RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 38 Number 3 Article 10
October 2001

Giants Hole

Saturday 23 June 2001

Present : Andy Whitney, Duncan Jones, Tony Brocklebank, Pete Dale.

“It’s just not the same as the Dales”. That’s the usual accompaniment to any trip we do in the Peak District. Fair enough, Peak Cavern is a magnificent cave (after all it’s like a Yorkshire cave!), but all of our other experiences of what the area has to offer have been muddy, crawly, or both. We longed for clean washed streamways.

A few people had said that Giant’s was a nice trip, but I arrived at Peakshill Farm with my mind already made up - it would be grotty. Arriving early I found the others hadn’t turned up yet, so set about packing the ropes and hardware needed. There were already a few cars parked up, so we could expect a fair bit of spaghetti at the pitches. Soon a four-wheel drive turned up, which turned out to be Tony, and as is traditional, Pete and Duncan arrived half an hour later than agreed. Once changed we wasted no time in heading for the entrance to escape the increasingly fierce sun, now numbering five as we had invited a chap called Richard along who had been stood up by the BPC [insert your own sarcasm here!].

The large entrance was a pleasant sight, and once inside I was quite surprised by the proportions of the continuing passage, having to remind myself that we had to still be in Derbyshire, as the Dales is closed. As the passage passed the impressive flowstone covered Boss Aven, and began to steeply descend with a smooth Limestone floor, I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t enjoying it - but I was. As we neared the head of Garlands Pot, the familiar sound of water falling down a pitch drew us towards it like a magnet; my first pitch since the Foot & Mouth outbreak curtailed caving activities almost six months ago. It may not have been a goliath-sized pitch at only 9m, but it was a pitch nevertheless.

Pete seemed keen to rig so I passed the bag forwards to him. Fifteen minutes passed as Pete tied a variety of exotic knots, none of which resembled anything we had ever seen in a cave before. We did our best to help and encourage him by taking the absolute p**s, but this was not successful. It turns out that Pete had been watching Andy Sparrow’s ‘Cave Safe’ videos recently, so draw your own conclusions from that - bad videos, or bad excuse? Pete finally settled on an arrangement that he was happy with, consisting of a butterfly and a long loop leading to a bowline on the bight. Curiously, one loop of the y-hang was clipped into the same krab as the butterfly, although quite what this was supposed to achieve was a mystery. Despite our constructive criticism, Pete was determined to stick with this set-up, so we all closed our eyes and held our breaths as he descended. Duncan confidently approached the pitch head and went straight for one of the other two ropes already in place, with Tony and Richard following his lead. Before I descended I decided I would feel much happier if I re-rigged it, as Pete’s new found ropework techniques scared me.

At the foot of the pitch Richard was having a slight problem with his light, which was turning off every time he looked down. Despite being offered a sound solution of “Don’t look down then”, he decided to head back out. By now the others were well into the Crabwalk, so I wasted no time in trying to catch them up. Shuffling sideways in the tightly meandering rift, I congratulated myself on deciding against bringing my camera gear as I cursed the aptly named passage. Voices could soon be heard as I began to catch the others, and everything came to a sudden halt as we negotiated ‘The Vice’. The name is descriptive enough, I think. A little further on and we reached Razor Edge Cascade, which was descended with the aid of an in-situ handline. This was followed by an easy descent of Comic Act Cascade using the fixed iron ladder.

Having endured just over 600m of this hateful passage, we finally encountered a long overdue widening at Great Relief Passage. About 15m before the Second Stream Sump we entered a passage on the right leading into a series of low passages and junctions culminating in a smooth tube emerging into the roof of the streamway. An in-situ traverse line made the high going safe, and there were plenty of good ledges to use. Just beyond the traverse, a handline descent of Corkscrew Aven gains the top of the impressive Geology Pot.

Pete, Duncan and Tony descended the pitch using another group’s rope, leaving me to rig it with our rope for the return. With this done I savoured the descent of Giant’s Hole’s biggest and most spectacular of pitches at a length of 12m. Sensing that the end of the cave was within our grasp we pushed on towards our goal of the East Canal. One final cascade lay in our way and after carefully free climbing this, declining the use of the rather dodgy looking handline in place, we found ourselves at a deep pool. A traverse around the edge of this to stay dry turned out to be pointless as the way on lowered dramatically at the Far Curtain.

Looking into the low wet crawl/duck, Pete valiantly declined to go through first. Just before I was about to volunteer (honest), Tony stepped forwards. Launching himself into the water, I keenly (?) followed, hot on his heels. Airspace was OK; with an ear just getting wet, but the water was COLD!! We all agreed that we were glad that we had worn neoprene undersuits, except Duncan who hadn’t. Another low, wet bit followed, and a few metres further downstream we confronted the muddy gloomy waters of East Canal. The dive line spotted, we turned tail and headed back upstream to find our escape route - The Giant’s Windpipe.

Heading back to the roof tube and junctions, a fixed handline climb was soon located, signalling the way up to Maginn’s Rift. Making our way along this we came to an impressive (and very dry) cascade, which was climbed to a junction. Left is the connection to Oxlow via Poached Egg Passage, so we headed right along Letter Box Passage and Ghost Rift. We soon spied the bubble-like flowstone that marks the start of the Giants Windpipe, and Duncan was sent ahead as punishment for not having the foresight to wear a wetsuit. A nice section of low, wet wallows are the main attraction in the Giant’s Windpipe, which was so much fun I almost wanted to do it twice.

Beyond the Windpipe, the way forward soon breaks into the roof of the Crabwalk. From the bottom I hadn’t realised how high this passage was, but looking down from the roof I could now appreciate it. I was bloody high! We carefully traversed unprotected some 15 metres above the floor, in the thankfully narrow rift. The idea was to now find a safe and relatively easy point at which to bridge down to the stream. Eventually we arrived at an awkward squeeze at roof level, beyond which was an inconspicuous little gap in some flowstone. This proved to be the way down, and after some thrutching and contorting thought the hole with a 10m-drop below, we managed to regain the rift and a suitable route to the floor. This was not without a great deal of moaning from Pete about having to carry a bag with only 20m of rope in it. (I had 50m!) Admittedly the rope Pete was carrying hadn’t been used as all the climbs had handlines, but what the hell, it was good exercise!

Making our way back up the last bit of the Crabwalk after bypassing the majority of it, the rope at Garlands Pot soon loomed into view. Pete and Duncan shot off up it like monkeys up a tree, leaving us to de-rig. Tony, having acquired Pete’s bag, which he had thoughtfully dumped, volunteered to de-rig the pitch. Heading back up the entrance passage, the steep gradient made itself known as we struggled with the extra weight of the wet ropes. Breathing a sigh of relief as daylight came into view, we puffed and panted our way out into the comfortable warmth of the surface. Driving home I couldn’t help thinking that if it wasn’t for Foot & Mouth preventing me from caving in the Dales, I might never have bothered with Giant’s Hole. It would have been my loss.

Andy Whitney

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