Waterfall Hole - Alan Brentnall

Sunday, 17 May, 2015

Not a TSG trip at all, but as Ann and I were wondering what to do with the rest of the day after key holding again for the JSCA, we decided that we'd join my other club, Crewe CPC, on their Waterfall Hole trip, as neither of us had been down this cave for quite a few years. Driving up Pin Dale and through Windmill, we soon passed through Foolow and onto the Eyam road and the turn-off to Waterfall Hole. I'd heard that they were upgrading the car park at Waterfall Hole, and I should have found out the current status. In fact we should have borrowed the rake from the Chapel garage, as most of the parking area was now heaped with gravel, and I'm sure it wouldn't have taken us long to level it all out.

As it was, we managed to carefully slot in four cars without creating a blockage in the lane. We'd joined up with Steve P A, Des Kelly, Ade Pedley and Rob Nevitt and they had brought kit for ladder and line as well as SRT - which was about as well because I didn't have my SRT rig with me.

Heading down into the immense doline, we could see the waterfall ahead. Fortunately it wasn't in full flow (but the recent weather had been dry for weeks), but, even so, there was a significant stream flowing across the plateau in the base of the doline to where it sinks into the cave. Ann headed for the sink, but I pointed towards a low slot at the foot of the right hand wall. "No wonder we couldn't get into it last time!" she muttered. The entrance crawl is a quite snug, but wide, bedding plane crawl, and, after a low squeeze, it opens up slightly and gains a central groove in the floor which allows better progress. This leads to a drop of about a meter to a puddle and a low crawl below - Ward Wins Crawl!

There's plenty of space to swing your legs around and go feet first , and then to turn around and deal with the crawl head first. At the far end of the crawl a sharp climb (yes, it does sump occasionally) gains a huge jumble of boulders, reminiscent of Fox Chamber, and you need to progress through this carefully. I say carefully, because, after an initial rise, the heading is mostly downwards, and you suddenly reach the 40ft deep Hockenhull's Rift from above. I aimed for and landed on a large ledge, and waited while Ade rigged an SRT line from a large, bomb-proof boulder above. Once that was sorted, I manufactured a figure-8 sit sling from a tape and krabbed the central section to my belt, enabling me to descend the pitch in a semi-classic style, using the krab and my shoulder.

At the foot of the pitch there were three ways down. Far left was another pitch with a single spit and various natural belays, far right gave a route through boulders, which Ade, Ann and I took, but I failed to notice the small hole at the foot of the rope which the other three used via a natural re-belay.

We regrouped in a small chamber. By now we could hear the stream chattering away below, so we knew that Waterfall Chamber couldn't be too far away. An obvious route led us down to a rift with a jammed boulder and an in-situ knotted hand line. This led down and through to another small chamber, where we met the water in the shape of a waterfall flowing out of the boulders and down a black, cherty hole on the right. To the left was a low square sandy passage, which I thought look familiar, and, in the centre of the chamber was a small hole leading through to what was obviously Waterfall Chamber below. I took the square crawl, which led to a really dodgy (earthy and crumbly) climb down into Waterfall Chamber, and shouted up to the others to try another route. The way the water went looked OK holds-wise, but was obviously quite wet, and slippery. The decision was made, and the small hole was rigged for SRT, and pretty soon we were all down.

From here we more or less followed the stream to where it dropped into a black abyss below, and where we could traverse forward to a passage with more of a floor. This gave onto a narrow climb which opened out into EPS Aven, and there was an old knotted line going down it. Both Ade and I climbed half way down and decided that it wasn't worth the effort or the risk - the lower half of the pitch was overhung, and retreat without a ladder might have been difficult.

Since then we have studied the survey and realised that the way on is to either swing across the void half way down EPS Aven (we'd need a better rope) or to take a higher line further back. But, at the time, nobody had the enthusiasm to push it too far, so we back-tracked to Waterfall Chamber and started to climb the rope. Not being blessed with my SRT rig, I decided to try my previously spotted waterfall climb, and, right enough, with a little care, all the holds were there, and I arrived at the chamber above in a much cleaner state - just as Des was struggling through the small hole. The route back out was uneventful, although Des needed to hang a ladder on Hockenhull's Rift, so that I could climb up.

Back in the doline, we washed gear in the waterfall, and were intrigued to see a "Lord of the Flies" style pig's head smiling back at us from a ledge. Had we stumbled across evidence of one of the darker Foolow rituals I wondered? Well that was a great little trip, just dipping beneath the surface of a fascinating cave which, when you look at all the names involved in its exploration, has obviously intrigued and dumbfounded some of the best. I'd like to return with a smaller, dedicate party and give the place a thorough exploration. All that water obviously has to go somewhere.