This report will encompass three trips into P8 Cavern. My first delve into P8 was way back in October and the system was so wet we (Rostam, Will, Tommy and I) couldn’t make it past the Idiot’s Leap due to it being up to Rostam’s thighs (pretty much my neck).

So with unfinished business in the cave I decided it was rather poetic of me to get payback on P8 by extending the Official Survey of the system with Jeff, under the recommendation of Rob Eavis.

First Leg: 26-3-14 (Jeff Wade and Me)

One evening in the pub I was asked by Jeff if I fancied helping him to survey a previously un-surveyed section of P8 after I mentioned that I’d like to learn to survey in order to provide assistance on expedition. We agreed to go on a series of Wednesdays and travelling plans were made.

After cobbling together an SRT kit for me, Jeff met me in Castleton and we drove to the P8 Car Park, we walked to the entrance and the first thing that struck me was just how low the water level was in comparison to my first trip in October, for one you could actually see the bottom of the entrance instead of just blindly dropping into a gushing pot. Once inside the entrance we sped down to Idiot’s Leap and I finally made my way past it! I rushed along the twisting passage behind Jeff, who had sped off ahead to rig the first pitch. By the time I caught up to him it was already rigged and he was halfway along it. I crossed the pitch and traverse and met him on the other side of the chamber.

We crawled across the top way and made the bold steps across the rift above the streamway, Jeff rigged the traverse line and I followed him across. Once we made it across the traverse we took off our SRT kits and clambered down to the streamway and sloshed our way to the sump. After I took a quick peer at the unforgiving stretch of inky black water, we walked back toward’s the rope leading up to Ben’s Dig. Before we climbed up it we did a few practise surveys to tie in our new data with the old survey, we were surveying on tape, clino and compass and I’d had minimal underground experience with them.

After the practise legs we climbed up to the dig and surveyed unimpeded up to the first chamber in the dig where we stopped for the evening in order to make it out in time to cancel call out. We hadn’t surveyed quite as much as Jeff and Rob might have wanted from the first day but I could see my skills improving as the evening went on, the last few legs were completed in a fifth of the time that the first few were!

We got out of the cave in good time and made it back to the car, albeit a bit too late to catch the other cavers at The Wanted.

Good first proper trip down P8!

Second Leg: 2-4-14 (Jeff, Simon Gant and Me)

The next leg was carried out with the assistance of Simon from EPC who tagged along to see what it was like to slum it by surveying on traditional measurements unlike the flashy Eldon cavers with their Disto! We made our way down to the dig once again and surveyed the passage leading straight on from the chamber, which unfortunately meant Simon and I had to crouch/sit down in thick muddy water while I tried to read off a fogged and dirtied clinometer. The stretch with water led up to a small chamber with a 6m ladder continuing on, along with an offshoot passage leading to a small dead-end phreatic dome.

We surveyed up the ladder and only sketched the small offshoot, at the top of the ladder there was a picturesque phreatic tube, complete with a nice visible fault-line, this lead to a junction which appeared to be the end of Ben’s Dig since it contained quite a few kibbles, a couple of home-made bolts and a digging knife thrust into the passage wall. We stopped for a while and decided how to go about surveying this complex junction. There were three apparent routes out of the area; one went down a couple of metres to a small pit with kibbles, a scaffold pipe and a lot of mud, another passage was through a small squeeze and another had a sketchy looking rope leading over some calcite flow and over a lip. Simon and I decided to check out the calcite flow first, gingerly climbing up the frayed and knotted rope we took turns peering over the lip of the flow, which lead into a perfectly cylindrical vertical phreatic tube that went down about 5 metres before ending in mud. The walls of the tube were so smooth that if you fell the full 5 metres any attempt at climbing out – handline or not – would end in failure. I have since spoken to Martyn at the TSG and he says that it seems to be a promising dig so I aim to check it out and maybe start my own dig down there, if the tube goes much further down it would make for a very fun abseil through a perfectly circular phreatic.

