Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Hidden Earth 2015

It was another excellent year for SWCC at Hidden Earth. It began very well for us with Andy and Antonia Freem providing the opening AV entitled The Recipe for Good Caving. This went down very well with all the conference delegates and created a good atmosphere for the rest of the weekend. Andy and Antonia also showed two more videos at the conference - The Geology of OFD and The Journey to Circus Maximus (Ogof Draenen). Both were well received. 
Andy and Antonia's AV presentation about to play to a full house.
Our club stand was ably co-ordinated by Chloe Francis, Andy and Antonia Freem, Harvey Lomas and Pete Hobson. So successful was this, that it won the prize for the best club stand at the end of the weekend gaining SWCC an additional 30m of rope as a prize.
Chloe, Claire, Pete, Andy and Antonia on the stand

Club merchandise for the stand was arranged by Jo and Chloe. There was considerable disappointment when the BRAND NEW OFD 'Huffs' were not delivered on time and were stuck at the UPS depot in Avonmouth around 45 minutes drive away. Undeterred by this, Chloe saved the day by deciding to drive there and collect them in person.
The Huffs arrive thanks to Chloe!
It was a good job she did so as these proved to be a definite hit with cavers at the conference and around 25 were sold during the time we were there! So, SWCC members, take note. These huffs are now limited editions, so you had better hurry and buy yours before they are gone (available in the SWCC merchandise cupboard at £9.00 each).

The huffs - the original wearable cave survey - are available in either Top Entrance or Cwm Dwr design.

The new colour survey also went down a storm at the conference and more than 30 copies were sold. The stand was continually full of cavers coming up close to the survey to point out where they had been and try and work out how to get to where they wanted to go next (usually Northern Lights, so perhaps that's a new route idea for the next batch of Huffs). The full colour new surveys are now also available at SWCC (priced at £15). The survey was the result of the determined hard work of Brian Clipstone and Andy and Dave Dobson. It won the Best Displayed Survey competition at Hidden Earth last year. It had pride of place on the stand this year and survey sales went incredibly well across the weekend. Martin Hoff also had a distinction for his entries in to the Photo Salon.

Two of our youngest members were also present at the weekend, Harri Brown and Sebastian Wire. Both are a little over one year old and, believe it or not, have not actually met yet, as they managed to miss each other by moments on the weekend.

Lizzy and Sebastian and Adrian and Harri looking happy and contented at Hidden Earth.

SWCC meal at the Hunter's
Then there were the many successes of our four joint Dudley/SWCC members Mark and Jess Burkey, Keith Edwards and Brendan Marris. The photo on the poster for Hidden Earth and on the front of the programme was by Brendan Marris. They also won the t-shirt design competition.

Brendan's cover photo of the Missile Silo in Illusion Pot and Keith at the SWCC stand modelling the winning Dudley t-shirt design.

Even more photographic success followed for them. Keith won the video salon competition with this entry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxu780mKtkw Mark Burkey won the Premier Trophy for the best panel of 5 photos. Mark also won the Best Photo in Show  and the Fun Shot. Brendan also won the best Colour Print.

Chloe admiring entries in the photographic competition

                Mark's winning shot of Garland's Pot and his winning fun shot (captioned 'If you push hard enough, I'm sure you'll get through!)

To top it all off, Claire's conference badge was plucked out in the lucky dip and she won free entry to Hidden Earth 2017.

So, although the following sign could be spotted in the exhibition hall on the Sunday (it may have had something to do with a certain rugby match result...) SWCC certainly proved that Welsh caves, and those who enjoy visiting them, are a central part of the modern British caving scene.

Sign spotted after the Welsh rugby victory!

SWCC attendees: Nicky Bailey, Adrian Brown, Kate Brown, Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey, Bill Buxton, John Cliffe, Gareth Davies, Steff Davies, Keith Edwards, Chloe Francis, Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Andy Harp, Jennie Hill, Pete Hobson, Martin Hoff, Duncan Hornby, Harvey Lomas, Brendan Marris, Miri Pihlaja, Allan Richardson, Margaret Richardson, John Roe, Claire Vivian, Lizzy Wire.


