Rowter Hole Update

Mark R

Well-known member
Afternoon all,

I thought we were probably overdue an update on the various digging activities ongoing in Rowter Hole.

The Upstream Origins Dig
Mentioned in a previous topic it is currently being allowed to 'settle' after a very enthusiastic period of terrifying progress.

The sump pumping project
Had an unexpected consequence- some recent flooding caused by our meddling seems to have lowered the level of the sump a little, this is definitely not a winter project but as soon as we get some dryer weather we will be back on the attack in the sump. We learned a lot undertaking the pumping projects and think we can apply that knowledge to good effect next time around.

The Party Sausage/ White Noise-
This dig has been worked on and off, pretty much since we found the Rowter Hole extensions but recently it has been the focus of most of our efforts. It's a steady couple of hours from the entrance with several obstacles along the way that make taking materials like scaffolding and timber somewhat of a challenge. We have been developing (or attempting to develop) lighter weight alternatives to the traditional scaffolding solutions and have had some varied success. The dig site is located in a rift adjacent to the main passage with a blocked aven above. We have moved the site from one end of the rift to the other three or four times over the last few years but recently have focused on the northern end.
Last weekend that decision started to pay off and we finally intercepted the water that we have been hearing through the floor since we found the cave. We just about managed to stabilise our rubble heaps to a point where we could tentatively enter a small (6m high) chamber with a small inlet flowing into it. In doing so we knocked quite a bit of rubble into the hole and blocked any way on however we think a couple of hours of digging should see us looking at a small (and sharp) continuation of the new rift passage.
The new dug section and small chamber/ pitch we have called 'Fasten your Seatbelts'. The Party Sausage rift is now quite a treacherous place to be with a tall unprotected climb and some badly restrained rubble heaps which diggers are forbidden from touching/ breathing on/ looking at.. also, we can't touch the shattered walls, mesh screen or stacked deads but apart from that, its OK.
We will be returning very soon to do some more stabilisation work and see if we can move enough rubble to get into any sort of continuation of the rift which is looking quite hopeful. We will of course keep you updated with progress and hopefully soon, some photos too!



Time for another update, a little more interesting this time! This is a joint report by Mark R and I. Quite long, but hopefully worth the read.

Mark R: The trip on 14th December was always going to be an exciting one. We left the Fasten your Seatbelts dig as a modest chamber with a rift passage in the floor, which looked like it might be passable for a few metres but which would first require some spoil removal. Any progress in a dig, even just a few metres is exciting but the word ?exciting? would prove to be an inadequate descriptive for what we encountered?

Mark S arrived at my house fairly late on Friday and we had a quick conflab about what gear we might need to take, or not take and got to sleep as quickly as we could. We both had a fitful nights sleep and awoke as planned at about 06:20. We were at Peveril Stores shortly after opening and sat in the Rowter Farm parking field watching the impressive moon slowly give way to the first rays of dawn.  The reason for this unsociable starting time? Simply put we knew that it would be a few weeks before we could both return and we were determined to eek out every last ounce of productivity from the day that we possibly could. Carrying gear at a steady pace we bank on about two hours each way and would still like to get a full days digging done when we get there. We managed to get all our gear into three tackle bags (including SRT kits for the Icecream Trail) and took one very long scaffold pole through with us too, mainly because it?s good training but partly because we thought we might need it.

Neither of us could remember the last time we saw Rowter Hole this wet, the streamways were in full flow and the whole place was noisy, damp and exciting. This didn?t bode well for our dig beneath the waterfall though.

We were at the dig in record time and had a quick brew before getting started. It can?t be emphasised enough what an enormous difference having a stove down there makes to our physical and mental wellbeing on a long digging trip like this.  It reduces the amount of fluid we need to take in with us, encourages us to keep properly hydrated and the psychological effect of a hot tea or coffee in this remote and cold part of the cave is extraordinarily uplifting. We have also been taking some ?proper? food, microwavable packets of ready to eat wet foods which can be warmed to room temperature with a splash of boiling water. These 12 hour Party Sausage digs can not be done on a snickers bar and a few sips of water any more, at least not at our age.

