Thursday June 16 1966. GIANT’S-OXLOW-GIANT’S. THE NEW CONNECTION by SUSS members; Entrants; the late Keith Dennis [KAD], Dave Prime or Min [ DP] and Brian Thomas [WBT and author].
J G G [Joan, daughter of Bob Guthrie and soon-to-be the new Joan G Prime] deposited our triumvirate at Watson’s Farm with the weather set fair now but with a forecast of storms later. The entrance was rather dry, at 12 noon, so we had a little snigger at KAD, the only one girded in a wet suit. We took ten minutes to get our little hoard of tackle through the near sump [the Days of The Dams!] and Garlands was very unwet. We left it doubled and were in excellent good spirits as Min ascended the Crabwalk to the Upper Series [trailing a rope behind him]. My right hand had been rope-burned whilst recently digging in Bradwell. KAD and DP had no present injuries, although KAD was already very warm indeed!
Ascending out of the Crabwalk I always find the last few sheer feet a bit exposed, but, once in the Upper North East Swallet Series, we all three soon arrived at the right-hand turn up to Poached Egg Passage. We stopped in a little bowl, ate choccy and two oranges and then I inched my way into Oxlow Aven Crawl [since renamed “Chamber of Horrors”]. I attached one ladder to a wire belay and the latter to my belt [my sling and crab were doing belay duty on Garlands]. KAD followed and pushed his sole ladder in front of him; Min brought up the rear and was truly fortunate to only be encumbered with a 100ft rope.
It may dispel some fear if I say that a “simple” G-O or O-G would be easier than say Giants to East Canal and back out trip. The nasty part of G-O-G is having to return the same way i.e. traversing the Chamber of Horrors TWICE.
Forgive the detail in this report; this was the first G-O-G trip of its kind; Al Watt – [now in Australia] of Sheffield University Speleological Society [SUSS] and Eldon Pothole Club [EPC] – and some Eldon mates had performed Oxlow-Giants-Oxlow some two weeks before. The first 100 feet is flat out crawling, then through two pools together, the latter one was quite low and 15 ft. long. The going eases a bit until a very rough tight section of this crawl. I got stuck three times here, mainly due to tackle and the fluffy combat jacket that I was wearing. Halfway along [300 ft.] is a little chamber – 3ft high and 6ft wide, where we waited for Min; he was dragging the rope but also slightly hampered by his belt having broken early on into the crawl. He was holding his NiFe cell in front of his lithe body.
I was now quite cold as a noticeable cool draught was blowing out from the continuation of this crawl, which now became dry, stony and on-all-fours. At about 450 ft. a little stream meandered across our way from the right, to disappear on our left after 20 ft. The rest of the crawl is positively palatial in places, winding and still dry until we passed a little aven. Straight after this the Oxlow Aven, reportedly 40 or 80ft high, is reached via a concealed little opening on our right.
Immediately ahead is the previous limit of exploration, now a 4ft flat-out crawl through a pool, into a 3ft high chamber, where two people could sit. The crawl continues – dug out here by EPC – and sloping slightly downhill and tilted. We three slid down over silty floor for 6ft, the very tight part is halfway down this tube. KAD went cautiously but, as AW and Ron Bridger [EPC] had been through two weeks ago, Keith was ok. Keith was not large; Min and Brian are normal size. We two latters tied a rope to Keith’s left foot, heard him slide into more water and go around [the] a bend on his right. This pool is 14ft long, with boulders on its left, but the water is only 3 inches deep.
Keith did a stout job pulling all the tackle through – the rope snagged a lot on said bend. I was third and last through this New Connection, inching along this tube – about my limit. Keith said it was like Car Pot’s Baptistry Crawl [BC] “up north”. Min agreed, although much shorter than BC. On the other side [we were now in New Oxlow!] we were getting very cool, so Min and I crawled off into New Oxlow. Min immediately noticed some tinned food left by EPC diggers. We turned sharp right and a short crawl [yet another one] took us into Mecca Aven. I had previously taken off both my combat jacket and belt, leaving them in Oxlow Aven. So, I left my cell light in the Mecca and we three set off [me in the middle; light-less] along Pilgrims’ Way. It passed very quickly indeed, but the ladder into Old Oxlow is very awkward to climb down [about 35 ft.].
We promenaded down West Antechamber, then a little crawl into the vast West Chamber and up the far slope – along the short mined level to the 35-ft. pitch.
The take-off is very dodgy; Min descended first – in fact it was 55 ft., quite wet and thus he could not quite reach the bottom of Oxlow Cavern [Caves of Derbyshire says these two pitches are 35 ft. and 12 ft., but they were 55 ft. and 12 ft. and quite wet!].
We started our [soon to be epic] return. Keith was going through a bad patch here [ours was imminent] and Min had a real thrutch to leave the pitch at the top. We walked back to the Oxlow iron ladder and then along Pilgrims’ Way – surprisingly easy. Our mood darkened as we became apprehensive at the imminent prospect of the return crawl through the New Connection. I went first, into the shallow water, dragging the rope behind me on my right foot. Going uphill through the tube, I became motionless i.e. wedged fast – for fully 15 minutes. My chest got through the tight bit [subsequently estimated to measure, pre-drones and satnav, 7.5 inches high]. I pushed my helmet and lead acid cell ahead of me, but, unfortunately, discovered my light cell was now under my chest. I scraped my right hand and cheek [the upper variety] pulling the cell out from under me. After another 15 minutes, I was through [it, not life]. I pulled our tackle through and redressed my jacket and unapologetic cell light.
Keith and Min came through relatively easily [how dare they!] and we proceeded as a tiring trio into hell on high [the Chamber of Horrors!]. Everything we did turned into little nightmares. My belt broke [second to Min’s break]. Then I lost my belt and best carabiner. Pushing my cell and rope in front of me, I became jammed in the rough, tight section. The cold water was causing me some degree of cramp and discomposure, so we must keep moving. My headpiece kept falling off, and my hitherto comfortable combat jacket was becoming bulky and space-filling.
After more mental than physical duress, I roared my head off at Keith and Min, who were mysteriously now ahead of me and in “the pools”. Keith opined that I had lost at least some of my marbles – we were into our sixth hour underground. This whole crawl was unrelenting and in a class of its own [possibly more amenable when the late Paul Deakin, the redoubtable Clive Westlake and the iconic Dr Oliver Lloyd from down Mendips were doing the same trip two weeks beforehand].
Six honey butties and Kendal Mint Cake certainly reinvigorated Our Triumvirate as we emerged into Poached Egg Passage. We picked up the two butty boxes and morale soared as we went through the little crawls and down/up to Garlands Pot. Daylight greeted us about 9 hours after our fanfared entrance. Never again!!!!