James KirkpatrickIt is something about Derbyshire - always something strange going on. This time two men were hitch-hiking. We stopped, since we are nice peoples and they were in the middle of nowhere. On the end they turn out to be the UFO seekers - yes, you read it correct... UFOs near Orpheus - do think about that, next time you gonna go there. On the end we found out threw internet, that apparently they saw UFOs just behind the Orpheus...or in our language - a caver with a tikka.
Having got the key from Rowter Farm, I had time to change, rig the entrance pitch to JH as well as a little snooze in the sunshine before the rest of the party turned up. With 5 going down JH and 7 down Titan, the scope for faff was immense, so we set off at full speed.
I've done JH a number of times now, so the usual greasy scaffolding, big pitch, hanging death, crawling on rubber, hanging death, big pitch etc etc etc followed each other until I'd rigged to the bottom of Leviathan. With Pip just behind we dived head-first into the grotty crawls on the way to the bottom of Titan.
A few wet pools and a lot of grit later the five of us met up for the first time since the surface, had a bite to eat and warmed ourselves on my perfectly working carbide (having finally disabled "suicide" mode). Pip assured us she knew the way to the bottom of Titan, so we spent the next hour or so wading through water and mud (is this the right way? "PJW 1985" says not. In hindsight we possibly found the Far Waters sump, now bypassed by a dig the other direction from Leviathan).
Anyway, we met up with the Titan party somewhere in the crappy horizontal bit. Pip clearly did know the way, as by the time the other four of us had got to the bottom of Titan she was out of sight beyond the Event Horizon. Prussiking out of Titan is fairly easy, certainly easier than JH. Apart from getting cold feet waiting at the top with my feet in the puddle and the rope spaghetti at the single rebelay, the only real excitement was finding damage to the rope about half way up the top half.
A bit of advice for communicating on big pitches - don't bother. If someone needs help it'll be obvious from the screaming, otherwise you should just ignore all other forms of communication apart from "rope free" and "OK" unless you want to confuse yourself. Solo trip back across moor in vain attempt to find JH in dark. Finally found James prussiking out, and assited Rik and JKP derigging.
Saturday we visited two amazing caves: 7 people (Dave, James Kirkpatrick, Tim, James Hugget, Rik, Jan and Ben ) absailed down a giant hall: Titan - the largest single shaft in the UK with it's 140 m - and 5 people (Jarv, Jana, Andie, Pip & Chris) down John Hall over Engine Mine (aka J.H.).
Titan was rather sphincter clenching: leaning over the edge and starting descending Titan took a bit of suspencion of disbelief ("I will not be fall into the abyss"), but not as impressive as some pics would suggest: it's basically a big, big, fecking big hole. Since there were 7 of us waiting for everyone to get down involved a lot of waiting...
Dave had quite presciently brought some whiskey, while James H. and Ben had rather un-presciently not brought waterproof oversuites: they must have frozen their asses off! At the bottom of it a boulder chokeand a bit of walking lead to a bottom level. Here we met the J.H. team and continued walking until we reached a a largish stream, which we followed up-stream until it became a flat out crawl. Eventually this emerged in a larger passage which lead to a large hall, where we found the ropes left by the J.H. team.
We hosed ourselves down, trying to get all the grit and mud out of our jammers. We then started prussicking up "Leviathan" a much smaller shaft than Titan but still rather impressive. The top 30m or so of Leviathan where very wet with spray coming off the rock. The feeling of looking up and being confronted with nothing but spray and water was not too pleasant...
At that point I was a bit tired and my memory gets a bit hazy... I seem to remember some pretty nasty rocky walking on all fours dragging the ropes behind. Why did i volunteer to derig? More importantly, why are ropes so heavy? At that point we were in a disused mine and that the ceiling was held up by some rather worryingly ancient looking bits of wood.
Eventually we reached the next pitch: 40-45 m up a narrow crack aptly named "bitch pitch". Having climbed up the rope and de-rigged (providing Rik with more weight to drag along... ), we reached a beautiful passage with deep clear ponds. I asked Rik how deep they were and he answered "they've never been bottomed"... mmh... since the pools were roughly as wide as the passage I paid a lot of attention and tried to stick to the sides of the wall!
We reached the entrance pit: just another 40-50 m up a vertical shaft and out to the surface. After 8 hours underground what a majestic ceiling greeted us: the night was clear and the sky strewn with starts. Andy was waiting for us, happy that he had now been to Titan, as the next day he would announce his retirement from caving, seen it all apparently!
Back to the Orpheus hut where Jan and Dave where busy preparing a delicious meal. I scoffed my plate down, downed a beer, sat in front of the fire and passed out... mmhh sweet oblivion. I think it's safe to say everyone was satisfied with this bonza trip!
At first I though I'm gonna go down Titan and up JH. But after Andy's argument, about how easier is to go up just in one go, I changed my mind. First time I have been down JH and I must say it is one of the most beautiful caves. Easy pitches, lovely small crawls, a mine working museum and shiny calcite crystals. On the bottom, we start searching for the connections to Titan. Fist time we went the wrong way and end up walking in super muddy small lakes. On the right way, half way threw the connection, we met the other group.
And there we were at the bottom of this huge blackness - Titan. It is hard to say how impressive it is - you can not really see it all in it's beauty. Going up is actually nothing special. It is just you and the rope and the darkness all around you. Looking down, you can hardly see a light from a caver waiting behind to follow up. Only one confused - twice rigged rebely. You had to think twice which rope to take to continue going up.
I would only go back to Titan if it was lit up, but will definitely be back to JH.
Jarv and I were the last peoples who were all alone finishing derigging and locking up the Titan. It took us more than half an hour to lock it! We had the keys and we had to find a locker hidden in a chest. We spend 10 min looking for chest, hidden behind a big pile of dirt 10m away from the entrance. And then like puzzles putting things on place.
I have made a Big Pitch comparison chart: Size Titan: 8 Plopzilla: 9 (bigger volume!) Gladiators: 10 (bottomless!) Dihedral: 7 Scaryness (add +1 if rigging/derigging, and +1 if descending, +1 for 9mm, knot passes, Rik's rigging etc etc) Titan: 6 Plopzilla: 9 Gladiators: 9 Dihedral: 7 (+1 in daylight) Impressiveness: Titan: 4 (too dark) Plopzilla: 6 (helictites are better than curtains) Gladiators: 5 Dihedral: 10 (wow!) Engineering: Titan: 10 (50m through solid rock!!) Plopzilla: 2 (Rik hitting squeeze with bolting hammer...) Gladiators: 9 (steel traverse) Dihedral: 2 (+6 for Winch meet) Rigging: Titan: 10 (perfect hangs, massive bolts) Plopzilla: 2 (headfirst squeeze out onto pitch followed by Rik's 5 minute spits...) Gladiators: 9 (steel traverse) Dihedral: 6 (P-hangers)
The next day I was keen to practice some derigging, luckily Jan was happy to supervise me and Dave to drive us to Oxlow. Went down the first pitches of Oxlow and of Maskhill, practiced rigging without making any deadly mistakes (I think!). Maskhill mine looks quite interesting and it was a shame that lactic acid, the time of day and the lack of ropes stopped us from looking further. In the meanwhile Ben and Rik where at the hut, cleaning up and bumming around, Tim, Jana Jarv and James H. where walking about Tor something-or-other: a strange reverse cave with rocks in the bottom and empty stuff called "air" on top: the weird things some people do!
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