Those who know my Derbyshire Caving habits will know I absolutely adore Winnats Head, so when the chance arose to assist in furthering its exploration – I bit Rob’s hand off.
I left work, my kit packed ready, and tore through Chapel-en-le-Frith to arrive at the farm just in time to wait an hour for the others to show up. Once Rob arrived with a carful of keeno-carriers (Olly, Helen, Botch) we packed 5 bags and set off to the entrance. I chose the bag containing 5 SRT kits as, though it was one of the heaviest, it didn’t contain a bottle so I could fling it willy-nilly down the many chokes in Winnats.
Rob gave us fair warning that he only just fit down Winnats and to prepare for a steady-pace trip – Olly, Botch and I prepared ourselves by promptly fucking off ahead of him and getting to Fox Chamber to have a good play on the rope swing in there while we waited for him to slither down the squeezes with Helen for company.
We reached the bottom choke into the first pool chamber, Olly and I shuttled all the bags down through the choke – and went on ahead to negotiate the grim task of moving them all through the Sewer, a face-down-in-fetid-water-squeeze that leads to the pitches at the bottom. I headed through first and turned back around to reach the bags, one cheek in the muddy puddle and an arm ahead of me I waited for Olly’s call of “ye awlright” and grasped blindly for the handle of each bag in turn, extracting them like quintuplets from a fruitful birth canal.
Next was the ropework, I took Rob’s krabs and set off to rig the down pitches. “If it’s too wet on the pitches don’t bother, we’ll leave it” Rob advised. ‘Nice try Middleton’, I thought to myself, ‘you’re not backing out now’.
It wasn’t too wet on the pitches, at least not for Winnats, which seems to be bolted specifically so that you can drown tired freshers. Using some delightfully thick retired 11mm I abbed down through the inevitable waterfall, said a quick “hello” to Jethro’s rusted steely which is forever committed to being deviation tat down there, and was soon at the bottom pitch.
“Ah fuck” I called out, to nobody in particular. The rope that had been left to rig the bottom pitch was de-sheathed about 3-4m in. I explained the problem to Botch, who had heard my exclamation, he offered no helpful advice. I resolved myself to rig the rope from 4m in, hoping that the length was exactly 4m too lomg.
The rope was exactly 4m too lomg. I hopped off the bottom, which consists of a cramped, windy and drippy rift chamber immediately beside the sump – which is down a 5m drop. Fairly shortly Botch and Rob turned up and we began prepping the dive base. Botch’s job was to take everything out of bags and remembering which bag everything was in, simple. My job was to hand-bolt somewhere to rig a ladder to gain access to the sump, Rob and I spent some time deciding which of the two dodgy looking chocked boulders would be best to “sort of” hold my weight while I perched myself above the sump to place the bolt. We chose the one that the other three weren’t sat on, though Rob did suggest I don’t put any weight on the rope regardless. Brilliant. So, awkwardly wedged in a rift above a sump of as-yet undetermined depth, and with a back-up I wasn’t supposed to put my weight on, I began to bolt.
It took less time than I was expecting, having never placed a spit bolt in anger before, I got the hang of it fairly quickly and nobody was really waiting for me that long because Rob had to get all his diving crap on, and the other three were engaged in some sort of Laurel and Hardy performance in order to retrieve the Bothy they had dropped down an inaccessible boulder choke, Helen was at full stretch holding onto a dodgy boulder, holding Botch who was also at full stretch in order to reach the bothy, which was eventually recovered to everyone’s cold and miserable delight.
Before we knew it, Rob was ready to dive – we shuffled awkwardly past each other in the rift, he handed me a camera to take some photos with – I managed to get a couple of photos of Rob and the dive base but mainly just took photos of myself and the support crew looking cheery in the bothy. He gave me a expected dive-time of 30mins max and sunk into the turbulent sump.
I crawled into the bothy, none of us able to achieve a comfortable position at all. Helen filled us in on the previous exploration of the sump which basically consists of someone sticking themselves in and seeing that the bottom is silty, and not wanting to go further.
Rob’s dive report follows:
The pool proved 4m deep initially and very silty with a continuation in the rift opposite the inlet continuing body sized. This was entered feet first for 8m to -7m depth and appears to continue, though would require complex line rigging to allow any further penetration and avoid blind narrowings in the rift.
We waited about 15-20mins before Rob resurfaced sounding a bit dazed. We leapt into action assembling ourselves ready to pack and de-camp. Rob climbed up the ladder, my bolt thankfully holding the weight of Rob + all his dive kit. Olly began to de-rig the Base while the rest of us re-packed everything into the correct bags. A call of “aw wot, how do you coil a ladder guys?” from Olly was met with a unanimous groan. Rob explained it to him, and a valiant but poor attempt was made to re-coil it, an attempt which was interrupted with a defeated cry of “aw guys, I’ve dropped my pantin in the sump”. It was not Olly’s day. Rob said he’d like to offer to go back for it but he didn’t want to. Fair enough, we all agreed, and so Olly’s Pantin is now forever committed to the bottom of Winnat’s.
With everything packed back into the correct bags, the ladder properly coiled and everyone thoroughly soaked, we headed out. A relatively steady pace was achieved as we were all pretty knackered but we were soon out of the wet pitches and warming up. SRT kits off once again, we shuttled bags through the sewer and up the various climbs to break the frozen, windswept surface at just shy of 1am.
Good, strenuous trip – Rob said he wasn’t willing to go back but is already re-considering it.
Trip date 21-3-18