Exploring Leviathan's Nooks and Crannies - Phil Wolstenholme

Saturday, 1 October, 2016

Present: Alastair Gott, Simon Mee, Glyn Roberts, Phil Wolstenholme

This trip was an experiment - on our recent trip down there, I was struck by the size of the large alcove off the side of Leviathan near the top bolts when doing the 'dry' route - and also the small hand-picked level in the shaft wall just to the right of it. The whole situation intrigued me, as it wasn't entirely clear on the survey, so I contacted Moose, who told me that the large alcove had been surveyed, but the little level hadn't, so I'd better go and have a look! None of this would be possible without installing some bolts and rope, and so a plan was hatched on our first free day to go have a look - initially myself and Alastair, but then Glyn said he'd like to go, and then Simon decided he was up for another trip down there too - so we had a team. The weather was most unlike the forecast, being fineish, not too windy and no rain! We got down to the dry route shaft top nicely with Simon rigging Bitch Pitch properly on the rebelays, and I dropped down first to rig to the ledge, and then Al came down with the drill and bolts. Glyn and Simon went to have a look at the Backburner Choke whilst we were getting it done.

Putting in a short traverse onto the ledge into the alcove was a doddle, and within 15 mins we were in it. Sadly, the ground between us and the little level was impossible to put bolts in - a heap of sliding rocks, obviously a huge collapse of a stacked area, was perched between me and the far side of the alcove, with only crumbly baryte and clay being fixed, but not very well - certainly not strong enough to put bolts in. The only possible route would have been a left-handed hanging traverse along the roof of the alcove, but that would have been exhausting and rather terrifying to boot, it being 60m to the floor. So I spent some time studying an incredible panel of pillow baryte, with psychedelic swirls reaching metres up into a boulder choke from above - the usual JH situation! In the meantime, Simon had descended to the opening, and with a good light from his better position, confirmed my suspicions that the little level didn't really go anywhere anyway, and so probably not worth all the effort. So our attention refocused on the large alcove, which me and Al had already had a look around in. To the north of the loose heap was an area of flat ground, followed by a massive loose crater with a large semi-natural shaft lower down. The waterfall from above was whistling past in an adjacent shaft.

At the right of the chamber, stepping across a very sketchy nose of rock (which I wasn't prepared to do without protection) was a small stone bench, obviously for 'knocking' ore prior to offloading up or down Leviathan. Small bits of wood and iron were lying around on it, and just above could be seen two rusty Spits, obviously from when Moose and co got in - they must have stepped over the gap, as there were no Spits on our side! At the back of the alcove, and the far side of the crater, the remaining passage curved out of sight, but didn't look like it went far. Glyn had also now joined us, and 'encouraged' me to drop the shaft to see where it went. I put in another bolt near the lip, and then rigged a very wide diagonal Y-hang to get me over, followed by a tight deviation in the limestone rider opposite, which kept the rope clear of all the choss, although lots of gravel and small rocks followed me over the edge. Descending was fantastic and terrifying, as deads were stacked on ledges, and large TV-sized rocks were just hanging around with nowhere to go but down, and here was I abseiling past and then below them - very scary.

After about ten metres the walls got cleaner, and the shaft started narrowing, and I could see two large stemples beneath me - I abseiled between them until I was level, and realised that I was above the large flat area that leads to the hole to the Tea Rooms - Alastair looked over the rim into Leviathan and confirmed that he could see my light, so there was no point going any further, especially as we hadn't rigged a rope for the actual main pitch! I came back up and we began the slow exit, with me de-rigging the new bolts and ropes, and Alastair then de-rigging Bitch Pitch. It would have been nice to get some photos, but that would have meant leaving the rope in for possibly some time until a return trip could be organised, and that could be some way off. The return trip along the cartgate was as miserable as it always is, the drill and bolting tackle now feeling very heavy indeed! We exited into sunshine - most unexpected, but the Rowter wind had started up, so we didn't hang around - especially as we found out it was 6pm and I'd just missed my bus!

But still, a new bit of Leviathan seen, and even more amazement at what the miners were able to achieve given their rudimentary materials and only candles to see by.