A dry day for a change, at least at home and a pleasantly late start saw The Viking and me heading westward into the gloom. Sure enough, the pleasant 8-degree temperature at home fell to 3.5 at Nenthead and it was raining. A quick change and we romped off to find Smallcleugh entrance, actually walking too far up the hill before correcting my mistake and having a quick chat with a local lady and former mine explorer, before entering the mine.
The aim of the trip was to investigate the passages beyond ‘Baron’s Sump’, where I recalled seeing a hanging rope and wondered if this corresponded with the ‘Climbing Way to Middlecleugh Level’ marked on Mike Hrybyk’s plan. Anyway, we brought ascending gear, plan and compass, but unfortunately no food or rope and I was already starving before entering the mine, such is the fuel requirement for my 9-stone bulk!
An indication of the amount of water that had fallen was the fact that the first few hundred metres of the level were calf-deep in water and a further effect of this was that the shale in the dug-out collapses had turned to grease-pasted ooze that contaminated bags, suits, hair and skin.
Racing along the familiar territory, we were getting very warm and took the ‘Wheel Flat’ option to reach the area of ‘The Ballroom’ (returning via the dug-out sections of the direct route on the way out, as these feel roomy compared to those in ‘Old Carr’s Vein’.
Reaching a junction of 3 arches, I decided to take the right-hand one by mistake, leading to ‘Cow Hill Cross Vein’, soon realising my error when we found a laddered climb down to a clean-looking passage with running water. Consulting the plan, it looked possible to follow ‘Cow Hill Cross Vein’ to return back east to the passage leaving ‘Baron’s Sump’ and reach our goal of the climb up to Middlecleugh. Now I had a vague recollection of this adit being locked, but was quite prepared to go all the way back if necessary. After all, once one has learnt the routes in Nenthead, progress is rapid.
We were rewarded with a fine section of passage, almost cave-like in its nature, leading right (west) and soaring about 40 feet above. Unfortunately a collapse blocked the way ahead and we had to return to pass the dug-out collapses in ‘Old Carr’s Vein’ again. These proved to be slightly tighter than before due to fallen-in rubble and great care must be taken here to avoid touching the roof!
Reaching the now familiar second set of 3-choices, the correct right-hand one leads to an immediate climb up rails and a further climb up a obscure rise with bars and line at the top – obscure if your mate says it’s blocked, but doesn’t actually get down and look up it, so you wander round and round for a while!
Pausing for a photo on the fine bogey and rails, we had a quick coffee in ‘Baron’s Sump’, before heading off west in search of the climb to Middlecleugh. It was soon apparent that the hanging rope from memory was too close to ‘Baron’s Sump’ and I continued on to find the soaring timbered shaft that was the true climb up. This proved to be rather imposing, with dodgy-looking beams, rotten platforms and greasy rock and upon reaching some even nastier sections at about 50 feet, I decided that any descent of this without a rope would be very nasty and decided to climb down. I guess the height of the climb must be about 100 feet and I had images of dropping through the rotten platforms like Jackie Chan through the sunshades on the outside of a building – not a good idea in such an isolated spot!
Hunger made me speed out and I sat in the dark next to ‘Flat Crosscut’ drinking the last of my coffee, waiting for my chum to appear. Emerging with some daylight left after 4 hours underground, our changing efforts were slightly compromised by a lady dog-walker in the car park, who seemed to be lingering rather too long and too close for my comfort, but at least the Miners pub was open for desperately-needed beer and crisps.