Recent reports

Rowter Hole

Tuesday March 14th 2023

Members present: Elliot Macinnes,  Jean-luc Heath,  Paulina Poterlowicz

Report by Jean-luc Heath

Rowter hole has been on my to-do list since Rachel first mentioned it to me sometime back in 2017. All I really remembered of this conversation was that it’s got a long entrance pitch, and a lot of confusion stemming from Rowter being a very similar name to a Dales cave which I am notoriously fond of… Somehow this week the stars aligned and I had a Tuesday off work at the same time as Paulina. Having recently rediscovered my Rowter obsession due to a UKcaving post from Mark Sims, it was the obvious destination for our trip. Realising that despite graduating 565 days prior, it would be good to get the younger generation involved, I asked Paulina to go on a recruitment drive. Elliot turned out to be free enough, and came with the glowing recommendation of “well he got out of FOUL pot”, so was coerced into skipping some sort of psychic practice to come caving.

The first order of business was to find a description. Paulina sought the good council of all-round Rowter guru Mark Sims, who very helpfully wrote us a description and gave some details of his and Mark Richardson’s recent digging efforts (more can be found on UK caving - an excellent read for those interested in cave exploration in the UK). I ponder whether it’s previously occurred to them that combined they can be M&M, Emminem, or Mr & Ms. I printed Mark’s description into a handy pocket size double-sided sheet for lamination by Paulina.

The morning of the trip was an early start for me, needing to leave Habbers by 0645 to get to Paulina’s place by 0715 to allow enough time for lamination, and travel to the store to meet Elliot for the classic 0730 start. I was of course late. This meant getting to the store around 0745, sorry Elliot. Store faff was kept to a minimum as we’d been informed that everything other than the entrance pitch was already rigged (use at your own risk etc etc etc), so we only needed to put an 85m rope into a bag and collect some crabs and slings. We also brought a ‘normal’ size bag with a daren drum for soreen, a water bottle, and spare room for SRT kits. With all this sorted we set off to tackle the first major obstacle of any Peak district trip: where to have breakfast… It had been decided that we’d experiment with the Wakefield Morrison’s that is near enough enroute. This satisfied requirements, and provided opportunity for Soreen procurement. The banana variant was chosen. Tasks completed we began the comparatively short drive to Rowter farm. I’m always pleasantly surprised by how quick the drive to the Peak district is, even during rush hour on a weekday!

Parking at the farm we soon found a fairly blunt but pleasant enough person to give our £2 each to. We then began to get changed. As we did this, a sequence of events occurred. Firstly, it started snowing. Then it got quite windy. Then finally, there was a very loud crack of thunder. Not deterred, we finished getting changed and prepared to amble off towards the cave. It’s worth mentioning that whilst getting changed Elliot reminded me that he’d forgotten his cowstails. I gave him mine. I now had a choice: a 7mm tacklesack cord worn to the core, or my ‘contingency sling’ collected from the side of a french mountain. I opted to use my sling as a short cowstail, with my handjammer safety link acting as my long cowstail. With this dilemma sorted we wandered off through the farm and up the gentle slope towards rowter. When we were about halfway up the slope, there was another crash of thunder and the sky ahead was lit up by a fantastic bolt of lightning. I’ve never been happier to be wearing so much steel around my person…

With the short walk out the way we found ourselves at the lid of the entrance shaft, being pelted by pea size snow-grains. It was at this point that I remembered the Derbyshire key system. I briefly attempted to undo the nut using a sling (as you would an oil-filter), but it proved useless. We ambled back to the car to rummage through the boot. Paulina suggested that she’d seen a wrench in there, which gave me some hope. Upon opening the boot Paulina quickly found my 13mm rigging spanner. This sadly would not open the absolute unit of a bolt that holds the lid shut. I did manage to conjure up some Mole-grips, which would be worth a go. Back to the shaft we went. Mole-grips did not grip. Maillons wouldn’t open wide enough. Eventually some tapping with Elliot’s rack knocked the latch out of the way and allowed us to get the lid open. As the shaft is well protected from livestock by a substantial fence, we left the lid open for the duration of our trip due to a recent note from Mark about finding the lid fastened shut from the outside when attempting to exit from a digging trip.

