Crusader - 03/02/2015

Written by Katie.

Tuesday 3rd February

Crusader – so that is what you have been on about……

For 6 months or so now my husband Rob has been working on a project in Oxlow caverns. He normally goes once a week but the evenings he is not caving are not totally cave free. After Toby has gone to bed Rob enters data into survex, draws up surveys, reads old dig reports, studies surveys and generally spends time formulating theories about the cave’s formation and where to push next. Of course I hear quite a bit about his discoveries and his theories and the glory of the grail still to be found……….

Whilst I am interested in caving and their new discoveries it was hard to visualise what he is on about as I had never been to or even near Crusader. Since Toby was born a year we have only caved separately whilst the other looks after the baby. Rob once a week and me about once a month. 

So when Rob realised he had quite a few holiday days to use before April I suggested a trip to Crusader. My mum wasn’t working Tuesday the 2nd and was happy to have Toby so the date was set! Tuesday morning we dropped Toby off at toddler group and instructed mum to ensure she took the right child home at the end…... Up at Oxlow we paid the farmer who said Oxlow was fine ‘if we could find it’, then abandoned the landrover in a snow drift by the side of the road, had a chilly change of clothes and headed towards Oxlow. Confidently striding towards where we knew the stile to be we immediately ended up thigh deep in the snow….. After crawling over where the stile should be and struggling through the drifts we reached where Oxlow should be. Now Oxlow is normally a lidded shaft on a built up plinth of limestone……

Today Oxlow was buried in the snow, however due to a handy fist sized hole in the lid which had been drafting we could spot where the entrance was. The hole had an extra use as rather than dig the snow uphill we could just push it through the hole and down the cave. Soon the lid was open and only a metre or so deeper than usual due to the deep snow surrounding the entrance. 

We progressed quickly down Oxlow and were soon up the pull through into Pilgrims way. This was new territory for me! I have done Oxlow countless times but never been up the pull through, and I have been through Chamber of Horrors from Giants but not as far as Pilgrim’s way. From here I was pleasantly surprised to find the way on easy hands and knees crawling. For some reason I had been expecting more arduous flat out crawling. Rounding one corner in a muddy puddle Rob stopped and suggested I admire the ‘fine selection of willies’. I pointed out that there were also lovingly crafted mud titties, which Rob said he had never noticed before……. Given that there were 4 ‘fine’ willies and 2 pairs of titties but Rob had only ever noticed the willies I am more than slightly concerned about the man I have married…..

After passing the Giants connection crawl the going became easy walking in nice ‘Peak Cavern-ish’ passage. Into North chamber a short up pitch lead to more crawling with a bit more flat out. However fairly quickly we were at the start of Crusader. Rob and Dave found Crusader by squeezing through a pair of squeezes at the top of aven that no one had tackled before. I had heard a fair bit about these squeezes however I barely touched the sides and wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about…… but then I am considerably smaller and shorter than most cavers….

Now we were in the new stuff! Crusader crawl was longer than I was expecting and a nice hand and knees passage. I was definitely impressed with what the boys had found. A short up pitch leads to a ‘window’ out onto a big rift. This a great spot! A fantastic way to find a chamber – a window high up the wall looking out into a rift going both ways. Surprisingly we found some snow had made it all this way in the tackle bag! A short down pitch leads to a boulder floor. One way stops quickly at a climb up to a sump. However there is an unclimbed aven this way that I think they boys need to go back to before they call the project complete. Rob reckons it is blind, but I thought that was not definite. Although Rob did point that his light is MUCH better than mine……

The other direction is a big hole in the floor surrounded by deadly boulders and huge rock slopes, all held up by a wing and prayer. At this point Rob produced a drill and rigged a rope pitch to cross the hole. I decided that the trip no longer counted as a ‘tourist trip’ as these don’t involve drills and bolting. A few short pitches up past hanging boulders of death lead to the Priory. This is an impressively large chamber and probably much bigger than it looks as all the floor is loose boulder debris. It is certainly bigger than I was expecting from descriptions and the photos. There is a rope going up that doesn’t really lead anywhere and a possible dig heading towards Giants. 

We headed back towards the way out. Rob had a quick look down the hole in the floor, which apparently looks a lot less promising than it had before they had tried to dig it and filled it with the rocks that used to be the chamber’s floor. Then we gorged ourselves on Percy pigs before heading out. The journey out was uneventful and passed pretty quickly. Upon approaching the surface it is strange to see snow all the way down the entrance and then right at the top the rope was frozen and would not bend. Which made derigging the top rope a little fiddly. A quick wade through the snow and back to the car about 4 hours after leaving it.

Overall a really enjoyable trip and an impressive discovery. More importantly I will now understand what Rob is on about……