Morgan Specht & Huw Jones
After our failed first attempt to drop the undescended pitch in Fault Rifts, we needed a rethink. It had been a long, hard trip and we hadn’t even managed to get the rigging gear to the pitch. Plus of course, Morgan had been unable to climb the tight rift up to Headache Passage.
To start with we needed an easier way into Fault Rifts. The Going Square route was hard work and the climbs slowed things down. We could use the original route via Fault Chambers but that involved a very exposed 7m climb. It was also longer but hopefully easier. But what if we did a separate set-up trip and rigged the climb as a pitch. When we came to drop the 30m+ pitch we’d have our SRT kits with us so another little pitch would be no problem.
Next was the tight rift climb; what to do to ensure every member of the team could get up it? Various solutions were thrown around. The rift could be widened in some way, chiselling or capping maybe. Apart from making it bigger, that might also produce better holds. Stemples could be fitted in the rift to give something to push up on. A third idea was for someone to climb the rift again and rig a rope down it. A jammer and footloop could then be used, pushing the jammer up the rope a tiny bit each time and then forcing yourself upwards by standing in the footloop.
Another way to make the route to the pitch easier and quicker could be to dig out the larger, choked crawl that went between Headache and the Parallel Passage. This would cut out the very low crawl, the damp choke and the other crawl in the Parallel Passage itself. It would be awkward though as the slabs blocking the way were through a little arch, which restricted working room. They’d also probably need to be capped so we’d have to drag a drill (which we didn’t have) all that way.
I the end we decided that the choked crawl between Headache Passage and the parallel passage was too far in and the time saving wouldn’t be worth the effort, likewise widening the rift climb up to Headache. On the other hand, rigging ropes on the climbs seemed like a good idea, made even better when Huw Durban donated a small drill to the club so placing bolts would be quick and easy. I still thought that fitting stemples in the tight rift was a good idea as well.
It took a long while for the next trip to come to fruition. In that time, apart from the new drill, some of the club equipment had been replaced, including ropes and karabiners. That meant there was some old gear knocking about, which included the 40m rope we had stashed in the cave, that could now be used on projects like ours.
Only myself and Morgan were available on the date chosen for this set up trip, 9 months after the first one! We met in Blaenavon at 8am on a Sunday morning again and this time I made sure I had the Draenen key with me! We transferred all the gear into Morgan’s camper van and drove up to Pwll Du. It was windy and cold, which made changing unpleasant as usual. We were underground by 9am, with a heavy tackle bag again each. Apart from the drill, we had a good length of the old rope, some through bolts, hangers and slings of mine, plus a few of the old club krabs. Along with that lot we had a lump hammer, crowbar, and chisel and a couple of pieces of timber for stemples, plus a saw to cut them to size. Plus, of course, food, drink, spare light and batteries and some emergency stuff. Morgan also had his SRT kit. The drill was protected inside an insulated/padded lunch bag, inside a dry bag. Most of the rest of the gear was sealed up in bin liners to try to keep everything dry through the entrance series, to keep things lighter and the wooden stemples easier to cut.
We made our way via Going Square, into Fault Rifts, again with the faff at the climbs, to arrive in the chamber overlooking Fault Chambers. We got to work straight away. I unpacked the drill and placed a backup bolt to rig a traverse line, for protection at the head of the climb, while Morgan got his SRT kit on. Then Morgan used the rope for protection while placing two bolts at the pitch head, one in each wall and rigged a Y-hang. Then he descended the pitch and cut off the spare rope, using the lighter from my emergency kit to seal the ends. Once he was back up, we quickly packed up and moved on to the tight rift climb.
This was proving to be such an obstacle, that I decided it needed a name, Headache Rift, as it obviously led up to Headache Passage but also as it was proving such a headache for the team! I really wasn’t looking forward to it again but started thrutching for all I was worth, slowly working my way up, heart and lungs working like crazy. Again, I’d trailed a rope behind me and once at the top, I had to decide how to fix it in place. I could haul up the drill to put in a bolt but first I looked to see if there were any useful natural belays. At the top, the passage went a short distance in the opposite direction to Headache Passage, and had a boulder floor. Here, there was a tight thread belay, in a little alcove, that could be used. The only thing was, the rope would run over a boulder in the alcove that rocked back and fore but which wouldn’t actually come out of the alcove. I thought about using the boulder as belay, as I couldn’t remove it but decided against using a rocking belay so awkwardly pushed a sling around the thread. The rope ran over the boulder and also over the edge of the boulder floor and I considered using the drill to place a bolt out in the rift, to give a better hang but in the end decided that what I’d rigged would be adequate.
With the rope rigged, it was time for Morgan to try it out. He clipped on his jammer and with his foot in the footloop hanging from it, pushed it up the rope a little and stood up, forcing his body up the rift. It was still very hard work and slow but Morgan made it to the top! He was keen to take a look at Headache Passage but we didn’t get very far as there was a bat hanging in the boulder choke, just a little way along and not wanting to disturb it, we decided turn around.
Back at the bottom of Headache Rift, we made a start in fitting the wooden stemples. I measured up the first one, Morgan cut it to size and I tried it back in place. Repeating that a few times, plus some light chiselling and we had a nice fit so I hammered it into place. We decided that one would be enough but left the other one there, along with the saw, just in case it was needed on the next trip. We also left the digging kit for next time.
Back at the climb, now pitch, down into Fault Chambers, Morgan put on his SRT kit while I abbed down using a sit sling and an italian hitch. I hadn’t been in Fault Chambers for a very long time and I’d forgotten how impressively big they are. The way through Perseverance Series back to The Nunnery was longer than I remembered but still easier than taking the Going Square route.
Back at the car, it was still cold but the wind was now much stronger and where we were parked was very exposed. Morgan made best use of a small embankment by a fence to get, at least, some shelter. I headed across the road, to a clump of trees and got changed there. It was definitely a bit better but I just wonder what the people in the two cars which passed thought when they spotted me stripping off in the trees!
It had been another hard trip but everything was now set up to drop the big pitch.