So one Thursday evening it was suggested that an exchange trip from Knotlow to Wharf Mine was on the cards. Andy hadn’t had a decent outing to test himself for a while and had always wanted to have a go at the Engine Shaft and Meccano passage. There was to be another party coming in via the Wharf Climbing Shaft and I really fancied giving my shiny new pantin a workout, so said I’d be happy to join Andy and Mel coming in from the Knotlow side. As is often my downfall, after hearing that there was a squeeze in the Meccano passage, and with Keith’s uncanny assessment that it might be ‘a little cozy’ for me, flooded, coffin and suicidal came up in my Google foray!
After a good hearty breakfast we were off. I was a little nervous, but excited at the same time. I like to imagine anything that worries me to be so horrendously bad that when I actually encounter it it’s a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately this is in perfect contrast to Jess who likes to arrive oblivious, so my nervous chatter in the car on the way to the mines was not well received.....
Mark: ”So do you think that the guys on UK Caving Forum were kidding when they put that they wouldn’t do Meccano again and that it was suicidal, tight and wet?”
Jess: “If you don’t shut up I’m going to shove that Pantin where it’s not designed for!”
I decided on quiet and contemplative after this.
At the Engine shaft Andy and Bartek swiftly rigged. Andy was describing the descent to me and how you had to swing across the passage before reaching the bottom, but I was only half listening as SRT is the bit I enjoy and was concentrating on the flooded stage. All rigged and ready to go Andy commanded, “Right Mark, down you go!”......That’ll teach me.
The descent was smooth, the passage was obvious and I happily tied in a belay and backed it up down the passage to give those following a line to clip in to. Down came the others and we removed our SRT gear ready for the crawl. Andy explained that he’d untie the rope so that if the others decided against the ascent out that we could pull the rope up from the top.
Into Meccano we went with Andy in the lead. We soon reached the flooded section. The passage was roomier than I’d imagined (I have a wonderful imagination) but the water was coming up fast. Andy ahead was in good voice with expletives being used frequently, much to Mel’s amusement. Once the water had forced Andy’s head to the ceiling and his chin in the water he decided he was not a happy bunny and ordered a retreat to drier land to talk through if we had missed something. With water now in just about every cavity and no room to turn around we shuffled backward down the passage till we could all re-group. After Andy kindly offered the lead to Mel, Myself and Jess (All of us graciously declining) he decided that it was helmets off and he’d show us how it was done. Down the passage he went expletives and all and was soon calling back that he was through and at the squeeze. After a few cusses and grunts he was through, Mel of course shot through like a whippet out of cage. I looked nervously down the passage and called to Andy to have a look back through and see if he thought I’d get through. After being assured that if I got stuck that he’d pull me through by my ears I gave it a go......and......turns out that some trip reports are made a little larger than life. Imagine that!
Very happy with myself for fitting through and skipping along through to Wharf we met Keith and Bartek on the way. Brendan was wandering around further back muttering something about Mines, but looked less enthusiastic than I’d ever seen him. Andy was on a roll and already headed off up the route out and I decided to hold back and let Jess go up first whilst I popped on my new toy to see if it made the prussic up any easier. After some interesting rift and re-belays I was happy with my new piece of kit and was soon up and out. I mentioned to Jess as I emerged that I’d like to do a larger SRT pitch and try out the pantin on a good sized prussic to which she grinned and told me that Andy wanted to see me. Apparently Andy hadn’t realised that I had tied in at two points and only untied the one, so it looked like I would get my chance at a larger prussic a little sooner than I’d anticipated! It was now quite cold, windy and spitting with rain, so it was almost pleasant to get out of the weather and in to the shaft. Everything was smooth on the way down. I untied the belay and pulled plenty of rope through the chest croll knowing that there would be plenty of bounce on the rope and stepped out in to the shaft. I was pretty chuffed with myself that I only dropped around 6ft and begun my prussic back up. I hadn’t counted on just how much bounce there would be on the rope and pin-balled around the shaft each time I stepped up! After 10 minutes I’d gotten the hang of the rope but realised that after the trip and prussic out of Wharf that I was going to need to take it steady............45 min’s later I could hear Keith shouting something about hurrying up and I’m sure it was most encouraging had I been able to make out all the words. Back at the top of the shaft I looked around to let Andy know that I thought it a little inconvenient that he’d forgotten the 2nd belay but as soon as he’d seen the steam rising from the shaft he knew I’d almost reached the top and retreated to the car.
The day was finished with some lovely cake back at the cafe and even Brendan seemed to have stopped mumbling about mines and enjoyed a cuppa.
Bartek in Hillocks
The Team: Andy Grimes, Bartek Biela, Brendan Marris, Jessica Harding, Keith Edwards, Mark Burkey & Mel Wakeman.