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Smallcleugh to Rampgill, via J. Irwin's Crosscut (12/09/05)

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There are three ways that we know of that will get you from Smallcleugh to Rampgill. In this trip we tried out the connection from the sub level at the north east end of the Handsome Mea Great Cross Vein. We proceeded to the sump that drops down to a sub level in the hope of catching the shaft to Rampgill, just before the end of the Hard Cross Cut I saw a 6' length of rail and suggested we take it in case we needed an extra anchor, we ended up using it but not in the way intended.

Last year with Charlie, I had a look at the sump that drops down to the sub level, and just before it there was a bad shale collapse, which you had to climb into and out of. This time round when we reached it, the collapse was blocked, heckles raised as the prospect of the trip being cut short hit us. It dawned on me that on the approach to the collapse the air had not been as fresh as before and now I knew why. On closer inspection, you could just about see the cavity through a small hole, here the rail section we brought with us came into its own, swinging it up into the blockage we managed to loosen enough material so that I could dig it with my hands. After 15 minutes or so we were both sat in the collapse cavity looking at the other side completely blocked - we got the rail into the cavity but there was no room to swing it. Karli had a go at digging the compacted shale by hand, after some time the top of the stone arch could be seen and with the use of his stop (I'm sure Mr Petzl never intended this use for it) he made a hole, and shortly afterwards the smell of fresh air came through, a total of over 1 hours digging. We spent sometime trying to decide whether to continue or to give it up being concerned of a further collapse. The best of 3 rough side / smooth side stone tosses decided it for us, we went ahead.

After the collapse we came to the end of the passage and saw the sump that would take us to the sub level some 12m below. A 20m rope was rigged up to a rail section and I abseiled down, Karli following behind - at this stage we decided not to commit to a full pull through. The sump was interesting as it was roughly on a 70° slope, with the 'roof' being a bedding plain. Exploring the sub level we came to a stone arched sump, there were 3 rail sections across it, so the anchor issued was sorted. We passed this and continued along the level. There were a number of little turn offs to look at and at the end we came to shaft that was a partitioned with a wooden wall. Karli climbed down this and reported another level. We then returned to the first shaft with the rails, had lunch and rigged it with a 50m rope, from a cross sectional plan of the area I estimated the shaft to be around the 35m mark.

After descending around 10m, I was able to swing into a sub level, Karli joined me on the landing point, but we did not explore it, the level was stoned lined for the first 5m or so and then came to shale which had collapsed, however it looked like it went on and could have possibly linked with the level Karli had found earlier. Karli carried on down and did some gardening a few meters down as the shaft gained a wooden partition, one side of which was blocked. After we both got to the bottom, it looked like the shaft was more in the 40m mark, welcome to the Rampgill Level. According to the maps you could only go one way, but we where presented with 2, a quick check with the compass told us to head east east west, the expected left turn corner appeared and any doubt disappeared. The water here was waist deep and very cold, with the passage heavily calcified. After some 150m we started hitting shale passage which smelt rather acrid. The passage for most of the way now was in the region of 1-1.5m high, a result of many collapses. Some of the rocks that had fallen were the size of wardrobes, with plenty more to come down - not altogether that pleasant. Finally we hit the Rampgill Vein junction and headed for the exit.