Fiona Hartley, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Chris Hayes, Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Laura Temple, Erica Keung, Kevin Sohn, Jergus Strucka
Note: Do not put Carlswark Gardens into google maps – you will end up in the middle of the Nottingham suburbs, an hour or so away from the DPC. Also don’t forget the spanner when going to Derbyshire…
Oxlow Cavern: Rebecca Diss, Matti Mitropoulos, Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Erica Keung, Jergus Strucka
Due to the Peak permit deadline Chris and I were up at 6am to cook breakfast efficiently and swiftly, so at 6:45 I awoke sleepers with overtly lively folk music (‘this is psychopathic…’ - Diss). Over breakfast the previously confirmed Maskhill-Oxlow exchange was rediscussed once more, and it was deemed too ambitious given the mismatch of a small group and lots of rope. So groups were reshuffled – one team doing JH-Peak, one bouncing JH to derig, one down Oxlow. Into the van we jumped and off we sped to Castleton.
After parking up and sidling over to the TSG we were informed Fiona’s car was suffering from severe performance issues and she may not be able to cave before solving that issue, and Diss was suffering from severe cramps so she also may not be able to cave before they improved. This left a rather small number of leaders on a trip that had initially had a very strong Novice-Leader ratio. Some more reshuffling occured, and it was decided that Ana would rig JH and take a team down there, and I would lead a team down Oxlow with Astrid rigging. During all this faff Diss had recovered somewhat and joined the Oxlow team, despite her minorly traumatic experience there previously. Peak permits acquired, Derbyshire key borrowed from the TSG, off we sped to Rowter Farm to get changed.
A quick and sunny walk took us over to the entrance, which Astrid rigged with confidence. Diss followed, then Jergus, Erica, Julien and I. At the tricky deviation Erica descended down a bit too far, changed over, and eventually got herself down with some difficulty, however left a knot in the deviation krab in her wake – this meant I needed to go down before Julien went down, but there wasn’t enough slack in the rope to rig the descender, so I down-prussiked until the krab, untied the knot, came back up to let Julien descend with me being able to see from above, called vaguely helpful hints to him as he navigated the deviation, and then came down myself.
Down the pretty flowstone slope we went, eventually reaching the notorious caverns where Maskhill drops in. The scale was pretty impressive, and they had a strangely Slovy feel to them, though maybe I only thought that cos slov had been on my mind a lot recently. We looked down the final, very wet pitch and decided it wasn’t worth getting wet for, so just turned around. Though just before some of us had a go at a pointless squeeze in the floor – was very warming and quite fun.
Just before the flowstone slope there was a small wet crawl which Jergus had described as extremely fun, so I poked my head into it for a few minutes while the others prussiked out. Once back on the surface the visibility was absolutely appalling – dense fog with gale force winds and spitting rain. The others had already headed back so it was just me and Astrid, we made it back to the bus ok. On the long road up to Rowter farm I asked Astrid to turn her light off, and we walked in the dense foggy darkness, becoming one with the night.
We heard from the JH team that they had been forced to turn around before exiting peak but no reason was given as to what had happened to them to cause this, so we nervously drove to the TSG to pick them up. Upon arrival we learned that the rigging topo Chris had trusted his big trip to had been bollocks – after much faff they had gotten halfway down Leviathan before realising they didn’t have enough rope to finish it. Chris seemed pretty distraught that the section of cave that was supposed to be the easy part had been the dagger that was his ultimate demise, but we assured him that shit often goes wrong and trips don’t go to plan.
Back at the hut, we butchered Diss’ sister’s curry by not utilising a blender, chatted for a while, but ultimately most went to bed at a pretty early time, probably due to the early rise that morning.
James Hall Over Engine Mine: Ana Teck, Chris Hayes, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn
Eternal boredom of the caveless mind: Fiona Hartley
I don’t know why but the trip feels doomed.
We drive towards Castleton. Without any known cause to me, the car judders and chimes at me. "Engine malfunction, service now." It goes into limp mode, which means it has very limited power and acceleration. I wilt inside. This is today’s Doom.
