Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A solo Round Trip of Giant's Hole

Rigging the 45ft abseil on the last leg of the trip.

I'm struggling a bit to know what to say about this one. Just now it feels like an experience to rival anything I've done in solo climbing and mountaineering, but will that feeling linger?

Soloing this hadn't even crossed my mind until the last week, especially considering it would be the first time I'd done it. It was one of those "if only's" that came to me in day dreams. But a I had a magic moment in the last few days when I suddenly realised I was up to the task.

The "Round Trip" of Giant's Hole is one of Britain's great caving trips - a 2.6km Grade 3 expedition of great variety with classic situations throughout. A few days ago my appetite had been wetted, my first trip down the Crabwalk leaving me wanting more. How far could I go into Giant's Hole by myself?

Work was distracting. A printed-off route description and survey became dog-eared as I studied it inbetween serving the endless tide of customers in The Old Nag's Head. I remained cautious. All things were carefully considered, and the moment arrived when I could justify a solo attempt. A pit-in-stomach moment ensued. 

The awkward and beautiful Razor Edge Cascade.

Looking up from the magnificent passageway of The Crabwalk. Oxbows and natural arches stretching 50ft above.

Six distinct and varied crux sections have to be tackled to complete the trip. The abseil into Garland's Pot comes first, where the pitch has to be rigged for both descent and SRT ascent on the return. The Crabwalk follows. Some things are easier the second time you do them...not so with the Crabwalk. It feels like it will never end.

The second crux is The Vice. This is where Crabwalk narrows to a squeeze which proves difficult for all but the thin, but my build allowed this to be passed without difficulty.

Down-climbing a few stream cascades and some incredible passageway takes you to the next crux section. Two fixed-rope pitches must be climbed, first into Maggin's Rift and then en route in North-East Swallet. I was nervous about this. But again years of climbing proved invaluable and they were so much easier than I'd been prepared for.

A fixed rope free-climb in the impressive North-East Swallet.

Looking back at the fixed rope up into Maggin's Rift.

Beautiful flowstone cascade in Letter Box Passage.

Poached Edge Passage.

The Giant's Windpipe was undoubtably the psychological crux for me. I'm pretty good with tight crawling passages, but my comfort zone nearly abandoned me and buggered off back the way I'd come when I was half way through the Windpipe. Crawling through water with only inches of headspace above felt more serious than any other part of the trip, though it is undoubtably safer than many other sections. "Ducks" -  sections when your head gets wet, are always worse than they sound. You have to be there.

The entrance to the tight duck of Giant's Windpipe. Psychological crux of the trip for me.

I got cold after Giant's Windpipe. Plans to photograph the beautiful formations were put aside as keeping moving became a priority. This was the bit I was unsure about. How would it turn out? I broke out into the high roof of the Crabwalk, a long way above the passageway below. 

Ghost Rift.

Flowstone formations before The Giant's Windpipe.

The fifth crux was the one I was apprehensive about. A tight 50ft abseil down into the Crabwalk was needed to deliver me from the Upper Series to the Lower, and my way out. Crabwalk looked just as narrow and twisting from above as it does when you are in it. Cold and shivering, I rigged the pitch, locked off my descender, and before I knew it I splashed into the stream in the Crabwalk below. Thinking about it a few days before had been more frightening than actually doing it.

Formations before the abseil back into The Crabwalk.

Extensive flowstone cascade.

The sixth and final crux comes after returning up The Crabwalk upstream, the re-ascent up Garland's Pot. I reached my hanging rope with relief, the endless confines of The Crabwalk having started to get to me. Jumaring up the rope felt odd, surreal. I hauled up my drysack from below and started back along the Entrance Series.

It all sounds so mechanical and matter-of-fact. A solo Round Trip having never done it before? I didn't see that coming. I suspect this is one of those days which will take a while to sink in. What next? I don't know. Things are different now.


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