Friday, 30 October 2015

One Poached Egg too many 28.10.15

SWCC: Tabitha, Paul Tarrant and Claire Vivian

This was a trip to introduce Tabitha to an area of OFD2 she hadn't yet had the chance to visit. Missing out on my usual fight with the lock on Top Entrance, I managed to open the gate and remove the key from the lock first time. I should have known something else was bound to go slightly awry to compensate for that.

Paul and Tabitha in the passage behind Timo's Table
We were underground by 7.15pm and, with only a little guidance, Tabitha managed to lead to the Wedding Cake. We then headed down to Salubrious and took the passage opposite the climb to the Corkscrew to reach lower Arete Chamber. After a brief look around here, noting the way off to the Labyrinth and the climb up to Middle Arete, we moved on to take the meandering passage/ crawls to Timo's Table. So far so good.

We arrived at Timo's Table and then decided to have a bit of an explore in the immediate area, dropping down to the lower level and heading up the slope on the left to what eventually turned out to be a dead end with a traverse over a slight drop to the right. We had a quick look at the entrance to the Prokofiev Series and then went to look at Poached Egg climb. All as planned so far.

Reaching Poached Egg, we looked at the route across, talked about the route on to the Crevasse and OFD3, had the inevitable chat about what it feels like to fall off the climb and then started to head back to Timo's again, chatting as we went. We walked, talked, looked at some formations, turned a couple of corners and found ourselves ... back at Poached Egg. Great. So we walked, talked, looked at some more formations and arrived back at Poached Egg again. Even better. Possibly one of the shortest round trips in OFD and a first for me.

Distinctly uncomfortable with finding myself gravitating back to Poached Egg, one of my least favourite places in OFD. We decided to give up on going back to Timo's and instead followed the passage that heads back to upper Salubrious. No further unplanned detours were made and we exited in to a clear, dry, night. Whereas the week before Penwyllt had looked like a scene from Watership Down, tonight it was the turn for an invasion of giant black slugs. All in all, a good trip. New routes for both Paul and Tabitha and a brand new round trip for Claire. Back at SWCC by 10pm. 

Tabitha sitting on Timo's Table - we did get there!

OFD1 Evening 20.10.15

SWCC: Stewart Avey, Paul Tarrant and Claire Vivian

This was a quick evening trip to provide Stewart with his first visit to OFD1. We met at 6.30pm at SWCC to collect a key and then swiftly headed down to the lay-by at the bottom of the hill to get changed. We were underground just after 7pm, so this gave us plenty of time to introduce him to OFD1.

The streamway was the lowest I have ever seen it - it was around 2 inches below the Step - so we showed Stewart how to gauge whether the water was of a suitable level to continue upstream. Yet, we did not go in to the river today as we had agreed at the outset that the main purpose of today's trip, would be to see how far we could get along the Escape Route, and get comfortable with crawls and use of cowstails in a cave. We met all our aims on the trip. Stewart tried some crawls and did not find them as bad as he had feared and he thoroughly enjoyed Bolt Traverse. Paul stopped to take some photos in Bridge Passage and we headed on through the RAWL series, turning around to head back roughly by the entrance to the Subway. Mission accomplished. Trip time: 2.5hrs.

Stewart viewing some nice flowstone on the Escape Route
Stewart and Claire in Bridge Passage. Photo: Paul Tarrant.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Mendip Caving, 17-18 Oct. 2015

SWCC: Bill Buxton, Chloe Francis, Laurence Brown and Claire Vivian

MCG: Ben Cooper

For a change, I'll start at the end. The moral of the story is that if you haven't been to Upper Flood Swallet, you should go. But it all began because we'd been lax and hadn't visited the Mendips to go caving for a number of months as no caving was managed on the Hidden Earth weekend.

For those who haven't been there yet, the Mendips are a great place to go caving. There are loads of caves to explore. Some are shorter ones, where you can do several in a day and others are bigger systems such as Swildon's Hole, St. Cuthbert's Swallet, Charterhouse and Upper Flood where you can while a day away and only see a small section of the whole. When coupled with an excellent social scene with a mix of cavers from many different Mendip clubs mingling together, frequently at the Hunter's Inn, it makes for a good location for a caving weekend.

