Caplecleugh High Level, Nenthead: Ian, Leif, Ellen (Various trips – Sep & Dec 2014, Feb 2015).
Water and padlocks don’t mix and after previous freezing encounters with the Fairy Holes gate, I had come prepared for the September trip with Nenthead surveys as a back-up plan. This time an incorrect key meant we didn’t even get wet, so it was back to the car and up the valley to Nenthead.
We knew the wet territory of Caplecleugh into the ‘Toilet Box Junction’, where we had previously turned left (east) toward Smallcleugh. This time we wished to find the way up into the Caplecleugh High Level, now inaccessible from the Caplecleugh High Level adit due to a collapse and requiring an entry from below. As in our previous trips, credit is due to Mike Hrybyck’s site for inspiring photos and information, as well as Roy Fellows’ website (RF opened this route and also has interesting views on nutrition, martial arts, global warming and many other topics).
We were looking for the way up via Archer’s Rise and soon found a likely way up, although lacking any SRT kit it was unlikely that we would make it all the way up. A couple of rickety ladders and a wriggle through a hole next to a flooded tub opened into nicely walled passage and passing a rotten ore truck a shaft going up was revealed with a hanging rope. As the walls were solidly built, I decided to bridge up, getting to about 10 feet from the top, where the anchoring bar was plain to see, although some adjacent hanging rotten timber made me retreat to return later with some ascending kit.
We continued westward to the end of the low level, passing some impressive concrete arching, a large working sporting a huge shale slope and a fine waterfall from a broken pipe in the roof, before the final collapse.
Returning on the Saturday after Christmas, the day was grim, with snow forecast and Leif nursing a heavy cold. Quickly finding the first roped climb we emerged into some large, dry workings and proceeded to look for the next climb up. Scouring both directions, including some tight-roping on some rails above a void and climbing up some pipes in an abortive search, eventually revealed a hidden rope end after a short climb up. This soon brought the welcome sight of a couple of re-belays at a sloping ledge, where further handline climbing and wooden ladders popped us out at the RF dig, complete with plastic plaque and acro props.
Crawling through this revealed more super walled passage, some 19th century Isaac Archer graffiti, where-after a short free-climb up brought us into the high level proper. As my chum was feeling pretty under the weather and I feared being snowed in, we made a hasty exit, looking forward to the return.
During the continuing cold spell, I had been keen to get back, with Leif working weekends or on family duty, so I had to satisfy myself with a chilly solo trip through the Rowten sumps, until the following weekend. Joined by first-timer Ellen (a winter surfer, runner and climber), the temperature at home was a chilly 2C. I predicted -2C at Nenthead and so it proved, with the mines car park also pretty snowy – I forgot my shovel, so a bit of pushing finally got us parked.
Advising Ellen not to touch anything on the passage walls, we were soon suited up and making the familiar trip to Archer’s Rise; a quick SRT tutorial, including me straddling the shaft to supervise passing a rebelay found us in the high level, having a coffee and heading off east, excited at the prospect.
Much of the passage was in good shape, although having some chilly deep water sections – with only space for a tilted head in parts – and a final couple of minutes over shale collapses before the concrete arching and famous chalk hymn image magically appeared. I arrived here a few minutes ahead of my chums and had a lie down with my light off, waiting for the noise their approach. Once we were all reunited we had a snack and headed out, noting the position of side passages to be investigated on further trips.
The coffee was finished back at the RF dig and whilst waiting for Leif to come down the final shaft I washed the grime accumulated in the handline/ladder section from our SRT kit in the convenient flooded tub.
Back at TB Junction, I grabbed my keys from the Daren drum in Leif’s bag, aiming to blast out and generate some heat for the chilly change. Back at the frigid surface at 5 pm (-6C), the still air made for a bearable, if rapid change – combined with shoving a stuck car belonging to a lady in the car park onto passable ground – and I was back in dry kit as my team emerged.
The pub was a welcome warm sanctuary after a super day out. Kudos to the first timer for her achievement, what next, Langcliffe Pot?