Mark S: I descended down to Fasten Your Seatbelts to see how the plastic sheeting we had installed last week was faring with the increased water today. It did a remarkable job for the top section of the chamber, but the bottom few metres was like being in one of those weird showers that has jets coming from the side. This would make for an interesting day. Holding the sheeting against the wall just about made the spray tolerable, and after Mark followed down with a scaffold pole I spent an unusual few minutes attempting to hold the sheeting in place with one foot behind me whilst cutting the pole to length. Thankfully it wasn?t long before we had built enough of a wall above the newly installed pole that the plastic sheeting was held in place and we could really crack on with the digging.

Mark R: We spent quite a bit more time in Fasten Your Seatbelts than I was expecting, we created stacking space by inserting a scaffold bar in the new chamber and spent a couple of hours hauling rocks, walling and fighting with plastic sheeting in an attempt to keep ourselves remotely dry. One of the pieces of equipment we decided to take that normally wouldn?t have found its way into our kit was a thin waterproof coat each. Thank goodness we did because without these to wear over our caving suits we would certainly not have managed to work for the whole day. It?s worth mentioning at this point that we spent most of the morning having to shout to one another over the deafening sound of fast running water drumming on plastic sheeting... the very same sort of feature which gave White Noise its original name.

Mark S: As the floor gradually lowered, a few gaps were opening up below, but the lower I got, the wetter everything became. Water was absolutely pouring out of the base of the dry-stone wall, and despite my jacket I was getting pretty soaked. The continued appearance of spaces spurred me on, and although the bucket was often filling with water faster than I could fill it with rock, we managed to keep making progress. It looked as if some space was appearing against the back wall, but the flow of water in the way made it hard to tell. Enough was enough. Mark needed to have a taste of this digging.

Mark R: Mark S spent most of the morning digging whilst I walled and stacked but after a while he popped up to the top of the dig to fetch something. While he was gone I dropped down into the floor rift, it seemed to have two ways on, the larger and more obvious hole on the floor we had previously seen which was on the opposite side to the inlet but also an undercut lip where we could drain most of the water back under the wall it came from. I was having a good poke around with the crowbar and decided to have a go at moving a small microwave sized boulder jammed in the rift blocking the more obvious way on. I could just about wedge myself sideways in the rift and hook my feet around the bottom of the boulder then reach between my legs with the crowbar to hook the top of it. As I was doing this, small rocks were falling down the hole and disappearing around the corner at the bottom with a short rattle and clatter. We knew this happened but had been trying not to drop rock down the rift for fear of blocking a way on. I managed to get the boulder loose but just as I had it balanced on my feet the crowbar slipped and the boulder fell down the rift. Miraculously it didn?t jam in the constriction and it dropped with a rattle and clatter then disappeared from sight??? followed a couple of seconds later by a deep, distant BOOM!

My heart started pounding? there was a big hole down there! I scrambled out of the rift like a giddy child and shouted up to Mark at the top of my voice to ?Bring.. All..Of..The..Rigging..Gear!!!). I think he sort of got the message but I scrambled up the Seatbelts pitch as quickly as my shaky legs would carry me and gave him the good news.

Mark S: Having endured as much time as I could face digging at the base of this waterfall, I was more than happy for an excuse to warm up by climbing back up to where we?d left the kit. As I clambered up the rift above, I heard a shout from below. What had happened? I desperately hoped Mark was OK. We had vaguely discussed the ramifications of an accident here, but in truth there wasn?t a lot to discuss; the picture would not be good. Thankfully, Mark shouted again, and despite the hammering of the water, I could discern it was a good shout rather than a bad one. It sounded like he was asking for all of the rigging gear. Trust Mark to be so ludicrously optimistic, but as he climbed up it was clear he was sure there was something pretty good below.

Mark R: Now, I had the honour of being the first to descend Fasten Your Seatbelts, so it was Mark S?s turn to drop this pitch first? which I was extremely glad of.