The entrance pitch is a solid 70m, belayed from a bar across the shaft. There is also a rebelay around half-way down, with a deviation shortly after - this breaks up the ascent nicely on the way out! With all this rigged, all three of us were soon in the large and drippy chamber at the base of the pitch. From here an obvious climb down leads to a mine passage that soon takes you to Gin Shaft. This is a spectacular scaffolded shaft which is abseiled on fixed rigging. This again was passed without issue and we were soon following a few crawls and a handlined climb down into ‘Bad Badger Choke’. The choke has some pretty substantial scaffolding, which provides a relatively drama free journey to some enlarging passage and the next series of pitches. These were again found rigged, this time on some quite chunky 11mm(?), and accompanied by a set of pipes and tubes which I recall hearing the Badgers are using to divert water to dig a mud choke somewhere in the cave. These next pitches are all single hangs, with the classic peak district traverse to the pitchhead to avoid loose rocks. An assortment of in-situ deviations were used to avoid the worst of the water, but it was a little drippy on the second pitch! If you brought a rope, this could be rigged to include a rebelay that would avoid the water. Alternatively a deviation could be used from the same bolts (sadly my contingency sling was already employed as a cowstail).

It is at the bottom of these three pitches where the fun really starts! There’s a nice big chamber where Mark’s description recommended removing SRT kit other than cowstails and putting it in a bag. This was a good indication of what was to come. We found the start of the Ice Cream Trail as a knotted handline up a clacited climb, the top of which has some nice formations. From here the going starts to get a little bit more tekkers, with lots of passage requiring you to climb upwards to be able to fit through, with occasional traverse and small climby bits. The next major obstacle was a double knotted handlined climb, this had a slightly awkward pitchhead, but nothing too dramatic. Soon after this I was happily shuffling my way up a satisfyingly smooth, body sized, upwards angled tube, jamming my hands in a crack in the floor to make my way up. At the top of this tube, my joyful tone was dulled by finding myself headfirst at a 4-5ft drop down, with no easy way to turn around. There was a knotted handline available, so I clipped the bag to it’s bolt and began squirming. Paulina soon appeared behind me. After a bit of manoeuvring I ended up with my chest wedged at the top of the climb, one foot dangling down the drop, and the other still flat in the tube. This was very uncomfortable, and was the first time in a while that I’d felt properly stuck in a cave. Luckily after taking some time to chill, I was able to shuffle back into my original headfirst position. I eventually decided to just man-up, and try hanging onto the handline and shuffling out over the hole. This worked pretty well, and let me walk my feet down the drop fairly comfortably. Paulina and Elliot were both able to just turn around and climb down like normal human beings. Next up there was probably some more rifty stuff, soon arriving at a pair of substantial (6-10ft) climbs with knotted handlines. The knots on these lines turned out to be pretty far apart, which provided me with a little bit of poo in my pants. I chose to blame the notoriously long wingspan of Mark Richardson for this occurrence. This did, however, mark the end of the Ice-Cream-Trail.

From here we followed the capped tube to the most exciting part of the trip. An umbrella!! An actual, real life umbrella!!! Fantastic. I set off down the tube and was soon happily set up on the umbrella. I took this opportunity to give Elliot his first and only instructions on how to use one. Passing the umbrella was a pretty painless experience, with the angle being far more genial than the one we set-up in the sports hall. As I umbrellad my way across this chasm, I was serenaded by Elliot and Paulina singing the classic Rihanna tune. Soon out the way, I lingered just above the rebelay to check Elliot wasn’t getting horribly stuck. Whilst hanging there I had the pretty stark realisation that if he did get horribly stuck, I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d rescue him… As expected, no rescue was required and I was soon fucking off up a series of pitches. These pitches are some excellent and very varied SRT, but do also include some clambers over catch-nets, placed to prevent loose rock knocked down by climbing the ramps from raining down on the pitches below. Despite this, there is still a lot of care required in this area.

I eventually found myself at the top of the pitches and wandering along a conservation taped path up a heavily calcited ramp. Pretty much as soon as the calcite ends there is a very loose climb up into a small chamber where all the rock looks incredibly unstable. I rapidly turned around and headed back down the ramp. It was around this time that Elliot appeared to be having his own interaction with loose rock… I heard a very loud falling rock sound, and a pretty distinctive squark from Paulina. I raced to see what had happened. Luckily, the rocks had all missed Paulina, and Elliot was found to be apologising profusely. We all gathered at the top of the ramps for a bit of a rest, and made a plan to investigate Mr & Ms Badger’s newest extensions of the cave. These were found pretty easily, but from the first look it was obvious it wasn’t a place that would be overly suitable for Elliot’s rack due to some very tight rigging. He seemed pretty happy to have a bit of a rest whilst me and Paulina headed down to see what the dig was like. A short traverse leads to the top of a pitch down scaffold and net shaft, this then leads down to a hole through to a much much wetter shaft with a big tarp/sheet of plastic keeping the worst of the water away. At the base of this shaft is what Mark describes as a “miserable wet tube”. On this particular day it did indeed appear quite wet, determined to get further however, I decided to push on down the tube. I initially attempted to use my descender on the rope, but found that between the rope and my oversuit catching on the jagged rock there was too much friction. I therefore opted to use the rope as a handline as the tube was pretty small and had lots of good holds. Despite getting gently waterboarded I progressed happily down the tube until I found my feet kicking around in free space. Here I decided it was one miserable wet tube too far for me that day, and headed back up. Massive respect to Mr & Ms Badger for digging down there! It's a long way to the surface and definitely isn’t the most friendly environment… We raced back up the dig and refound Elliot to begin our journey out.

