“Bring a bottle of wine, I’ve made bagels and brioche” messaged Claire.
With any other group, I’d fear for the next days caving plans – but with the Bens stupid-keeness driving us, I knew we’d be okay.
As for my own psyche – I have a special place in my heart for the NCC shafts after “discovering” it with Corin when we first started caving alone together. Also, in a fit of adult responsibility, I’d committed to letting the YSS into Peak.
After a classic night in the TSG, making (surely positive) impressions on the YSS and covering Micro Ben with brioche, we made sourdough pancakes supplied again by Claire. Until we tried that delicious dough, Ben and myself complained loudly about the lack of savory breakfast. Both Pevril Stores and the Post office have started opening at 9:30 and 9 am, with Pevril Stores now waiting until 10 to serve sandwiches!
Yep, somehow we were all so keen that by 9 we’d already had breakfast; spilt my coffee on the YSS’s route description; swept up the loose bread fragments; sorted out my keyholding; and were ready to kit up.
Minimal faff ensued, and we got underground before the first Peak tour like good cavers do.
Our goal was a “moderate trip” to the NCC shafts, hitting all the main features in there, getting a bit of ropework in, and maybe popping to a few other niche bits of Peak.
On this agenda, I suggested a bucketlist item of mine – the original route into the NCC shafts. Up Wigwam Aven, through the M1, into Disappointment Rift and popping out into the head of the downpitches. I’d sent the others Corins trip report about checking out the Disappointment side of this, which describes that end better than I will, and produced a mixture of repulsion and intrigue from all.
In the end, upon reaching Wigwam Aven, Little Ben went up the rope to take a look at the entrance to M1 and was subsequently drawn inside by the allure of scrotty body-sized Z-bends. Big Ben and Claire were not-so-keen and I arranged for myself and Nano Ben to meet them in the NCC shafts and headed up to join him.
The M1 proved to be a little less tight than I’d imagined, for our admittedly skinny frames, though a lot muddier! I’d also expected “one crux Z-bend”, and was “delighted” to discover about 10 of them.
The two of us made really quick progress through the body-sized passage, and could spin around in most of the bends to face the inner curve on both parts of the Z. A few more inches of girth would have prevented this though, and made the whole thing drastically more gruelling.
As it was, we got through to the true crux (I believe where the M1 turns into Disappointment) in about 15 mins, where the first standing spot presented a stash of bang wire and an awkward squeeze. Whilst some of the squeeze had obviously been widened, the tightest bit still sat about 1m off the ground in an awkward muddy rift – and we could only just barely get our helmets through.
Smoll Ben went first, gave it a noble effort, and quickly decided to back off and take off his SRT kit. Being an expert pro caver, I thought to myself “sure, It’ll make it a bit harder, but I bet I can get through without taking my kit off. I’ve just got to commit”. About 10 minutes of incremental squeezing later; lots of calming breaths; “are you going to let the cave beat you”; and the usual squealing later – I backed out and took my SRT kit off. We both then squeezed through in about 30 seconds.
After this we entered into Disappointment-proper, where the mud escalated further but the passage at least widened out and became mostly standing.
The mud in there really is something else. Viscous, fine of grain, and feet deep – it was at least pleasantly uniform and inorganic, though very clinging.
The promised “20 year old etria ladder” was still in place, with a nicely knotted handline for help, and didn’t fall apart this time around. Above it, was a little hole in the ceiling heading backwards along the route which someone has clearly (very bravely) crossed over to precisely once, judging by the footprints. Could be worth a look one day, though I’d want a few bolts to back me up on that climb.
Almost at the very end of disappointment saw the deepest mud yet, which of-course requires crawling through, and a very awkward rifty climb up. Good handholds, and Corin’s promised bit of tat, meant we both got up within a few minutes – but the grabbing mud on the floor, slippy mud on the walls, and complete lack of footholds could easily see you stuck at the bottom of the 1.5m climb for a long while.
And just like that, we were through into NCC shafts just at the same moment that Claire and Big Ben turned up. Apparently, Cosmic Ben had taken a look at the first couple pitches of EMT Aven, describing them as having “shit rope, lots of mud, and some decent pretties”.
We took a few minutes to catch our breath and for Sizable Ben to swear at the uncooperative rope leading into NCC shafts. Then, we sent Mini Ben to rig the down pitches whilst the other three of us went and checked out the up pitches.
Mark and Angelas wedding present was a lot less pretty than I remembered, though still pleasant. The other up-pitch unfortunately had a bit of heavily nicked ( / very lightly cored) rope so we decided not to visit the bat remains up there this time around. This bit of rope is just above the upper rebelay, and is visible before you get onto it, so no big worries for someone getting onto it without knowing.
I’d have been happy using the rope to, for example, put a new rope in – but we didn’t think it was worth any risk at all for the sake of sight-seeing. Plus, by this point most of us had lost our psyche as the evening caught up to us a bit.
Following Slight Ben downwards, past several awkward deviations, took us to the bottom of the shafts. Muddy as myself and him were, the 9mm we’d brought quickly became terrifyingly fast on descent, with Heavier Ben going so far at to put on multiple breaking krabs.
It’s pretty weird down there, with sharp crystalline growth on much of the rock unlike anything I’ve really seen elsewhere. I’d love to know more about what causes it, and why it looks so matte.
It’s a good bit of intermediate SRT getting down there though, and I always wonder why so few people do this bit of Peak. The effort of bringing in SRT kits I guess?
Fully lacking motivation; getting cold; and lacking convenient krabs – we didn’t bother with the last 10m pitch, which I remember just going into a muddy hole anyway. Sharing in our snacks, and rehydrating somewhat, I pulled on my (now phenomenally muddy) kagool which warmed me up quite quickly after a bout of dancing.
Fortunately, as we started heading out, our morale improved significantly and we all cheered up a great deal. Wee Ben rushed off back to Galena Chamber for a piss, which concerned the rest of us as he’d not actually done that bit of connection before.
Thankfully, once we’d derigged (leaving the knots in the rope, as they’d become simple balls of mud by now) and got through back to the Peak Round, we all reunited and made a swift way out of the cave. Washing off in Buxton water was a fair deal more time consuming and cold than usual, but the showcave demands respect so we persevered.
Getting back to the TSG we spent a good while cleaning the rope and our kit, which still wasn’t really clean after bathing, and for the first time in my years of caving made it to the (rarely open) Castleton fish and chip shop. £5 for a fish cake special with a can of pop is pretty good for the bougie locale, and even better value when you get to eat half of Modest Bens portion too.
All-in-all, a good day out which ended up being slightly harder work than expected. A firm reminder of the work still needed to be done in training before the SUSS Berger trip in August, and my subsequent expedition-ing. Cardio is especially necessary *sigh*