Victoria Aven - Xmas Dinner Trip #2 - Phil Wolstenholme

Sunday, 3 December, 2017

Our second trip of the weekend, the 'big' SRT trip, but conveniently just inside Peak Cavern to reduce cold and damp and help reduce any negative effects of the Xmas dinner and 'afters'. An optimistic eight people were to ascend the new route up to Victoria Chamber, the highest point of the series, at about 100m above the main passage. One team set off earlier to allow folks to get started, Clive, Ben, Luke, Rosa and Simon Mee - and with me, Simon Jackson and Pete as the second team, with Simon between me and Pete to ensure rebelays could be negotiated successfully on the sheer long pitches. We arrived about 20 minutes later, and Clive was just setting off as we checked our gear.

The aven is a tough old climb if you're not used to it, and it's relatively unusual in caving to be prussicking first and abseiling second, so Simon was understandably slower, given the profusion of rebelays required to pass, and the lack of a Pantin. But he got to the top on the first attempt, which is better than me, as I bailed halfway up the first time! In mitigation I had done two consecutive trips down Raddlepits first. Meanwhile, lots of shouting below had made me realise that even at 80 metres, I could tell that Alastar, Corin and Jon had now arrived from a blast up the Krypton Series, and had decided against joining in the big climb and went elsewhere. Perhaps another trip report there?

Once at the top bridge, it was clear Clive was taking photos from the top of the ramp, so we waited until he'd finished before the final ascent to the summit, and we could finally get off the ropes. The flowstone and huge stal at the top are magnificent, and a great reward for the effort required to get to them. The dripping holes in the roof with massive stalactite clumps below them are enticing, but would require the riskiest bolt-climb of all time to reach them. Though on the 'safe' side of the shaft, just off the ropes, there is a large alcove visible above that could be a passage, but it would still have to be bolted to checked, as a fall would be lethal. Under the arch is Victoria Chamber, with a further climb up a flowstone-cemented boulder choke to the very top, where huge rocks are jammed in a heap below a large hole, sadly choked with more rocks. Lumps of basalt are lying around, showing that the Cavedale Lava is very close, though clearly not right above as the formations are so prevalent. Clive was buzzing and said that he hadn't been up the aven in over 20 years, and never to that side, so that was a nice bonus.

Once we'd had a rest and appreciated the marvellous view, we all began the long journey back down, with Luke (I think) doing the sketchier, but equally spectacular 'old route'. Simon again passed the multiple rebelays with few problems, and so has a fine addition to the SRT CV. We got back to the chapel for tea and cake. I think we could do a better job with that final set of ropes from the top bridge to the top of the flowstoneramp, so will have a think about where additional bolts could be placed to replace that awkward deviation from the thread. I retied it slightly on the way down, and it did seem a touch better than usual, but it's one for the future. And if anyone fancies attempting any of those bolt climbs into the roof across all that sketchy flowstone...