Despite the excitement this was an intimidating place to go. The sheeting had taken most of the water away from the way on but there was still a healthy spray lashing the top and a small stream running into the rift which quickly left the walls and fell through the lower part of the rift, creating a heavy downpour which would drench us as we thrutched through. Fearing the rift would be too tight to abseil in we placed a bolt at the top and I put Mark on belay so he could climb down unhindered by SRT gear. He slithered in with hood up and disappeared into the wet. ?Shit, that looks horrible? I thought as he thrutched and wriggled his way in but I could tell that it got larger a short way down and as he began to move more freely I paid out the rope more quickly. After a few metres he was out of sight and the movement stopped. There was a muffled and incomprehensible shout from below that left me momentarily puzzled and slightly panicked. I suddenly and briefly found myself wondering what the f*** I would do now if he was stuck. He would surely be soaked and probably wedged under the falling water and there was no way I could reach him without risking dislodging rock on him or getting myself stuck on top of him and no way of easily protecting myself on the climb if there was a large drop. Hauling him out would be near impossible because the rift twisted around a corner out of sight and I was a good couple of hours from contacting help. Help which would find it a challenge to get to the dig at all, let alone any time within the next 5 or 6 hours.

Mark S: Conflicted doesn?t really begin to describe how I felt as I descended the tube. Obviously the excitement of seeing what was below was massive, but it was a truly miserable bit of cave ? tight, sharp, with freezing cold water pouring right down the middle of it. Excitement inevitably won, though, and a ~5 m descent reached a big widening at a ledge with a large rift disappearing into darkness below. What to do now?! We hadn?t really discussed this, I guess because neither of us realised that communication would prove to be totally impossible. I shouted up for Mark to send down SRT gear. After a couple of moments, he took all the slack out of the belay rope, clearly assuming that was what I?d asked for. In an attempt to bring some clarity to the situation, I shouted ?rope free? to Mark at the top of my voice. I assumed he would pay a bit of slack out, then abseil down after me.

Mark R: A few seconds later Mark must have sensed my uncertainty because I just about made out the sound of ?ROPE FREE? through the deafening drumming of the water.. ?Phew? I thought.

I realised that the rope had stopped jiggling because he must have found himself in another chamber with a solid floor and space for me to follow him down. Rope free was a phrase he knew I would understand to mean follow me, so I stripped off my SRT kit and slithered into the rift after him.

It was indeed quite tight and required a good deal of thrutching to make downwards progress. The continuous splashing of water in my face didn?t help make it feel any nicer and neither did my torch going out as I had both arms wedged in places they couldn?t reach the switch. After a few moments my legs found some space and my body gratefully followed. I ducked under the full force of the falling water, grateful for the coat and clambered down to the chamber?. What I found was not a chamber though. Instead I found myself dropping onto a steeply sloping rock ledge at the top of a large black void with water falling behind me and Mark still tied into the end of the rope whilst trying to garden some loose rock. There was enough space to wedge ourselves in to the top of the pitch and I hurriedly tied a knot into the rope and clipped my Raumer friction krab into it (it was all I had on my harness). It then dawned on me that I?d left the rope rigged in the descender and not locked off, I hadn?t anticipated that we might be needing it to be securely anchored from above!

We marveled at the void for a while and dropped the obligatory rocks into it, enjoying the sounds that followed. It wasn?t a huge pitch, but it was more than enough to get excited about and we couldn?t see the bottom. The top section was a steeply dipping ?bedding plane? type slot about 1.5 m high and 8 m wide. This then intersected a more vertical portion with an aven above, down which the majority of the diverted stream was falling, and a fairly wide pitch below (8 m x 4 m ish?).

I told Mark how keen I wasn?t to go back up the wet rift to fetch all the rigging gear and SRT kits so he agreed that if he could be the first down the pitch, he would go.. I glanced down into the maelstrom below and immediately agreed! As he left I found myself alone for a few minutes considering our situation. It was a fairly serious place to be but this was true exploration. The adrenaline buzz was coursing through me and all the hours and days of transit through the cave, hauling of rocks and buckets of gravel and healing of the injuries accumulated along the way suddenly melted away. It couldn?t have been more clear that it was worth every painful second and every ounce of energy to get here.

