Maskhill -> Oxlow: Chris A, Jen, Rachael, TomTom
Oxlow -> Maskhill: Adam, Dom. Ivet, Luke, Ryan, Shane
As always there was last minute changes of plan and drop outs but in the end we all arrived at the layby at 9am and within 5 minutes of each other. The plan was to do a through trip with more people going down Oxlow due to the gazzilion re-belays needed in Maskhill. We parted ways and headed to the Maskhill entrance, fully loaded with more tackle than I'm sure was necessary.
Chris was rigging in our party and headed off down the tight yet strangely pleasant hole, with Rachael and Jen behind him, both with tackle sacks of rope of their own. It quickly came to my attention that I was the only one left on the surface but there was two tackle sacks left, oh joy! It's always nice when re-belays have ledges to stand on and so once we got into a nice rhythm we were soon all bunched up together at some sort of manmade damn of sorts.
Next up was some sort of diagonal descent and then a somewhat confusing round the corner kind of descent. By the time I arrived at the bottom Chris was already rigging what looked to be a fairly substantial pitch. This had our first free hanging re-belay of the trip, despite the sheer number of ones we had already passed. At this stage we started to hear noises which we believed to be the others. We assumed they'd beat us to the middle even though our pace was pretty good going, especially with the rigging pairing of Chris and his none ruined mallions.
At the bottom of this big pitch I joined Chris at the front to admire the interesting selection of bolts to be used, it was decided to just descend from our side and ignore the tyrolean. I could see that Chris was up to something half way down the pitch but had no idea what. I sent Rachael and Jen off before me and then went to join the meeting of our parties. I found out what Chris had been up to and got to descend horizontally into the small mined tunnel two thirds of the way down, as appose to going all the way down then back up again.
It seemed the Oxlow party had been waiting some time for us, despite mutinous cries to leave us behind and cut the ropes or something. A short exchange of batteries and chit chat later and the Oxlow party started to make their climb out of our ropes. One by one they disappeared up into the blackness until only Luke was left behind. I de-rigged the others’ bonus pitch whilst Luke de-rigged and made his way out of the little tunnel and up the main shaft, leaving the 4 of us to find and make our way out of Oxlow.
The big chambers were very impressive to look around and despite a little bit of getting lost we soon found our way courtesy of Jen. Our first real squeezing of the cave found us at the bottom of a drippy pitch, which we headed up in the order we had done the whole cave so far. We came across another group at the top of this pitch and after a bit of leaning and dangling I was able to free up the pitch for them to rig. I was a little surprised to find the 45 degree climb rigged since it had a in-situ rope anyway, but the biggest problem was how tangled it had gotten with the in-situ rope, despite all of the re-belays having been missed off.
The next pitch was the waterfally one me and Chris had done the other week, although this time it was far drier, yet still quite wet. Jen went up first followed by Chris with a bag and then Rachael. A quick deployment of my hood made the climb up the waterfall less neck freezing, but by the time I had de-rigged this pitch we seemed to be running out of bag space. Once I was at the top of the the penultimate pitch the bag situation was getting dire, but with some rearranging and slamming of bags into the floor we were able to make space.
Jen was already at the surface by now so Chris went up to tell her she had the car keys in the bag she was hauling, followed by Rachael who clearly enjoyed the squeeziness of the final pitch. I free climbed what I could of the final pitch until I was waiting clipped into one of the unused re-belays until it was my turn to reach fresh air.
The majority of the others had already escaped by the time we had, with only Luke missing. We got changed and watched poor Luke approaching with all of the rope around his shoulders before heading off to the Cheese for a spot of nibbles and drink.
A very interesting trip with a technical, but not difficult descent, followed by some nice big chambers, and then a pleasant climb out.