Mark R, Chris H, Luke
It had been a good couple of months since I last emerged from Rowter Hole. On my last visit I had been lucky enough to witness the second big breakthrough, when we wormed our way under The Fornix and into (a then very unstable) Bad Badger Choke. I had peered over the edge of Two Left Wellies and we were frustratingly short of rope to explore any further, and since then I have had to rely on regular telephone updates from Mark about what had been found. At first I had built up quite a nice mental picture of what was down there, but as he and his minions pushed ever onwards I lost track of where everything was and what was waiting for me down there.
With finals over and done with I was keen to take advantage of the opportunity for a guided tour, and so found myself in a familiar looking field, in familiar smelling clothes, waiting for Mark and Chris to arrive. After a little while (the girls were still having breakfast) we all kitted up and made our way over.
Surprisingly we found the entrance pitch occupied by a couple of DCC cavers, but with plenty of room to share the pitch we found ourselves at the bottom as quickly as ever. The DCC chaps followed us down Gin Shaft but didn’t like the look of the squeeze in Foster’s Faith.
I pressed on behind Mark and found myself in a much more stable-looking Bad Badger Choke, adorned with a “please don’t kick me” sign.
I re-kitted and swung out over the top of the Two Left Wellies. The adventure was about to begin! A couple of short pleasant pitches led me to the Milky Relief and its pitch, and I was sat in Decisions Decisions in no time at all. A trip to this point could well become a popular Derbyshire day trip. What lies ahead however might not prove so well-travelled.
I passed under my namesake (The Absent Medic), promising to review it on the way out, and into the Ice-cream Trail. I really didn’t realise what I had gotten myself into!
That said, on the way in I didn’t have too much trouble. The squeezes and awkward manoeuvres required are pretty much all assisted by gravity, and although my knees were starting to protest a little bit, it didn’t take us all that long to reach the Powder Party, the As-Yet-Unnamed-Awkward-Pitch-Head, and the Crystal Orechasm on the other side. It was a challenge getting safely onto the pitch and I was very glad of the obviously awkward capping process that had evidently taken place in order to make this section vaguely negotiable.
Once onto the pitch I made to wide rope-to-rope transfer under close supervision from Mark. It took a while but that gave me time to take in the size of the Crystal Orechasm chamber – it really is a sizeable bit of cave, which just keeps going up and up!
This section is still relatively unstable, and I noticed as I was climbing that the wall behind me was peppered with white scuff marks where falling rocks regularly chip away at the calcited walls. Mark shouted “below!” a fair few times, and rocks of various sizes hurtled past me to join the thousands of others littering the floor of the Orechasm.
Passing the ledge and a couple of deviations, and kicking a few rocks at Chris for good measure, I caught up with Mark and did my best to lend a hand to setting up a new rock net above the head of the pitch. Once Chris had joined us and the net was held firmly in place with keyrings, Mark sent me on ahead to re-rig the next section of rope leading off up into the avens. The climb is probably best described as a scree (derived from the Old Norseskriðameaning ‘landslide’ according to Wikipedia) and so I sent plenty of rocks down for Mark and Chris to play with as they set up a second rock net at the head of a short pitch.
They made short work of it and were soon waiting behind me as I finished re-rigging and scrambled up Breathless and sat myself proudly as king under the mountain in the entirely well named Throne Room. We stopped here for a moment before continuing up the last short climb into Sunrise and I climbed up right into the highest point in neo-Rowter, peaking up into the tantalising boulder choke.
It’s a long way to get to for a dig, and digging out a boulder choke from the base upwards after 130m of squeezing through the Ice-cream Trail and 90m of climbing up into the avens isn’t really my idea of a midweek digging project. That said, I couldn’t help but sit smiling to myself at the thought of how far we’d come, and yet there are clearly still plenty of secrets that our adopted lead mine has left in store for us.
Chris took a few very cool looking photos and I perfected my model-face; “vague consternation”.
Then we headed down the scree and back to the pitches into the Orechasm.
Things were about to get interesting. Getting off the pitch wasn’t as bad as I feared it was going to be, largely because Chris took pity on me and relieved me of my tackle sack which made life a lot easier. Then came the climbs and the squeezes back through the Ice-cream Trail. If you haven’t been down it yet you might not want to read this bit as what lies on the other side is definitely worth seeing and I don’t want to put anyone off!
Before long I found myself at a squeeze at head height into a tube. I simply couldn’t orientate myself in a way that would allow progress beyond the shoulders. I’d make a concerted effort, fail, fall back down and feel sorry for myself. Every failure was as demoralising as it was exhausting. I had to remove oversuit and belt in order to make it through in the end, but not before smacking my face into the rock. Chris gave me a push and Mark gave me moral support from the other end. I plummeted through to the other side – crashing my unprotected ribs into the floor in the process, and landed face-down in a puddle with my trousers around my ankles. Humiliated doesn’t quite cover it.
The other two watched me try to conserve what little dignity I had left as I re-dressed and prepared to move on. But the fun wasn’t over yet. On at least 3 further occasions on the way out and I ended up having to accept more help than any arrogant medic would ever be comfortable with, (though I did manage to keep my clothes on for the rest of the cave). At the far end of the Ice-cream Trail I decided that the Absent Medic could be viewed another day, and that what I really needed to do was to sit down in Decisions Decisions and contemplate my life choices thusfar.
Before long I headed up the pitches, and took off my SRT kit at the bottom of Bad Badger Choke. There was something oddly comforting about being back in familiar territory, even if it was a chossy boulder choke. The other two resolved to tackle the remaining squeezes with kit on, and so I found myself at the back, and made it through Foster’s Faith without difficulty, for once!
The climb back up Gin Shaft was slow and achey, which didn’t leave me filled with hope for the entrance pitch prusik!
A very slow climb saw me to the surface, and I popped my head out just in time to see the sun disappear behind Mam Tor. I trudged back across the field like an arthritic first world war veteran and bade farewell to the others who were already changed and ready to go. It was a long, energy drink-fuelled drive back to Cambridge!
Whether it was the 3 month hiatus from caving, or the junk food diet required in order to survive the revision process, I’m not entirely certain. But that was certainly one of if not the most challenging day’s caving I’ve ever had.
Despite typing with what I’m fairly sure is a broken rib and a hole in my upper lip where I bit it after falling through that first squeeze, I’m feeling quite satisfied with the whole affair. I won’t pretend I’m planning on making regular journeys down the Ice-cream Trail, but I’d certainly recommend it to those who haven’t seen the other side of it!
I chanted “never again” over and over to myself on the way out, but as with any caving experience I’m sure enough gin and cheese will cloud my unpleasant memories, and I’ll be back down there before too long.