Friday, 25 September 2015

Anglesey and North Wales Weekend, 19-20 Sept. 2015

SWCC: Stuart Reedman, Richard Sore and Claire Vivian
PUG: Brian Davies

Saturday: Mona-Parys through trip.
This was a great trip! It was physical and seemed more like a cave than a mine a lot of the time. There were crawls, wading through waist/chest deep water, ladders, steps and handlines. All thoroughly enjoyable (except maybe to Stuart who has an aversion to water…) and a very different sort of trip. But it must have been very unpleasant to work here as a miner.

For modern day Parys Mountain, it all began on 2nd March 1768 when a large vein of copper ore was discovered there. Copper was mined at Parys Mountain and then taken down to Amlwch Port where it was processed further before being shipped to Swansea fo and also around the world. Indeed, the mine later developed into one of the largest copper mines in the world, the largest, some might argue. Apparently, so influential was Amlwch and Anglesey copper that the British navy under Lord Nelson used the metal for sheathing its ships and for use in manufacturing cannons. Incredibly, it seems as far back as 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, local people had discovered traces of copper here and on the trip we were shown evidence of Bronze Age workings (dug out using pebbles).

Above ground is a surreal, alien, landscape with red, yellow and brown hues of ochre. When the light catches it, it is radiant and almost pretty really, more reminiscent of Utah colours than Wales.   

                                              Stuart and Richard at the Great Opencast
                                                  Panorama of The Great Opencast

On the summit of Parys Mountain with the remains of the windmill in the background.
For Friday night, we camped at Cae Ffynnon campsite in Rhosgoch. This was basic, but adequate, and you couldn't get more convenient for our purposes as the pub (the Ring) was a 2 minute walk from the site and Parys Mountain itself was less than a 10 minute drive away. Which we were very relieved at as it had taken almost 6 hours to drive here from South Wales.

The SWCC Anglesey campsite in the early morning mist.
To enter Parys Mountain, you need a leader from the Parys Underground Group. Our leader for the day was Brian and he set a spritely pace throughout and was highly knowledgeable about the mine and the work of the group. The PUG have a small hut to change in and this is only a few minutes from the entrance to Mona mine. There were plenty of iron oxide stals, snotites and even snotite curtains, which I had not seen in any mine I’d been in before. On the whole, the mine was well-decorated and it would have easily been possible to spend more time there than we did.
                                                        Entrance to Mona Mine


One chamber was incredibly decorated with bright blue stal and crystals (copper sulphate?). As Rich said, it was worth a trip to Anglesey, just to see this. 

Rich with some of the copper sulphate crystals. The photo doesn't do them justice. The chamber was covered in them!
I hadn’t been to Anglesey before, nor had I heard much about Parys Mountain before the trip, so I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of the day, I was deeply impressed by both. The only downside was the sulphurous smells at times and the slight ochre staining on the oversuit which took several washes to come out!

The trip was mainly dry, but there were some sections of water that were waist deep and the connection itself, which was the drainage level between Mona and Parys mines, was constricted and the water was slightly higher here. I was bending at the waist to walk through the passage and the water was a couple of inches below my face. We were told that the water level varied here and at times it was necessary to remove your helmet as there would be only a few inches of air space. The water in the mine was also incredibly acidic (pH of 2 in places; tap water would be around 7) and there were regular wash stations to clean eyes if any happened to splash in your face. I know this doesn't sound good, but it didn't cause us any problems in there. 

It is possible to do several different trips in Parys Mountain of varying length, level of difficulty and wetness(!), including a brand new SRT trip that the PUG have only just set up. The PUG is to be applauded. With only 9 regular members they are doing a tremendous amount of work in the mine and are also keen to offer tourist trips not only to visiting cavers, but also to members of the public who wish to join them on Wednesday evenings. That really is a tremendous effort! If only more local people could be persuaded to join them underground and enlarge their group, they could learn a great deal about their own history as well as gain a sense of adventure exploring these passages and mine shafts.

Total trip time: 4 hours.     

Snotite Curtains.

Rich and the Wall of Death

Stuart, Brian and Richard after the trip

Claire and Rich in the afternoon sunshine
Following the trip we took a walk around the Great Opencast and other surface features and then headed to Amlwch for some lunch. After eating we decided to do a mini road trip around Anglesey. We had a look around Beaumaris and then on to LlanfairPG before heading across the Menai Strait to Bangor. We then headed off to our second campsite of the weekend (Llechrwd Campsite, near Blaenau Festiniog) - being as we were going to be based in Snowdonia the next day, it made logistical sense to have two campsites for the weekend.

