December 15th:

Five of the club’s elite cave bothering unit met at the perennially windy Rowter Farm Sunday morning (a place which holds the dual honours of both ‘Windiest campsite in Britain’ and ‘Angriest dog in Derbyshire 2013’). Our plan was to descend JH, make our merry way towards Cliff Cavern, climb the pitches, explore the two opposing high level passages, then return the same way. It was going to be a big old trip so we decided to meet early - “unseasonably early” according to Griff, (who arrived in a balaclava, looking like an elderly member of the IRA).

Farmer paid, rabid dog avoided, the JH lid was unlocked and I set off down first, descending into the depths just before a young woman (described by one member as “an attractive girl in a figure-hugging wetsuit”) arrived and asked if she and her group could use our ropes. No doubt if she'd been a bloke, he’d have been told to piss off, but everyone on the surface must’ve taken quite a shine to her, as it was agreed that she could. And by the time Griff reached me at the bottom of the shaft, it was noticed his glasses had steamed up.

 

With everyone regrouped at the base of the entrance shaft, the younger and more nimble shot off along the Cartgate to rig the pitches, leaving Syd and Griff to take up the rear (reminiscing of how the last time they’d been down they’d been turned away by the Barmaster, as it was still being worked for lead). Bitch Pitch and both pitches of Leviathan were swiftly descended, the gate connecting to Speedwell was lifted, and we entered the canal at the Boulder Piles. Last time Rob, Ed Samp and I had been there, the canal had been flowing over it! It was quite a different sight today, with the water level a good 2 metres lower which was a relief - I’ve yet to test swimming in caving gear and full SRT kit, but I’d imagine it would end rather badly, rather quickly.

Next came Cliff Cavern. After 30m or so, the first pitch ends at a nicely hanging rebelay, after which a further 10m brings you to a rope junction between the two high level passages. Right, along a short bolt traverse, leads to Cliffhanger Passage and left via an enormous, ascending tyrolean leads to Joint Effort. There’s a similar styled tyrolean in Maskhill, but this one is on an entirely different scale. The ropes drooping down across the aven, then up into the gloom and out of sight, like cables on a suspension bridge.

After myself, Rob and Sam had reached the other side, next to come was Syd ‘The Wolf’ Goodier - the 72 year old cave-ninja. (The only problem so far being that Sam hadn’t done his boots up properly, and the worry that he’d reach the other side with no shoes on).  By this point I’d headed off along to the end of Joint Effort to explore. But 15 minutes later, by the time I’d returned, I arrived back to see Sam sitting on a boulder fiddling with his ever-dimming torch, and Rob and Syd hanging together at the top of the tyrolean. What were they both doing there, I wondered? And then I saw Syd’s arm, covered in blood, like a scene from a Vietnam war movie.

“Syd’s hand’s come off”, Rob explained.

It turned out that Syd, being a big fan of the film ‘127 Hours’, attempted to re-enact it. Unclipping from the tyrolean a bit too low down, he unluckily lost control of the swing, sending him flying into a gully which housed some very big, very loose boulders. Luckily, as we all know, he’s made of Sheffield Steel, and unlike lesser men, managed to  come out with ‘just’ a nastily serrated finger - rather than leaving Cliff Cavern with an arm off. Still, the amount of blood was very impressive, and it got everywhere. It was enough for Rob to persuade him that it was perhaps best to turn back, although Syd would have gladly carried on (seemingly as he’d spotted a clean patch of cave higher up that he’d yet to paint with his own innards).

So with Griff and a wounded Wolf heading back, Rob, Sam and myself carried on up. Joint Effort and Puzzling Evidence were reached before retracing back to the head of the aven. Unlike on the way across, the tyrolean is great fun on the descent, and you fly across in no time. We then crossed over to Cliffhanger Passage, which is a much hairier place altogether. Up to 20m high in places, it’s an enormous passage, but has a few boulder ‘issues’. It’s like a cross between Peak Main Streamway  and Winnats Head Cave. i.e like a bomb’s gone off in a boulder factory. This was negotiated (via another pitch) as far as Cliffhanger Sump, the current westerly limit of the entire Peak-Speedwell system.

Satisfied we’d seen everything we could see, we turned around. Aware that it would take an hour or two to get out, and eager to see if Syd still had any blood plasma left. The descent back down to the Speedwell streamway went smoothly, and we soon found ourselves back at the foot of Leviathan, ready for the long, 185m climb back to the surface. Rob shot up the ropes first, in order to avoid helping with the derigging (he claims he went off to aid Mallory and the injured Irvine with their exit, catching them just before Bitch Pitch). This left me and Sam to wearily bag the ropes, and follow Syd’s long trail of bloody hand prints, like hunters tracking a wounded animal.

With the final slog up the entrance shaft over, we exited to a freezing rain and wind lashing across the moor (standard conditions at Rowter Farm). Rob was already cosied up inside his car and Griff & Syd had headed off for a shower and some finger surgery. (Which must have been pretty successful considering Syd finished runner-up in the darts, despite having an index finger full of galena). 

A fun trip!