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James Hall Over Engine Mine, Derbyshire.

8th February 2014 - David Purdie

It was a very wet weekend in Derbyshire. We had planned to descend James Hall Over Engine Mine, and carry on through the Speedwell Streamway into Colostomy Crawl and exit via Peak Cavern. However on the Friday night as myself, Tom and Lauren were sat drinking a couple of beers, we received a heads up that the water levels may be too high to do the through trip. Another plan then was to do an exchange trip with a group that were going down Titan. This plan never materialised, so we would be going back up JH.

So, Saturday morning. We got up in good time to meet in Castleton at 9am. However, in usual fashion we somehow managed to run late, and after a number of missed calls from Andy we made it to Peveril Stores at around 9.45. It was time for a bacon butty - you can’t go caving on an empty stomach! Next it was onto the TSG hut to meet the others. We eventually made our way over to Rowter’s Farm and finally started rigging the JH entrance shaft at just before 11am. Tom was to lead and rig the trip. And so he should, being the ‘Chairman Of Holes’ and all.

The first pitch is a mine shaft with a descent of around 50 metres. After everyone was down the six of us started to move through the 200 metre long Cartgate Passage. This involves a variety of crawls, stoops and traverses through narrow wet passages - moving over false floors, bridging along flooded passages with deep holes in the floor, and crawling underneath piles of ‘deads’. This brought us to the rather aptly named Bitch Pitch. A short traverse leads to the start of a tight, deep pitch with water running down the rock in places - which is particularly annoying when performing the final rebelay with the water running onto your head. The pitch is around 50 metres deep and involves three rebelays and two deviations. Descending this wasn’t too much of an issue. However coming back up later on when tired, cold and soaking wet was somewhat more of a bitch. This gives you an idea of what was to come…

By now the group had become spread out between various points, so we slowed down at The Workshop to let the others catch up. Andy, David and Richard made the decision to turn back and leave at this point. Myself, Tom, and Lauren pressed on. After The Workshop the mine breaks into natural cave, and the next point on our trip was Leviathan - a huge and very impressive natural cavern. As we approached the sound of rushing water could be heard. This is the first time I have been through JH, but I have been told that Leviathan is normally dry. However today it was a waterfall. We were going to get wet, but we had come this far and were keen to make it to the bottom. So with no hesitation, Tom began to rig the line for the first 40 metre descent. He went down first, followed by myself, then Lauren. The first few metres were dry, and I had time to turn my lamp onto full power and take in the impressiveness and vastness of the space that I was about to descend. Then came the water. It poured down from above, drenching me and soaking straight through my oversuit. Tom had the same experience. I dare say Lauren had a slightly more pleasant one, as she was wearing a Meander suit. Although she did moan about the water pouring down her back, so it was nice to hear that she got a little bit wet too!

So now wet we were keen to keep moving. We progressed along the next traverse, down a short pitch to the bottom of the dam, and onto the final pitch - a 30 metre free hanging descent into The Tea Rooms at the base of Leviathan. Water from the dam is diverted into the Speedwell Streamway via a large green pipe, which was pulsating with the high flow of the water. Curious to see how high the water level was in the Streamway we carried on out of The Tea Rooms, through the draught door and down a series of awkwardly placed ladders which lead to a crawl and a descent under a choke, and to The Boulder Piles. The boulders were all completely submerged, which again I am told is not the norm. The water in the Streamway was flowing with great pace and force. We carefully moved downstream for a short distance, but after dropping down into the path of an inlet stream we found the current simply too strong to continue on any further. Tom stepped into the current and was nearly swept off his feet, luckily he was close enough to quickly clutch onto the wall. Myself and Lauren had the same issue, so it was time to retreat to The Tea Rooms for a spot of lunch.

The route back out of the system was the same way we came in, so we didn’t hang around for too long before beginning our 180 metre ascent. Lauren led the way this time, with Tom bringing up the rear. I wasn’t much looking forward to prussiking up through the waterfall. Listening to Lauren shouting in rage most of the way up provided a bit of entertainment for myself and Tom though! It was just a shame that we had to follow! Arms, legs, stand, arms, legs, stand, don’t look up. Feeling and hearing the water bouncing off my helmet like the sound of heavy rain on a tent. Despite it being pretty grim it went quite quickly. It was a relief to get off the rope, although after the ascent we were all twice as wet as we had been before. Myself and Tom hauled kit up the pitch with the aid of a progress capture, then de-rigged. We caught up with Lauren in The Workshop and started our ascent up Bitch Pitch. I think it’s safe to say it was a right pain getting back up. It’s not fun while soaking wet and cold, and with a big bag of rope hanging below you, getting caught on the walls all the way. And again, waiting on that damn rebelay getting trickled on!

We picked up the pace a bit and eventually got back to the entrance pitch. We got out to be met by gale force winds and sideways rain. So after getting dried off and changed we shot off to The Wanted Inn for a brew in front of the fire. No beer (which, yes, sounds like a bad effort) but we were in need of some warmth!

All in all then, it was an excellent trip. Good fun, a good laugh, and a couple of problems that we came into were dealt with accordingly! Would recommend! 

Below 1: At the bottom of Leviathon   Below 2: Lauren ascending Leviathon   Below 3: Lauren near the rebelay.   Below 4: Looking up.   

Picture 1: At the bottom of Leviathon Picture 2: Lauren ascending Leviathon Picture 3: Lauren near the rebelay. Picture 4: Looking up.

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