Some Showcave Wriggling - Phil Wolstenholme

Wednesday, 14 November, 2012

Present - Phil Wolstenholme, Lisa Wootton

A Wed night trip into Peak Cavern for some SUSS folks meant that Martyn was keyholding, and as Lisa and I were at sort of a loose end, we decided to have a poke around the showcave, for a 'quick, easy trip' in the sections of Peak we never get to see, due to the paying tourists. It wasn't as quick as we expected, but only as were having so much fun. We first had a look at the mystery phreatic tube in Roger Rain's first, now updated in the 'Digs and Projects' thread. After establishing that it would dig out, but probably only produce the most complicated bypass possible to merely walking around the bend to get to the same spot, namely the top of the entrance climb to the Devil's Cellar, we abandoned the initial idea and decided to have another look up the passage and beyond whilst we were at it. By the way, why on earth is it called a 'Cellar' when you climb up to get there? 'The Devil's Bathroom' is probably the best name, as there's both the toilet and the shower to negotiate on the way, but I digress...

I'd only been once, when there were about six people already at the end of the passage, and found it quite hard going - the squeezes were much tighter, rougher and more awkward than I was expecting (the first one requiring a sequence of three bends at once, seemingly, all in different axes, and mostly upward), and the steam in the passage, and not knowing where I was going, made it mentally quite stressful, and I was quite relieved to stand up at the end and breath in someone else's exhaust fumes. The passage does draught, so in reality it wasn't that bad, but I was a bit claustrophobic and quite glad to get out of it all.

On Wed night, with only two of us, and having had previous experience, it was much more entertaining than scary. Still arduous though, and the helmet had to come off for the final squeeze (following the back-breaking flop over the 'ridiculous boulder' which sits in the way). I immediately banged by head...

At the end of the passage, the climb up a wide, and very rough calcite vein is easy going, even though almost vertical, and I guess it raises about 8-10m or so to a nice little alcove you can sit in comfortably with small, pretty white stal in the roof, and then the passage continues beyond, now very definitely body-sized and sloping upward. As the smaller partner, inevitably Lisa was the 'volunteer', but the passage apparently closes down quite soon, and requiring a backwards exit all the way. Sadly I had no camera, and so was unable this time to collect a particularly exotic shot for my growing collection. Climbing back down the calcite vein tube was thoroughly enjoyable - gymnastic, but in a safe manner.

Back at the top of the climb down to the showcave, we were amazed to see what seems to be a miner's shothole in the wall - old-fashioned size (3/4 inch diameter), and heading inward, so presumably the old man had a quick poke up there to see if there were any worthwhile veins. Seemed to be sooting from candles on the wall too, and possibly some rock-dressing to take the water away from the passage? It's possible it could have been drilled out by Puttrell and co to enlarge the entrance, but I doubt they would have used an old-sized borer for that? Maybe John Beck may know more?

I also had a skirt around the wall at the top, having noticed several small avens above that I'd never seen before. A free-climb up the rift shows that there are numerous dangling rocks around, some at the very tops of the avens, and these have probably already put off any others who may have looked up there from poking them with a stick. I wish there were an elevation of Peak available with all this vertical stuff on, as it would make it much easier to figure out where and where not to poke with sticks, and whether worth the risk. But I'd like to have another look up there, as through an eyehole on the south side there was a flowstone cascade, which wasn't replicated anywhere on 'my' side of the hole. So water there...

After that. we had a look up the Pluto's Dining Room passage, as neither of us had been in that one either. Much more roomy, with smooth mud and large boulders making it an easy scramble, until it closes down to rather tight near the end. How the massive rocks ended up in there we had no idea, unless it was flood waters pushing them in, rather than the inlet pushing them out, as the roof doesn't seem far enough away to have dropped them!

Our final excursion was the Great Cave, which I've been in a lot, but always when the cave lights are on, and so it's a bit dazzling for looking at stuff. In the dark, it was much easier, and we quickly 'found' the passage around the back on the west side, which you reach by climbing the stairs just to the bend, and then dropping down the two holes against the wall. In reality, it's just the back of the cave, behind the mud and rock fill, but not knowing it was there at all made it very good fun crawling around. At the far end, a rather small tube leads away to a T-junction after a few metres of crawling through a grotty deep puddle. As the smaller partner, etc. etc....

I briefly relaxed on a mud bank enjoying listening to the grunts, thumps and sploshes emerging from the tube, and then Lisa announced she had found a vein of lead. Some clonking was heard, and when she finally emerged a few minutes later she triumphantly had clasped in her hand some fragments of baryte, with shiny dark blue-grey galena clearly embedded in it. I have it in front of me now. So it's easy to see why the miners were poking around the back-alleys of the entrance series, as there are traces of commercial minerals, but clearly nothing like enough to stick at it - the veins all seem to be tiny, and unconnected, with pipe formation more dominant than linear vein.

So the trip ended up lasting more than three hours, but really good fun, and some serious exercise in such a small space. Plenty of highlights, particularly the Devil's Cellar stalactites in the little alcove, and the flowstone in the aven above, none of which I was expecting. Also a solution on the mystery tube, even if not the one I wanted. Now I'd like to see the Krypton Series please...