Amlwch harbour.

View from Beaumaris looking back at Snowdonia.

Rich at Beaumaris Castle.
Meal out at the huge Oakley Arms a few minutes' drive from the campsite (we got there 5 minutes before last food orders!)

Sunday: Croesor-Rhosydd through trip. 
We had certainly had a full day on Saturday, so we were slightly tired the next morning and Stuart found that his knee (which he had injured skiing) was not too great. Nevertheless, we headed for Croesor to do the infamous Croesor-Rhosydd through trip. This was only a 15 minute drive from our new campsite. The last time I had been here we found a tremendously steep and boggy route to get to the Croesor entrance approximately 2 miles away. This time, we followed a much better path that would have been driveable with a 4x4 and led straight to the mine entrance, via a dead sheep. 

Rich and Stu at the Croesor entrance
Unfortunately, as soon as we got over the first traverse in the entrance Stu realised that his knee would not be good enough to do the trip as, although he was fine walking, he was in pain when scrambling over the slate and bending his knee. We had a quick group chat and Stu decided to head back out, walk back to Croesor and go in search of a coffee shop while Rich and I would go on to complete the trip. We made sure Stu got back down the traverse without any problems and then continued on the trip. We were carrying extra 60m and 10m ropes and a dingy with us just in case there were any issues with what was already in situ. The rope on the first and second pitches had been recently replaced, so there were no problems here and we were able to make fairly swift progress. The zipwire across the first lake had a slightly smaller pulley on it than I remembered from my last trip and didn't quite get either of us all the way across, so we had a bit of extra arm work here.

Rich on the zipwire
Moving on to the suspension bridge, this seemed to be less stable and hanging lower in the water (ankle deep at one point) than I remembered. But it was still fun to cross. It was then on to the traverse around the lake, which starts off pretty easy, but gets harder (at least if you are shorter) towards the end, with a slippery and frustrating final move which I am certain is actually much easier to do than I managed today.

The suspension bridge.
The first Bridge of Death was not a problem for either of us as there was plenty of bridge still left for us to walk on (albeit with pretty spongy wood). But it was then on to my nemesis, the second bridge. I had made a meal of this on my last visit and taken ages to get across, so I had been dreading it from the start. Rich went first. He made fast progress to the centre using a pulley on the wire (the bridge is no longer connected to the wall) and then had a bit of a struggle to get his weight off the pulley and transfer it to the second wire. But once this was done, he was quickly across. I dallied, rearranged kit several times, had 2 or 3 false starts, and then eventually plucked up the courage to actually just go for it and try to get to the centre. Surprisingly, I didn't find it as bad as I expected. I had the pulley on the wire and found myself having to pull myself, slightly uphill, on the wire, which was tiring and hard on the arms. So I managed to get a foot on the piece of timber on the right of the bridge and do some slight acrobatics to stand up on it. Surprisingly, it held my weight and I could walk across it to the centre, which rocks at a slightly off-putting pace as you move your pulley on to the next wire (without dropping it in to the deep water below...). So, I took long enough about it, but didn't get stuck, so this was a bonus!
The first Bridge of Death, you can traverse across this with your cowstails on the wire.
Abseil time! I hope there is a boat there....
It was then on to the Chamber of Horrors and the short abseil in to the lake. We had brought a dingy with us in case there was no boat there, but fortunately the canoe was still there and still floating . .. for now (it seems to be taking on quite a lot of water). I always find it really creepy to see an empty boat emerge from the blackness on the other side of the chamber and seemingly propel itself towards you. It's like something out of a Greek myth - the crossing of the River Styx (but without Charon). This time it was towing a yellow plastic dingy behind it, which made the whole experience even more surreal. But at least there was a boat there, so this would save time. Or so, we thought. Rich abseiled in to the canoe and found that the rope was only just long enough to reach the boat when he stood on the seat. It also started taking on more water, but he managed to get settled and make his way across the lake. Next it was my go. I abseiled in without any problems and started to pull the rope to cross the lake. It was going well until half way across the lake the boat refused to go any further. Minor panic set in (it was deep here and I had the feeling that the boat was quietly sinking), but then Rich suggested looking at the rope behind the boat to see if it was wrapped around something. It wasn't caught on the boat itself, so that left one possibility. It must have got snagged at the bottom of the abseil. So that meant a return trip to the rope, unhooking the string from the flake of slate it had managed to wrap itself around and then a second trip back across the Chamber of Horrors.

