19 May 2017

Checking an abscure traverse

When I had been scampering around in our usual mine with the Yorkshire people, I had come across a chamber I had never been in. It had an atrocious ceiling. And there was one passage leading from it in the middle, and another passage at the far end. The one in the middle was pristine and lead to a solid-looking traverse I didn't want to do on my own; the level at the end was absolutely horrendous. I wanted to one day go back and check them. And the weather forecast for the weekend was terrible so I suggested we give it a go. I found David and Edwyn able and willing to come along; Phil and Mick were happy to go for a stroll to the entrance. David had suggested we visit some more remote recesses of the mine while we were at it anyway; that sounded cool.

We gathered at the Lakeside Cafe. The weather forecast had improved massively! It was not such a good day for a trip like this after all, be we were committed now. We had breakfast and parked somewhere, and changed. We had to carry a lot of stuff; two ropes and drilling/bolting kit. So be it!

We went to the entrance, said goodbye to Mick and Phil (and Millie), and went in. We went down to the traverse. I though David would want to bolt it but he wasn't too bothered; he thought a safety line of poyprop would be enough. Eh, OK! Works for me. We crossed, and found another chamber. It was the last one in the row. Oh well! Now we know. We also had a look in the horrendous level; as expected, that was collapsed in both directions. Time to go back and head higher up into the mine.

The traverse

 David and Edwyn admiring det boxes in the level behind the traverse

A view of the horrendous level

None of us had been in these regions, but David had printed relevant maps, and we had received some written instructions from Simon. We started making our way up! We went past our old friend the rock drill. It was looking good! And after the drill it started to become unfamiliar. The map helped. We found our way along. It felt really alien and remote there! Quite nice, as we spend so much time in this place, it's good to see it still holds many secrets for us.

We got close to the goal of our trip; a specific bridge. Near it we found a passage from which you could look a far way down; beneath us we saw the rock drill again, looking like a dinky toy! Cool! And then we got to the actual bridge. A beauty!

The bridge

The way on was along a traverse. I started off on it. Soon I wasn't too keen on it; the rock was featureless and the rope was slack. I made it along that bit, though. More difficult bits followed. That I was carrying a big bag with a 50m rope in it wasn't helping! When I came to the last stretch I struggled. You pretty much had to pull yourself up vertically without footholds! And with the heavy bag. I decided to use my hand jammer as an aid. And it got me there!

After me David came along, also with a heavy bag. He also struggled but made it. Then came Edwyn; his bag was light, and even he struggled. And he's Edwyn! I clearly hadn't done so bad. When Edwyn was across I started on the next traverse; that one was quite easy.

We then came to a chamber from which th eobvious way was down, but none of us liked the look of the rigging that was in place. After some sandwich-eating and comfort breaks we had to go and face our dislike. David went first; he went down the fixed rope to where oen could rig a pull-through. We thought it would be a very long pitch; maybe we had to tie both our ropes together. If so, we wouldn't be able to pull them through. We would have to come back one day and retrieve the ropes! But we had to get down first. David rigged the pull-through and tried to put himself onto the rope. The location of the anchor and the configuration of the fixed rope were awful! David struggled and it was scary to see. In the end he finally put his full weight on his stop. Then he slowly vanished. The good news was that one rope was enough. More than enough!

By this time I was cold, so I asked Edwyn if it was OK if I went next. I knew I would warm up again during the difficult getting yourself into the rope! And I was right. I managed to first end up dangling in mid-air from my stop, a cowstail and my hand jammer. But how to get the latter two off? You have to get the tension off these things before you can do that! Not easy if you're dangling in free air. You normally have attachement points for the cowstails, which are only safety measures, a bit lower down. That meakes it easier to have your weight on the stop and not on anything else. Oh well! With a lot of grunting I managed in the end to sort myself out and release all that needed releasing. Now I had to tidy up a bit; I had things getting in the way of my stop left, right and centre. I got them all hanging down and then I was supposed to be off. I wasn't.

It was David's rope; it is thick and stiff. And I was on a stop; they are not adjustable. If I pushed the handle with all my might I sometimes dropped at a very slow pace. Sometimes I didn't drop at all. I took the weight of the rope below me off my stop by hoisting up a loop of rope and clenching it between my knees; that barely helped. I tried force-feeding the stop and it barely helped. It is very frustrating to be in mid-air and not being able to come down the rope! Very, very slowly I came closer to the ground, moaning and sweating and swearing.

When I came to the point where you touch rock (but not yet ground) I decided I had enough. I put my ascenders on, got my figure of eight out of my bag, and threaded the rope through that. As these don't have a stop function it's a bit of a faff to get your weight off your ascenders when you're ready to lower yourself into them. I managed though! And then I was down in seconds. I really don't like these pitches that are more work going down than up.

Then it was Edwyn's turn; he struggled too, but got to us in the end too. We tidied up the ropes and went on; there was a next pitch down a slab. I did that on a figure of eight too! From there we weren't sure where to go; disconcertingly, the level went dead. Edwyn and David hadn't seen another way but I had noticed a squeeze into a chamber; that was the only other option. And it worked! David recognised it. It was the chamber between the one we had expected to come down into, and the one in which we had gone up. We were back!

We walked the rather well-known route back to lake level and came out in nice weather. It had got rather late but we were satisfied! We walked back to the cars and said goodbye to Edwyn. David and I ended by having a cup of tea at Mick's before going home. From there the message went out we were safe. People were keeping an eye on their phones in anticipation! We could reassure them.

By then the whole traverse, with which all had started, had been as good as forgotten! And if we ever want to do that pitch again we will want to do it only after re-rigging it a bit... And as far as I'm concerned: not on David's rope!

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