enjoyable bite of sandwich that we suddenly heard a loud garbled cry of sweary anguish from above. Ed and I dived for cover, having visions of an 80kg Scouser plummeting down towards us (I don’t think Syd moved, he’s too cool for school, and such things no longer faze him). It turned out Ian was 'field-testing' the strength of his cow’s tails – it can now be categorically stated that they ‘work’. Rob, the only witness, caught the action first hand.

Safely down the 3rd and final pitch, our rope successfully retrieved, we clambered down the short set of ladders and back into the Trenches. All that was left was the final sludge filled mud crawl back into Treasury Chamber. (Andy T, your £10 is safe. As I passed the Wind Tunnel I inadvertently sent a huge bow-wave of sludgy water hurtling down into it. This immediately put a stop to any half-hearted desires I had of crawling to victory like Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption). Instead, we took the easy route – and in the words of Morgan Freeman, five intrepid members of the DPC “crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side"

The liquid mud now behind us, Ed and I had a quick detour to Surprise View and down into the Main Streamway before turning round and heading home. (I’d wondered if we’d come across Team B, but they were long gone). Normally the route back along Upper Gallery and through the Mucky Ducks is quite straightforward, but we had one last obstacle. Rob had promised to take out a large reel of plastic piping, now required in one of John Beck’s digs back at Stoney. I think this was a promise made without remembering quite how long the plastic pipe was. As a result, the only way we could transport the beast was by uncoiling it and marshalling it through the Mucky Ducks and out into the show cave like a giant blue, 30m long snake.

Pipe out, people out, we all washed up at Buxton Water (as tradition dictates) before making our weary way out into daylight and signing out. It had been a good day, the sunshine welcomed us, and the gates clanged shut behind us. It had evidently been quite busy down Peak, judging by the number of names on the clipboard and we were the last out. To adapt a famous quote - “Due to Peak Cavern protocol, I'm not allowed to say how many cavers joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back. The cavers were unhurt, cheerful and jubilant, giving thumbs-up signs." It was a memorable trip.