NCC Shafts - Alan Brentnall

Sunday, 16 December, 2012

Ann Soulsby, Ade Pedley, Dave Ottewell, Alan Brentnall

Because of a double-booking with the Fell Runners Association (talk about bad habits and chronic addictions), I’d just missed a trip into the NCC Shafts in early December with Crewe, and feedback from that trip suggested that the existing rigging on P2 of the down shaft might be worth a rethink, plus there might be a possibility of applying some tape to protect some sensitive fossils etc at the foot of the main rope. The other thing that needed doing was to measure the rope and pitch lengths - the numbers in the 11th edition of the Rigging Guide are estimates.

It was supposed to be a quick meeting to discuss tactics for a forthcoming trip into Peak to assist a BBC Horizon crew with some filming, but seasonal colds and other matters cancelled that and plan B, a trip into NCC, sounded just the thing. After the usual breakfast chat etc we headed into Peak armed with Ann’s 9mmx80m rope and a load of krabs (nobody likes my maillons).

Splitting at Surprise View so that Ann could take the scenic route via Squaw’s Junction, we all met up again in the crawl from Galena Fissure through to EMT Aven - pools of water around the conveyor belting telling tales of recent wet weather. The steady, muddy ascent to the Balcony went without problem, Focal Recall and all, and I was soon setting up the rigging from the wide Y-hang while Dave and Ade went up to see what Mark & Angela’s Wedding Present was like.

Abseiling down from the hanging rebelay, I started to tension across to the Y hang above the main drop down into the pond chamber and began to appreciate the problem here. You certainly notice the backwards pull of the rope and, if you did slip, the gulley headwall seems to be made up of some very sharp rocks which might do serious damage to both the rope and the rigger. Somebody has added a scruffy deviation cord on the true left hand wall of the gulley, and that could protect people descending once the pitch is rigged, but, as we were to find out later, it didn’t help with progress up the pitch.

Once down to the pond, Ann and I rigged the tiny pitch down to the real base of the NCC Shafts, and had a look at the tiny inlet and outlet, which were both flowing. The latter is, presumably, the vocal connection with Rocky Tube, through which Robby famously tried to find out whether Katie had died of hypothermia while he was exploring the top of the tube. Back at the pond, Ade and Dave had joined us, and we looked at the crystals and crinoids which are so well displayed on the far side of the pool. It may be worth taping these - it’s difficult to say how much traffic this part of peak gets, but it would be a shame to lose them.

After discussing the P2 problem, Dave persuaded me to try the scruffy deviation, so I jugged back up the rope and took in the scenery. It really is a good looking place, NCC shafts, and, as on many pitches elsewhere, ascending always gives you a better view of the place. Reversing the traverse part of P2 is a lot easier, but, there again, I have long legs. Ann would provide a better test. I clipped the deviation and thought that it looked to pull the rope too far into the middle of the gulley ... but I left it in, thinking that we needed to try it to see if it was useful.

Well, I certainly wish I hadn’t. Once I’d passed the hanging rebelay, I shouted “Rope free!” and sat in my harness to observe progress, and was horrified to watch Ann struggling against the pull of the deviation. Eventually she lowered into the gulley completely, making the rope twist her Croll quite badly, and, if it hadn’t been for her steady nerve and careful perseverance, I might be writing a different story now.

So - the deviation got taken off, and it was with some relief that I watched Ann complete the pitch. Once we were all back at the top, we discussed the problem and decided that it would probably be necessary to return and add some intermediary bolts to the pitch to eliminate the tension traverse altogether, thereby removing the main cause of the problem and, at the same time, ensuring that the rope can’t get anywhere near the sharp rocks.

The rest of the trip was pleasant and uneventful - except that we chose different routes back via Wigwam Aven. Ade, Dave and I ended up at the Victoria Aven wash-off wondering where Ann was, while Ann was waiting in a tube above Squaw Junction having similar thoughts! Ah well, all’s well that ends well - great trip though!