Report by Jules Barrett
Cavers: Jules Barrett (EPC), Ann Soulsby (TSG), Alan Brentnall
I'd been wanting to do this trip for a while and so when I got a free Sunday it seemed like the perfect opportunity (especially as we knew that JH was rigged). Some of the SUSS cavers and some blokes from Yorkshire had done it recently and that reminded me about it. Ann has done the Ride of the Valkyries and knows this part of the Peak/Speedwell system well so was great to have her along. I'd like to do it as a pull-through (you can cave back from Salmon's Cavern to the bottom of Calcite Aven) but wanted to rig and de-rig it first to figure out what's what. A team of four dwindled to two (me and Ann) on the Sunday morning and the trip looked in doubt until Alan Brentnall arrived at the TSG with no firm plans. Was excellent that Alan decided to join us as neither of us fancied de-rigging JH whilst also transporting the 90m of rope needed for the Ride of the Valkyries. We arrived at Rowter Farm at about 10:30 am and packed the 20m and 70m(ish) ropes that we needed. Headed underground and soon found ourselves at the bottom of Leviathan. From here went through into the Far Sump Extension and turned left to arrive at the bottom of the fixed ropes that lead upwards in Calcite Aven. A nice series of pitches with rebelays, deviations and traverses lead up to the top of Calcite Aven and then into Fingernail Chamber. A hole in the floor is the short Fingernail Chamber Pitch which leads to Balcombe's Way. We walked along Balcombe's Way until the first bolts appeared. Here you're in a rift passage and there's a narrow (around half a metre) slot in the floor that you can easily straddle. I started rigging along a great airy traverse and the slot in the floor gradually gets wider as you go further along the traverse. Soon, you're rigging along just the right-hand wall and you start to become aware that the rift is opening out into something huge. It really does feel like one of those big continental caves! Reached the pitch-head and abseiled down to a hanging rebelay just over the lip. Rigged that and then a brilliant free-hanging descent down the huge rift. There's another rebelay further down with bolts on opposite walls and then you land on a ledge with routes on down both sides. We followed the bolts down past another rebelay to the bottom. Stuck our heads into Salmon's Cavern and then returned back up the ropes, Ann and Alan de-rigging. From here we retraced our steps back down Calcite Aven to the bottom of JH. We were de-rigging JH and Ann battled heroically all the way up the cave with the biggest (fattest) tackle bag that I've ever seen. It dwarfed my 'big bag' and I reckon it would hold about 200m of rope. Amazing effort to drag it up the Bitch Pitch and along the Cartgate. I picked up a couple of bags at the Workshop and headed out leaving Ann and Alan to de-rig. Me and my two bags were out by 4 pm with Ann and Alan taking a bit longer de-rigging.
A superb SRT trip with some amazing situations. The traverse into the pitch head is great fun to rig and then the pitches are also brilliant.