Rapid progress down the insitu pitches soon saw us once again passing the umbrella. I must admit that at this point my lack of recent caving and adventures in the wet tube had left me quite cold and tired. So I was keen to get into the Ice-Cream-Trail to warm up. Once past the umbrella we had a brief stop to strip SRT kits, and to consume some soreen. On the SRT front we opted to keep handjammers on for use on the handlines, this proved to be a wise decision. On the soreen front, I was grateful for the energy. Elliot was ‘strongly encouraged’ to eat far more soreen than he really wanted. We needed to be well fueled for this Ice-Cream situation. The first two handlined climbs were passed relatively easily, especially with a handjammer providing a footloop to assist with getting up and into the somewhat awkward pitchheads. The next obstacle was the awkward climb up to the tube that I’d had to do head first on the way in. This proved far less difficult on the return journey, although I did end up head first in the now dramatically downwards sloping body-size tube. Some awkward shuffling later and I was turned around and ready to head down. The various rift traverses proved fairly harmless on the way out, and Elliot was surviving pretty well so far, quite impressive considering how involved the trip is. This rapid and jovial progress was somewhat inhibited by the “double knotted handlined climb, [with] a slightly awkward pitchhead, but nothing too dramatic” from earlier. This proved to be far, far more challenging on the way out, with both me and Paulina taking a bit of time to exit off the top of the climb. We were soon on the other side and began remarking that we’d be out very soon, and that we’d been making marvellous time through all these obstacles. Just as I was wagering that we’d be out by 1800, we heard a sharp yelp and turned our heads just in time to see Elliot disappeared out of the frame of the pitchhead. This was concerning. I hurried over to check he was alright. He seemed a little flustered but otherwise unharmed. What followed was roughly 30mins of trying to figure out the best way to get Elliot up the climb. All the classic methods were tried: hamdjammer, SRT kit removal, verbal encouragement, frantic thrashing, resting. Eventually a combination of pretty much all of these prevailed and had Elliot safely up the climb.

From here the exit out of the cave was as straightforward as the way in, but enjoyable nonetheless! We were soon at the entrance pitch, and I volunteered to go first. I shot up the first half the pitch as quickly as I could, but took my time on the half after the rebelay to try and minimise time on the surface. As I saw Elliot begin tackling the deviation, it was time for me to poke my head out the shaft and see what the surface was like. As I emerged from the hole I was pretty absorbed by making sure I got off the unavoidably awkward pitch head, so didn’t immediately acknowledge that the surrounding fields were now under a solid 3-4 inches of snow. I was soon very aware of the snow due to more of it coming down, alongside a pretty sustained wind. Combined with my soaking from the miserable tube at the bottom of the cave, I was now pretty cold. Despite Elliot being noticeably quick up the pitch, by the time he hit the surface my hands were completely numb, my feet were burning, and everything seemed a bit shit. Elliot bravely volunteered to hang around while Paulina de-rigged, so I trudged off through the snow to the car. I changed as speedily as my frozen fingers and brain would allow and set about shivering myself back to temperature. Not too long after Paulina and Elliot appeared, got changed and helped me scrape snow off the car. We were now all incredibly hungry, and exceptionally cold. Too cold for the traditional Bradwell fish & chips stop. This could mean only one thing. We must locate a spoons. There’s one in Hillsborough, enroute back to York. Food was procured and the hot drinks machine thoroughly hammered. This soon saw us in a much more cheerful state for the final part of the drive back to York.

Overall, a thoroughly satisfying trip with some incredible variation! I get the feeling this trip is overlooked by many, and they are certainly missing out. Finally a thankyou has to go out to Mark S for his excellent description, and to the badgers in general for putting in the hard graft required to make this trip possible!