We stayed at Larkshall, home of Cerberus Speleological Society; a first visit there for us. We shared this with Cardiff University who proved that university caving is still going extremely strong by fielding a group of around 35 for a Fresher's caving weekend. The strong support network provided by the Cardiff alumni team was also readily apparent as were the high spirits of the new cavers who had some first visits to Swildon's, GB and Fairy Cave Quarry and came back very excited by their new experiences. They also learned some new caving games, including the broom handle one and paper picking up game and upheld some old traditions - one of their members has a cream pie in the face on every away trip (which is welcomed by everyone as all get a share of the dessert afterwards!).
Larkshall, home of the Cerberus.

Saturday was a bright and fairly early start. We had tried to have an early night to be ready for the trip but, as with most best laid plans, that hadn't happened. Nevertheless, we were up and ready in plenty of time to meet Ben at the MCG hut at 10am. The weather was looking good and it was not a long drive to get there. Having never approached the MCG from this side of the Mendips we decided to use Chloe's sat nav. When we passed the same cyclists and group of horses for the second time, there was some minor cause for concern expressed, but nothing more. When the sat nav suggested a decidedly dodgy looking track as being the quickest route there, fresh scepticism emerged. However, not enough to deter us from following the track and having to reverse around 1/2 mile back when it was discovered to be a dead end. Even after this we were only 5 mins late for our meeting, which was perfectly within the boundaries of acceptable cavers' 'faff time'.

Upper Flood is not a walk in the park. Those expecting to just head straight in and see the formations in Neverland without putting in too much effort will be sorely disappointed. The cave makes you work for it and guards it's spectacular formations well. The trip to Neverland and back takes around 5 hours at a fair pace and is a committing one. An injury beyond the choke would be an incredibly serious situation with, I'd say, zero chance of a stretcher being able to be taken back through the choke. There are 13 squeezes and innumerable contortions needed throughout - there used to be a squeeze box test at the MCG hut to see if you could fit through the tightest part. Despite being a 'dry' cave, you get fully wet within the first 30 minutes of the trip thanks to the Lavatory Trap, Canal and Puddle Lake. But it is undoubtedly worth it. This was my second visit to the cave within the past 2 years and I'd happily go back any day. It's a sporting trip coupled with some of the prettiest formations I have seen. What more could you want from your Saturday caving trip? You feel like you've done something worthwhile.
Lawrence on the way to Neverland
Chloe admires a huge curtain
There is a lot of crawling and squeezing through the choke to start with until you break out in to the Departure Lounge, so-called after one of the original diggers almost missed her flight because of the breakthrough that was made at the dig that day. From there a streamway is met and a faster pace can be sustained. But the cave is pretty throughout. Royal Icing junction is passed later on, along with Plank Chamber and Duck Under Boss (above which is the Duck Pond). The piece de resistance is Neverland. This is spectacular. Mark Burkey has some first rate photos of this area and Andy and Antonia Freem's video is also a must-watch: 
Neverland. Photo: Mark Burkey
Even more Neverland. Photo: Mark Burkey.
The Pork Pies. Photo: Mark Burkey.

Lawrence, Chloe and Claire managing to stand in descending height order.

Whilst the three of us had been having fun in Upper Swallet, Bill had been off walking around the Fairy Cave Quarry area. We all met up in the Hunter's for food, a drink and a meet-up with local member Lizzy, and Seb. 

Lizzy and Seb at the Hunters.

Sunday saw us wake up aching after our trip the previous day. Consequently, Chloe and Lawrence decided to go for a walk along Cheddar Gorge whilst Bill and I headed to Fairy Cave quarry for a trip in to Hillier's and Fairy Cave. There was an art exhibition on in the quarry, so we got plenty of stares walking in to this in full caving kit and then disappearing through the gated entrance of Hillier's! It was intended to be a through-trip, but we didn't quite make that as my knee was not happy. We did manage to get through most of Hillier's and then had a go at part of Fairy Cave before I called it a day. Bill, however, was still going strong at this time.  Trip time: 2.5 hours.
Bill trying out one of the 'upstream' crawls in Hillier's

Bill in Hillier's and at the entrance to Fairy Cave.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Aggy for the evening 13.10.15

SWCC: Stewart Avey, Paul Tarrant, Claire Vivian.
Guest: Rory Parker.

At SWCC we are definitely keen and flexible at short notice. This was going to be a first Craig a Ffynnon trip for Adrian, but due to work commitments, he couldn't make it. Tabitha also had to drop out due to illness. And a too close encounter between a knee and a concrete floor for Claire, thanks to a pair of skates, also almost jeopardised the trip.
Paul, Stewart and Rory

But we still had a team eager to go caving so with some slight rearranging, and removing bandaging in Claire's case, we had a first trip into Agen Allwedd for new provisional member Stewart Avey and his friend Rory Parker. It was also going to be Rory's first time underground, so excitement was in the air.

