Knotlow - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015

Excellent trip into Knotlow last night. There were eight of us altogether, three from TSG, three Eldon and two Crewe. John rigged down the Climbing Shaft and the second pitch into Pearl Chamber. Richard and I followed, and then I turned off and started rigging the Chain Passage through to the 210 Shaft, while John continued down to rig the Waterfall Chamber pitch. The group split and went both ways around the circuit we had created, with Jess and Bernie following me down past a re-belay at the Meccano Passage level.

Then the real fun began, as I suddenly realised that I'd left my foot-loop and hand-jammer in my car. This bit of forgetfulness might not be such a worry had I not forgotten my Stop descender on a trip into NCC Shafts only a week ago. I really must start using a ticklist, or perhaps we should introduce "buddy checks", especially for older cavers? Whatever, the two mishaps have certainly given me plenty of scope for practising my self-rescue techniques.

Just when I discovered my problem, Bernie pointed up to the end of the traverse where John, the rigger, was just preparing to descend. I looked up to where he was pointing, to see a neat knot on the end of the rope, some 15m above the floor of the chamber. At roughly the same time, John saw the same sight, and changed from abseil to prussick. He shouted something down to us, but the thundering waterfall drowned out any of the content, so we were left to assume that the "round trip" had suddenly been cancelled. By this time Jess had gone through the small coffin level in search of Four Ways, and, as Bernie assured me that there was nobody descending behind him, I decided to try re-climbing my rope, using my Pantin as a hand jammer, attached to a footloop and "backup" made from a knotted sling.

The problem with using the Pantin as a hand jammer is that, like the "Clogger" which many of us old timers once used for prussicking, the Pantin cannot release the rope while a karabiner is resident in the only krab-hole. Consequently, when I arrived at both the Meccano re-belay and the Y-hang up at the Chain Passage, I had to remove the krab from the Pantin, clip it to myself somehow, carefully release the Pantin from the previous rope and attach it to the next rope and then re-attach the foot-loop krab to the Pantin - all without dropping anything. Well, I got away with it this time, and, as soon as I emerged from the Chain Passage, I descended past the chamber where the Bung Series leads off, to the head of the Waterfall Chamber traverse, where I found Alan and Chris watching Charlie descending the rope - which now touched the floor.

Apparently, when I briefed John about the rigging on this pitch, he took careful note of the fact that I told him that the backup was a thread belay. Unfortunately, he found another thread belay 10m before the one I meant him to use, and it was only when the rope didn't reach the bottom that he realised his mistake, and went back to rectify it. Once everybody had inspected the Four Ways coffin level, they all returned up one of the two routes, with the last man de-rigging. An interesting evening with plenty of food for thought, and lessons learned.