Monday, 22 September 2014


 The first pitch of P8 (Jackpot), Castleton. An extremely fun solo descent of this Peak District classic.

The first time I ever climbed Tower Ridge, I remember thinking afterwards that it was so enjoyable it could almost have been "designed". A varied series of interesting obstacles have to be overcome in order to reach a memorable finale. I find that often the best routes follow this basic pattern, whether they be above or below ground.

P8 (Jackpot) is a Peak District classic, a multi-pitch SRT descent down a superb cascading streamway. Like Tower Ridge it is a popular trip for a reason. While most potholes have an amount of nasty grovelling in tight and squalid passages, P8 is pretty much uninterupted enjoyment. 

The surface streams sinks straight into the entrance of P8 so it always a wet cave, often extremely so. A solo first trip was going to need settled weather, and yet again my day off coincided with high pressure. I've been in the Peak District almost 6 months now, and I still can't get used to the lack of rain.

From the word go I was in a "Crabwalk" style passage, so remarkably similar to its namesake in Giant's Hole just a few hundred metres away across the valley. Idiot's Leap was the first obstacle, a 2.5m vertical climb down a cascade which was rigged with an in-situ rope. It looked a bit more tricky from above than I'd expected, but it was easy on the way down and on the return trip.

Mud Hall. Impressive, but nothing compared to the next chamber.

Very soon I turned a sharp bend and the stream plunged down through a "window" into a chamber - the First Pitch. This was a wet abseil down the waterfall, and 30m downstream from the base of the chamber I was quickly at the head of the Second Pitch. The chamber beneath this pitch was larger and some big flowstone cascades eluded to what lay beyond.

I had a lengthy explore down some of the many passages and routes that make up this part of the cave, before I emerged into the large and impressive Mud Hall. The scramble down from this brought me into a beautiful stream canyon, which I carefully traversed above by bridging on each wall about 4m above the water.

The streamway just before T'Owd Man's Rift.

T'Owd Man's Rift, the limit of the cave for non-divers, provides a magnificent finale. It reminded me of a subterranean Deep South Gully, a tilted cleft of giant proportions. The flowstone formations here are extremely fine, and my jaw dropped to see flood sediment on stalactites dozens of feet above the current level of the stream.

A huge flowstone cascade in T'Owd Man's Rift. 

Back along the traverses, through Mud Hall and the passageways, back up the two pitches and Idiot's Leap. And I had so much fun I came back and did it all again 3 days later.


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