Friday, 25 July 2014

Giant's Hole

Ascending the Garland's Pot pitch in Giant's Hole, Castleton.

"An extended sick joke" - the phrase used in my caving guidebook to describe the 2000ft long Crabwalk, a cave passageway which couldn't be any more aptly named. " This..narrow passage twists and turns until one feels as if they have been in it forever". I could barely resist after descriptions like that.

Every day I pass Giant's Hole on my drive to work in Edale. Each time I've reached that point on the road for the past 2 months I've felt a pang of frustration. The vast majority of the cave lies beyond an obstacle that had previously been my end point, and to pass it safely I was going to need to put in the hours learning a few things.

Base Camp Chamber

Large flowstone cascade.

The high and impressive walls of Boss Aven.

Single Rope Technique (SRT) intimidated me at first, a system of ascent and descent requiring the use of gear I'd never used before. Talk of camming devices, mechanical descenders and chest harnesses put me off initially. But now after several weeks of learning,  SRT seems so much more straightforward and it has let me take some first steps into a wider world.

Looking back to my rope from the bottom of Garland's Pot.

Garland's Pot is the obstacle in question, a large 7m deep hole with a waterfall running over one side. The ability to pass this safely lets you access thousands of feet of classic passageway which make up the rest of Giant's Hole.

A sense of amusing irony didn't escape me by as I rigged the pitch down Garland's. Ropework, something I shunned almost entirely during my last 5 years of climbing in Scotland, seems to have brought me a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in the past 2 months. I threaded and locked off my descender, swung out into space, and before I knew it I was stood at the bottom of the pot getting wet.

It was an exciting moment, entering The Crabwalk. Thousands of feet of classic cave passageways had now become available to me. But what would I make of Crabwalk itself?

Sideways walking and shuffling for 2000ft doesn't sound that tiring on paper, but the reality is a bit different. Those twists and turns just keep coming and the passage rarely exceeds 2ft in width, often forcing you to keep your back bent for long periods. The roof soars up above you until you can't see it any more, and you marvel at just long how the water has been carving out this high and narrow slot.

The Crabwalk. Tight, narrow and twisting for 2000ft.

Several hundred metres of Crabwalking delivered me at The Vice, the point at which the passage narrows to a squeeze and forces all but "the skinniest people" to crawl through in the stream below where it is wider. I'm pretty lean so I fitted through The Vice quickly, surprised at how straightforward I found it.

Abseiling down Garland's Pot.

I reached my planned end point for this trip, and reversed The Crabwalk back to Garland's Pot. Jumaring back up my fixed rope felt like a conclusion to the last few weeks of intensive learning. The warmth of the air hit me hard as I returned through the entrance series, I'd completely forgotten there was a heatwave going on outside.


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