It had been a while since the Annual Dinner and my exams were very nearly over, so over a few drinks in the pub Helen and I thought we were ripe for a trip somewhere. “I’ve heard good things about Bitch Pitch” she told me (somewhat naively I feel, in retrospect), and thus it was decided that we were to go down JH. Tom agreed to be the leader for our trip but as a ‘teaching exercise’ he was to leave all the rigging to us as Helen and I had not done any proper rigging yet (save for a poorly rigged short pitch I did in Aquamole at Northern CHECC).
It was a very sunny day to be caving on but we went on nonetheless, we parked up and met some other cavers who were planning to go down Rowter Hole. Tom and Helen set off before me to rig the entrance while I paid and got ready, after a bit of navigation I arrived at the entrance which was semi-rigged. Tom went down first followed by Helen, then it was my turn to descend the 50m entrance pitch on my shiny new SRT kit. I almost made it to the bottom without issue – 2m off the ground my braking krab slipped and I dropped the last short distance. Slightly shocked I re-adjusted it to make sure it didn’t happen again and the three of us set off along the long horizontal mine section.
Before I went on the trip Will had offered me some sage advice; “Don’t step in the puddles near the entrance”. Apparently the ‘puddles’ were actually a hundred-or-so feet deep collapsed mine levels and laden with a full SRT kit you probably wouldn’t stay very well afloat. Tom and Helen were in front and deftly avoided the gaping abysses (is that the correct plural of abyss? There’s no squiggly red line but it doesn’t sound right…) however as much as I tried it seemed that Will had clearly placed some kind of curse on me simply by mentioning the many-fathomed depths below and on a particularly unforgiving ‘puddle’ I slipped in, luckily I was still holding the hand-line in a vice grip or I may have gone a bit deeper than just my waist. Unfortunately the 60-or-so metres of rope I had tied to me got completely soaked adding several kilos to my burden making the climb out of the pool quite difficult. I emptied the tackle sack of as much water as I could and traipsed on a little more carefully this time.
I caught up to Tom and Helen. “The thing to remember about this bit,” Tom said, crouched below several tonnes of collapsed rock supported by a single wooden beam, “is not to touch the roof at all”. Sensible, I thought, I wouldn’t want all that falling in behind or on-top-of me. Not touching the roof turned out to be quite a tricky thing as the passage narrowed and shortened, even when it seemed like the imposing roof was beginning to alleviate another crawl would appear. After a good long while on my knees the passage finally let up and I could stand. I saw Tom and Helen has paused just in front of me and I peered round them, Tom was looking down into a small and thin drop that someone had left a very slippery looking wooden beam in. “Well that’s never been there before” was Tom’s assessment, “it was never an easy climb out but that looking like someone has tried to make it harder”. We slid awkwardly down the beam one-by-one and carried on following the passage.
We finally reached the head of Bitch Pitch. Tom let me know that it was I that would have to be rigging it. There were a few small metal footholds drilled in to the wall to allow the traverse above the 55m drop to be carried out much easier, Tom also said that these footholds were a relatively new addition to the system and previously the traverse had to be rigged on a free-climb which I certainly would not have been happy to do.
I rigged the traverse with apparent ease and after a bit of faffing on the Y-hang I asked Tom to remind me where the next bolt was, it turned out I could see it from where I was hanging so I descended and swung across to them. The rest of the pitch was rigged in textbook fashion and after no time at all we were all sat in the Workshop gawping around at the various tools left over by the Derbyshire Miners of yesteryear.
Tom now offered us a choice of a very wet and awkward-to-rig entrance to the Leviathan shaft or a longer but ultimately easier way – obviously we chose the longer and easier way. We climbed down a bit to the next pitch that I was again tasked with rigging. This one had an easy position to sit on from which you could rig but the actual act of moving from the sitting position onto the pitch proved a little awkward. “Yeah, I’ve never come across a graceful way to make it onto this pitch” Tom said, and as much as I tried my swing out onto the pitch was certainly not what anyone would describe as graceful.
The next re-belay saw me take an embarrassingly long time to tie a single alpine butterfly, I didn’t have the courage to look up and see the exasperated expression that I could almost feel Tom giving me. At the bottom I waited for Tom to tell me which way to go and scampered off that way while he waited for Helen to come down. The next large chamber has some more cordoned off areas of old machinery. The next (and final) pitch of Leviathan was rigged by Helen who did so cleanly and swiftly. Tom and I followed her down to the very bottom where I looked briefly back up at the huge cavern I had just abseiled down before following Tom and Helen across to the other side of the cavern floor.
The next descent was free of ropes but rather featured a myriad of ladders scattered all over the walls of the winding passage that headed down into the Speedwell streamway. We splashed down into the shallow water and Tom lead us downstream for a short while, we tried our best to remain as dry as possible but waist-deep water soon became our only option and so, teeth gritted, we waded on. The water began to get shallower on one side, we turned a corner and saw a whirling, frothing junction of three streams. “This is the Whirlpool, it’s where Peak Cavern and Speedwell meet, sort of” Tom explained, we shimmied across the cable that was suspended just above the water, Tom then pointed down the various passages and explained where each one lead. “That’s the way to the Assault Course, which makes for a very sporting trip if you fancy it one day!” Tom said, Helen and I agreed that today was certainly not that day. “And down there,” he indicated the direction in which the water looked deepest, “is the ‘Bunghole’”. I traversed as far as I could along the cable to get a look down the passage but it just looked like a lot of deep water. Helen and I decided that it was time to go back.
On the way back up the ladders I spotted several spider moults that seemed very out of place over a hundred metres underground. They weren’t even of the Meta cave spider genus but rather looked like Araneus Sp. – a humble garden spider. This seemed to indicate that they were brought down with either the ladders or the pipes that were channelling the water in Leviathan.
The journey out was fairly straight forward, if a little exhausting. As Tom and Helen were the ones derigging, I had a little time to rest in The Workshop before they showed up and it was time to climb Bitch Pitch. Fortunately this was much less hassle than I had anticipated – though getting off the pitch and onto the metal footholds for the traverse proved a challenge. My feet scrabbled around for a while trying to find a good place to stand and I had to hop from foot to foot on the tiny iron ledges. I made it off the pitch head and waited a bit for Helen to show up before we set off down the long horizontal stretch to the bottom of the entrance pitch.
The thin section with the slippery wooden beam we had to climb up was just as hard as we had predicted, if not harder. I had to contort myself into the strangest of positions in order to get my feet on both the beam and the ceiling simultaneously before hoisting myself up bit by bit. I waited for Helen to make her way up too, she managed to make it look easier than I had.
We made our way back along and across the deep pools and to the bottom of the entrance pitch. I went first but about 5 metres up the pitch both my elbows cramped with a sharp pain and I had to wait for them to stop aching before continuing up. I repeated the procedure of ascending several metres, waiting for the cramp to die down and ascending a bit more all the way up to the re-belay halfway up. The re-belay gave me a chance to relax and the pain died down for good. The final 15m was a nice and smooth affair. The lid took quite a bit of effort to haul off but I just about managed it and made it out of the cave fatigued but very much contented with the day’s trip.
Trip date 25-6-14