Volume 45 Number 3 Article 9
12 July 2008
Paul Thomas and Mike (SLUG) Hale
Lets start with the thanks to those that made the trip possible, Keith Mason for booking and collecting the entrance key, Ann Soulsby for the insurance forms and permission to exit via Peak Cavern and generally being very helpful, the TSG for the accommodation and being mucked about by the RRCPC and the Titan digging team. Also Michael Hale (Slug), Mark Middleton, Roger, Frank Tully for keeping me entertained and not throwing me down the ventilator shaft. Not forgetting the Morley Caving club for de-rigging Titan.
Before handing over as the Meets Secretary Paul Thomas had booked the keys to Titan entrance and accommodation at the TSG chapel in Castleton, Derbyshire. At the start of July there was only Paul, Slug and Chris Thompson booked for the trip, and a request for anyone wanting to go to let Paul know by Monday 1st July was sent out warning that a lack of interest would see the trip cancelled. On Tuesday 2nd July the accommodation was cancelled. A couple of days later in normal RRCPC style the requests for confirmation that the trip was still on started to arrive as people said they wanted to attend.
The TSG accommodation was rebooked and the collection of the keys was arranged.
Co. Durham the week before the trip had seen rain last witnessed in the bible and a lot of time was spend on the Friday afternoon checking with Keith and Ann who are more local to the cave on the water levels in the Peak District. Also, very useful was the High Peak website which has a good page on the rainfall and water levels. From an experience on a previous trip Paul was concerned about the water level in the low section just before joining the final pitch at James Hall, which can flood and mean the only way out is to reverse the Titan main shaft.
On the morning the 12 July Paul and Slug individually arrived early at the accommodation to find that those staying overnight had not had breakfast and were expecting a much later start. Regrettably Simon Jobling had been called back home in the early hours of the morning
The Morley Caving Club had a trip the week before cancelled and had requested to follow us down; their offer to de-rig Titan was very welcome. Due to the complex nature of the locking system a couple of the Morley party were coming to see the entrance unlocked so they could return it to the same condition at the end of the day. One member of the Morley group was asking lots of questions and did not seem to be well briefed. It took about 20 minutes to realise that Frank Tully was a member of the Red Rose and not Morley.
Park at the Farm and you have to pay a £2 per caver access fee but the car is parked in a safer location than many in the Peak District. Arriving at the cave entrance it was a surprise to find that the Morley team had parked somewhere else and had a much shorter walk to the entrance.
Slug eagerly jumped onto the planks covering the entrance to help remove them once the scaffolding arrangement had been moved clear. When the planks had all been put to one side the panel could be released to access the padlock which secured the hatch which concealed the top of the shaft. It was at this point that Slug caught his first glimpse of the full extent of the shaft and hastily climbed out of the pit to get his SRT kit on. Entrance cleared and the first pitch was rigged (50m Rope required) from the scaffold over the entrance. Once down the entrance pitch there was a slight delay while we waited for the main pitch ropes to appear as they have magically moved to the back of the group.
Apart from the natural effect that a huge pitch has on those rigging, the problem with the main pitch is that Moose who put the bolts in place is tall and Paul Thomas is more Hobbit sized. The top section of the main shaft requires an 80m rope. The huge pitch effect also affected those waiting to descend. Some went strangely quiet while others went into Hyper-babble. This effect was rationally observed and discussed to pass the time as Paul Hobbitted about. At the bottom of the pitch you land on a sloping ledge with a traverse rope in place, ignore this and continue down over the edge to the Event Horizon re-belay. It is possible to spilt the pitch in the area of the traverse rope but this was not done because there are a lot of loose boulders in this area that could be knocked down the lower pitch and the line of the rope can create a rub point where it goes over the edge.
On the Event Horizon re-belay there are four bolts. We used the two left hand bolts. An extra sling was added to aid people on the change over on this exposed free hanging re-belay.
The lower section of the main pitch requires a 60m rope. Ours was marked as 65m when cut in 2007 but needs to be re-measured to check on the shrinkage as it reached with about a metre to spare. Once the group was gathered together harnesses were removed and bagged up for the move though the boulder choke. Rapid progress was made – with the inquisitive Slug was asking Paul what the different passages were called – a pointless exercise as Paul just about remembers the names of the caves let alone passages. Slug suspected that he was making it all up as he went along anyway especially in the White River Series.
After passing the base of Leviathan (the final pitch of James Hall) we lifted the lid to gain access to the main streamway, the breeze that comes out of this hatch is always surprising. Following our noses we went downstream towards the ladder on the Bung to find the water level very low and the ladder climb over the weir was quite dry.
Without noticing it we passed by Block Hall and took the bypass on the left of the stream-way to get past the low airspace section. When we got to the ladder at Egnaro Aven up to Colostomy Crawl we realised our error and returned to back though the bypass to find the base of Block Hall which was obvious because of the start of the fixed ropes.
The plan was to use these ropes to go up Block Hall and down the Ventilator Series which drops one into the last part of Colostomy Crawl.
It was at this point that Paul told the group. “It’s about 4 pitches to the top then and easy walk along the White River to the down pitches”. Eight or nine pitches later we reached the top of Block Hall and a flat out crawl to get to the very pretty White River stuff. It was hard work to get up into the passage but the impressive formation made it worthwhile and it avoided the long crawl that was Colostomy so everyone was happy, although Roger was looking a bit hot and thinner than when the trip started. On the previous trip Paul had done a bit of unplanned exploring in this series it was a pleasant surprise to easily find the start of the pitches down – it was not such a pleasant surprise to find that there was not a fixed rope in place although the pitches are rigged as a pull though trip. Unfortunately, the short rope Paul had carried for an emergency was not long enough for the purpose of descending the Ventilator Pitches.
Back we go along the White River which was very pleasant but a shame really as this very beautiful section of abandoned streamway is suffering from people travelling past it. So back over the Moose-Trap, which didn’t trap Paul. (Cries of “Shame” from the team) and back down the Block Hall SRT route. This makes an excellent SRT trip on its own. Then we introduced Roger to the delights of Colostomy Crawl. There is nothing difficult about it but it does go on a bit. At the start of the Trenches we could sit up and have a breather. We told Roger this chamber was called “Halfway House”, a blatant lie. After a bit of reflection Roger started crying. With a bit of chocolate he was placated and he cheered up at the scrub-up pool just before the show-cave part of Peak Cavern. Slug was disappointed that it was too late for any show-cave visitors as the instructions from the TSG people were that we were not allowed to touch them.
It was an excellent trip and thankfully not too many people turned up as the big Titan pitch would be a bit of a bottle neck and made the trip that bit longer. The White River Series is certainly a marvel of Derbyshire caves but the real triumph of the Peak System is the extent of the civil engineering style work that has gone into making the through trip a possibility.