Date: 23/03/19

Members present: David Botcherby, Ben Thompson, Max Kenworthy, Claire Missen

Finding myself with a weekend free, I was keen to get a big trip done on Saturday. Ben was also keen, and so we agreed to do Ride of the Valkyries via Titan, as we’d never done it and someone needed to derig Titan. Recruiting Claire, Max, and Conor in the pub on Thursday, all was shaping up for a good trip (although Conor’s sobriety overtook his keenness the next day and so he bowed out)

I found Titan to be booked by Wessex members, so I organised that I’d pick up the usual key, and they’d use others they had access to. Unfortunately this meant being underground by 10am, which meant an 8am start at the kit store, not ideal for a weekend! (I suspect this had something to do with Conor’s reluctance).

I got up at 7 and had my breakfast while reading through the route description and rigging; something I’d neglected to do earlier in the week. I quickly realised that the rigging for the pull through was going to be more complicated than I thought, but luckily found a very helpful UKC post that described the complicated manoeuvre that had to be performed. I described it as we drove across to the TSG, only to be met with blank looks from the others…

Our stop in Castleton was rather brief. I rudely awoke a man in a van while parking, and then made my way over to the TSG to drop off some lost property. Me and Ben got slightly lost looking for the Titan key, so Alastair walked over to point out the correct rock. It was as we returned to the TSG that I noticed a large number of cavers descending upon Castleton. Once inside, Martyn informed us that 25 Wessex were heading towards Titan, so we’d better get our skates on (apparently around 35 total were in Peak that day!)

Driving up to the Titan parking, I felt as if we were trying to outrun a hurricane or flood or some other force of nature. The Wessex cars pulled up as we finished getting changed, so we got going quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we left the Titan key behind. Luckily we realised halfway to the lid rather than at the top. Titan was still rigged from when me and Lousie took Wob and K Brook down a few weeks ago (ah, SUSS) and so we made good pace descending. I could just see the first of the Wessex armada cresting the hill as I went down.

I had been meaning to change the bottom bobbin on my simple for a while, having bought a spare on the Christmas kit order, and just the day before buying an adjustable spanner for the purpose, but gardening and a ceilidh had gotten in the way. In any case, I thought it was probably fine for one more trip, even if that trip was Titan. At the bottom of the entrance pitch I though I noticed something funny about my bobbin. By the Event Horizon I was sure: 5 dark grey lines had appeared in the bottom of the groove. The thread was starting to wear through…. The rest of the descent was quite exhilarating, with thoughts of my descender giving up the ghost 40m from the floor never far from my mind. At the bottom, I resolved to borrow someone else’s descender for the pitches to follow.

Yes, I have changed it now

We sped down the boulder choke with the Wessex hot on our heels due to a speedy rigger, but we soon lost them. I was hoping I’d remember the turning to Salmon’s Cavern so I could stick my head in as we went past to memorise it for later. It’s actually quite obvious, just the other turning at the junction with the ladders. Routefinding to Calcite Aven was also nice and simple, just following the rift along to the right of Cow Arse Worms. We were all pleased not to have had that particular pleasure this trip.

We considered having a look at Western Highway as it was almost en route, but I’d heard that a group of Wessex members were also planning Ride of the Valkyries so we pressed on. My remembrance of the route description served well, and we found the small pitch at Balcombe’s way easily, where I borrowed Ben’s descender. Waiting for the others at the rescue dump, I started to hear voices that I was sure weren’t coming from us. I realised that RotV must be just ahead, and we were hearing a group in Salmon’s Cavern. Leaving Ben with the bag, I ran on ahead, excited by the prospect of making contact with the group down the bottom. The voices became more and more distinct, and I just caught a glimpse of lights as I reached the traverse. We saw quite a few groups pass as we descended RotV, but none responded to out calls. Maybe they didn’t hear us. Or perhaps they just didn’t care….

Now was time for our manoeuvres. The technique described on UKC was as follows: take a 20m for the traverse and an 80 for the pitch. Rig as normal to the pitch head, and then all but the last caver descends past the first rebelay , and down the main part of the shaft to a big ledge. The last caver then derigs the traverse, and rigs the 20 as a pull-through to the first rebelay. At that rebelay, the 80m can be rigged as a pull-through, but the distance to the ledge is greater than 40m, and so the 20 will have to be tied on the end of the pulling side as you descend to enable success. The last small pitch can then be pulled through with either rope.

We had a slightly more complicated system, as the Rowter trip had taken the only 80m rope (the bastards). This meant that we had a 25 for the traverse and a 20 and a 60 for the pitch. The traverse was already rigged, which made things a bit easier. I rigged a backed up pull-through with the 25m at the pitch head, and re-explained the plan to Ben at the pitch head, who was going to rig from the first rebelay to the ledge. This rebelay was nice and close to the top so we could supervise/heckle him. After the 3 went down, I descended to the rebelay, not pulling the rope through yet, as I wanted to be sure of everything. I had instructed Ben to tie on his descender as well as the 20 to the end of the rope so I could use it. Looking at the rebelay bolts I realised he would also need to send the maillons he was carrying. I was expecting the route to be p-bolted, which would have meant I could thread the rope through (and I would have been a bit happier on a single bolt!). Unfortunately, they were various expansion bolted hangers, and while one at the top had been appropriate, they were now all twist-style.

