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There goes the Crux!

Simon Beck

I remember someone once saying; 'if you're going to go through the hassle of capping something then you may as well make it bigger than you actually need it to be'..

I also remember someone else saying that 'Squeezes don't exist in their projects'.. I'm sure this was just a joke or attempted provocation, if not I'd suggest this person stick where they are in the three counties and well away from where I can keep an eye on them.

I've witnessed a good number of mindless and totally unnecessary acts of cave passage enlargement/vandalism over the previous handful of years. In both new and old stuff. Mainly through capping. Which resulted in absolutely zero gain, to then be abandoned for something else.

How much consideration is given to the cave environment that people are passing through? Emphasis appears largely governed by making further discoveries, at all costs.

The destruction of formations is something cavers are always discussing and condemning. What about the Limestone which has taken far longer to form?

The topic of conversation appears to rarely stray from digging and excavation techniques, how best to blast a squeeze to smithereens. The techniques employed to force cave passage have become the new hobby from where I stand, not the caving bit. The saying 'each to their own' comes at too great a cost in the long run if you ask me.

How many tough classics, like Quaking and Pippikin Pots, might have existed of late had the right people been involved in their exploration? Maybe non. But taking into consideration the attitude I've witnessed towards forcing a route at all costs anything is possible.

I suspect that if stuff like Quaking/Hammer or Pippikin Pots were discovered today they would cease to exist as they do now.

I'm not innocent, nor can I talk. I've capped and made modifications. I've regretted what little I did do when it was done to make life easier.


If I were to find another Quaking Pot then that is how it would stay to the best of my abilities. Yet there are those who would just destroy it to reach the end, instead of leaving it for those more able, or because it isn't developed enough to warrant human interference.

Whether we employ similar techniques such as capping, that does not mean we have anything in common, or are the same.

What are peoples views overall? Will there ever be anymore hard caves discovered? Or will standards drop because it's too easy to remove difficulty than face it?


Well-known member
As a Derbyshire caver I find the story of how nettle was discovered quite amazing and a true inspiration for "zero impact?" cave discovery.
The Derbyshire Pennine club (DPC) dug through mud and rock in the Narrows in Nettle to find the Cave below.
As far as I can tell there has been no enlargement, its just lovely water worn rock.

But I can't imagine digging through mud and rock in the narrows for four years...

Edit: I've just reread the description below, it contains talk of Blasting  o_O :-[

MikeyP said:
If anybody?s still interested in the early history of Nettle, I?ve been sifting through some of the old DPC caving reports recently and came across an article written by GL Travis in 1935. It makes for a very long post! But I thought it?d be worth sharing?

"My first recollection of Nettle Pot is fortunately that of its discovery. A somewhat abortive Oxlow Meet was held in August 1930, but lack of energy and organisation found us on Sunday with only sufficient ladder to do the first shaft. Possibly the meet was only held in order to do repairs, for I recollect spending several hours down below, attempting to build a wall to catch a perilously perched block. Seville was there, and Matthy Burnby, and I worked under his direction, while the brothers? Sissons worked on the top shaft. As the day wore on, we emerged bored and with unimpaired energy, which must surely have led the older and wiser members with questing noses onto the plateau above Oxlow. It was, I think, Matthy Burnby, who first saw the incipient pot, overgrown with nettles and filled with debris. It was Charlie Baines who confidently announced it was water worn and would go. It was Walter Sissons, characteristically enough, who bent down to pull away the first stone and it was Seville, soon to go to his heroic end, who miraculously produced gelignite and laid the first shot. I recollect our excitement as we crouched behind a hummock, heard the first dull explosion and rushed madly forward cheering beneath a barrage of falling debris. We peered down through the smoke and sure enough, the hole was deeper. Nettle Pot had started on its downward course to depths we little dreamed of.

My impressions of the following weekends are vague. Hardy pioneers dug away the first rocks and soon bucket and rope were in use. John Hind, Douglas, Sissons, Snelgrove and Joe Wells, were among the early stalwarts, and as far as I recollect, frequent shots were put in both by Seville and Snelgrove, culminating in a mighty effort by the latter, which was reputed to have shaken the windows in Castleton.

