Gentlewoman's Pipe (Top End) - Phil Wolstenholme

Saturday, 16 April, 2016

Present: Alex Crow, Alastair Gott, Wayne Sheldon, Phil Wolstenholme

Wayne was in need of some SRT practice, and I had long wanted to hang around and inspect the top end of Gentlewoman's, as I knew there was cave nearby, and the mine workings are very interesting, but hardly seen on a usual through-trip. So we hatched a long-standing plan to go down the shaft and then come back up it, instead of the long slog downhill. Alastair and Alex both fancied it too, so off we went. We arrived at the parking to find a crew from the Orpheus about to do the through-trip, so we had a quick chat with them before letting them go first to get out of our way. We assumed we would be out first before they came back to pull their rope up, but would obviously have to negotiate it carefully in the tight shaft, especially coming back up.

They rigged theirs from the scaff bar, whereas I rigged ours from the bolts, both in axial load, so not exactly reassuring. A mouse popped out of the deads in front of my nose to see what was going on, and seemed more confused than afraid, as it didn't exactly run off, but hung around for a while, presumably to check my rigging was OK. However, the descent went smoothly enough, and when I got to the bottom I went for a quick explore before the others got down. The low crawl on the left as you exit the shaft leads to set of spheroid natural chambers, half-full of dry sediment, with tiny patches of mineralisation. At the end, the miners managed to find a hint of the pipe, and worked it there, and some graffiti from old and new explorers is also here on the walls. As you exit by the normal arch into the larger passage beyond, instead of doubling-back to begin the downhill travel, turning sharp right into a crawl leads into a large phreatic chamber with a sloping rubble floor. Large banks of dry, layered sediment are present, and a spectacular flowstone deposit of semi-vertical cave pearls cemented together sits in an equally impressive phreatic alcove, with large spheroid solution cavities everywhere.

Once everyone was down, we explored this further, climbing higher up into the back of the chamber, but the collapses caused by the quarrying have come through the roof here, completely blocking any routes on. Leaving the chamber, admiring the low phreatic arches near the exit, we then explored two mined crawls in the pipe, one leading into a similar area as the natural chamber, to where a stream was met through a hole, but I had no wish to get wet that day, and it was heading into the collapse zone again. Alastair and Alex explored a level at right angles to this, but it is blind after 20 or so metres. We then set off on the 'normal' route, but only until we entered the next set of pipe workings, where we had a lot of fun climbing, crawling and thrutching through various passages and small stopes, some of which were interlinked. We got as far as the usual 'high point' of the normal through-trip, up in the roof, and then turned around for a return trip, which often throws up new stuff. I retrieved a coke can and a fag packet (doh) on the way.

We then set off back up the shaft, which as we suspected is quite easy with a Pantin, though rather claustrophobic in places. Typically, as I was the only one with a large heavy bag (as usual), it kept jamming and slowing me down, or catching on the Orpheus rope, so my ascent wasn't quite as smooth as I would have liked, but unencumbered it's a good climb, with plenty of psychological discipline on the way. We emerged to bright sunlight and Matlock Town FC chanting away in the distance. Pete Wagstaffe and another guy I've not seen before turned up to get their ropes just as we exited, so either they were really fast, or we took longer than we thought! But a great trip, nonetheless, and recommended as a less strenuous alternative to the whole trip.