I first heard about the ‘Chamber of Horrors’ whilst in the pub as a poor unsuspecting caving fresher. The description of the giants/oxlow connection left me concerned for the sanity of my new-found friends, if slightly disbelieving that ‘suck the ceiling’ was an instruction to be taken literally. Nonetheless, it sounded like a desperately unpleasant trip and not at all a place I ever wanted to go to.
A few years passed; and last Thursday, during a very similar pub night, I found myself seeking companions for this very trip, clearly the madness is infectious. As it was the 50th Anniversary of the first connection, the entire system would be rigged for the weekend, making it logistically much easier, and also giving us some excellent talks to look forward to once we got out.
Leo, Creg and I set off from Sheffield with minimal faff on Saturday morning, and stopped at the TSG to see Tony and for us all to buy neoprene hoods (totally worth it) and for Leo to buy a wetsuit. We also saw the Eavis-es, who reassuringly confirmed that everything on the Oxlow side was rigged; we didn’t particularly fancy having to do the connection twice.
We parked up at Giants and started getting changed slightly more nervously than usual. We headed in slightly before the group of MUSC who were also planning to do the same trip. Leo rigged Garlands and the three of us set off down the crabwalk. Giants is really quite warm in wetsuits, and we were all very happy to reach the ladder and cool off a little. Eventually we arrived at the eating house and started climbing up Maggin’s rift.
At this point, both me and Leo (Creg not having been there before) forgot exactly how high up the rift you are supposed to climb. The correct answer is ‘about 10m’, but we ended up opting for ‘as far as possible’. After getting really rather warm climbing up the very dry rift, we came to a junction with a damp squeeze to the right and an ascending crawl on the left. We tried the squeeze first, and whilst I think I could have got through it with a fair bit of effort, we realised this was probably not the way we were looking for.
We then headed up the crawl, which started fairly shallow and gravelly and became more and more steep, loose and rocky. Eventually we came to a chamber with a handline. By this point we were fairly convinced this was also not the way, but figured we may as well make absolutely certain we weren’t missing something at the top of the chamber, so I climbed up the incredibly loose wall of slurry and rocks and had a look.
****** Interlude ****** That evening during REavis’ talk on recent projects in the system, he described the reassuringly named “Death Series”, an old dig up through a highly unstable gravel slope that was reopened by the Eldon in 2014. As he was talking, the three of us began to recognise the description as the place we had been earlier; sorry for bursting out laughing at such a random point Rob. The Eldon’s most recent trip report on the place says they wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t last the night, so I guess it’s good to know that it’s lasted over a year without re-collapsing on itself. ***** And now, back to our main feature *****
After a somewhat sketchy climb back down the loose slope, we decided to retrace our steps back down the rift and attempt to find the way on. Once we found the nice, easy, well worn passage that was the way on, we decided to let Creg go first for a while. After all, having the people who ‘knew the way’ leading hadn’t really gone so well.
Very soon, Creg’s ability to find someone to (very loudly) chat to in any situation came into it’s own, as he had met the MUSC group. They were returning, having tried the ducks and not managed to find the way through. After waving goodbye to them we continued down poached egg passage to the tiny, nondescript hole in the floor which marks the beginning of a frankly unnecessary amount of rather unpleasant crawling.
Soon, we came to the pool of the Chamber of Horrors, peering into the first duck, I could see about a 1.5 centimetres of air space, and only blackness beyond. To maximise available air, we used Pixas around our necks, pointing upwards so our faces could completely touch the ceiling if required. With one hand out in front to feel for air space, and moving incredibly slowly to avoid making waves, I set off. The first duck made me realise that ‘suck the ceiling’ is not in any way artistic license, but I was soon through and into the comparatively spacious (about 6 inches of air) section. The second duck involves some interesting twists of your neck as the airspace forms an S bend out to the side, but then I was almost there. I lay in the water trying to feel an airspace somewhere ahead, but couldn’t. After a minute or so, and getting rather chilly, I headed back towards the others.
Leo then had a turn, he got through the first two ducks, and again was trying to find the airspace for the final duck. He managed to get his fingers around a hold which was just at the edge of reach and out of the water and pulled himself through. I followed him, and with some reassurance that yes, the place my hand was gripping was the correct way also went through the last duck.
We then had the fun job of getting the bag of SRT kits through. I had towed a line and tried to pull them through, but they kept getting stuck part way through the first duck. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that once you create any waves in the pool, you lose the ability to talk to people on the other side. After several attempts, Creg managed to contort himself such that he could kick the bag whilst it was in the duck, freeing it so that we could pull it through to us.
It was then Creg’s turn, but after having a go at the first duck and dropping his light, he decided he didn’t fancy it. As we now had all the SRT kits, we agreed to come and meet him at the bottom of Garlands after we had got out, although given the number of other parties in the system, we hoped this wouldn’t be necessary.
Me and Leo continued towards Oxlow, the crawling is no more pleasant, and there is really quite a lot of it. Eventually we reached the squeeze, which is fairly tight, although the gravel floor makes it possible to dig your way through. Leo did it facing down into the water, which I imagine must be very pleasant. We were then at Mecca Aven, and back in familiar territory. The pilgrim’s way crawl was gloriously spacious and pleasant compared to where we had come from, and soon enough we were at the top of the pull through pitch. We unpacked our SRT kits from the bag, and found Creg’s midget gems. Some debate was had as to whether we should eat them, but we eventually decided it was more amusing for Creg to have a packet of sweets that had done a trip he hadn’t.
The pitches in Oxlow were passed very quickly and soon we were on the surface. We walked down the hill, and back to the giants car park. Luckily, Creg had managed to find some people who had lent him kit and he was waiting in the car. We quickly got changed and headed down to Castleton, looking forward to interesting talks; tea and cake; and a reasonable amount of bragging rights (not necessarily in that order).