After spending nearly a month away from Sheffield, unable to cave despite spending a tantalising week in the karstic playground of the Western Pyrenees (including a brief trip to the entrance of Pierre-Saint-Martin) I was keen to get back into caving as soon as I could. With American Mike back for a fleeting visit we arranged a trip to Winnat’s Head with Leo, Jreg and Liam.

We set off to Castleton at 6:30pm and were underground by 7:30 – determined to make it out for Last Orders in the village we hastily made it through the gravelly entrance crawl which, despite me clearing out all the big rocks on the way in, is usually filled back up on the way out!

Jreg lead the way down the bouldery chaos, followed closely by the rest of us. We made it down to Fox Chamber where we split up to see how many different ways down through the chokes in the floor we could find. I found one I think I went down on my first ever trip to Winnat’s Head, Jreg went down the quickest one, and Mike went down one I’ve never seen before, popping out in a letterbox squeeze that looked, and indeed was, too tight – he reversed his efforts and went down the same way as Jreg. We all caught up and made it to the handlined climb down the slot, and then down the second exposed squeeze that pops out into the sump pool chamber. Jreg did a quick time-check and saw that we were making fair time, it had been just 30 minutes since we entered the cave.

I sent Jreg on through the sewer with the ropes as he was rigging, once the others were in the sump chamber we filed through the sewer, put our SRT kits on and set off up the in-situ up-pitch and traverse lines, through the crawl and into the small chamber atop the series of pitches leading down to the bottom.

Jreg replaced the piece of deviation tat I cut on a previous trip (I was freeing Adelaide) with some of my own tat rope so the deviation is now back in-situ. Jreg continued rigging down the aven which, while drippy, was not as wet as I’ve seen on previous trips, something I was glad of as it can get very wet, draughty and cold in the SRT section of Winnat’s. Jreg reached the next pitch, rigged the deviation using the in-situ sling and krab (krab courtesy of a knackered old steely that used to belong to Jethro). Before long we were down the final pitch and at the sump pool, which everyone took a look at and decided it would be thoroughly unpleasant to fall in, with there being no visible way of exiting. A time check showed we had made it to the bottom in two hours, giving us two hours until 11:30 Last Orders t the Cheshire Cheese, there was discrepancy as to whether we could make this – with some suggesting it would take longer to get out, but I insisted that we would make it or die trying.

Liam was de-rigging, so Jreg lead the way out followed by Mike. I started getting a bit cold at the bottom, despite Liam’s strawberry lace offerings, so I climbed up the bottom half of the pitch to get out of the spray and warm myself up. Mike called “rope free” and I began my ascent. We waited at the top of all the pitches for Liam to de-rig and take a bag off him, then headed down the last pitch and took our kits off in preparation for the ascending chokes out, we crossed through the Sewer and stopped in the Sump Chamber to see when Liam would come through with the rope. As soon as we heard sounds of struggling coming out of the Sewer we set off out, Mike leading the way.

The climbs out of Winnat’s Head are strenuous and three weeks of lethargic family holiday activities and copious amounts of eating had taken their toll – I began to flag towards the end but we soon emerged into Fox Chamber once more, this time all of us exiting via the short path as time was of-the-essence if we wanted to make it to the pub. Once we were all re-gathered we climbed the loose slope up to Cornwall Avenue, crossed The Avenue and headed up the next set of chokes and squeezes, each one taking significantly more effort on the way out as we fought gravity with our tired limbs. I broke out into the top chamber and soon I was leading the way out of the flat-out gravel crawl towards the end. Exiting into the night I smelled the warm, humid air and checked the time; 11pm. If we could all get out and changed in the next 30 minutes we would make it to Castleton in time for the sacred pint.

Mike and Jreg were soon out behind me and we rushed back to Megan (Jreg’s Car) to get changed and packed up, in the distance I saw two lights indicating Liam and Leo’s imminent return. We got the car running and packed in good time, then raced down Winnat’s Pass and pulled up right outside the Cheese, I dashed in to check if they were still serving – CURSES! They had just closed up. Luckily I happen to know that if the Cheese has just closed up the Peak Hotel usually stays open a little longer to take in the stragglers, and luckily my knowledge served me well! We dishevelled few wandered into the Peak Hotel weary-eyed and muddy-face, and were served a much deserved round (paid for by my man Leo) served by a confused looking barkeep.

Good trip enjoyed by all, good rigging and de-rigging, and a long-awaited return to caving for myself.

Trip date: 22/8/17