Friday, 13 June 2014

Into the upper chambers of Owl Hole

The spectacular entrance to "Cystal Pallas", Owl Hole.

Boredom can sometimes be the catalyst to start the most memorable adventures, and so it proved to be this week. 70 hours of work in 7 days had left me desperate to do something of substance to break the monotony.

Since my trips into the lower passages of Owl Hole in Dowel Dale a few weeks back, one particular idea has never been far from my thoughts. The pothole has a small entrance in one of its side walls, a number of metres above the floor. A 23ft aid climb up to this entrance is the key to accessing some fantastically well decorated chambers with reputedly some of the finest formations in the Peak District.

The 23ft pitch is the obvious pale streak on the left of the photo, leading to a small entrance.

My climbing rack is pretty limited from years of soloing, but one thing I do own a lot of is slings. The first time I visited the pot I saw five bolts at intervals up the 23ft pitch, and I soon realised that with care I should be able to climb it with a mix of stepping in/hauling on slings and using natural holds, and then abseil off the top bolt on return.

Monday evening, and I was stood at the bottom of the pitch. As is often the case, things looked a bit longer and steeper than I'd remembered in my mind's eye. I triple checked that I had everything I needed, and clipped my first long sling into the first bolt. The first half of the pitch went quickly, despite having to think a bit about how to use as few slings as possible.

It became a bit more complex at the small diagonal section in the middle, as it required a step across onto a sloping and wet ledge. Then the final haul into the cave passageway shut me down for a few minutes. I seemed to be there for quite a while, trying to work out how to get up just the last metre into the entrance. Then it clicked and it was all suddenly so simple, and I easily stepped up into the muddy passageway.

About to rig the rope for the abseil out.

I couldn't hardly contain my excitement as I rigged the pitch ready for the abseil for the return trip. Here I finally was.

A muddy passage led to a gate, and a climb up delivered me into a beautiful grotto ordained with formations of every kind. I sat and stared for a long while.

A beautiful banded curtain formation.

The first grotto.

Large stalagmite boss in the first grotto.

Pillar formation.

With the greatest of care I crawled through the taped passageway, the fragility of these beauties foremost on my mind in the cramped space. Looking back behind me revealed the grotto to be even more stunning than I first though, some stunning pure white stalagtites hanging down behind an undercut.  Hogmorton Aven let me stand up and stretch before I returned to look for my main objective.

A spectacular "hanging grotto".

Carrot formation.

Straws and blades.

A hole in the floor of the first grotto lets you slide down to a brilliant stalactite/stalagmite formation. This marks the start of a sloping "balcony" which overlooks the most incredible chamber.

The Crystal Pallas was absolutely amazing to look down into. Gigantic stalactites and curtain formations hung down in demented shapes from the ceiling, and a pure white gour pool reflected my headtorch back at me from below. Awe struck, I instantly vowed to return in the future with more gear to descend fully into the Crystal Pallas to see it more closely.

Straws in the entrance to the Pig's Trotters passageway.

Abseiling out in the dark.

Job done.

My abseil out was in the dark, my headtorch picking out thousands of insects crawling over the innards of the pothole. Stripping the pitch of my slings on my way down, I landed on two feet, coiled away my gear, and started dreaming of what's next.

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