I had wanted to lead a novice SRT trip into Knotlow and Hillocks for a few months now and on Saturday 28th of March five of us met up at the old smithy café in Monyash to do just that. The aim of the trip was to consolidate the training on the outside of the mill with some SRT in a real underground environment.
Mark had only spent a few hours on the mill but was confident with his rope work and Rich had been practising for a little longer but neither had descended underground before. Loz joined us as an experienced vertical caver having completed Titan and several other SRT trips who just wanted to play underground and Andy G joined us as his planned trip for the day fell through.
I had talked about our options with Mark and Rich at the mill and we had decided to go in and out on the same ropes to practice passing rebelays and deviations but without any other cavers experienced in rigging we would not be able to set up anything else. So when Andy G joined us that meant we could get stuck into a bit more than we had originally planned.
After a brief reminder of the procedures for passing rebelays, we left the café and headed up to the parking spot near the entrance. Once changed we headed into Knotlow cavern via the ‘Climbing Shaft’. I rigged the route in followed by Loz, then Rich and Mark, with Andy G bringing up the rear. Andy G was the only member of the group who had been in the system before and he had already said that we would most likely get wet on the final pitch into waterfall chamber. When I got to the pitch head I decided that if I rigged all of the bolts into a traverse line I could rig the route so we descended clear of the water. But this could present quite a challenge to the other group members as they would need to traverse a long way out on their cows tails before being able to clip into the rope down the pitch. I decided that this would be possible for this group as we were all fairly fit (or fitter than average) and so I rigged the pitch and then returned to the pitch head and waited for the others to join me. I explained that this would be challenging and then demonstrated how to move along the traverse line and descended. With Andy G at the pitch head giving moral and motivational support (I could only just make out the occasional word of shouting over the noise of the waterfall) the other three joined me. We briefly talked about how to reverse the process and Mark volunteered to de-rig the pitch back up. The movement across the traverse line was smoother heading back and we then all headed back out of the cavern.
Andy G took the brunt of the weather by descending into Knotlow last and so I lead out first into a windy but sunny Saturday afternoon. I jumped into my survival bag and ate my sandwiches waiting for the others to get out and then we all headed over to Hillocks.
We utilised Andy G and his experience to set up a mini exchange trip and so he lead through the oil drum entrance into hillocks with Mark and Rich and I descended down Whalf Pipe Climbing Shaft with Loz. We met up in the main shaft and then had a brief squirrel around before Andy and I reversed our way back out of the system but with the other group members. Rich was feeling the physicality of the SRT work and Mark again volunteered to de-rig on our way out. Loz followed Andy G out through the oil drum entrance and Mark and Rich headed with me back up Whalf Pipe Climbing Shaft.
Once out and changed at the cars we headed back into Monyash to the pub for a well earned pint. Mark and Rich enjoyed the exposure to SRT in a cave environment and I am sure that this is only the first of many future vertical caving trips. Loz expressed a keen interest in having a go at rigging some SRT pitches in the future so all in all everyone had a good trip.
I must thank Andy G for his support which made it possible for us to push the group a bit harder and I am sure he enjoyed the trip as well as he got to shout at some novices in a different environment from the mill!!
With the Gapping Ghyll winch meet coming up I would encourage all of the club members to give SRT a go and make the most of training on the mill. Being proficient in SRT can open up more potential caves to be explored especially in areas like the Yorkshire dales. Andy G and I will always help any novices who want to give it a go and I am always willing to go out and rig any caves for other club members who want to use ropes but don’t feel confident in rigging.
Cavers present: Andy Kempster, Loz Appleby, Mark Burgess, Rich Gibbons and Andy Grimes
Trip report by Andy Kempster