|Diagram by Olly King|
Titan is the deepest natural cavern that has been discovered so far in the UK, previously thought to be Gaping Gill. Titan forms part of the huge Peak Cavern cave system in Castleton, Derbyshire. Also known as the "Devil's Arse", the huge entrance (the UK's largest) known as the Vestibule, is also the entrance to the popular show cave. Also connected to the system is the Speedwell Mine; another public show mine which you can take a boat trip into (I still haven't done this!).
It's been known since the 1980s that there was 'something' beyond the Far Sump Extension connecting Speedwell to Peak Cavern. In 1992 extracts were published from a newly discovered manuscript, written by the 18th Century academic James Plumptre. He describes in fascinating detail his trip into Speedwell. But also large caverns and mine workings long thought to be in existence, but were supposed as blocked past the Boulder Piles. Cave divers had explored the far Sump extension, however the elusive dry route the miners must have used continued to elude modern explorers. After reading Plumptre's account, there was renewed interest in James Hall's Over Engine Mine Shaft found by the TSG in 1963; Plumptre describes what is now thought to be surely JH Mine: "There was another way out, by climbing one hundred and fifty yards farther to the top of the hill, but, as the way lay through another proprietor's mine, the miners never go by it, unless insisted upon by strangers..."
So Moose led a dedicated team of Derbyshire cave diggers to JH in search of "Caverns Measureless". They discovered and excavated the workshop area of the mine, finding many tools and relics left in situ. The team spent a further 3 years removing boulders the bottom of the huge Leviathan chamber, before achieving access to Speedwell in 1995. This area of cave was previously accessible only to cave divers from the Far Sump extension.
After years of grafting, Moose and his team finally found their way through a huge boulder choke near the piles, and discovered the gigantic cavern of Titan from below in January 1999. They then proceeded to climb it over 6 days. Following reaching the top and surveying, 4 years was then spent digging an access shaft down to the chamber from the surface. The existence of Titan was finally revealed to the wider caving community in November 2006. The entrance shaft is 46 metres deep, and Titan itself is split into a 62 metre pitch down to a landing point called the Event Horizon. Then a few metres down this ledge and onto a hanging re-belay point 58 metres from the bottom.
Fast forward to September 2013 and after a lot of SRT practice, I felt almost ready. We booked the trip for the first weekend in October, planning to do the James Hall over Engine Mine through trip- out of Peak Cavern on the Saturday. Then go down Titan and back up JH de-rigging along the way on Sunday. The JH trip went well, we completed the through trip and got out of Peak Cavern in 4 hours 45 minutes. Sat in a pub in Castleton afterwards though it dawned on me how much I was aching, and what a mission getting out of JH would be the next day. I realised this was beyond my limits at this time, and with difficulty pulled myself out of the Titan trip. This was upsetting for me, and I struggled with the decision I made for weeks afterwards. Next year though... next year I would do it.
|Preparing for the JH through trip, October 2013|
On Friday Pete and Beth Knight of Peak Instruction asked if they could tag along on our trip, but only halfway... they didn't plan on 'bottoming' Titan with us. We were really happy that Pete brought his camera along, as none of us had one - taking pictures of this trip was the last thing on our minds. Titan is notoriously difficult to photograph, requires a lot of fire power to light even half the shaft up, and none of us fancied carrying any unnecessary kit this time. The whole of the UK has seen a lot of rain this last 6 weeks, and there was a worry that the bottom would be sumped with water, in which case the only option would be to climb back up and out of Titan. None of us much fancied that idea either, the trip was planned as a through trip out of Peak Cavern, but going back up was something we had to be prepared to do.
|Anton rigging the entrance, me checking my gear. Photo by Pete Knight|
"Into this wild Abyss, The womb of Nature, and Perhaps her Grave. Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire, But all of these in their Pregnant causes mixed. Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight, unless the Almighty Maker them ordain. His Dark Materials to create more worlds, Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend, Stood on the brink of Hell and looked awhile, Pondering his voyage; For no Narrow Frith, He had to Cross."
John Milton, Paradise Lost
|Anton and me looking nervous. Photo by Pete Knight|
Then it was my turn. I really enjoyed the first pitch, and specifically wore my glasses which I don't normally take caving. On the way down I marvelled at the beautiful formations, the echo of my exclamations of delight at what I was doing, but mainly the amazing size of the gigantic cavern. I struggled to get my head around placing myself in the context of this chamber, dangling inside it on a rope, I hope that makes any sense, it's difficult to describe. I enjoyed the pitch very much, although landing on the Event Horizon was quite weird. I bellowed up to Olly that the rope was free and watched Anton preparing himself to go "over the edge". Once again, my turn...
|Me looking down into the great abyss from the top of Titan itself. Photo by Pete Knight|
At the bottom of Titan you get cold pretty quick, there is spray from the waterfall, and it's not a nice place to stand around for too long. I was glad of the extra base layer and balaclava I had stashed away in a dry bag. Once everyone was down we didn't waste any time in looking for the connection, silently praying that it wasn't sumped, and also that the "Cow Arse Worms" duck wasn't too full of the nasty wriggly things. After some questioning of our route finding, we were very pleasantly surprised to find our wishes had been granted, and we could get through. Although Cow Arse Worms duck was absolutely rank to crawl through and smelled foul, we were all happy to finally find our way into the Speedwell Streamway and have a good wash off. Seeing the old mining stemples on the way to the Streamway, and passing through Leviathan in JH, serves as a stark reminder that cavers were not the first to find Titan, and we are all indebted to their hard toil.
|Painting by SUSS in the TSG kitchen|
The Sunday de-rigging team of Tom (sleeping beauty), Olly & Cow (surface "support"), and Andy Farrow (ROPE FREEE), encountered a few issues with the next team along who had rigged over us instead of choosing from the extra bolts. But it seems they would have had enough to worry about at the time with knot passes! Despite me offering to help de-rig on Sunday, I went to Bagshawe Cavern with some new club members instead, which I will tackle in a separate little write up at some point.
|Photo (Via Snapchat) by Olly King|
Thanks to the Technical Speleological Group for their usual fantastic hospitality, their much improved Club Hut, and of course the BBQ on Saturday night. And Charlotte who came to get drunk with us!
Also thanks to Steven Mills, Robert Stevenson, Yvonne King and Callum Ewan for coming down Bagshawe Cavern on Sunday :)
DO EPIC SHIT.