In 1931 the hole had assumed such dimensions, that Snelgrove petitioned for a hut to cover the entrance, and the noble edifice now existing was erected under his direction. Such reckless extravagance provoked a strong outburst among more conservative club circles, for those were the days of caution, economy, gold standards and such like, and the Treasurer could little foresee the hundreds of feet of rope ladder and miscellaneous tackle he would one day have to pay for.

I recollect making several visits after the hut was built. Streaming wet days with a biting wind cutting across the hills and inside the hut, muddied members laboriously hoisting buckets of stone and depositing them outside the hut in a convenient fold of the ground. Walter Sissons without collar, tugging at the filthy rope; Douglas looking even more disreputable than anyone could have dreamed possible; Billy Amies, even Sydney Turner doing his bit, and John Hind emerging from the hole, looking like a bedraggled Skye Terrier. I made several descents that year and I recollect well how miserable they were. Struggling on the confined floor with greasy boulders, using crowbar and hammer in a space about as big as the inside of a wardrobe, and constantly being warned not to touch this or that, piled up in convenient corners, for fear it came down and flattened us all out. Those however, were epic days and if the pioneers broke their finger nails and bumped their heads, at least they never despaired, for the draught came ever upwards and the floor sank ever downwards.

A few amusing incidents remain of those days. Two ramblers arriving at the hut to inquire the way, just as a blasting operation arrived at zero hour. The hut rose gracefully on its foundations, and the hikers, taking one hurried look at their chosen mentors, departed without further delay. Once we attempted an electrically fired charge, though even now no one is clear whether the charge was fired. The next week, Douglas groping in the mud, found what he believed to be the detonator complete with wire, and climbed to the surface with anxious care. However, his detonator turned out to be a lump of mud and those present breathed once more.  I recollect excavating bones, which later John Hind sent to Manchester for examination. They were remains of red deer, reminders of a day when Peak Forest was a Royal Preserve and death the penalty for poaching.

1932 was not, I think, a very great year for progress, but it was notable because fresh blood was transmitted to the club. Chantry, Chatburn, Thrippleton and Maurer joined the D.P.C. and their fresh energy and enthusiasm were immediately diverted to Nettle Pot. Like lusty young giants they flung themselves into the battle and once more the hole pursued its downward course. Douglas had been first through the upper narrows and John Hind first through the narrows proper. The Alcove and Chamber were reached later in the year after con-siderable blasting and very strenuous work. The year of grace 1933 therefore, opened with operations in the Chamber and it was at this moment that I renewed my acquaintance with the Pot. In August 1933, John Jenkins and his Birmingham braves came to the Bagshawe meet and the following day, Sunday, the entire party was conducted to Nettle Pot, where an attempt was made to render some assistance to Chantry, Chatburn and Thrippleton. In those days, one descended Nettle Pot cautiously and with con-siderable timidity. One forced one?s way downwards to the Alcove, privately wondering how a return journey would ever be effected and inwardly cursing one?s foolishness in having come so far. Worse, far worse was to follow! One listened at the Alcove to the sounds of exertion and profanity proceeding from below, and eventually one was permitted to creep a bit lower and, hanging on a ladder braced against a rickety stemple, survey the scene from one?s perch in the roof of the Chamber. There were, I think, three stemples in position when I paid my first visit and I felt three were but a tenth part of what safety demanded! The walls were walls. That is to say, they were stones laid one above the other and all quite ready to discuss the situation with one. Above, the great chockstone hung menacingly, ready to close the tiny chink which lead back to the warm world above. The floor was a loose mass of assorted masonry, and in the dim candlelight one descried a hero, with one arm through the rope ladder, waggling a crowbar in the debris at his feet and inviting the rest of us to listen to the stones crashing to the unknown floor a hundred feet below. At any moment one confidently expected both hero and debris to disappear completely from sight, and this opinion became in no way altered when one?s turn arrived to take over the crowbar. The walls descended gracefully from time to time and the pioneers ascended the rope ladder with the agility and celerity usually associated with absconding bookmakers. Such was the nerve racking ordeal of the Chamber, and those who took part in it are not likely soon to forget. Even now one feels the menace of the chockstone overhead, though it be tested a hundred times, and recalls at each passage of the Chamber, something of the early days. Week after week, work went forward making the place safer and safer, putting in stemples, cleaning down the walls, listening to the debris thunder down the great drop below. Excitement grew to a fever pitch as it became clear that the floor could be dropped and, after two very hard weekends work, the opening was cleared and the ladder lowered into the unknown cave, now called the Bottle. It is said ?fortune favours the brave,? and it is also said that ?fools rush in where angels fear to tread,? either of which could apply to the party first to enter the Bottle.