We drive onwards slowly, making unhappy noises when the car sounds unhappy, which is constantly. Unhappiness all around. I try two random garages with no success. We go to the TSG where Diss looks dead the whole time. We return to one of the garages where the mechanic has just arrived, but he's too busy to code read my car. We return to the Castleton car park. Diss, feeling livelier, joins the cavers who are still there, finishing changing. I take the minibus parking spot, pay for more parking, call my breakdown provider and pleasantly I don’t have to sit around for as long as I expected. A mechanic missing two front teeth comes to my rescue, except not really because he doesn’t have his fault code reader. Anyway he fiddles with the car and we discuss things and ultimately the fault doesn’t get cleared and I also don’t get recovered right then and there. I get lunch from the chippie to console myself.
My car and I limp back to Stoney Middleton. Horrible drive. I become bored within fifteen minutes because there is absolutely nothing to do at the DPC. I decide to do surface reconnaissance; that is, walk to Carlswark Cavern to find the Gin and Eyam Dale entrances and take photos of them. I slip into the semi-darkness of a couple of cliff holes too (various entrances to various Middleton Dale Mine Levels), using my tikka over a thick hat. This isn’t a bad way to spend an hour, but the most exciting part is definitely scrambling up the steep valley side to a pinnacle and then shuffling back down low to the ground because the gradient is steep and the soil slippery.
I am inspired and consider returning in my caving kit for a gentle solitary explore of Carlswark (I have no description, just the survey on my phone). I then remember that I have Outside Friends (gasp!) who live in the Peak District, so when they respond positively to my message of "Pub?" I am spared from solo caving effort. Said friends also live in a place with actual mobile data, which the hut lacks, so this is probably for the best: I can monitor the callout constantly from a warm kitchen, and don’t have to keep wandering the hillside of Stoney in the dark.
Also, said friends declare that they are not cavers, and then unearth a perfectly usable copy of Caves of the Peak District in their house. Not cavers? You sure about that?
Eldon Hole: Matti Mitropoulos, Chris Hayes, Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn
A more reasonable wake-up time of 8:15 for me, cooking breakfast with Fiona and Erica for a while, before haggling out some groups with everyone who wanted it. Eventually I became the only first leader so we decided on an Eldon East-West exchange, so Astrid and Chris could do some rigging while I keep an eye on the novices. The weather was pretty good so hanging out in an open shaft would be a nice way to spend a chill day while still getting some caving in.
All the prep happened at a pretty normal pace so we reached the hole at 12:30. A lot of our kit was still wet from the previous day and the DPC doesn’t have a drying room so most had some hybrid of caving and ‘civilian’ clothing. Kevin was literally in jeans and a jumper, but I decided to commit and fully changed. Kevin also brought his phone to play music, which I was initially sceptical of, but I found that it increased the chill factor of the trip.
I found it quite funny watching Julien and Laura react to leaning over the edge of the straight 55m drop – exactly the same as I did when I did it the first time I rigged it back in autumn 2021: ‘holy shit that’s scary’. But they both kept their cool and we were soon bouncing off the shale along the bottom; Laura was the last to descend, dropping straight into a major cave rave as we were bopping to Kevin’s tunes.
Chris and I got straight to rigging the up-rope, which we managed with ease, setting up the rope in minutes. I ascended first, being very careful to check the rope was in order as I crested the lip at the top, and walking into the rather pretty Miller’s Chamber.
I called rope free, and made my way up the in situ to Damocles rift. As I reached the top, there was a narrow squeeze that led away from the pitch head – I though little of it as I fed myself into it, but before I had time to react my thigh had slipped into a secondary constriction below the main hole, and I realised that had trapped me pretty badly; my muscles were relaxed as I had fallen in, and to lift my leg out I had to tense, which decreased the compressibility of my thigh. I tried to get it out myself for a while but eventually figured a second person would be useful and called rope free, hoping there was someone in Miller’s chamber who would be willing to help. Kevin appeared a few minutes later and we began to try free my leg, him levering it in as many different ways as possible. It took maybe half an hour but eventually we wriggled it free (thanks Kevin) by squeezing my knee through longitudinally and we headed back down. Turns out Julien had had quite some trouble on the up-rope into Millers chamber so it was just him and Laura at the bottom of the in-situ. We decided we didn’t want to rush so just turned around then.
Back out into a superlative sunset we prussiked, and shortly after we were back at the hut, packing up. Previous experience of huts complaining at us for not cleaning well enough had me paranoid, so I went around aggressively hoovering around people’s feet for quite a while, but eventually we were on our way back to London.
Two weeks later
Repairing my car was quoted at thousands of pounds... so its final journey was to the scrapyard.