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Titan Shaft - 6th Mar 2010

Saturday March 6th 2010

Members present: Chad B,  Marcus Roby,  Thomas Blakey,  Toby Buxton

Report by Chad B


Titan shaft – the largest natural shaft in the UK standing at 141.5 m tall. Discovered in 1999 from the bottom through connections from speedwell by a team led by Dave Nixon after careful research upon reading an account by James Plumtree written in 1793 describing cave networks beyond that of Speedwell. Access from above is a 45 m deep 2 m wide man made entrance shaft which took four years to excavate. The bottom of this shaft joins a bedding plane, which after excavation comes into the west wall of Titan approximately 6 m from the top. From the ledge overlooking Titan is a 71 m drop to a 7 m slopping ledge, known as the ‘Event Horizon’. Below the ledge is a rebelay free hang dropping 57 m to the bottom of Titan, a boulder choke through which its discovery was made. To date there are still active digs within the system in the hope that another such discovery may be found.

The Team:

Come 2010, a team of four members of YUCPC including Chad Bullivant, Marcus Roby, Thomas Blakey, and Toby Buxton attack Titan. Personally I had been down Titan and out of Peak Cavern about a year ago and was relishing the prospect of firstly rigging it and ascending it. This was also the first half of the best weekend of caving as a member of club with Lost John’s cave following the next day.

Where is Titan?:

After car scrapes, locating keys and eating breakfast we found ourselves parked outside Rowter farm on an extremely foggy morning. Tom was the only person of the team who had approached Titan from Rowter farm, but unfortunately the fog must have interfered with his homing beacon, as we got a little lost and seemed to go in one big loop. It was more luck than judgement that we spotted the spoil heap marking the Titan entrance.

Entrance shaft:

We dumped the rope for the entrance shaft in the vat of water while we set about dismantling the scaffold and removed the wooden planks. Before unlocking the entrance cover I set about rigging the rope in, which after several minutes of indecision started off as a threaded figure of eight off one piece of scaffold and then to a Y-hang of two independent pieces of scaffold using two slings. On this trip I was being really picky with the knots used to help the de-rigging, once happy I descended on my Rack to the entrance cover. Toby passed down the key which I clipped into my cows tail as not to drop it! unlocked the padlock and pulled up the plate to reveal the 46 m entrance shaft, I then abseiled down and awaited Marcus who had rope for the top of Titan.

Rigging Titan:

To the left from the bottom of the entrance shaft is a short passage which leads to the ledge overlooking Titan about 136 m to the bottom. I quickly set about rigging in the traverse to the end of the ledge. Since the last time I was here two additional long life’s have been bolted into the alcove above the ledge, so I had plenty of rigging options. If I remember, whoever rigged it last time rigged a Y-hang from the extremely large hanger to one of the two long life’s (a choice of two as it was). I decided to rig the Y-hang from the two new long life in the alcove with the traverse coming from the extremely large hanger allowing a better free hang. The problem with this is that you cannot reach the hangers to get the Krabs in from the ledge. So making sure I was using every point of protection I had available I had to swing over the ledge to clip the Krabs in. This was probably the scariest thing that I have ever done in my life. Once I had one Krab in, it was a little easier to do the other; I was rather pleased to find that the Y-hang needed little adjustment. It was then time to descend to the Event Horizon – magnificent.

Once at the Event Horizon, I rigged into the long life and again waited for Marcus to abseil down with the next rope. Once the next rope was rigged in and backed up onto the previous rope I tentatively abseiled down the slope to the rebealy below the ledge. Feeling rather exposed, half way down the ledge I asked Marcus to check the rigging despite knowing that it was fine I just wanted the reassurance. Over the ledge I went and locked off my rack, seeing the rope against quite a rugged rock face meant that I quickly clipped my cow’s tails into one of the long life’s. Again, since last time there are more long life’s, meaning that I didn’t need to use the one that spins around. After rigging in the Y-hang it was yet another magnificent descent to the bottom, where after I enjoyed the light show of the others descending.

Ascending Titan:

After a muddy excursion to speedwell we were again back at the bottom of Titan with the prospect of nearly 200 m of prussicing. Marcus went up first, followed by myself with Toby and Tom de-rigging. The assent of Titan is defiantly the best way to appreciate the scale of the place; it is also the best way to view all of the excellent flowstone formations that line the wall. As I approached the Event Horizon I looked down to the bottom where the lights from the others seemed so far away. Passing the rebelay was another scary moment, seeing the rope that you have your jammers on against the rock face. I left my long cow’s tail in the knot of the rebelay until I was high enough to prussic without having the rope rub. Once past it was off to the top of Titan, probably the most visually spectacular part of the assent. Upon getting closer to the Y-hang at the ledge and seeing Marcus’s light I was feeling pretty good. From here we awaited the de-riggers, who set up a Z-rig to haul up the bottom tacklesack, personally I would have just prussiced with it. I helped out Tom with the hauling, which after adjustment of the Z-rig by Toby made it easier. Toby has the unenviable job of de-rigging the Y-hang.

Up and out:

I quickly prussiced up the entrance shaft carrying a tacklsack full of rope, where Marcus was awaiting my arrival. The fog had cleared, the stars were out but it was extremely cold. Once I was out we set about shanking the ropes, carrying on doing so once Toby came up with the next tacklesack. Once Tom was up above the entrance lid we had to lock up the cave which seemed to take forever, but once done and the entrance rope was de-rigged, I started shanking the third rope while the other put back the scaffold and wooden planks. My hands were now painfully cold and I was rather happy when we were on the move.

Finding our way back:

Tom and I had a bit of a failure on finding our way back, in the same style as the Ljubljana night out in Slovenia! Having chosen what we thought was the right direction we headed off and walked and walked and walked. We were both convinced that we would soon see the lights of Rowter farm, however after more than an hour of walking and the changing terrain I was starting to think that we were way off. At this point we had no choice but to continue, we then saw some lights – it had turned out that we had walked all the way to Peak Forest, oh my!!! Fortunately for us we knocked on a farm house where a kind gentleman gave us all a lift in his pick up back to Rowter farm, which just by car seemed to be miles away. As Toby stated, this was one point which you recover your faith in humanity. The guy was a complete legend! After an extremely cold change we went off to Castleston in the hope of food, unfortunately all the pubs had finished serving food, after briefly speaking to Kev in one of the pubs our hope of food actually came to us in Hope where we found a Chinese takeaway.

This was followed by an un-enjoyable drive back to York for 1 am, ready for Sunday’s trip.

Titan vs Gaping Gilll:

The two caves are often compared to one another, being 60 m higher than Gaping Gill, Titan took away its crown the largest natural shaft in the UK. Having now rigged, descended and ascended both, they both have there own special properties. The awe inspiring water fall combined with light of Gaping Gill is totally different to the awe inspiring openness of Titan; the latter certainly feels more exposed.

Certainly a fine trip!