Blue John Cavern - Phil Wolstenholme

Thursday, 7 January, 2016

Present: Nigel Ball, Tony Marsden, Dave Shearsmith, Phil Wolstenholme

Today's trip was a total surprise to me - Nigel rang me the night before to ask if I wanted to go, and I had a few hours free, and Blue John is high up on the hill, so - why not. We sensibly got changed at Speedwell due to exposure issues being likely outdoors at Blue John, and were soon down the hole. The plan was just to do a recce of old climbs the guys had done with Moose and others years ago, and check on ropes and maybe poke around a few old leads. I just happily followed them. It was very drippy down there, and the first stretch of footpath had water running all over it, and the staff were busy working on another water-diversion near the Twelve Vein platforms. We scuttled down to the bottom, there being no tourists to worry about, and climbed into Platform Passage, a very narrow fissure heading backwards behind the final platform. Noting various climbs in the roof, we then headed down to the boulders overlooking the Razorback and the ropes heading up the Superior Gallery.

Moose had installed these several years ago, and Nigel was decidedly uncertain about their provenance now, especially as by the time you're at the first bolts about 6m (diagonally) up, you're also now about 20m above the floor, which drops away immediately as you go up. So I went up instead - and as expected, the maillons were rusty, the hangers looked 'OK', but as always, galvanized expansion bolts means very rusty expansion bolts. The traverse across the wall, on very long loops of old rope on single rusty bolts and rusty maillons (and possibly aluminium hangers still to come) was not appealing, so I came back down sharpish. Shame that, but it could always (should) be re-bolted properly with stainless. After that we climbed up the Inferior Gallery to where I took photos for Jim's last book, and had a look at the climbs and crawls round about there. The passage was a streamway, with water pouring down High Chimney, as well as the usual floor-inlets, making for an interesting climb up and down. Dave and Nigel thought about doing a flat-out crawl though water to get to the other side of the choke, but wisely decided against it.

Once back at the platform, we regained our composure and had a good look at the roof of the Variagated Cavern - strangely, several of us, including me complained at our lights not seeming as bright as usual, and it wasn't just in the large chambers. Maybe it's the radium they forgot to take out after the war. Once we'd strolled halfway up the staircase, we then nipped into the side fissure that leads to the New Caverns and some of the more recent Blue John workings, and thence to Stemple Cavern, the high natural rift with the miner's staircase up it. At the top it leads to the top end of the Inferior Gallery at a 90° junction. Turning left leads into a very interesting choked passage, with a small stream, mud and small rocks everywhere, many of them sandstone, indicating the choke once connected to surface. A definite honk of dead animal occasionally suggested it may still connect. Tony and I then went downstream to the upper end of the massive boulder choke that blocks the Inferior Gallery, and had a quick look up and down holes we could find. A significant quantity of ochre was present in the stream floor here.

After that we left via the other route, which leads under the stairs and back out via Mirror Lake, where we finally got wet and muddy crawling though some grot and rotten pallets with rusty nails sticking out - lovely. We'd pretty much had enough by then, and I had to get home, so we abandoned ship - and then had to get changed in a freezing, howling gale anyway. But a good, if unexpected trip in the best showcave in town, in my opinion, anyway.