Rowter Hole Extensions - Phil Wolstenholme

Saturday, 7 April, 2018

Present: Alastair Gott, Mike Holliday, Glyn Roberts, Ben Tout, Phil Wolstenholme

At last we got round to doing this one, with most of us having had a 'cavus interruptus' in the Ice Cream Trail on a previous visit, and Ben never having been. Rowter Farm was calm for once, if gloomy and drizzly, so we didn't hang about, and got down as quick as poss, just after 12pm with Mike leading, me next and then Alastair and Ben. Once beyond Gin Shaft, in the nasty rift squeeze of Foster's Faith I started to get snagged, with my harness and bits catching everything - not a nice place to get hung up, so I said some rude words and got through eventually - and then got hung up on the scaffolding through Bad Badger Choke. More swearing. As Al and Ben arrived, so did Glyn, who had threatened to put in an appearance, with no digging likely. By this time we'd realised that all the pitches were indeed still rigged, so we gradually dumped bags - or just rope in some cases, as we needed some bags to put harnesses in for the misery that would follow. But first there was some nice SRT to get to the bottom, down Two Left Wellies and the Milky Relief.

The Ice Cream Trail didn't seem that bad last time around, but with a heavier bag and me now leading, it seemed much harder. I'd put on a plastic suit, thinking it was smooth, and found it much more abrasive and regretted not bringing my Cordura as it can take this punishment - I was always half-scared of ripping it, which made it even more annoying. Still, we eventually got to the broken ladder, and after me and Mike had gingerly climbed down, Glyn had the brainwave to just turn it over, and rig the undamaged end at the top. So it's solved temporarily, but I really think a better solution should be installed there - rescue is almost impossible by then, and an accident could be fatal without quick treatment. The staples are ideal. Once through all the nightmare stuff we kitted back up and launched ourselves out into the Crystal Orechasm - amazing, though the wide pendulum/transfer is really rigged too tight, and I only had a foot of rope left between the bottom of my descender and the top of my chest ascender at the lowest point, which is ridiculous on a pitch like that - I don't know why it's been made so awkward, given the 'gravity' of the situation.

Once on the main route though, it gets better and better - lots of good pitches up a spectacular vein-cavity, with vast chunks of calcite still jammed in the gaps. There are several steep slopes full of choss and vein-gravel, some of which have installed nets (very nice) to catch any, but they still need great care to pass them. Also one or two high-level sections really need additional deviations IMO, as there's still some rope-rub, and it would be catastrophic at that stage. Glyn went up a different rope halfway up, which I think is an original exploration rope into another aven, but it sounded like it didn't go too much further, and he eventually set off back out from here. Once at the very top you can get off the rope, and there's a huge boulder-slope cemented with flowstone, with a route through taped off - the first real formations are also pouring down from the roof, and are beautiful. An alcove nearby has a dug-out floor with a crowbar in it, and you can distinctly hear water gurgling behind boulders. At the top of the boulder slope, a natural shaft in the roof hints at the way on, but giant blocks jammed in it make an upward dig pretty much impossible.

Going back down was fairly good until I got back to the pitch-head into the Ice Cream Trail from the giant pendulum, and promptly got stuck. My harness and kit were just too big to fit through the gap, which is only about 30cm. There followed the inevitable screaming and cursing, with Mike encouraging me with laughter while I tried in vain to get a better position, having to go back out through the hole at one point. Eventually I dragged my way through, managing to shuffle a bit higher, and collapsed with exhaustion for a few minutes. Despite the awkward upward squeezes, sketchy jam-traverses, and now very heavy bags, with wet harnesses and unused rope and maillons in them, we didn't do that bad getting back out of the tube, and eventually were back at the pitches. Again, all went well, and then only the dreaded choke and gnarly rift of Foster's Faith to deal with before the long slog out. Amazingly, I wriggled through both without an issue, making me wonder what the hell I did wrong on the way in.

Finally, after the by-now-brutal shaft climb, we made it back to the cars for 18.30, far too late for me and Mike to make it for the 19.00 bus, and with the next one at 21.20! Both of us had 'important appointments', so after some refreshment at the Chapel, Alastair kindly drove us back to Sheffield, which was a huge help, and we were very grateful for that. I'm aching still, but a really good trip, and well worth doing if you can face the middle section, which really just needs some better climbing aids - and another six inches blasting off the end of the passage into the Orechasm!