Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Skyhook and beyond

Team: Chloe Francis, Duncan Hornby, Tim lewingdon, Helen Stewart & Claire Vivian

Trip date: 25/1/20

A few years ago Claire and I had the privilege of supporting a Freem filming trip beyond the sky hook at the top of Midnight Passage. It was quite an adventure and a part of the cave system I had certainly not visited before.

Last weekend a team of 5 got together to have a crack at the same route and hopefully lay down the foundation for future exploration in that part of the system. Helen, Tim and Claire had all passed through this section of the system on alternative routes but only Claire and I had been down the big pitch leading to Splash Inlet.

Claire, Chloe and I had to be back on the surface by 6pm as we were attending the Wealdon AGM Club Meal at the Abercrave Inn. With that in mind, Chloe, Claire and I packed the ropes the night before to save time in the morning.

On Saturday Helen arrived at 9:30am, we all did the obligatory tea/coffee/faff, shared out kit and were on our way to Top Entrance by 10:45.

Helen, Chloe, Tim, Claire and Duncan all looking sparkly, energetic and ready for adventure.
We powered our way through OFD II and arrived at the top of midnight passage collapsing in a sweaty heap ...Well Tim and I did! The ladies were of course barely out of breath! I really do need to get fitter!

Team having a short break at top Midnight Passage; Helen gets a power nap during the 1/40s exposure...clever party trick!
Whilst catching our breath I was told of some cool fossils just around the corner. I can’t believe I have never seen these, I must have walked passed them dozens of times.

In a small alcove where the team had stopped is a band of limestone with many impressive fossils.
The week before this trip I had been contacting various people to get a better understand of the rope lengths needed and top tips in rigging. The skyhook pitch has a loop of string that requires one to tie a rope off to it and pull up your rope, it was suggested a 40m rope would be enough, with length to spare.

Claire, Chloe and Tim waiting to ascend the Sky Hook.
Tim at top of sky hook.
Chloe stepping off the final traverse line at sky hook, Duncan in foreground.
Claire next to the curtains at top of Sky hook.
Helen prusiking up to sky hook.
On our way to what is identified as pitch “P20” on the map we passed many pretty crystal pools and in one place a fantastic curtain.

A close up of one of the many crystal pools that can be seen in the passages beyond the sky hook pitch.
Claire and a curtain, back lighting provided by Helen.
We finally arrived at pitch “P20”, we had a 55m rope and we backed up to a hole in the left wall, a small stal boss on the floor and this lead to a traverse line up to the two hangers in the left wall. I did a figure-8 off the final bolt for the main 20m hang. I don’t know if these hangers are “permanent” so it is probably prudent to bring a couple of hangers with you if you have any. Claire was the first to descend, no stopping her!

Duncan rigging “P20”.
At the bottom of the pitch is a very obvious “window” for the next pitch, which is marked as “P8” on the map. We had a 25m rope for this pitch and rigged off two boulders on the floor, 2 long slings were required.

There is a small hole off to the left as indicated by the arrow in the image below; you could go down that, and indeed Claire did, but I struggled to get through with my SRT kit on so the rest of us quickly abandoned that idea in favour of rigging the window. Be aware there are a couple of rub points (on both routes) so we used our tackle bags to try and stop this, would have been better to use proper rope protectors.

We went through the obvious window to descend the “P8” pitch. Arrow indicates the location of a small hole at floor level offering an alternative route down “P8” pitch.
Claire prusiking up small “P8” pitch. Arrow indicates where you would have popped out if you had crawled through the smaller hole.
We all excitedly descended and were ready to explore new territory...but then one of us looked at our watch. With some regret we had to turn around and start heading out as three of us needed to be back before 6pm.

Duncan looking a bit knackered after prusiking up”P20”
I personally felt we had achieved a lot, we had found our way to exactly where we wanted, whilst a strong team of experienced cavers it would probably be fair to say we did not have extensive knowledge in rigging. We have all done rigging but usually under the watchful eye of someone with lots of experience. So to be able to get ourselves down the pitches without any incidents was an important achievement!

Another lesson was just how much rope we needed, for P20 we brought 55m but 40m would have been fine even with our backing up to 2 naturals. The P8 pitch we brought 25m that could have been just 20m. So next time we will bring a 40m and 20m saving the weight of 15m of rope! In total we used 6 slings and 8 Krabs for rigging and rope protection. These stats do not include the skyhook pitch.

And finally I had forgotten just how tiring it is to carry a full SRT kit, ropes and rigging. I was knackered when we got out!

For the record we made it to the meal! :)

Trip Time: 6 hours


  1. Nice to see you all on Saturday morning....even tho you jumped out and scared the life out of me Duncan lol...lovely write up ...well done