On that memorable September afternoon, John Hind, Joe Wells, Maurice Chantry and Henry Chatburn, spent some happy hours admiring the wonders of nature, and if their ladder was too short to take them to a further landing, one at least of the party was thankful to make a landing on the floor of the hut and return home a wiser man.

Thus warned, 1934 opened with further intensive work on the Chamber in which the indefatigable moles, Chantry and Chatburn, as usual, performed miracles. Snelgrove and myself, encouraged by the springtime, also ventured forth and assisted in the good work, our united endeavours succeeding in inducing a block weighing one hundredweight to descend and choke the neck again, thus greatly increasing the difficulty of this passage. It was however, virtually impossible to shift the block and so on May 27th, 1934, Maurice Chantry was lowered through the narrow neck, down the Bottle and landed on the unknown floor now called the Flats. I joined him a few moments later and shall not soon forget our excitement and triumph as we realised the magnitude of the discovery, the culmination of almost years of work, by so many patient helpers. We peered, wondering, into the chasm and listened to the stones we threw crash below, and realised the further depths waiting to be explored. Those were indeed moments lived at the peak of excitement, and we returned like conquerors to the Chamber, feeling as indeed Balboa must have done when first he saw the Pacific. Henry and Snelgrove, in turn, made the descent. Excitedly, we planned further expeditions into the unknown, sitting over the teacups and parkin at the little tin hut overlooking Mam Tor.

Snelgrove?s energy now knew no bounds and a mighty offensive was organised for Sunday, June 3rd. Further rope ladders were acquired, and on the Saturday another descent was made to the Flats, and rope ladders were lowered in preparation for the following day. Sunday dawned bright and fair and the big battallions were assembled at Nettle Pot in good time. That morning I was first to reach the floor of the Chasm, closely followed by Henry. We discovered the hole, now called Elizabeth, and a rough calculation with falling stones, showed that yet another 200 feet of sheer drop lay beneath us. The others arrived in the Chasm by degrees. Chantry, Hyde, Christie, Yeomans, Turner, Snelgrove and Bishop I know were present on that historic occasion. We lashed our ladders and lowered them down Elizabeth, and Henry Chatburn undertook the first descent.


Staff member
I think all equipment used for caving, from clothing to cordless drills, has improved so much that it in inevitably easier.  Not much is going to be as hard as it was for Bob Leakey and I'm quite glad of that.  I hope Quaking, Pip and Peterson's remain as they are but I expect if they were discovered today things could be very different.  It may well be that the smaller members of the team would get through first, but if there was enthusiasm for more digging and exploration then these places probably would be widened.  This was the case with the Earby PC and Mistral - a test piece tight cave widened to allow full scale digging at the end.

As one of the original explorers of Swan Dike our drill and resources back then only allowed for two short holes and minimum widening of a too-narrow rift.  It just wasn't feasible to do any more than absolute minimum to get through and when it went it was still rather snug especially at the 'trick'.  During a rescue last year that spot was widened anyway but if we had been digging it today, with cordless power for 5x1m holes each trip, it would be a whole lot bigger.  No denying it.

Still if you really want to push yourself today there are plenty of challenges and limits which are just as, or even greater than in the old days.  Pushing the end of Pozo Azul springs to mind ;)


Active member
Simon I'm glad you shared your post. This is something I think of regularly when caving... and not just about capping / digging.

I wonder how many ropes have worn the lifeline grooves in Bar Pot, and how many passing oversuits (including mine) continue to smooth the walls in Wretched Rabbit Passage, and polish countless climbing holds?

My mind draws parallels with muddy, scarred tracks on hills that i enjoy walking.... and further to the sound pollution I create in all the villages i drive through to participate in my chosen sport.