Back at the junction I crawled through the third and final passage which lead to an aven, 1m in diameter with yet another sketchy rope – I free-climbed about 7m up before deciding to climb back down while I knew I could still make it – I described the aven to Jeff who went up to the top of it himself and described the top – which he estimated to be 10-15m up with a calcite seat at the top and a choke which looked like it had not seen many people go through. The air seemed fresh and the survey had us at just over 3 metres below the altitude of the entrance, a potential second entrance was so close but the choke, which Jeff could not see the other side of, was holding us back. We decided to conquer that section on another day and return to the surface.

Once out of the cave Simon drove off by himself , but Jeff and I managed to catch the cavers at The Wanted, which was a great opportunity for me to meet some of the local caving hotshots. Unfortunately I had no money on me and was unable to buy Jeff the two pints I owed him!

Third leg: 9-4-14 (Jeff, Mark Holdcroft and Me)

The third leg had Simon drop out, only to be replaced by one Mark ‘Lord of Darkness, King of the Andals and the First Men’ Holdcroft – a man who I had previously been convinced did not actually go caving despite setting up residence in the SUSS Vaults, sleeping atop the piles of gold akin to Smaug the Mighty. Once again we made it down to Ben’s Dig without incident, this time we were surveying a separate passage that lead off from the first chamber in the dig. It ran perpendicular to the other two and was on a considerably steeper incline.

Today, Mark was on instruments and I was on book – a role I initially thought to be more laid back, which was true, except when you’re in a wet cave in Derbyshire you don’t want to be ‘laying back’ you want to be doing something to keep you warm. In fact, doing book is a double whammy of a bad choice because you have to do less work in the cave and more work once you’re out!

Now, when I say that Mark ‘was on’ instruments I mean that our initial decision was to have him reading them – however after he took almost half an hour to take the first reading off the clinometer Jeff got impatient with him (quite understandably) and decided to take over the role. In Mark’s defence the instruments are a nightmare to read and it took Jeff a couple of tries before being able to discern an accurate measurement. We made our way up the passage which has a very pretty room filled with a calcite flow that must be climbed to reach the next part of the cave which had an awkward crawl into a small aven which was plumb-surveyed.

The aven opens up into a chamber with a wooden beam propped across the centre, wedged firmly into either side of the chamber, which is 6 metres wide. I have no idea how they managed to bring a 6m wooden beam this far into the system. Seeing as the aforementioned aven is 2m high and the passage doubles back on itself. We didn’t trust the wooden beam to climb the 5 metres up the side of the chamber to the next section of passage – nor did we trust the ragged bit of rope the accompanied it. Jeff free-climbed up the side and belayed Mark up into it before telling me that there was not enough room up there for me to join and instructed me to stay at the bottom and write measurements while they worked them out.

Unfortunately the next section of cave was very tight and winding meaning the measurements took a while and I had to stand in a chamber for about an hour waiting to write down measurements on an increasingly sopping and muddy survey sheet. Very soon after being belayed up and making his way past Jeff Mark announced that he was at the end of the cave, Jeff announced his disbelief in a single and concise “Bullshit!” before making what I assumed was a very intimate squeeze past Mark in order to point out quite plainly that the way on was in the last place Mark thought to look; above his head.

Mark sheepishly moved on and I heard their voices grow fainter and  fainter, when it reached the point where I could no longer hear the duo bellowing their readings to me I decided I would have to resort to being belayed up to the passage myself. I called for Jeff to come and help me up the dauntingly flat bit of chamber wall, he led the way along the passage before climbing up and out into a relatively big chamber with a steep scramble up to where Mark was. They both carried out a recce through a tight flat-out crawl with a gravelly floor (much to Mark’s heavily vocalised dismay and discomfort) I didn’t go myself but from what it sounded like the crawl was grim and lead to quite a painful incline without getting any wider right before leading to a vertical aven with a blocked ceiling (which is quite possibly the mythical second entrance to P8 which has been marked out with a small flag on the surface, the pole of which sticks out underground).

After surveying as far as we could Jeff took a quick peek up an adjoining aven and dictate some estimates to me. We decided that was a wrap and we packed all the gear away before making our way out of the cave and homeward bound.

All three trips were good fun, especially for surveying trips! And for an added bonus I got my data on the official P8 survey too. Not too shabby.

Trip dates: 26-3-14, 2-4-14, 9-4-14