Lathkill Head Cave - David Botcherby

Tuesday, 24 July, 2018

Members Present: David Botcherby, Louise Baddeley, Corin Donne, Sam Lee.

Plans were made to go caving the previous Thursday at the pub. It being a drought, Corin suggested Lathkill Head as something that would be worth doing (that we hadn’t done before). We planned to enter by the top entrance and find our way through to the resurgence, coming back to derig the pitches from the top afterwards. Due to failing my driving test earlier in the day, I could not drive out to pick up the others as planned, which slowed us somewhat, but not as much as faffing did. Myself and Louise picked up Corin and Sam at the Chapel, where we packed rope for the trip. Due to some confusion about what lengths were needed, we packed a 45m, with Corin’s 20m of 8mm as a spare. We only got lost a few times driving out to Monyash, so we were at the layby around 8pm.

As we changed, Corin insisted that someone else read the route description so the blame wouldn’t fall solely on him when we got lost. Sam’s clean instructor kit was nicely juxtaposed with my tatty Derbyshire caver kit. We almost forgot to leave a callout, meaning Louise had to drive back to Monyash, setting the callout for 7am as we didn’t know how long it would take. Setting off, we got about 6 metres from the car before realising we had forgotten the rope. It later turned out that there had alse been a miscommunication regarding which things to take underground, and so instead of a (not very useful) survey we had an (even less useful) rigging topo. We surprisingly found the entrance in good time using the rather poor map of the access track we had printed, despite Corin mistaking a large black cow for an entrance.

The entrance lid was quite well made, although poorly designed, as you can’t lock it from the inside. There’s a log book inside, where we learnt that we were only the 4th trip in this year (and 7th in two years). I opted to rig, and followed the tube down past quite a few large cave spiders (Likely Meta Menardi), one with a large egg sac, and some slugs, which put off Louise somewhat. Upon arriving at the pitch head, I discovered the description of ‘iron spike’ from the rigging topo quite accurate, this and a large, hollow sounding stal forming the anchors for the first y-hang. I dithered about putting my weight on this system for quite some time, consulting the rigging topo that Louise had helpfully stuffed in my helmet, until the others shouted down and I decided to just go for it. The next set of anchors were thankfully proper resin bolts (although why only half this pitch was bolted I don’t know), and I started to feel a bit better, until Corin kicked a rock (about the size of the Chapel doorstop) past my head. After telling Corin to stand still, I descended to the bottom, finding the 45m the perfect length for the pitch.

We gathered at the bottom in the Waiting Room, enjoying the pretty straws and flat roof, before climbing down through the boulder choke to Lathkiller Hall, where we found some more bulbous, cocoon-like stals which were thoroughly taped off. Here was where Corin and Sam’s reading of the route description came into play. With all their combined experience and memory, they quickly decided the answer: they had no idea. We spent a while exploring different routes. I had another look in the boulder choke, before finding a tube in the foot of the chamber which Corin had given up on, and following to an area that looked like it was normally underwater. I didn’t think my way looked likely, so we ended up following Sam’s way, a crawl through a bedding plane in the other direction. This was (obviously) completely the wrong direction.

We crawled along this bedding plane as it became flat out, then performed an awkward manoeuvre in which you bent your body at 90° downwards, then again forwards to enter a small chamber. Corin made some noises about this to suggest this was probably the wrong way, but we decided to go on anyway. A while further on found us in another small chamber, where I investigated a muddy slope leading upwards. This lead to a handline through a sketchy looking choke, which I followed to a large, pretty chamber which we later discovered was the Emporium. This was full of dry gour pools, and tasted a lot like fresh air, which at the time made me suspect it was another entrance, but I couldn’t find any obvious way on. We then returned to the crawl, which seemed to crap out after another 20 or so metres. Reading the description later, this should have gone on, and connected with some walking passage, though we saw no evidence of this.

We then all decided that it was enough of a trip for us, and it was unlikely that we’d find the way, so we turned back. The crawl back seemed a lot shorter, though I suppose this time we weren’t looking around and searching different ways on. We had another look around at Lathkiller Hall and the choke, but didn’t see anything more than the first time. The most likely candidate for the way we meant to go was probably the way I’d looked at (oops). Nobody kicked any rocks at me on the way out, which was greatly appreciated. We came out to darkness, which was quite surprising as we’ve been spoiled by summer caving recently. Our time underground was about 3 hours. We returned to the car and changed briskly. On our way back we stopped by the Bradwell Coop and rescued some food from the bins, which made a hearty post caving snack. Corin and Sam had already planned to stay at the Chapel, and myself and Louise made the snap decision to join them, her needing to work in the area the next day, and myself too unemployed to care. Our only real mistake was forgetting to cancel callout until the next morning, causing the man we’d asked considerable unnecessary heartache. Must do better next time