I arrived at 12:30 atop the hill in Castleton and the guys has beat me to it and were already there. We geared up by the roadside, trudged up the hill in full SRT kit … minus one very important detail, my STOP! I had to make a mad dash back to vehicles to retrieve it. School boy error! I got back to the shaft, very hot and very sweaty to find they had already headed underground.
Although Mike was waiting for me at the awkward and appropriately named ‘sentry box’ this was possibly my least favourite bit! I tried to avoid going down through the right hand side of it as this was the most awkward and quickly realised the only way through for me was the left. Upon reaching the bottom of the pitches, we made it to the ‘Flats’An appropriately named horizontal bedding plane with enough room to only pass through pretty much lying completely flat. After a while of crawling, I was informed we needed the rope bag, that had been left back the bottom of the pitches. Having been previously told it wasn’t needed!
But alas, as the, I quote ‘youngest and fittest’, I trudged my way back down the crawl to retrieve it.On route, you have to be sure to avoid the multiple large deep pits that seemingly appear out of the darkness right next to you. After dodging these surprising obstacles, we reached the next pitch, this was reasonably pleasant in comparison to the ‘sentry box’ pitch.At the bottom of this was a short traverse over a rift using in situ hand line, nice and simple. Then we began our crawl through the ‘far flats’.Although it is described as quite a dry trip, I ended up actually lying face down in liquid clay for the majority of it. By the time we had reached ‘the far flats’ it was hard to distinguish where my SRT gear started and the clay ended. I was glad to be rid of my harness and gear for a while.
We free climbed down a final pitch and onwards towards ‘The Vice’Mike led the assault, he removed his helmet and decided to go head first on his back. Just as things were looking too easy he stopped, ‘perhaps I should try again without the SLR’ he said much to our amusement, his camera fairly bulky camera had halted his first attempt.With a quick adjustment and removal of camera he was through.I eyed up my target (the right hand side of the restriction) and made a quick but strategic pencil dived straight for it with my arms leading the way. Luckily for me with the amount of liquid clay, which by this point had saturated my entire existence, created a sort of slip and slide straight through. Nice!Now it was Marks turn, apprehensive about the objective he hung back to have a word with himself about the onslaught of ‘The Vice’, the word must have been a stern one as before long he was catching us up in Derbyshire Hall.Wow, what a chamber. An absolutely beautifully decorated ceiling with many pure white stalactites. The floor was made up of what looked a giant boulder choke, which dig operations had been taking place. There was no draft but as always, signs the water had found a way through.We then made our return through the thick visceral clay. I hung back and de-rigged, a good bit of practise in an excellent challenging cave system. Overall a 3.5 hour trip.On my way home, I drove back through Matlock receiving some very strange glances through the wound down window of my car, much to my bemusement.
Confused, until I walked through the front door to Hollie’s laughter. According to her I resembled a clay based phantom of the opera, instead of the mask, my face hair and ear where baked in clay, and one side of hair sticking up on end with the stuff!