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Caving in July – Descending to the Peak

~~Having driven from a wet campsite and along a muddily-puddled track, changed in the rain, and squelched up a hill, we stood atop the entrance to Titan Shaft on the moor above Castleton.  The plan was to do a through trip to Peak Cavern, exiting in the heart of Castleton.  The watery start to the day gave us cause for mild concern, as two sections of passage along the planned route can flood in wet weather, but it had been dry for so long and so little water had been flowing out of Peak Cavern when we took a look before we set off that we were pretty sure we would get through.  If not, it would be no great calamity.  It would simply mean having to return the way we were going in.  Assuming we completed the through trip, two of us would have to come back up to the moor and descend the first two pitches in Titan anyway – one 55 metres high and the other about 75 metres high – to recover our ropes.
It was when Angus had slid the entrance lid to one side, descended to a second, bolted lid not far below and was in valiant combat with the cantankerous padlock (all cave padlocks are ill-natured) that I discovered I was without my harness.  It was in a bag intended for caving on the following day which I had left at the campsite.  Going to fetch it would delay the trip too much.  I bade the rest of the party a rewarding day and left them to it, promising to meet them at Peak Cavern entrance five or six hours later.
That evening four mud-clarted characters emerged into what remained of the daylight - it was apparent that they had made it through “colostomy crawl”, renowned for its copious generosity when it comes to mud.  I had recovered my harness during the course of the day and so I went with Martin to get the ropes.  It was no trivial trip, with a bag containing 75 metres of rope from the bottom pitch to be brought up the upper 75 metre pitch in Titan Shaft itself and both ropes to be carried up the 55 metre entrance shaft.  The most interesting challenge, though, was removing the 80 metre rope from the bolts at the top of the upper pitch in Titan main shaft.  They are placed in the sloping ceiling above the full drop of the shaft, which means that with a tip-toed stretch you can barely reach them, teetering over a chasm that is lost in darkness somewhere well on the way to the centre of the Earth.  The most irritating challenge was that pesky padlock.  After a long battle we gave up and brought it out with us, intending to take it to the local warden for replacement.  Martin made the mistake of fiddling with it a bit more on the surface, whereupon it suddenly decided to work.  So he descended into the top of the shaft again to fix it in place.
On the Sunday we went on a very different trip, into Giant’s Hole.  We found our way round the popular circular trip, albeit with a couple of side-interludes when our navigational precision fell a bit short of perfection.  No wonder this is such a favoured trip for introducing novices to caving.  It has everything – a short pitch beside a waterfall, a lengthy sideways shuffle along the “Crab Walk” with one entertaining squeeze, a couple of tricky climbs, some decorated chambers, a crawl or two – one in water that you can only just keep your head out of – a slightly alarming traverse but on good holds, and a rope-protected climb back down to the streamway close to the foot of the pitch beside the waterfall.  We were all agreed that while it might be generally perceived as a trip for novices, it is thoroughly good fun and deserves repeat visits.
...And we were out in time for the all-important afternoon tea in the sunshine.
 

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