It was a slightly chilly evening as we  arrived at Whitewalls. The walk in as it was getting dusk was nice and pretty and took around 25 minutes, plenty of time to warm up those muscles. Given Claire's general inability to open locks on cave gates, Paul was sent ahead with the key.
Paul at the Aggy entrance 

We were soon moving along at a steady pace in the entrance series. Rory was enthralled and not daunted on his first visit to a cave. And Stewart was also incredibly keen. The Aggy entrance series is fairly strenuous from the start with some short traverses, crawls, brief flat-out sections, climbs and then a boulder choke. It provided a good introduction to caving skills for Rory. We saw numerous bats along the way and reached the impressive Main Passage in around 45 minutes. We then continued along this as far as the entrance to Southern Stream Passage. After the smaller proportions of the entrance series, both Stewart and Rory were amazed at the size of Main Passage and thoroughly enjoyed the walk down it.
Rory's first crawl
Stewart testing his traversing skills

Some more traversing
Rory, Stewart and Claire in Main Passage. Photo: Paul Tarrant.
Main Passage is BIG. It's possibly 10m by 10m in a lot of the early sections and over 1200m long. We stopped to look at the selenite crystals in the dried mud floor and occasionally saw bats zoom past overhead. Paul stopped for a few photos to test his flashguns and then it was time to head back out (photos to follow). Stewart is a keen photographer and is eager to go back and take some photos of his own. He would welcome advice on cave photography. Is there anyone out there willing to help out?? Please get in touch!
Admiring Selenite crystals
The impressive Main Passage (Photo: Brendan Marris)

All along Stewart and Rory were highly interested in the cave and it was a pleasure to cave with them (though perhaps Stewart's seemingly unending supply of chocolate bars and sweets, may also have had something to do with that...).

By the time we returned to the entrance Stewart and Rory were feeling sufficiently tired after their trip. They had performed very well and are already looking forward to their next trip.

Rory in a narrow section in the entrance series.
A happy new caver

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Box and Beers

Trip Date: October 3rd - 4th 2015

Team: SWCC: Duncan Hornby, Christiane Michel & Michael Perryman
           Guests: Roger and Neil
A mate of mine (Neil) who I've taken caving a few times over the years asked about revisiting Box Mine, a trip we had done many years ago. Claire did her magic and put me in contact with Michael who kindly offered to lead a trip.

Staying at the Shepton Mallet Caving Club, Neil and I were able to take advantage of it's proximity to the Hunters Lodge on the Friday which as always was very busy. On the Saturday we drove to a lay-by near the Quarrymans Arms and met up with Michael and his friend Roger. Christiane was driving down from Yorkshire that day and eventually joined. We kitted up and headed for the Jack's Workings entrance, a short walk within a shaded woodland.

The team at Jack's Workings Entrance
Michael expertly lead the the trip, providing interesting historical facts and every now and then looking vaguely worried about which direction to head. This is understandable as Box mine looks exactly the same regardless of which direction you are looking at or come from! 

Rodger standing next to one of the many examples of historic graffiti
We wormed our way through the Mine with occasional scrambles over deads and under worryingly looking wooden supported ceilings. Michael was able to navigate from a route that he had previously explored and link to the impressive Cathedral Chamber

The team admiring the splendid Cathedral chamber with all it's litter and "colourful" graffiti. Apparently George (who ever he is) has an interesting hobby...
We left the mine via the Back Door entrance. We did our bit for the community by filling a bin liner's worth of litter found at the entrance. After changing back into clean clothes we headed to the Quarrymans Arms for a celebratory pint. 

Christiane, Neil and I headed back to the Shepton caving hut then straight to the Hunters for a meal and a few pints. The Hunters was strangely very quiet. 

This seemed to be a response to the BEC having their AGM meal. I had heard on the grapevine that it was going to kick off back at the Belfry around 1am. I joined the Kent University Club, who were staying at the Shepton hut and headed over. In true BEC style the party was in full swing, rammed solid with people, loud music, lasers and kegs of beer!

The next day the three of us walked to Wookey Hole via the Ebbor Gorge. This offered spectacular views south towards Glastonbury.

Views south with Glastonbury Tor on the horizon

Mine trip: 3 hours
Walk: 3.5 hours (included lunch stop and Ice cream at Wookey Hole!)