9 April 2018

Roaring Hole anchor replacement

Roaring Hole in Chapel-le-Dale drops to a depth of more than 130m, as deep as neighbouring Meregill, but with relatively few pitches; it is mostly descended due to the dip of the limestone and an assortment of free climbs and descending boulder slopes. There are however a few pitches that, until 2010, lacked resin anchors to provide a safe and reliable belay.

In 2010, on behalf of the CNCC, Roaring was fitted with new prototype PECO P-anchors (the photo above shows the anchors on the first pitch being installed).

Unfortunately, not long after these anchors were fitted into Roaring Hole (and several other caves; Rowten Big Gully, Marilyn, Disappointment Pot and Stream Passage Pot), it was discovered that the manufacturer had made them from the wrong grade of stainless steel. While this did not present an immediate concern to the strength or safety of the anchors, they were potentially vulnerable in the long term to to pitting corrosion in chloride environments. Although it was not anticipated that the anchors would ever be exposed to such environments, it was decided that they should be scheduled for replacement at the earliest convenience as a precaution.

The largest project for which these anchors had been used was Rowten Big Gully route (a splendid alternative to the classic Eyehole route). The PECO anchors were hammered flat against the wall, covered with resin and cave ‘dirt’ (you will be hard pushed to locate any of them now). New Bolt Product resin P-anchors were installed to replace them. Such a technique of decommissioning anchors is not ideal, but at the time, no device existed capable of reliably and safely extracting them in such an exposed vertical environment.

Once a device capable of extracting P-anchors had been developed, the PECO anchors installed in Stream Passage Pot were replaced with IC-anchors. However, those in Marilyn, Disappointment Pot and Roaring Hole still awaited removal.

On Sunday 8th April, a team comprising Gary Douthwaite, Matt Ewles and Simon Wilson headed down Roaring Hole with the intention of pulling out the PECO anchors and replacing them with IC-anchors.

We planned to start from the bottom up, but unfortunately on arrival at the first boulder choke the amount of water pouring through it meant a total drenching; and the drill was not adequately waterproofed for this. We continued with the puller alone, got absolutely soaked to the skin, but successfully got to the bottom of the cave and extracted all the PECO anchors throughout.

Replacement of these with IC-anchors will need to wait until drier conditions, hopefully over summer. Any groups planning a visit should check the CNCC Roaring Hole webpage first; a warning is currently in place to alert cavers that there are no resin anchors. This warning will be removed once anchors have been installed.

Cavers with experience in rigging from natural belays will see this as fun challenge, but extreme caution is required; there is much loose and poor quality rock in Roaring Hole and many of the rock faces have a slippery black coating meaning free-climbing is not advised. Our advice is therefore to avoid Roaring Hole until anchor installation can be completed. We will get it done as quickly as possible.

Also noted during the trip was a very large quantity of old digging rubbish including piping used to divert the water, spoil buckets, tatty ropes, rotten wood, spare scaffolding and assorted other junk and litter going all the way through to the lower sections of the cave. We will be looking to arrange a complete cleanup to accompany installation of the new anchors. A route description will also be added to the CNCC website to accompany the new topo once anchoring is complete.

Many cavers will have walked 30m from the entrance of Roaring Hole on several occasions (either on-route to Meregill, Sunset or Black Shiver, or just on a walk up Ingleborough) but will barely have given this cave it any thought. It is a quirky cave, dropping to a considerable depth with minimal tackle, and with a fairly unique nature and charm. Definitely one to pencil into your meets list for the second half of the year once anchoring is complete.

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