Mark S: Unfortunately, it made perfect sense for me to go back up, firstly having been the one that elected to shout to Mark to follow, and also being the smaller of the two of us. The tube felt a lot further, tighter, and wetter on the ascent. Lovely. I packed the bags at the top, double and triple checking that I hadn?t forgotten anything. I really didn?t want to have to negotiate the tube any more times than I had to!

Mark R: Mark returned a few minutes later and we awkwardly kitted up then he set off down the pitch, gardening rock as he went. He placed the first rebelay below the lip of the diagonal slot and I followed down to that point where I had a better view of the rest of the pitch.

Mark S: The first section of descent was relatively straightforward. I kept to the drier end of the rift until it opened out where most of the water poured in. I rebelayed to maximise my options, and then attempted to negotiate the least spray-lashed route I could to a ledge beneath. I spotted a slight alcove on the far side of the shaft, and abseiled across to it. I was under a steady shower of water, but luckily out of the main flow pouring past me. Much as I didn?t want to hang around here, there was gardening that needed doing, so perched on a large nose of rock, I attempted to clear the ledges around me. The situation was tolerable up until the large nose detached itself from the wall, dropping into the dark below...

Mark R: Mark was stood on a ledge several metres below me placing the next rebelay when a column of rock roughly the same size as him detached itself from beneath his feet and fell into the spray-lashed shaft below with a deep rumble. At that point he was beneath the aven with both parts of the previously split stream converging into the pitch. Needless to say, it felt like a pretty hostile environment, just the right time for him to run out of 9 mm rope and have to switch to 8 mm! Maximum spice.

Mark S: Now on 8 mm rope (the last of our supply) I descended carefully, unable to look up to check for rub due to the quantity of water coming down. With significant relief, I reached some ledges from which I could move further into the end of the rift and away from the spray behind. One more anchor saw me to the bottom. Looking around the base of the shaft I could see little more than spray everywhere, and the other end of the rift seemed barely visible, despite being only about 6 m away. This wasn?t a place to be hanging around.

Mark R: He managed to get a third rebelay in shortly after which kept us out of the worst of the water and I followed him to the floor. It was chaotic down there, looking around was hard due to the volume of water in the air but just before I reached the floor I spotted a small body sized window into a void. I swung my head as far into it as I could and after reporting it to be dry I was quickly encouraged to get out of the water and into what turned out to be a parallel shaft. We free climbed this up for 10 or 12 m then down for another 5 or so into a small tube that seemed to stop at a bedding plane full of rubble. This was a couple of metres deeper than the base of the main shaft and seemed to be draughting slightly. After a bit of digging, Mark managed to get his head into the bedding plane for a look and reported it to be too tight to progress. Shame but definitely maybe one for the future.

Before we left we spent a few minutes at the bottom of the wet shaft taking it in turns to hold a rapidly deteriorating foil blanket over one another to allow some cursory digging in the rubble floor. There was no conclusive way on and it was obvious that it wont be a two minute job but the water disappeared quickly and it looked like one wall undercuts a bit so we are hopeful it will be easily diggable. At this point I would estimate we are about 60m above sump level and somewhere between 5-20m off the line of the vein. We will definitely need to rig up some sort of tent to protect us from the onslaught from above when we return and also selecting a dryer day will be high on the list of priorities.

It was impossible to determine if there was a draught in there, I would describe it more as windy than draughty at the bottom but that?s entirely water driven. I?m pretty sure though that the whole thing does draught out from Fasten Your Seatbelts, despite the water pulling down. I should also mention there are some of the best fossils I?ve ever seen in a cave in the walls of the big wet shaft, I?ll take some decent photos of them next time we go.

The trip out was quick and efficient and we de- rigged as we went, making a mental note to return with more appropriate ropes next time. We got back to White Noise and sat shivering a bit under some foil sheets to have a coupe of cups of coffee before packing up and heading out. We were soaked to the skin, exhausted both physically and mentally but buzzing from the excitement of the day.

