With the weather having been extremely wet all week, and heavy rain forecast for the entire day, we decided that a trip down Rowten would be fun and one of the few options open to us! We had the whole of Kingsdale to ourselves, with most cavers put off by the torrential rain. We didn't know whether Rowten would be passable to the bottom, but at least we know it was a relatively safe option (and it's been four years since I was last there, so I was keen to remind myself).
After a wet trudge up there, the roar of Rowten could be heard. We made a quick descent down the usual route (the south eyehole), to where the bridge was pleasantly dry. Water thundered away underneath, and we could see the fixed ropes of the new route in the main fissure thrashing away under a tremendous waterfall - it made it quite dramatic! For future reference, this new route is not the best place to be during flood!
We descended down, swinging into the traverse and rigging the full traverse. The big pitch was extremely impressive with all the water, however, the rope maintained a suitable distance from the waterfall, although with quite a bit of spray near the bottom. Our rope was only just long enough to swing onto the ledge at the bottom (see notes below). This ledge was a very drafty and rainy place (although with no major danger), and somewhere we were very glad of our new PVC suits! I wouldn't want to hang around here though - so we made a prompt start of rigging the next pitch!
We descended the next pitch, swinging around the corners at two rebelays to the final traverse. There was an enormous gale howling through the rift at the first corner rebelay, and lots of spray, making this an exciting, if rather chilly place to be! However, once round the corner and at the traverse, we were out of the wind and things became much more pleasant. We promptly completed the last pitch.
A faff-free return trip followed, we noted that the 'weather' on the ledge at the bottom of the big pitch had improved somewhat and it was nowhere near as drafty as on the way down (which I was thankful of, being at the back of the group). We arrived out at 6pm, having completed the trip in about 4.5 hours. Very enjoyable indeed! Rowten is certainly a spectacular place to be when water levels are very high, and it makes the trip rather fun if you have some thermals and a waterproof oversuit (you are never actually in the water, however, the spray is very heavy). I don't know if it ever becomes impassible - the water levels were very high but there didn't seem to be any problems or immediate risks.
Note that the rope lengths in the CNCC rigging guide are incorrect.
We used 50m rope for entrance to end of bridge traverse - this was fine.
We used 60m rope from start of second pitch (just beyond the bridge below the entrance), into the traverse and then down the big pitch - this was VERY tight (and we only just made down) - I would suggest a minimum of 70m rope is used, or a 30m rope to the end of the traverse and 50m for the pitch itself if you don't have a 70m rope.
I forget what lenghts we used for the last two pitches, however it would have been at least the length in the CNCC guide, and this was quite tight too. Therefore, add at least 10m to all lengths.
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