Underground Madness

The days have got shorter, evening climbing is a summer memory, and the attractions of caving take hold. I say ‘attractions’ but in between hysterical giggles (of fear or joy?) I often find myself asking what the hell am I doing here?

This usually happens when:

  •  I’m lying in a pool of water kissing the ceiling of a rocky squeeze.
  • Passing by a mountainous pile of precariously balanced mining detritus (appropriately termed ‘deads’).
  • Abseiling through the frigid spray of an underground cataract.
  • Emerging into the hypothermia inducing wind chill of a frosty Derbyshire moor.
  • Teetering through a maze of scaffolding or wooden props engineered by exploratory cavers.
  • Ascending a never-ending pitch on a single free-hanging rope whilst lugging a heavy bag of caving tackle.


abseiling through the frigid spray

teetering through a maze of scaffolding

Am I selling it to you yet?

However, reward really must equal effort otherwise surely there is no sense to it?

One cannot help but:

  • Wonder in awe at the ingenuity and hardiness of our mining forebears who must have suffered unimaginable working conditions.
  • Enjoy the thrill of going to unfrequented places.
  • Be absorbed by the intricacies and technical wizardry of setting up single-rope systems that allow vertical progress up and down.
  • Be fascinated by the beauty of nature’s decorations – spindly and fragile stalactites, bulbous and penitent stalagmites, frozen cascades of pristine white calcite, curly gravity-defying helictites…
  • Be just a little smug while drinking that well-earned pint afterwards knowing that you didn’t waste your evening watching the TV.

the beauty of nature’s decorations

The tally so far this winter season has been 7 caves/mines of which 4 have been new to us:

  • Streaks Pot, Stoney Middleton Dale: a tight and wet through trip.
  • Owl Hole, near Earl Sterndale: a relatively short excursion to some well-decorated caverns.
  • Waterways Swallet, near Waterhouses: an exciting 125m scramble down through some incredible scaffolding.
  • JH, head of Winnats Pass: big 60m pitches that eventually connect with the Peak Cavern /Titan systems.

With thanks to Mick Langton for his ever-present company and Martin Bunegar for occasionally joining our madness.

By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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