The dig and small wet chamber below is called ?Fasten Your Seatbelts?, the wet rift with no real floor we have called ?To Boldly Go? and the subsequent pitch we have called ?The Split Infinitive?.
What a bloody great trip- truly one of the best and most memorable days caving I?ve ever had and one I will not quickly forget. This is why we dig and this is why we will be back as soon as we can, to keep badgering on.

We should add that we have not left any kit in place, other than some hangers. Any potential visitors should be aware that the initial dig down to Fasten Your Seatbelts is somewhat unorthodox, and was partly an experiment in digging and shoring with minimal kit. There are therefore sections of netting and poles that look like they might make lovely hand holds that definitely should not be used. There are also sections of spoil that are simply stacked. We have obviously done our best to make these as secure as possible but our abilities and constraints of the dig mean that standing on certain sections is best avoided. Lastly, down the Split Infinitive, there is still plenty of loose rock, and the quality of the walls is questionable in places.

The photo is looking up the top section of the dig down to Fasten Your Seatbelts. Sadly our discoveries on Saturday were a little to hostile for photography this time around.


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Staff member
Felt cold just reading this, fab report - thanks so much for posting  (y)  (y)

..and congratulations on the exploration  ;)


Well-known member
Amazing, I normally only get that feeling of dangerous exploration in foreign lands, it's great to see this is still possible in the UK. Though I was involved with the cutthroat explorations which was definitely interesting, but not the same when you guys have worked at it for so long.


Well-known member
Amazing to read my Adrenalin was pumping away and can?t wait fir next instalment......brilliant work guys well done

mr conners

The whole series of extensions to Rowter is hardcore shit. We visited as far as the old extensions went (I think it was the party sausage) one Friday evening. A couple of lads got strung up getting back to the crystal orechasm and I nearly buried myself under a ton of choss on the pitch below.
The guy who dropped me off at home at 2am fell asleep with the car running, I had to go back out and wake him up.
Its outrageous that the badgers continue to push what's already a hard trip in itself.
Hats off to you, it shows total commitment and probably some sort of madness /OCD hybrid.


Active member
They were already very close - according to the survey, the end of Whirlpool Rising in Speedwell is something like 35m from the very bottom of the Rowter Hole extensions. Two of us did some work a couple of years ago from the Speedwell side to try and find the connection, but there was nothing obvious and the end of Whirlpool is nothing like the bottom of Rowter.

Not quite sure where this latest dig is, but I'm guessing its higher up the Orechasm - putting it further away from Speedwell. Looking at the survey, there isn't much close by and lots of blank space - the most obvious feature close by is the Assault Course, but I'm unsure if these extensions are trending towards it.



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Well-known member
One useful find would be working out if there's a connection to the 'other' vein, Shack Hole Scrin that passes close by - it doesn't meet Faucet Rake until west of the accessible workings, but if these new rifts are trending north, there's a good chance of meeting the vein before too long. It's the one that ultimately ends up at Longcliffe, so there's a strong likelihood of cavities on that vein too - the clue is in the name. Unless of course that refers purely to the single shaft there, rather than a general characteristic of the whole vein. But given the tendency of every other vein to have large vertical cavities in them, it must be a good bet.

Mrs Trellis

Well-known member
pwhole said:
One useful find would be working out if there's a connection to the 'other' vein, Shack Hole Scrin that passes close by - it doesn't meet Faucet Rake until west of the accessible workings, but if these new rifts are trending north, there's a good chance of meeting the vein before too long. It's the one that ultimately ends up at Longcliffe, so there's a strong likelihood of cavities on that vein too - the clue is in the name. Unless of course that refers purely to the single shaft there, rather than a general characteristic of the whole vein. But given the tendency of every other vein to have large vertical cavities in them, it must be a good bet.

There's a map of the rakes in Ford & Rieuwerts Lead Mining in the Peak District p66. It would be useful for the Speedwell survey to be overlaid on such a map of rakes. The "Shack Hole" names  are very telling and , of course, Oxlow and Maskhill are in Faucet Rake.