Food for thought i guess  :-\


Active member
Exploration > Conservation.

What wonders could we treasure had they remained undiscovered?


Well-known member
I guess that's an other important issue - keeping original openings as small as is practicable then does open up the issue of 'rescue being impossible' Whilst it sounds good in the pub discussing the technically challenging moves required to (successfully) pass a tiny squeeze both ways, it won't sound as good trying to explain that to the petrified parents of the son or daughter who couldn't get out again. By the time a rescue attempted blasting through, it may be too late. I'm not saying that means all options should be made large enough for rescue, but if not, it would have to be very clearly pointed out to all informed what they were undertaking, and that there's a chance, however small, that they might not make it out again. I've bailed on a few vertical squeezes because I just could not be certain that I could get back out again, due to no obvious footholds. And relying on a rescue to sort it out is a bit selfish, even if they enjoy the practise. A single stainless staple in the right place however, and everyone can get out. I think each one has to be judged separately on merit and risk.

On conservation, equally tricky. Formations have been removed to get through squeezes to find large passage beyond many times - I guess in those cases, you have to sum what's already been found, with you think might be found beyond, and try and calculate whether the effort is worth the damage. Mining archeology is possibly more fraught, due to the perishable nature of organic artifacts, and the fragility of mining remains - which may get damaged as a result of discovery if modern repair work or modification isn't done. And there are more rope grooves in our main project than anywhere I've seen, but they were all made by miners, not cavers, so again, (relative) damage is on a continuum too.

That Sissons article is so well-written and funny, I always love reading it. And in conveying the sheer wild excitement of knowing no-one has ever been there before today...


New member
Topimo said:
Exploration > Conservation.

What wonders could we treasure had they remained undiscovered?

Integrity, health, and wonderment are a few. Not that I question the value of exploration or the power of exploratory zeal. I am simply disappointed that the definition of exploration arrived at by "cavers" is so narrow, and that its given priority, according to this stunted definition, is overwhelming.


New member
marysboy said:
Food for thought i guess  :-\

Respectfully, food for thought most often has the same eventuality as does food for the body...
Unless the thought is a catalyst for action, people like Simon are talking to the air.


Simon Beck

There will always be a convincing for and against! I'm neither, nor am i trying to be one or the other. What I've tried and failed to highlight above is the overall attitude. Cavers seem to be enjoying themselves far too much at the destructive end of cave exploration.

I'm not having a go at those who use these techniques to discover caves, and i'd be a hypocrite if i was. I use them myself. But feel some of us have a far better attitude towards whether we should or shouldn't than others.

Simon Wilson

New member
I agree totally with Simon Beck's stance. But I'm not sure attitudes have changed much. In the past (up to around the 1970s) most caves were found without much digging and it is as the number of easy-to-find caves has dwindled that we have started doing more destructive digging.

Caves such as Quaking are special cases and those sort of caves are rare examples of caves that have extended lengths of passage which are only just wide enough to get along. There are others such as Echo, Vulcan, Marbke Sink, Car, etc which are classic sporting challenges which will always be respected and never widened. At least we all hope and expect that cavers will always respect them. As far as I am aware they were all explored without being artificially widened. One exception being Quaking which was enlarged near the Crux.

There have been some acts of gross vandalism such as Mistral and I would also add the opening of Shuttleworth Pot, both of which have been totally condemned by conservation minded cavers.

There have been some digs which have involved mining a lot of rock and it might seem that passages have been made wider then they need be. Having been involved in some cave 'mining' I would say that diggers usually make the passage just wide enough to faciltate the mining which means wide enough for a drag tray and wide enough to wield a drill and swing a lump hammer. I think if diggers artificially widening a narrow rift come across a section which is wide enough to get along without widening it then they will avoid wasting time making it wider then needs be.

How does using water to wash out sediment-filled passages fit in? I've done quite a lot of that and always thought hard about the ethics of it.

There are plenty of instances of cavers pushing tight squeezes and getting through without resorting to artificial widening. Bye George springs to mind and there are other more recent examples.

To go back to what Simon Beck said last, I think there is a threshold between an acceptable level of destruction purely to facilitate exploration and an unacceptable level of destruction to make caves easier, easier to get large gear in or easier for lazy cavers. I think I'm beginning to sound too much like Simon Beck - I'd better stop here.


