I met up with Dan, James and Nathan on Saturday night, after catching the bus up to Sheffield. Dan was driving, and we returned to the TSG for an enormous plate of pasta. I had had a text from James Roberts earlier and call from Goaty, both of them couldn't make it. Tim O and a friend of Nathan's were due to arrive in the morning—otherwise our team would be a bit thin. I'd brought a flash gun to try and gets some shots of the amazing formations, but no slave units, and practiced outside the chapel taking photos by counting down, luckily it seemed to work. We eventually retired to our makeshift beds upstairs about 1am, aware that we would loose an hours sleep because of the clocks changing.
(Gorge leading to the entrance to Peak Cavern)
Breakfast seemed to be mostly meat based, then the warden arrived, he wasn't expecting our party, and we were still filling in indemnity forms and waiting for Tim. There was a moment of comedy timing, as James went off to make a last ditch call to Tim, just as Tim arrived, James then came back saying he couldn't get through to him. We were a bit worried about the insurance thing and whether doing the through trip on the fixed ropes in JH would be allowed. In the end it was all absolutely fine, we paid the fees and I went with Ed (the warden) up to the entrance to find out what the procedure was, while the others got ready. I was suitably impressed by the entrance to Peak, having never seen it before, walking up the path I felt a thrill of excitement, we were really going to do the trip! I was struck by the huge gorge, the crowing of birds echoing and the castle perched high above, it seemed a place of real history. Then the you get to the barbed wire gates to the show cave.
We set-off down JH at 11, while we took turns to descend the entrance, it felt unlike most caving trips, it was before 12 and it was pleasant and mild.
The entrance to James Hall Over Engine mine. Jan, Bruce, Dan, Tim and Nathan We quickly descended down to Leviathan, and down to the stream way, the water levels were fairly low, The Bung was dry and shortly afterwards on the right was Block Hall—fairly obvious, but if you had your head down stomping along the stream you could easily miss it, like Nathan and Bruce. I started up, there's a long slope then three 20m-ish pitches—on the survey it looked about 80m up in total, so a decent climb—the first pitch I managed an impressive pendulum on the take-off, I should have expected it but was trying to move quickly, so it came as surprise. At the 3rd pitch a rope hung down, covered in a layer calcite, we speculated one it day would make an interesting formation. At the top Watts Passage, a very unobvious low crawl (to an explorer), was the link pushed from both sides providing the link through to The Kingdom and the White River series beyond. I went first and popped through into passage, then waited for the others, it was about 2pm.
Tim and Dan came through, their laboured movements making deep bass noises along the passage. We had to wait a while, as Bruce negotiated a tricky deviation back at Block Hall, but a pretty good effort given it was his first time doing SRT in a cave. After a tasty Breakaway bar we all continued on, starting to feel a bit cold. The exciting traverse over Nameless Pitch was pre-rigged, it was nice to have a rope as you had to lean right across a gaping hole, hands on one side feet on the other, like the guide said it was an easy traverse but easy to fall down too. There were a lot wasp nest like stal formations, narrow at the top dangling from the ceiling, looking precarious and beautiful, but also slightly creepy. Then the first crystal pool, with water so clear you hardly see it, and a beautiful light blue tinge, below the water everything was coated in pristine white calcite crystals, it was mesmerising. Then came the white rivers, between banks of mud the startlingly white pools of solid calcite joined by gentle cascades, looking like cream had been poured onto the floor and gently flowed down. James suggested it looked like something else...
(Nathan in The White River series)
After was the Moosetrap traverse, then Monday 13th passage off to the left, leading to the Ventilator, where we would start our pull-through back down to join the lower level and eventually leading to Peak. To start with we wanted to look at the continuation of the White River, but after a brave attempt by James to traverse across The Ventilator failed, and no one else was crazy enough to try! We started down. Besides, at this point Bruce was falling asleep, we think he had a bit of a late night. Three decent 15m-ish pitches with shonky bits of traverse rope in places, brought us to a climb down a ladder and the unexpected squalor of The Trenches. It started with a very unappealing looking crawl, which I had to turn round in to retrieve my tackle bag, bad time to have a tacklebag I can say! The deep, gloopy mudfest of the aptly named passage then ensued for longer than should be allowed! Before being allowed to escape, we had to squeeze through the bars of a gate—a sort of plump caver filter.
Eventually we reached Treasury Chamber, and stopped for a photo shoot, six gloriously mud caked cavers. Then Treasury Passage, which joined into the awesome Upper Gallery passage, a big fat tube through the hill, we stomped along eventually getting to the Mucky Ducks and the Five Arches, wet stoops that feel like you are walking into a sump. We washed in the Buxton Water sump, and continued stomping down stream reaching some steps, and eventually a big gate and the show cave. As we turned a corner we saw the most awesome sight, daylight coming down the huge curving passage of the entrance, it was the sort of moment that makes caving and especially a through trip special, after going in one entrance walking, crawling and scrambling 1.5km, abseiling 150m(?), we had reached the exit after 7.5 hours and it felt good.
(After The Trenches! Tim, Bruce, Dan, James and Nathan in Treasury Chamber)
(Exiting Peak Cavern (Cavers: Bruce Kawa, Dan Greenwald, Jan Evetts, James Kirkpatrick, Nathan Taylor, Tim Osborne))
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