Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Getting the rope out for Jugholes Cave

Beautiful formations in the Upper Series of Jugholes.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit intimidated by the idea of using a rope today. The last time I'd used a rope was over two years ago, abseiling down the side of the Un-named Pinnacle on Aonach Dubh to check out potential new routes.

Despite an intensive period of roped climbing in 2009, pretty much everything I've done since has been solo, my rope usually remaining undisturbed in my rucksack and mainly  there for forced retreats.

Today was the first time I've used a rope whilst soloing a cave. The fact that I felt ready to make this signficiant step-up in terms of difficulty felt like quite a big deal, as who knows what opportunities it could unlock in the future?

But first impressions looking down the 15ft shaft into Jugholes Upper Series this morning caused me to have doubts. The shaft was in a tight spot beyond a crawling sized hole, with a smooth mud slope leading down to it. I was going to need to crawl feet first through the hole to enter the shaft, and it felt like a pretty awkward place to carry out a bit of ropework I'd never done before.

Dropping a rope down the 15ft shaft the enter the Upper Series. 

I'm learning that first impressions are of limited value in general when it comes to caving, so I spent a few minutes trying to figure it out. Above and to the side of the hole was a chockstone, so I made a thread belay with a long sling and tied in the rope. After tying a number of Alpine butterfly loops to turn the rope into a handline, I dropped the rope down the shaft and started moving down.

Looking up from the bottom of the shaft.

Crawling down feet first and facing in, I lowered myself down the mud slope by putting most of my weight on the rope loops. Very quickly I was over the lip of the shaft and climbed down my handline, finding some good footholds to make things easier.

A piece of cake really, especially considering for a moment I'd thought my plan had been over-ambitious. It felt good too, really good.

Navigating by the sound of a stream, I found my way into the immense roof-collapse which leads to the Bee Hives Chamber. It felt like a bit of a maze to begin with, and only after the second of two crawling passages was I convinced I was heading the right way.

A fine grotto on the "Bee Hive" slopes.

Colourful veins running over the roof.

An odd layer of green clay covered the slopes to my left, the first of many points of interest in the cave. Then the "Bee Hives" themselves appeared, a giant slope of flowstone that is one of the most extensive in Britain. I must have spent at least two hours exploring the chamber.

Hundreds of curtain formations.

A row of proto stalagtites.

From the main streamway you could be completely oblivious to the large number of small but very fine speleotherms that decorate the walls and roof. Whilst photographing one particular grotto it must have taken me twenty minutes to fully notice all the formations, some very fine curtains appearing even at floor level.

Small but colourful ribbon formations.

Climbing back up my rope was a quick job, but the morning as a whole felt like another step towards a wider world. There's been a few like that lately!


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