Active member
I do agree about this aspect of digging - we're quite conservation minded and I'm trying to resist the urge to destroy everything. My attitude has always been that I prefer to use plug and feathers as there is a sense that this is more precise for the most part, and also less destructive to the surroundings. We haven't got around to using caps in the P8 dig and I'm not sure we will need to, but we have significantly widened the dig at the bottom (using plug and feathers), as well as plug and feathered several boulders which were two large to lift between the two of us (and couldn't be hauled with a pulley). I did consider drilling holes for rebar to support the scaffold but we decided this is ultimately not needed (although a single hole might be needed in the future). This brings the total destruction in the P8 dig to two bolt placements (the only natural is stalagmites!) and 14 plug and feather holes so far (but there is a load of scaff in it).

That being said, on the way in there is a pointy rock that forces you to slide through a wet puddle and Ive often thought to myself Id like to cap the bloody the thing off and make a nice crawl. I hope the dig eventually forms part of a nice trip though and I think this bit is part of it and so far we have resisted the temptation. Considering this post I think you're quite right that we should never do it. 

Ian Ball

Well-known member
Simon Wilson said:
Caves such as Quaking are special cases and those sort of caves are rare examples of caves that have extended lengths of passage which are only just wide enough to get along. There are others such as Echo, Vulcan, Marbke Sink, Car, etc which are classic sporting challenges which will always be respected and never widened. At least we all hope and expect that cavers will always respect them. As far as I am aware they were all explored without being artificially widened. One exception being Quaking which was enlarged near the Crux.

I used to regard Swan Dike as a place I'd never go because I am not good in tight spots.



The answer is to have a larger than average member in the digging team.
When we were digging Bath Swallet it took 3 additional bangs before one regular digger was able to pass Buddha squeeze.  (Hence the name?).
This is now part of the popular Bath/Rods through trip. No one complains  :clap:



Active member
Cave_Troll said:
Is it "if you're not hard or thin enough you shouldn't have come" ?
your line is to the point and to extent i agree, in that caves are naturally self-selecting in their location, access, size, shape etc, and it is this very quality that lots of us consider a challenge and enjoy overcoming.

i take it your example refers to one person failing to get into one particular known and explored cave. so what? where is the long term impact on the environment or other people? (and yes, it might be me that doesn't make it through the cave today, thats fine too.)

but i think this issue is not about being elistist and exclusive. it is about maintaining what others may enjoy and not destroying those things that we did not create and cannot replace.

my friends know that i'm not always the best at forethought and i'm capable of some pretty inconsiderate actions. but threads like this help underscore the need to consider in advance the impact of our actions. thanks simon for bringing it up.


Well-known member
As usual these discussions revolve around philosophy. As short lived creatures we need to appreciate that everything we see will be destroyed. Most arguments are specious if they don't include this element in our considerations, If we enlarge a passage to gain access we are just accelerating a perfectly natural process.  When we decide on enlarging previously narrow passages to access cave we have to weigh up the short term pros and cons. There is much more I could say on this topic but I am sure you get my drift.


New member
mrodoc said:
As usual these discussions revolve around philosophy. As short lived creatures we need to appreciate that everything we see will be destroyed. Most arguments are specious if they don't include this element in our considerations, If we enlarge a passage to gain access we are just accelerating a perfectly natural process.  When we decide on enlarging previously narrow passages to access cave we have to weigh up the short term pros and cons. There is much more I could say on this topic but I am sure you get my drift.

Yes I agree, better to enrich the lives of many who can visit a section of cave rather than just a few individuals...


Active member
mrodoc said:
As short lived creatures we need to appreciate that everything we see will be destroyed. Most arguments are specious if they don't include this element in our considerations, If we enlarge a passage to gain access we are just accelerating a perfectly natural process.
I quite agree that in the fullness of time it is commonly accepted that all physical material will be destroyed.

This includes your possessions, family, friends, and your body.

Do i read your post correctly, in that if i smash,explode,burn these things, that action would be an acceleration of natural processes and therefore morally justifiable?

This is an philosophical thought exercise that i have contemplated many times before. I am curious as to your interpretation