Moss Chamber - Alan Brentnall

Sunday, 22 February, 2015

Sunday February 22 was set as the date for Clive's photographic expedition into Moss Chamber. Before heading off for a diving trip in France, he asked me to get "some of the usual suspects" to come along and assist. Well, the day dawned cold, and, with a largish group of DCC and MUSC cavers, destined for a whizz around the tourist trip (or an exploratory trip up EMT Aven for some), we entered Peak Cavern and ambled along towards the Upper Gallery. When Clive had asked for a team to assist, I somehow suspected that there would be masses of photography kit to haul past Victoria Aven and through the Mucky Duck; you know, huge wooden tripods, flash trays to hold the magnesium powder and the like. Not so! All Clive appeared to need was a small Peli case.

Waving good bye to the hoards as we climbed into Pickering's Passage, the six of us (Clive, Christine, Jess, Alex, Mark and me) started the long hands and knees crawl which led, eventually, to the awkwardly placed boulder and the little squeeze which marks the first (vocal) connection to the chamber at the foot of our main climb. Lo and behold, just after this, we turned right (straight on lies Cohesion Crawl, gateway to Toadstool Aven) and negotiated a small upward thrutch into a large muddy chamber. As mud climbs go, this little beauty comes in at about Scottish Grade II, although the footsteps cut into the surface of the sediment (obviously done in the days before SSSI's were dreamt up) make the climb much easier than it was for the original pioneers. None-the-less, this isn't an easy climb by any means, and, at the top of the muddy series, we stopped and regrouped and marvelled at the tenacity of the cavers who came together in this very passage in 1959 to carry gas cylinders, huge accumulators and lots of other tackle, in a monumental but sadly failed attempt to release the trapped victim - Neil Moss.

And, if the mud climb wasn't bad enough, there was worse to come as we entered the fissure which weaves around several meanders to the notorious eye-hole. This obstacle is more technical than tight, and puts up a very psychological barrier to cavers who meet it for the first time. We had two such virgins, and I am pleased to say that they both dealt with the constriction with excellent panache, having realised that the knack is to not care in the slightest and to keep sliding forwards until one's legs naturally drop into the canyon below.

Following on from the eye-hole, a pretty flat-out slide through calcite led to a grand chamber, also well-glazed with flowstone and forming a huge down-and-up section which was climbable, but easier and safer using the hawser-laid hand lines which have been recently renewed. This led in turn to another low but easy crawl, and, finally, to the deep pool at the foot of Moss Chamber itself; the scene of all the efforts and disappointment back in March 1959. The lower depths of Peak Cavern aren't particularly noted for their speleothems, but the series leading to Moss Chamber, the chamber itself and Anniversary Hall beyond are great and wonderful exceptions, sitting, as they do, on the dividing line between reef and deep bedded limestone.

And it was here, before one of the most massive sculptures of flowstone, that Clive proposed to take his shots. Christine was selected as the main model, and, with an electronic flash gun in her lap, she was posed very elegantly in the middle of the chamber on a prominent boulder. Jess and Alex were each given a flash gun with bulbs and positioned at suitable locations. Mark and I, scruffs that we were, were hidden around corners out of the way; in fact, I ended up jammed into the Moss Fissure itself.

It's very interesting watching a good photographer at work. Clive was very patient, using a tripod and timed exposure; shouting his orders to his flash operatives and counting the seconds while everybody held their breaths. And, of course, the results were rather good.