Buttered Badger Potholing Club
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Staggering

Mark W, Mark R
15th June 2014

Father’s day today… only this was going to be a father’s day neither Mark nor I would forget in a hurry :)

It was just before 10:00 when we both arrived at the farm and donned our caving gear- muddy and smelly from yesterday. I had stopped off at Hitch and Hike on the way and bought some elbow pads so Mark enjoyed the luxury of using Tim’s for the day. Unusually for Rowter hole we descended with a tackle bag each virtually empty of all but a thermos flask and a few drill batteries. We arrived at the wizard’s sleeve in good time and had a quick tea before donning our SRT kits once more and squeezing through the blasted rift onto the pitch head. I hung there in free space again and belayed Mark as he climbed back up his fixed ropes and continued with the last couple of metres of climbing before reaching a ledge.

To get from the pitch head to this ledge which is out of sight somewhere above requires you to perform a rather wide rope-to-rope transfer from a hanging belay through free space to the wall. From here it was a jug up a rope running over an edge for about 10m to the ledge where Mark was waiting. Yesterday Mark had been able to look up into the roof and see a couple of holes above. This wasn’t anything new- the whole mine is full of holes in the roof, most of which are just small ‘oxbows’ in the vein. Once we were both on the ledge however and able to look up with both lights on full whack we could see through one hole around 6ftx4ft into a black space beyond… We were looking directly up with a 1500 lumen scurion on full whack and couldn’t see a top to the void! At this point the ledge was about 2ft wide and the steep rock face dropped away below into the orechasm. I could just about see the floor way below me. It was an airy stance but was considerably nicer than hanging under the pitch head belaying.

Mark kitted up again and I continued to belay while he started up the steep wall towards the hole. This wall was around 20m and slightly overhung in crap rock or calcite near the top. We had one stop half way when the supposedly fresh drill battery ran out and he came back down, re- kitted again and carried on. After a while he arrived at the hole and managed to half aid, half free climb up a section and suddenly disappeared through the hole above. This was an eerie few minutes, I could feel him moving around through the rope and see his light and the occasional shadow flicker past the hole, all I could do was wait. I just happened to be looking up when there was a shout of “BELOW!” and a sizeable rock followed by a bucket load of smaller ones came falling out of the hole. I pulled myself as tight to the rock face as I could and shut my eyes as they all hit the ledge just beside me and continued echoing down into the bottom of the orechasm. That was exciting.

Eventually the call of ‘safe’ echoed back and Mark re- appeared down his ropes having rigged them safe at the top and stripped the last few bolts from the climb. By this time I had already had a wee off the ledge and eaten one of my two cereal bars and was feeling cold and hungry.. I cursed myself for leaving the flask of tea back at the base of the Wizards’ Sleeve pitches!

Excitedly and rather creakily I ascended through the hole, followed by Mark and we both found ourselves stood on a wide calcited ledge above the constriction of the ‘event horizon’ hole. We took in our surroundings. The mineral vein back west seemed to form a solid wall about 20m away, the roof was (I have no idea how far off these measurements are by the way) about 40 or more metres above us and to the east were a couple of short vertical sections leading to a long 30 degree slope which ran almost right up to the roof.

It was my turn for some climbing so I free- climbed the first vertical bit with our last remaining 20ish metre rope and came face to face with a section of mineral vein with the biggest calcite crystals in it I have ever seen. Un fortunately I had to bolt up this calcite to the very toe of the slope which, as it turns out was covered in loose rock.

There was just enough rope.. and only just! To allow me to reach a piece of wall where, balanced on gravel and loose rocks I got a good bolt in and breathed a sigh of relief. Mark had got to the very very end of the rope and now took me off belay. He stayed put out of the way of the non- stop shower of rock that I was sending back down the slope, down the climbs, over the ledge, through the hole and straight to the very bottom of the orechasm. I got up to the top of the slope to find the back wall (eastern end) of the cavity seemed to be blind but by turning south and entering a small chimney I back and footed up this for a few metres and peered over the top at the southern wall of the cavity. Right up near the roof, up a short slab I could see into a... Well let's call it a 'pocket' for now. This pocket was about 5m in diameter but frustratingly I couldn't see right into the back of it. It was heading south-  a more interesting direction. For now though I backed down the chimney and gingerly climbed down the rubble slope, kicking stuff ahead of me as I went. It's a good job I have long legs because the rope was only just long enough to get back down the climbs to the big calcited ledge.

We both abseiled back down, re- rigging things as we went to minimise rub points and make everything feel a bit safer. We got across the rope to rope transfer which is odd, hanging in free space above the Orechasm between pitches and pulling sideways towards the awkward pitch head. It struck me that when viewed from the Orechasm side you wouldn't even look twice at this little gap that leads all the way to decisions decisions and the rest of Rowter Hole. You would barely even be able to see it from anywhere other than right in front. It just goes to show that unless you go and physically look at these things you can't ever discount them. "Caves are where you find them".

We thrutched through the awkward pitch head which as Tom mentioned yesterday is now not the hardest thing man has ever done, just merely very annoying. As we collapsed into two tired heaps at the bottom of the Wizards Sleeve the physical and mental exertions of the day started to creep over us. We realised that what we had been doing was not only physically difficult but also mentally draining. The void we were climbing in felt exposed and the rock falls only added to the strain. Mark generously gave me half a wet mars bar of dubious origin and age and we enjoyed a few small cups of tea. We sorted the kit, leaving most stuff there until next weekend and raced the urge for a poo out of the cave. (And won.... Just)

So, the plan then- Saturday we will head in and up the new void without a name. We will de rig everything as we go up to the very top of the rubble slope and have a look at 'the feature'. Once ticked off, we can start rigging new ropes from the top and work our way down clearing rock off as we go and placing ropes out of the direct line of fire as far as we can. We still need to climb right up into the high point of the roof where water falls out and we can't be sure there is a definite end. If there is time, we could start that climb too.

The following week we will be trying to photograph and also surveying ahead of the next Descent article.

BLOODY ACE DAY!!!!!!!!!! YES!

Mark R