A Wet Night in P8 - Alan Brentnall

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017

A wild and windy day with scattered showers turned into a less windy evening with more persistent rain. Five of us met at the Cavers' Car Park at Perryfoot and thought about the possibilities. Our meet coincided with a group of SUSS folk supporting a dive by Rob Middleton in Gautries, so one of our options was immediately cancelled. In the end, we opted for P8, which was bound to be wet but should be do-able in the conditions.

There's obviously been a fair amount of traffic down Jackpot recently, judging by the muddy footprints leading into the doline. The stream was lively, but not overly so, and the entrance was wet, but easily passable. The cascade and Idiot's Leap were sporting too. I'd brought enough rope to rig the top route for pitch 1, but in the end we opted for the more straightforward SRT abseil-traverse voie normale. Rob had mentioned that P8 was still rigged with Ash's ropes, and suggested that we may not need any gear, but I'm glad I opted to take our own kit as Ash's rope on Pitch 1 (Waterfall Chamber) has been worn through by the recent torrents, leaving a sad Y-hang, and an even sadder traverse of tat. I rigged over the Bad Step and down via the old "Iron Ladder" pitch and from here to the sump was new ground for two of the company. Traversing over "Lake Bentham", it was obvious that the water was increasing in volume, and, as some of the party were feeling quite cold, we decided to go straight out - and I opted to de-rig. I caught up with the others in Waterfall Chamber, where the size of the stream had noticeably increased, and we all had to make a distinct effort not to swing into the cold water which was now thundering out into the chamber with some force. Ash's "tat" came in very handy for this.

While I finished de-rigging, Bernie waited in the alcove above the pitch head while the others headed out with the lower rope bag. Having sorted the ropes etc into bags we made our way up the meandering passage against a formidable stream. Idiot's Leap was something to behold, and I wondered if the others might have opted for the gulley and flats route. As it was, we managed to climb early and traverse in to the pitch head at a height which avoided the worst of the waterfall. The small cascade above Idiot's Leap, where DCRO routinely use an aluminium ladder on call-outs, was actually worse than Idiot's Leap, especially carting the tackle bags, and at one point combined tactics were necessary. Eventually we made it up to the entrance fall, which looked particularly savage. We decided to remove of any dangly bits of SRT rig which might snag, and stashed these in the tackle bags. I did wonder whether it would be worth ditching the tackle bags at this point and collecting them tomorrow, but decided that a bit of rope might just be handy if things got rough.

Having sorted out our "stuff", I headed up into the maelstrom, hoping my already-numb hands would do the business. The sheer weight of the water was amazing, and it was impossible to look anywhere but down if you wanted to breath, and, even then, I did swallow a considerable amount of water. It was quite a relief to find good footing and stand up through the torrent. Suddenly my head was above it all, I could breath ... but my hands were still like lead, and I couldn't see through the white water where the footholds were. At one point both feet slipped off the slimy, mossy rock, and I thought I would be back down with Bernie, but I managed to catch a reasonable handhold and stop the slide, and, slowly but surely I got out. I could see Bernie's lamp in the white water below as he slowly emerged from the torrent. At one point he grabbed my hand and looked as though he was about to slip under, but he managed to find purchase somehow and soon we were both standing in the rain, shivering and relieved that we'd got out.

We had a discussion about the others. If they had gone via the gulley and flats, we may have passed them. Were they out? We decided that we were wet and cold, and needed to get back to the cars and change and get warm, as matter of urgency. Hopefully, the other three would be at the cars when we arrived there. If they weren't, we would have to assume they were still in P8 and take the appropriate action. Hypothermia is not unlike being drunk; immersion hypothermia is similar, but much quicker. And so we staggered across the black night farmland, trying to concentrate on staying upright, and keeping the correct route, and eventually we saw the lights of Perryfoot. And there were other moving lights too - all five of us were OK. That was a relief.

However, the SUSS car was still there. Rob & Co were still underground, in a cave which sumped in three mates a few years back. Katie pointed out that Rob had his diving kit and tanks, so they should be OK, but, after an abortive trip to the Devonshire Arms in Peak Forest (it was shut), I drove home via Perryfoot, and was very relieved to see the SUSS contingent changing after their trip. Rob confirmed that the entrance crawl had indeed sumped, but the dive out was quite straight forward, involving short dives and air bells. All's well that ends well - and what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger ... and wiser!