Mark Wright, Mark Richardson
It was with a fuzzy head and a stomach that felt like it had recently had an evening binging on cheese, beer and gin that I arrived at the farm to find Mark W in his car. We sat for a few minutes chatting whilst I re-hydrated and went off to see the farmers to pay our trespass fee and give them copies of the latest Descent magazines with the Rowter articles in.
Eventually we could put it off no longer and we changed in the diagonal rain ready for the day of bolt climbing in Hourglass Aven. Naturally by the time we were ready the rain had subsided enough for us to get to the cave fairly dry. It didn’t take us long to arrive at the far end of the Ice Cream Trail and climb up onto the big calcite ledge where the bolting gear was stashed. We had another cup of flask coffee and a chocolate bar whilst we kitted up for the climbing. Previously Mark had attempted to climb up from just above the calcite ledge but had to turn back at a wide band of loose rock. This time we planned to climb higher up the rubble slope and set off from there traversing in from right to left as we went. We spent a few minutes with torches on full whack looking up at the roof and decided there were two places to try for. The one on the right (the easterly most one) was closest and would be pretty easy to get straight up to. We set up a belay on the rubble slope and Mark set off. I’m not sure how long it took but it must have been around 45 minutes and he was 15 or so metres up and in a position from where he could look directly up into the hole in the roof. It pinched in a few metres up and became impassable. He rigged the ropes where he had finished and abseiled back down stripping the route as he went.
By this point I was getting pretty chilly so next it was my turn. I took the drill and bolts and climbed part way back up the rope Mark had just rigged, the other end of the 50m rope was attached to me as a belay rope. From here I swung left as far as I could comfortably get and stuck a bolt in. The rock here wasn’t great and most sounded hollow or looked quite flaky so it took some time but eventually I began moving left across the wall. The bolts went in where there was good rock, not where I wanted them so it was a bit slow but I got myself to a point where I could look round a corner to a decent sized ledge directly below the hole in the roof. From where I was the hole didn’t look terribly promising. Mark took me on belay and I unclipped and gingerly climbed across some calcite ledges to the point where I could gratefully lunge forward onto the wider part of the ledge. In front of me was a tower of shattered blocks of rock all glued together with calcite. Unfortunately this was the only place I could get a bolt in so I stuck one in just as the last trickle of electricity escaped from the drill battery... oh great! Earlier on the bum bag/ fanny pack Mark uses to carry spare batteries and stuff had detached itself from him during the climb and fallen, breaking the plastic casing on his new drill battery. It took me quite some time but using my penknife I managed to prise back the metal contacts and some broken plastic and got the drill battery to fit again- thank god for that! Although I was stood on a nice big ledge it did feel a bit exposed and not all together comfortable so a second bolt went in and the end of my belay rope was rigged. From there, there wasn’t a clean hang so after some procrastination on my part Mark took tight the belay line to create a tensioned traverse line running through the aid bolts I had been placing. With the end of the rope anchored to the two ledge bolts I was ready to return past the section I ‘free climbed’ to the last bolt and could rig a cleaner hang.
Before leaving the ledge I had a good look around. From the pillars of broken rock there will be a short (3-4m) climb across some sloping calcite to a good belay stance against the first piece of clean rock in the entire bloody Aven. That is where we will launch our assault on the upward continuation of the Aven. It is a slightly overhanging/ vertical tube trending rightwards (east) by around 15 degrees. It was about 2m x 4m and as far as my Sten on full power would allow me to see, it seems to be open. Towards the top, perhaps 20 or so metres away my light ran out and any detail became too indistinct. It does feel fairly good but the real question is will it lead us anywhere else or simply close down into nothing? Only one way to find out!
I climbed back along the traverse line and placed a second bolt adjacent to one that was already in place and re- rigged the rope to descend on. I still had the loop of rope from Mark’s climb to my right and up behind an arch so I stuck that in my croll and abseiling from my newly rigged ropes performed a horizontal rope to rope transfer to strip out my traverse bolts. Once completed I descended again and Mark pointed out a lovely bulge of good rock from which to rig a re-belay. This done it was a further abseil down into the aven where I could swing across the width of the rift and clip into one of the rubble slope re-belays and descend to the floor. If it’s exhausting reading all that, try doing it- I felt like bloody Spiderman by the time I was down!
The climb for me was a little nervy, in hindsight it wasn’t all that bad and the rock although not great wasn’t terrible. I really enjoyed the swinging around and the rigging, it was excellent practice.
Just a couple of hours later we were in the pub. The Ice Cream Trail must have heard Mark saying that he found it easy on the way in because he emerged bashed and aching and with his backup torch hanging off at an odd angle and a plastic clip from his helmet displaced… It definitely gets easier but I’ll never let it hear me say it’s a walk in the park!
A great days caving and some proper climbing done, I can’t wait to get back.