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CAVING - With Safety in Mind.

Blog Posted on 01 Mar 2011

It seemed that events were conspiring against us, in our bid to complete a Titan to Peak Cavern through trip.

Getting all the logistics in place to attempt what is probably the ultimate caving trip in the Peak District are almost as complex as the trip itself.   

The keys enabling access to the Titan shaft are only loaned under a set of strict criteria, understandably so, this is after all the biggest natural shaft in Britain at 465ft. The name not only reflects the shaft size but also the dogged determination of local cavers under the leadership of Dave (Moose) Nixon and Dave Arveschoug to connect their discovery to the surface. The engineering project ‘possibly the largest privately funded mine shaft’ in Britain is also Titanic!


In order to complete the ‘trough trip’ (underground journeys in which cavers exit from a different part of the cave system) access must also be agreed with Peak Cavern Show Cave. Indemnity forms completed and exit times agreed.  
Getting the right team together is another crucial factor, the physical fitness and technical competence of each member is crucial to success.

The approximate guide book time for this underground journey is 6 hours not allowing for faff!

For me personally the link up from Titan would be the last piece in the Peak Cavern / Speedwell Jigsaw. 


Having a team member with previous experience in the system was also a key element to a successful trip. Route finding underground is often complex and in a system with 16.5km of subterranean passage knowledge of the route is essential.  

All other team members that day would be travelling through (for them) mainly new sections of cave.

The previous Sunday my companions had descended into JH (another part of the Peak Speedwell System) in preparation for the ‘big day’. They had (very fortunately) exchanged banter with a team of local cavers making repairs to a section of pipe used to divert a watercourse away from the base of JH – rumours of only a few cm of air space in a normally dry passageway had resulted from conversation. Crucially it was the connection (Far Sump Extensions) from Titan to the base of JH that was effected.
In the previous days and weeks prolonged and heavy rain had caused surface streams to swell and the ground to saturate. The consequence of this, is that sections of cave may become un-passable or very unpleasant to negotiate. Amphibious caving can be fun, but it’s an acquired taste!

So with time pressing we descended the engineered / blasted section of cave and after the initial 50m we landed to meet the delights of Titan shaft proper.

The roar of water entering the system from the Titan Streamway 80m below immediately set alarm bells ringing. As a team we agreed to rig and descend the next 80m of Titan. The amount of airborne spray in a usually dry section of vertical cave was sufficiently convincing.

Landing on the ledge – the aptly named ‘Event Horizon’ at minus 130m I declared my hand!



“ There is absolutely no way I am going down there today”.  The increasing decibels had got the better of my diplomacy.

Re grouping after the last member of our team abseiled through the spray, I recomposed myself into rational thought and sold the reasons for abandoning our intended journey.

1 Time – we would have to race to meet the 4pm deadline – absolutely no time to enjoy the cave.

2 Volume of water pouring down the remaining 50m of Titan – made a return journey up the ropes dangerous

3 Potential for the connection to be flooded to unsafe levels potentially trapping us or forcing our hand into making an unsafe decision.

4 Other sections of the cave (The Bung) impassable.

Changing planned targets is always disappointing – no one likes turning back! The maturity of our group made a tough decision easier to stomach.

Our ‘Plan B’ was spontaneous – we would explore the nearby Titan Streamway –Ironically it was the volume of water discharging from this which had put pay to our plans.

After an eerie leftwards traverse (on fixed lines) along the ledge of the ‘Event Horizon’ some 50m above the base of Titan we entered a section of pristine stream passage – beautifully sculptured and scalloped and almost certainly overlooked by the majority of passing cavers.


The Titan Streamway is a series of mini cascades each one awkward enough to require assistance from other cavers.  After around five or six short thrutchy climbs, sweat was flowing, hearts were thumping and clothing was saturated. We followed up stream until the passage closed down into a low crawl. Given the temperature of the water and the time it had taken us to battle the short distance to this point we began our return journey – cave suits rasping on clean limestone as we returned to the ropes.

I’m feeling my age as I pant my way up the 80m pitch trying not to think too much about the situation. During periods of rest (allowing my ascenders to take my weight) I allow myself to glance around at the enormity of the Titan shaft, my light making little impression on the void surrounding me.

After much cussing – I climb the 50m entrance pitch, make myself safe and wait for the team on top the exposed moor. The rain feels sharp and my skin raw in the biting wind. The team emerges all safe. Our mission successfully unaccomplished! 

At the start of this blog I mentioned that ‘events’ were conspiring against us - Identifying and isolating the factors which tell us to push on regardless and put them in check, only comes with experience or training. The pressures identified

Organising a like minded group of peers – Commitment to the trip.

Taking the day off work – Pressure to achieve

Gaining access – can be a complex process – We have to do this cave today syndrome

Gaining exit – paperwork signed to allow exit from Peak – We have to exit today

Time pressure – We only have 6 hours to get to the show cave – No reserve time – lets crack on!

Peer Pressure – Reluctance to changing plans  un popular decision.

Water levels – we shouldn’t have to come back up this way – Lets go for it.

It took the original explorers (Dave Nixon et al) over 6 years to open Titan to the surface following its discovery. They committed vast amounts of personal time and expense into this project. Teams of recreational cavers such as ours can learn from their patience. The inconvenience to us that day was of no significance in comparison.

Besides – how many Derbyshire cavers can say they have explored the Titan Streamway?

A blog by Daryl Godfrey Titan - Acclimbatize



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