This week I managed to tick off two (or three depending on how you count it) bread-and-butter Derbyshire caving trips, that I’d somehow managed to avoid visiting thus far. Must be all those exciting trips down P8 and Oxlow I end up taking…
Last Sunday I visited Knotlow and Hillocks, and this week I finally got round to doing Rowter. In my defense Rowter was basically just a 70m entrance shaft during my first year, with an abandoned DCC dig at the bottom, barely worth a visit. Nowadays it is a decent length SRT trip with some nice-n-spicy horizontal to boot.
Mark, Rachael, Leo, Olly and I set off to the Peak District, after making a sketchy drive down the track to Rowter Farm (the snow had banked up several metres high on the side of the track, and more snow was due) we kitted up. I say “kitted up” in the loosest sense of the phrase, as I’d forgotten my oversuit and wellies. Luckily I carry a pair of knackered old boots in my car for emergencies, and an orange hi-vis jacket for roadside safety provided perfect upper body protection. The jacket was given to me by my dad, who nicked it from his work when he retired – it says “SAFETY IN MIND” on the back of it. I clearly had safety in my mind as I continued with the trip, despite missing a large portion of my kit.
My jacket on, and legs cold and bare save for my undersuit, we wandered through the misty, snowy landscape toward the entrance. This trip featured not one, not two, but three people in Meander PVC oversuits, I swear they’re spreading like a well-oiled infection. All three of these Slippery Boys proceeded to flail around in snow banks and slopes, fully enjoying the full-body lubricated sledges they were wearing. We reached the entrance and argued about who should rig, Rachael was the last to bagsy not rigging so she headed down the entrance pitch first. Big mistake. The Slippery Boys piled snow down the shaft onto Rachael’s head, she was not best pleased with this as you can imagine, but after years of ritual bullying in SUSS she put up and continued to rig. I followed, posed for a photo from Rachael at the bottom of the pitch and got off the rope – in good time too, as I was swiftly followed by a flurry of snowflakes. The Slippery Boys had built a giant snowball and dumped it down the entrance, where it had crashed against the sides and dissipated, giving Rachael and Me a lovely snow snower at the bottom.
Once we were all in and the barrage of snow had ended we carried on through the now-completed dig and down the pitches to the Ice Cream Trail, we had brought all the ropes required to rig down to the bottom, but ended up leaving a trail of ropes behind us as we found each subsequent pitch already rigged. We made it down to the bottom in good time, took off our kits and piled them into two tackle sacks ready for the Trail. I found the Ice Cream Trail very entertaining! Plenty of different kinds of squeezes, climbs and sky-dives spaced within a short time means you get a great burst of fun horizontal caving before you reach the end, and put all your kit back on again. We had a good time trying the obstacles different ways and trying to work out the easiest way, it turns out pretty much all of them end in agony though, my favourite is the upwards sloping tube which Olly, Leo and I went upwards legs first in order to drop down, á la Yoga Hole (if anyone has done Dr Jackson’s). We popped out down the in-situ electron ladder (more on that spicy bastard later) and put our kits back on.
Once kitted up Leo lead the way into the Crystal Orechasm, a beautiful piece of SRT trickery in which you have to skydive out of an awkward (tight and low) pitch-head above a substantial drop, put your Simple on to descend only briefly before doing the mother of all rope-to-rope transfers, it’s one seriously wide loop and a tonne of fun to do in the enormous chamber! We prussicked up Hourglass Aven above the Orechasm and found ourselves in a sketchy scree slope filled with netting to prevent rubble collapsing, the netting is held together with rather uninspiring “NOT FOR CLIMBING” karabiners as well… We pitter-pattered up the slope, dropping pebbles and gravel as we went, calls of “below!” rarely far from our ears. At the top you have to climb up and double back to yet another loose slope, meaning it’s best to cross the section in shifts, keeping the area below the upper slope free to prevent you from collapsing stuff on each other.
We arrived at the very top, where the calcite flow begins to cover the rubbly slope, and you begin to naively trust the floor a bit more, until you step on the odd rock which makes a bid for freedom from its calcite shackles,tumbling down into the blackness, potentially all the way to the bottom of the Orechasm, some 200m below… The top is remarkably pretty; innumerate shades of calcite cover the walls and floor, and you cannot move for conservation tape. A final short pitch lead to the calcited choke at the very top, and indicated that we had reached the trip’s conclusion.
I glanced down at my once orange jacket, which was now browned and torn – though it still retained the hi-vis stripes, which irritated Leo to no end as he was immediately blinded every time he pointed his lamp in my direction. I think I might take to wearing the jacket more often down caves as it makes you incredibly visible in case of rescue, and looks fabulous as well. Win-win.
We headed back down the loose-bouldery-slope-of-death in an appropriately spaced-out manner (spaced-out as in widely positioned, not stoned off our bonces, I wouldn’t recommend that while trying to negotiate this bit of the cave) and were soon abseiling down the Hourglass Aven. I say abseiling, the in-situ rope (kindly put in by the BBPC, hats off to The Badgers) is a lovely gritty and glazed set of 11m cable, which makes descent something of a janky chore but nonetheless exciting as you nip through the double-deviation on the neck of the hourglass and open up into the area above the Orechasm ready for your totally radical rope-to-rope transfer, much more fun on the way out as you can position yourself just right so that when you swing across the Chasm you can clip into the pitch-head to save any of that faffy prussicking nonsense!
I made my way off the pitch-head and back into the Ice Cream Trail. We gathered ourselves briefly, before Olly lead the way up the electron ladder, visibly struggling to get off the top of the ladder into the tight slot that leads onwards. Now it was my turn to climb up, I made it halfway up the ladder and heard an unusual *clunk* sound, unnerving at first I shook it off as simply having bashed my foot against the ladder and continued to climb – when I reached the top I realised that the dull clunking had been one side of the ladder snapping clean off at a rusted joint in the steel cable, the other side was similarly rusted but still holding. 10m off the deck with my whole body weight on one cable of a rusted ladder, I let out a disconcerted moan, explaining to the others what had happened – a mild panic swept through the group, I started trying to figure out a way to repair the ladder but positioned where I was (either hanging off on the ladder in free space, or squeezed into the tight crevice leading on from the ladder) I couldn’t do anything about it and had to carry on, easier said than done as the manoeuvre required me to use the ladder to push myself into the passage, and I wasn’t really wanting to put that much strain on it! I found a position that worked and slotted myself up, leaving the ladder behind – ready to tackle the rest of the Ice Cream Trail, which was harder in reverse than on the way in, but proved little obstacle to the Slippery Boy ahead of me. I struggled along behind him, the sounds of Leo manhandling the Dave Clucas tackle-sack following me.
After much pain, thrutching and bladder-holding I crawled free from the passage, and ran to the waterfall up ahead to relieve myself before donning my kit ready for the ascent out. I lead the way, with Leo behind me and Olly bringing up the ropes. We climbed back up the pitches and through Bad Badger Choke to the bottom of the entrance shaft. I took over rope-carrying duty for the 70m slog out, and Leo took the lead. The prussik out was somewhat tiring after a long trip but the small glint of daylight still slightly visible high above kept us going. We emerged into a foggy, wintery white-out, but were able to follow the trail of slippery carnage back to the cars.
Great trip on the whole, decent amount of ropework and some full-on horizontal challenges. I do recommend it.