Rob Eavis, Simon Gant, Mark R
I left work at 5 with a slice of pizza on the seat next to me and drove straight to Nettle. The plan was for me to make a start on rigging to the bottom of the cave and at some point two more cavers Rob had sorted out would catch up to help out. Meanwhile Rob plus 1 would be surveying a centreline from the entrance to eyes down, the deepest part of Nettle way down in ‘Hell’.
I paid at the farm and asked if it was ok to go down Nettle. “yep” the farmer laughed, “Assuming you can find it”. As I turned away I realised he had a point- everything was white over and in the dark it might prove to be a little tricky. I changed in the van and walked through the virgin snow to the entrance, only falling over once. Amazingly the entrance lid was completely clear. I have been up in the past and found it buried under snow but this was an encouraging sight so I left a message in the snow (which later was turned into something appropriately rude).
I had three classic tackle bags of rope with me so slung two beneath and one on the hip and began the descent at 6:20. The entrance pitches went by without a hitch, even the narrows weren’t too much trouble with my cargo. I had tried Crumble and Beza some time in the past with little Chris but it was so wet we ended up retreating somewhere near the top. This time it was a lot dryer so I carried on leaving my trail of rope behind me as I went and zig-zagged between the deviations and re- belays to the bottom of Beza. From here there was a hand line in place down a steep slope for 20m or so to a boulder floor. It was 7:10.
I found the small crawl into the head of Fin pot and went for a look around in Four ways Chamber for a bit. At this point it begins to feel like one of those less visited caves. Loose rock was present all over and the sharp bits were generally still sharp. I didn’t push to the western end of four ways so still not clear what happens along there.
I re- rigged Fin pot with a new rope (left in situ) and dropped down to a floor, ducked through a crawl and entered a small chamber in a parallel cross rift. It didn’t seem to match the survey I had in my pocket and I began to think I was in the wrong place. As I looked around I noticed the un-mistakeable sound of water from somewhere beneath the boulder floor. I spotted some loose packed rock at one edge and began pulling it out and stacking it behind me. My heart skipped a beat when I glanced through a gap to see a deep void beyond- new cave? Surely not down here?.. no, not down here. I moved another couple of rocks and peered down a bit further to see a hand line in situ at the top edge of a drop. That was where the rest of Fin Pot was and finally my survey made sense!
Having exhausted all but one way on I decided that the tight, loose sections in the lower reaches of Nettle weren’t the place to go poking around in on my own so I retreated back up to the base of Beza and sat waiting. I sat on a bag, huddled my knees up against my chest to keep warm and allowed the madness to set in. I’m not sure how long I was sat there until I heard the distant bangs of people approaching but it was quite some time. The oncoming cavers were moving extremely slowly- obviously surveyors then so where were the others??
I’d been down there for getting on for 2 hours so when Rob and Simon appeared it was fantastic! The other two helpers had been unable to come along for various reasons so it was just the three of us from here on.
Rob had been to the bottom before a long time ago and as we went vague memories of the route slowly came back to him. We surveyed through the now re- opened (although only temporarily) Fin Pot and off towards easy pickings and the entrance to Hell. The small blasted tube into Hell was a bit of a fight to start with and definitely a feet first job to reach the awkward pitch head of Bingo Pot. I re- rigged this with new rope and maillons but had to use the existing and rather dubious looking hangers and rusty spits. As the others caught up I went to find the way on.
“Simon- ask Rob if he remembers a squeeze he had to take his SRT kit off to get through”
“Rob- Mark said do you remember having to take your SRT kit off?”
“No, I don’t think so”
“He says “No”, he doesn’t remember one”
As it turns out two of us did get through this squeeze with SRT kits on. One decided not to go any further.
We dropped the next and final pitch- Eyes Down rigged from a single old spit on 8mm rope with a backup to an inadequately proportioned boulder I rolled down the rift- more psychological backup than anything else. There were some big blocks right over the pitch head, all of which wobbled. I got half way down and presented a target for Rob to DistoX to but the bloody batteries gave out! Frustrated we left the survey kit behind and pushed for the bottom for a look. We followed the tight rift downstream, the small trickle of water beneath our feet. Things got smaller and smaller and my SRT kit definitely had to come off. I was really impressed with the digging that has gone on here in the past. I had no idea so much hard stuff had been done.
Finally we arrived at the very very end of Nettle pot. A huge slab of rock had detached from the wall in the rift and was wedged about half a metre off the bottom. This is where the digging and blasting ended. Every 20 seconds or so there was a bizarre sucking noise from somewhere just ahead. not a great omen.
The rift curved slightly to the right and out of sight. Rob took off his belt and forced his way under the slab into the very tight rift. Helmet off he got into a position where he could see the rift close up ahead. The water disappeared into a slot in the floor the same size as a Scurion head lamp. Interesting end but not too inspiring.
The journey out was straight forward. I went for a look up the Red River to the top of Dratsab- a really, really impressive place. Somewhere between here and the entrance I lost my Fenix head torch If anyone finds it I’d like it back please!
As I finished de- rigging Crumble Rob went along Stalagmite passage to where there is a rope into the aven at the end, the phreatic continuation of stalagmite passage at floor level is completely mud filled.
Out into the icy white field for around 01:00 and in bed before 02:00. A longer trip than expected and at the cost of a nice torch but really good to see the interesting bits at the bottom of Nettle. Sure ill be back again before too long!