Rich abseiling in to the canoe (yes, that is quite a lot of water already in there).
Route finding in Rhosydd.
There was then a short section of prusiking and we were soon entering Rhosydd mine. Rich fancied trying to find the adit exit to this so we walked around for a while looking for this. We were unsuccessful and ended up climbing out of one of the many areas where daylight is visible up a slate slope. I tried the little-known sport of slate surfing several times here and then we were up on the surface. There was a slightly awkward and slippery climb out of the quarry (the Twll), although this was slightly easier than the last horrendous climb we had found and formed a human pyramid to climb up the last time I was here. We hoped to find an easy route back to the Croesor entrance, but the weather had turned by now and the cloud was down so we missed that and found a bog to walk through instead. But it had been a fun trip. Zipwires, abseiling and the feeling of near peril made it exciting. A total trip time of 3 hours and we were back at the car park by 4pm, meeting Stuart and washing our kit in the river.
The walk back to Croesor

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Brown’s Caving Tours. Part 3: OFD II, 17.09.15

SWCC: Phil Hughes, Claire Vivian
Beginners: Kate Furness, Colin Lawson, Tabitha (almost a new provisional member), Anna Zasheva.

Where is Mr Brown?? Adrian was missing tonight due to work pressures, but we still went ahead with our trip (and used Adrian as a callout!). Tonight was another beginners' trip in Top Entrance with two of my work colleagues (Anna and Colin) plus Phil and his partner, Kate. It was a first trip underground for both Anna and Kate, so a nice introductory trip to the Trident and Judge was in order. I had promised to take Anna caving over a year and a half ago, but due to one thing or another, we were never free at the same time, so this trip was a long time in the making. But now the ‘duty’ (not really!) is discharged and fun was had by all. When we arrived at SWCC, it was packed with a friendly visiting group using Penwyllt as a base for a team building exercise. We chatted with them for a while. They were curious about caving having seen the OFD survey, and were very complimentary about SWCC itself so, who knows, perhaps they may want to try caving one day. 
Colin, Anna, Tabitha, Phil and Kate ready to go

Having not been in OFD II much this year, Phil wanted to improve his route finding around Top Entrance. This was a nice introductory trip to enable him to do just that. Colin, Anna and I arrived around 6.00pm, but with the traffic bad in various locations we ended up waiting for some people until around 7pm. This wasn’t a problem, as neither Colin or Anna had had a look around SWCC HQ before, so we did that, had a look at the survey and also got helmets and lights sorted out and ready to go. 
Anna tries a squeeze (no problems!)
We all managed to get underground by 7.30pm and headed for the top of Arete chamber via Big Chamber and the mini traverses (Rabbit Warren) behind it. Some members of the group found these exciting and slightly challenging, but after taking them slowly everyone completed them and it was on to Arete, where the was slightly more water than last week, but still barely a trickle heading off the edge. 

Colin and Anna at the Wedding Cake

Moving on to tackle the boulder slope down to Salubrious, everyone was in good spirits and enjoying being underground. The Corkscrew proved to be entertaining for some of the party, but everyone arrived in Salubrious still eager to see more. Tabitha began traversing, she said she hated it and so needed practice, but she made it look easy nevertheless. Anna joined in and showed how useful it is to have long legs underground as she traversed all sections with ease and relished the thought of spending more time caving.
Tabitha and Anna enjoying traversing
Colin and Anna in Salubrious

We headed to the Trident and Judge and then on to Swamp Creek (more traversing from Anna and Tabitha here) to see some nice formations and then it was time to head back out via the top of Gnome Passage and the Brickyard this time. All in all, it was a successful trip. Anna and Kate enjoyed their first ventures underground and hope to be back at SWCC soon, and Tabitha got to meet some more SWCC cavers and see our HQ. 

Colin practicing his traversing skills
Tabitha in Swamp Creek (don't worry, she's not as close to the formation as she looks!)
Colin in the Corkscrew
SWCC will be having a beginners'/ provisional members' caving weekend on the 7-8 November this year. If you want to join in with the fun contact assistant_meets_sec@swcc.org.uk for further information, or if you want to join in with the evening trips. 
Kate and Phil at the Wedding Cake.