Earth Leakage Trip - Alan Brentnall

Thursday, 21 August, 2014

In 1990, with his fellow explorer and cave discoverer, Mark Noble, our sadly departed mate, Keith Joule, climbed into a passage high above the downstream end of Giant’s Windpipe and entered a well-decorated, roomy crawl which led them to (yet another) Mother of all Boulder Chokes. This was serious stuff, as the small crawl turned upwards into a large chamber which was filled with millions of small (but big-enough, if you know what I mean) boulders.

But these lads were determined, and were certainly not put off by trivialities when a chance for a major discovery was presented to them, and so they carried on digging upwards through a choke which kept fiendishly filling up on top of them. Yes, persevere they did, and they were eventually rewarded by entering a fairly large chamber, with at least four possible leads. Because of the dangerous method of entry, they named the chamber Earth Leakage, and, because they couldn’t make entry any safer (without major engineering work) the trip into Earth Leakage (earth leakage trip – geddit??) became something that Peak cavers forgot about. Best not go there …

And that’s how things remained for quite some time … until up stepped desperate Dan Hibberts of EPC in February 2009, when he went back and patiently worked his way into Keith and Mark’s chamber. With a little help from his friends, Dan introduced scaffolding to make it a little safer and, gradually, a few other cavers began to visit the spot, and some even started to work on the ongoing leads – but the objective dangers of the entry point still remain.
And so it was that, at Keith’s funeral, the subject of Earth Leakage was raised, and somebody mentioned that they had heard that I was interested in taking a look. Ben Stevens, who is working on one of the digs in there, asked me to let him know when I fancied a trip, because he needed to take in some scaffold to help shore up the entrance. I agreed, but it was three months before I got a text from Dave Ottewell letting me know that he and Ben were off into Earth Leakage, and did I want to join them?

And so, having just managed to dry my kit off from a working trip into Peak Cavern the night before, I drove down to Peakshill Farm – to be confronted by what looked like a sunbathing sheep in the car park. The texel ewe looked over at me as I got out of my car, and waved a leg (literally), but it couldn’t get up, and it was obvious that the poor thing wasn’t well. Although I have a number for the Peakshill landowner, I didn’t think there would be much point in ringing him as he was Manchester-based and rented out the land to other farmers. I rang Jess Stirrups who, being a vet, might have some suggestions, and she told me to get in touch with the Ritters at Perryfoot Farm, which I did, and they said they’d look into it and sort it out. (And, when we left the cave four hours later, the sheep was gone.)

Ben and Dave arrived and we carted the gear into the cave – this was basically rigging for Garlands, digging gear and two scaffold poles. The poles and a huge drum-like Pelicase I was carrying made an unearthly music as we moved through the passages, and I wondered if it would be possible to record something like this. I suggested this to Dave and Ben, saying that we could play it at Hidden Earth, but they pointed out that we’d probably have to sell drugs too, so that the other cavers could fully appreciate the art form.

Having descended Garlands, we entered the Crabwalk and, ignoring the normal route up to the Eyehole (“We don’t want to do the Eyehole with all this kit!”), we walked downstream looking for the climb to the top. Pretty soon, Ben started to climb, but Dave carried on, declaring the ascent to be “much too soon”. I followed Ben, and, sure enough, we topped out just before the hands and knees crawl on the upstream side of the Eyehole. Oh well!! We still managed to get our bodies and our loads through, but, once on the far side there was no sign of Dave, who had carried on searching for “the right way up”… probably as far as Razor Edge Cascade! But, after much shouting, we heard the clank of scaffold on cave wall, and, shortly after, Dave’s head appeared at the top of the rift.

Not too far now, and we were soon swimming through Giant’s Windpipe, pushing our loads in front. Not too deep, but deep enough to make sure that we were thoroughly soaked by the time we pulled our bodies through the bubbly calcite into the passage where the notice warns you never to free-dive. Two ropes hang down here. The correct rope is re-belayed just below the ledge into the passage, the other has no such re-belay and is OK for abseiling and useful for towing equipment up the pitch. Soon we were all at the top, de-kitting and sorting out our loads. The route into Earth Leakage had been described to me as a horrendous thrutch through mud and rocks, but it is in fact, a pleasant crawl, with some very pretty, stark white speleothems adorning its walls.

It’s not very long either, and we were soon negotiating the bend upwards and the careful climb through scaffolding and rocks. Earth Leakage itself is a very roomy chamber, with three definite leads going off, including the one we worked on. It is quite high up in the Giants system, and consequently it is well decorated with stalactites, curtains and flowstone. Its height also means that it may be the key to older passages which predate the sumped route taken by the present day stream.

Well worth the trip … even if it does entail going through the Windpipe twice, although you could always do the Crabwalk, Maggins, etc twice instead.