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Brewery Shaft

Sunday March 5th 2017

Members present: Adam Walmsley,  Joshua Young,  Mark Sims,  Martin Albacete,  Rachel Findlay

Report by Joshua Young

Brewery Shaft is a 3.5m diameter vertical free hang, descending from a wooden shack in the woods 100m into the ground beneath Nenthead. This trip had been talked up all weekend, and the time to head out had finally arrived, but with the sheer scale of the descent, a good degree of apprehension was in the air. Once at the hut, we headed through the dim rooms to find a wooden gallery, surrounding the steel grid which protected the seemingly endless pit. Despite full spotlights being used, the old water pipes at the side of the shaft seemed to keep descending into the centre of the earth. Naturally, Rachel was made to rig.

Tying a backup off one of the large pieces of machinery in the other room, she gingerly edged over the grid to the trap door, and soon had the ancient padlock off. A little assistance was required to lift the hefty steel doors, and there was a large amount of backseat rigging going on, but soon an ok Y hang was in place. Rachel waited nervously at the top as a chest tape was located to be drafted in as a step, as there were no footholds to be found in the centre of the shaft. However, when the time came, it still took a while for her to overcome the immense mental barrier that comes with lowering yourself down into an apparently bottomless pit. Eventually, she was away, descending past the pipes of ramp gill and down further and further, as her light slowly became a tiny speck far below.

Rope free was called, and when Mark asked who was next, all eyes were on Martin. Apparently with no regard for his own safety, he sat at the edge, stuck a hand jammer on at waist height, and began reaching down for the foothold. It was at this point that even Walmslers got too nervous. “You know it’s bad when Walmslers is begging you to clip in.” Mark commented. Everyone was giggling in pure nervous disbelief as Martin less than gracefully got himself down and onto his cow’s tails. All was fine from that point on, and as the only one of us with a rack, he was soon sailing smoothly down into the abyss.

I was next.

Having watched the techniques of the other two, I got myself down without too much hassle, but when it came to removing my last point of protection before the descent began, I too needed to fight those evolutionary instincts to gtfo. I took a deep breath, and was away. I found it impossible to focus on anything but keeping control of the descent. No looking up or down, it was just me, my gloves, and the rope. It was a complete surprise when the floor came up below me, but a quick glance around assured me that I had, in fact, made it down alive.

Delicately removing my searing hot simple from the rope, I shouted up, and began to explore.
Descending the rickety ladder to get off the 3m high pile of crap that has fallen/been thrown down over the decades, it was in a different world. The eerie water filled tunnels had many pieces of old mining machinery, more than a century old and covered in orange rust, scattered everywhere. It was like navigating some post-apocalyptic ruin, with large pressure tanks, hoppers, and mine carts strewn about the place. Splashing through the knee-high water, I soon encountered Rachel and Martin, back from an excursion down a dead-end tunnel, and we began to explore. We first went down a passageway of waist deep water, to an immense, rotting water wheel, which at one point had pumped water up from the workings below. Returning from this, we found Mark and Walmslers, who had just arrived, and we ventured into the engine room. After playing about with the antique generators and compressors, and marvelling at the weighty iron tools used to maintain them, it was time to head back up.

This was the part most of us had been dreading. 100 metres of prussiking, completely uninterrupted. Despite this, although it was truly exhausting work, everyone made excellent time up the shaft, and I found it quite pleasant to admire the scale of the shaft and the rusting pipework during my breaks. I had a minor issue once reaching the top, as I found I could not pull up any rope with me, but a quick shout down to the others led to them freeing the rope from the piece of wood it was stuck on, and we didn’t think anything else of it. Walmslers also had a minor issue, as the pantin Chris had lent him turned out to be for a left foot, so Mark clipped his onto a krab and sent it back down once he reached the top. It made a fantastic sound on its way down.

Before long, we were all out, and celebrating a cracking trip.
All of us minus Martin, who had headed down to the hut to get changed, remained at the top to help haul up the rope. A traxion at the edge of the hole made life easier, and we began to bring up the rope. Here began our woes. Even though the last one up had lain the rope out at the bottom to avoid snagging, the whipping of the rope during the prussik had obviously gotten the rope well and truly stuck, as had happened on my ascent. Naturally, this was when Aaron, Logan and Martin all returned to see how things were going. They were just in time to watch as we tried in vain to get it free. We tried pulling it with all our might and shook the rope as much as possible, but with no success. There was nothing else for it. Someone had to go back down.

Adam Walmsley, the absolute hero that he is, volunteered. Back down he went to tie up the loose end, while those already changed went back to fetch us all some tea. Fortunately, despite the scale of the pitch, communication was incredibly easy up and down, and we could have a joke or two with him as he made the long return trip for the second time that day.

Attempt 2. The pulley was back in place, and hauling commenced. Everyone held their breath, gazing into the depths, and there was a relieved cheer when the end coil came into view. The rest of the 150m rope was swiftly coiled, and we all headed back to get changed, after what had become a very memorable trip.

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