Wapping Mine Maze - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 3 January, 2017

Some time in the not too distant past, Jim Shallcross, a CCPC caver, related a tale to me about taking a ladder into Wapping Mine so that he could access a hole in the roof; he said that it was "very interesting, and the rhombic crystals had been pretty much untouched up there". Well - on one of our last mid-week forays into Cumberland Wapping, we entered Wapping Maze and took the route through to the main stope, and then up into the pretty (but sadly vandalised) Selenite Chamber, and here we did indeed see such a "hole in the roof" and decided that sometime in the future we would bring a ladder in and see what was up there.

Last night, fourteen of us met at the track by the New Bath Hotel (where we have had confirmation from DCA that parking is indeed allowed for cavers) and I brought along a telescopic ladder and some bits of rope, slings etc.

For some of the party, this was their first trip into Cumberland Wapping, so the decision was made to take the scaling tackle as far as the top of the Devil's Pit, where we could leave it while we explored the old Cumberland Show Cave. This we did in a very thorough fashion, taking both sides of the loop, and visiting the slabbed passage where the blocked entrance is, and even the lower chamber. One of the party, John, had recently injured his knee, and opted to hang around in Funnel Chamber while we went about our explorations.

Back at the Devil's Pit, we ferried the scaling kit down into the Maze, and took a fairly leisurely route through to the main stope, exploring various side passages on the way. Once at the stope, we were quickly at the junction where the steep climb up to Selenite Chamber goes left. Rowan and I shared the job of hand-balling the ladder up the climb and we were soon at the awkward sandy move onto the ledge below the hole.

Once I'd delicately mantled onto the ledge, Rowan heaved the ladder up to me, and I unpackaged it from its protective bag and started setting it up. In the meantime, Julian joined me to assist, and we soon had a well-footed ladder in place and up I went into a mined tube which looked as though it led to a horizontal passage at the top. Unfortunately it was a dead end as soon as it went horizontal, and (obviously) not the hole that Jim had told me about. There was, however, another hole in the ceiling which was narrower, but went higher. This looked natural (phreatic) rather than mined, and Rowan squeezed up into it and climbed the twenty odd feet up to the top. But, again, it was blind.

So much for that, although it was worth the effort because we now know what is up the two leads. No doubt we'll keep an eye out for holes in the roof on future visits, and I'll try to get in touch with Jim again for some more clues as to the exact location. Telescopic ladders are ideal for scaling ... so long as you keep the telescopic tubes clean. Sandy venues like Selenite Chamber should be avoided really, but, last night, I took an old T shirt and some WD40 with me to clean off any unwanted grit, and it still seemed to work well after we had taken it down.

All that was left was to find our way out of the Maze and back into Funnel Chamber, where John had been sitting quietly throughout. We exited the mine and took all the tackle back to the cars before retiring to The Boat in Cromford for beers and a discussion about future trips. Those of us in DCRO have a training evening next Tuesday, but, no doubt, someone will organise something for those who are free.