The rope came up with the descender and maillons, but no rope. This wasn’t the end of the world, and I didn’t think it was worth shouting down for it, so I got on with rigging. My plan had been for the others to shout up when the rope reached them. This plan was all well and good, except that the others were actually below a large slope, and so had no idea when I’d paid out enough rope. This had been mentioned in the UKC post, but I’d imagined the slope much smaller, and the others at the bottom of it, rather than actually underneath it! I used as little rope as I dared while still being reasonably sure of reaching the bottom, tied the 25 from the previous pull-through on the ‘pull’ end of the new pull-through, and pulled it down with a satisfying crack. Now we were committed.

I found the rope coiled up on the ledge and threw it down to the others. Luckily the 25 already tied on the end reached almost to the ledge, so I could easily ask them to pass up the 20. Once on the ledge, I had little trouble pulling the rope through, though I was worried about it destroying some mud formations that it narrowly missed! The final part was quite uneventful, though the others were already looking cold. I did have to abandon another maillon on a hanger. If anyone’s passing that way soon, please do send them our way.

At the bottom, we had two options: a rope up to the left, or a wet crawl to the right. Not wanting to go through the puddle, I guessed the rope up. I was the only one who’d been there before, so we’d only know once I recognised something, and I remembered some ropes up and down so felt like it was a reasonable guess. Only once he was on the rope did Max mention that the lights they’d seen had been in the other direction…. I couldn’t think of any way the groups could have been at the other end of the cavern without passing below us, so it was through the puddle for all of us. We were closer than I thought, and I almost started up the ladders towards JH before realising where we were!

Our return through the choke was a bit slower due to the ropes now being wet and heavy, as well as the way now being up. That said, we reached Titan in good time, debating all the way who would derig. Ben and Max were keen to put it on me until I pointed out that one of them would have to take the bag with 80m of wet rope. They soon changed their tune! At length, it was decided that Max would lead, followed by Claire, then me, with Ben derigging.

All went well until the Event Horizon. Max had sped up the pitch, and we may have made some sneaky use of Wessex rigging. We met some Wessex members at the EH which slowed us down a little, but it was only two as the rest were heading out other exits. Still, it wasn’t too long before I was setting off, which I was glad of as Titan was still quite drippy from the rains. As I prussiked up, I could see Ben moving around and wondered what he was doing. Probably nothing to worry about…..

I waved Claire and Max off at the top of the entrance pitch at around 17:30. I was excited by the prospect of being out by 18:00 in the sun, but still hadn’t seen Ben, so I decided to wait, shouting up to the others to go get changed rather than waiting around. After another 20 mins or so, Ben appeared at the top. This should have been the easy part, but his arrival heralded the start of a greater level of faff.

Ben hadn’t been able to find the other end of the first rope at the EH. This was because it was all rigged on the infamous SUSS Titan rope, but he didn’t know that. Horrified by the idea of descending and re-ascending Titan for a forgotten rope, Ben came upon a solution: tie all of the rope together. This came together in a veritably Gordian tangle, all centred on a krab. This also meant that instead of pulling the rope up as normal, where we’d only have the 60m of so of rope to the EH to pull up at a time, we now had to pull the whole thing up, all the while getting more tangled with the Wessex ropes. Once we’d hauled this leviathan ashore, we then had the task of gutting and cleaning it. This unwinding operation took at least an hour, with ropes constantly getting lost in the water, and many diatribes on the different dimensions on untangling a rope. I tried not to get angry at Ben.

Finally on the home stretch, I started out on the entrance rope and found myself very slow due to the cold and long trip. I was here that I realised that I’d done the whole day on a bowl of porridge and a mars bar Ben had given me at Salmon’s Cavern. As I approached the top, Max and Claire re-appeared, now changed and dry. They’d waited in the car 45 mins before deciding something was wrong, and so had headed back to find us. This was a godsend as it meant that I could go and get warm and dry while they helped Ben with the ropes. It also meant I could nick a double decker from Claire’s caving bag (sorry dude).

The dark set in as I waited for the others, but thankfully the curse on SUSS Titan derigging decided we’d had enough, and we were off relatively quickly (except that my phone battery got too cold and so we couldn’t cancel callout for a bit). We stopped in the TSG, where (as I hoped) MUSC offered us their leftover risotto. Tony and Alastair watched on bemused as we four stood around the pan with spoons and scarfed it down like gannets. Alastair showed me his find in Giants of a SUSS Pixa that had been in the streamway for a year. Unsurprisingly, It still worked (though it now doesn’t turn off, like half of our Pixas). We also took the opportunity to wash the ropes, which was unpleasant but necessary. We were too early for the bins at Bradwell Co-op, which saddened me greatly, so we set off for home.

Managing not to fall asleep, we arrived back to find the kit store inaccessible. This was the final straw, and I consoled myself by buying a feast of questionable food from Osmens. Been a while since I did a trip even approaching 9 hours long, and I was understandably knacked. I fell asleep fully clothed with the lights on, and failed to make the SHAFF afterparty.

Life Members Secretary Graduate biologist now taking a masters in France. Love corresponding with our life members that…