Thursday 3 November 2011

New route in Peak Cavern

Pitch 1 (wet 7c+)  of Ring of Fire during the first ascent in Peak Cavern. All pics Triple Echo Productions.

The other shoot I just finished with Triple Echo for the BBC was even weirder than the Handa adventure! The director Richard Else managed to get special permission to climb in the show cave Peak Cavern near Castleton right in the middle of the Peak District. The idea was for myself and Alan Cassidy to see if we could find a route out of it!
Peak Cavern, otherwise known as 'The Devil's Arse' is one of the biggest and most impressive limestone crags in the Peak. In a region where every other inch of rock has a route on it, it’s pretty amazing that there are no free routes on this crag at all. It comes down to access. The crag has been banned for climbing forever as it’s a tourist attraction on private land - paying public walking around below climbs etc. Of course it’s a massive shame since I’m certain a way round it could be found with the help of the BMC. The cave is only open to the public until 5pm and then it’s locked. Climber’s lock-in? Sadly I don’t think a change is likely any time soon. We appealed as best we could.

Anyway, we enjoyed our special permission while we had it, in the name of making BBC television. But first we spent two days a bit further north climbing an even sillier cave. The team wanted to see if we could climb our way out of a proper Yorkshire Pot Hole - Jingling Pot. A 60m tubular soaking wet pitch black slimy hole in the ground. Alan and myself didn’t have the faintest idea how to tackle it. I started off climbing in winter boots and gloves which was a mistake and I quickly switched to rockboots even through the water was running down it, over the green slime. I thought back to a day last year climbing Pleasure Done (E3) in Pembroke with Tim Emmett in the rain. That was surprisingly amenable and the limestone had a weird friction even though it was soaking. Jingling might be just like that, but with a headtorch on?! It turned out to be a wee bit harder than that, but we had a great time and emerged squinting in the daylight after one of our stranger days out climbing.
After that we headed to the main event at Peak Cavern. Where Jingling Pot felt about E3 in the wet, Peak Cavern looked about 9c! The cave went in for over 100 metres. It also looked like any route there would take a lot of cleaning since the cave roof had hundreds of years worth of soot from the troglodytes who used to live there. With 4 days to do a route, we opted for a nice looking line going up a 45 degree wall then crossing the full length of the side wall and some roofs to gain a crack system in the headwall. It looked like it would go in about 4 pitches!

Back on dry rock on the superb pitch 3 (7b+)

After a hardcore couple of days with the hilti and wire brush, It looked amazing: 7c+, 7a, 7b+, 7b. Only one problem, the first pitch would be 7c+ if it was dry. But it was completely soaking and all the holds were full of slimy wet mud - proper caving style! At least Keith’s floodlights made it feel slightly more like a crag than a hole in the ground. I had a couple of tries, sliding about all over the place. It was actually better not to use chalk for most of the first pitch, it only made your hands feel slimier. 

Alan cruising pitch 2 (7a)

Next morning I set off again. I could see that slipping off could happen on any move, so why worry about any of them? I just kept creeping across the traverse, unexpectedly scrapping my way through to the stance, and we could enjoy the remaining spectacular pitches through the roofs and headwall. What shall we call it? Has to be 'Ring of Fire'! My first new routes in Yorkshire and the Peak -what a weird week!

Alan enjoying the fantastic headwall on pitch 4 (7b). The programme will be coming to a TV screen near you sometime next year. I'll let you know when it's scheduled.


  1. Brilliant Dave. Sounds like a real adventure. I can't wait to see it.

  2. Somehow I missed all this at the time - probably abroad. Brilliant effort and mega looking route.