Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Draenen - The Geryon

Team: Claire Vivian and Tarquin Wilton-Jones
Time: 12 hours. (Saturday 6th January)

It all started off so well! Wake up a 5.30am. Yes. Taxi to train station at 6am. Yes. Catch train to Cardiff at 6.30am. Yes. Then things started to go wrong. Leave Neath. No. Arrive at Cardiff at 7.23am. No. Train broke down and got delayed by over an hour. Yes.

But then things started to go right again. I met Tarquin in Cardiff just after 8.30am and we headed over to pick up a key for Draenen. All went well and we were changed and ready to go underground for 10.30am. Considering it was barely 2 degrees celsius at this point, we were pretty keen to get underground as it would be warmer there. I had one literal slip up on the way to the cave after going flying on a patch of ice on the road. Hmm. 'Things come in threes', I thought, and this is the second thing already. What next??

We passed through the entrance series quickly, naturally relishing the grovel in cold water and the icy waterfall down your back. Then in no time we were at the signing-in book at Cairn Junction and Tarquin was off like a whippet. White Arch Passage, Lamb and Fox Chamber, Indiana Highway, Megadrive, Perseverence II all passed by at warp speed. Though we did pause to look at the fossilised dorsal spine of a shark near the start of Raiders Passage en route. There was plenty of boulder hopping (Tarquin) and boulder slipping (me) and then we were at Sugar Cube Chamber looking up at the huge wedged rock - the Sugar Cube itself - without standing directly under it for too long, as it doesn't look to be held up there by very much! Elliptic Passage, Big Beauty Junction, Gone with the Wind and Midwinter Chambers passed in a blur and then we (I) had a quick snack and break at the Snowball before we dived in to the Last Sandwich. This is a lengthy 300m of low crawls and squeezes. The recent modifications in that area mean that someone my size doesn't come anywhere near touching the sides any more.

Soon we were popping out in to the massive MSAD (More Singing and Dancing, being the clean version of the name). What an incredible place! I first 'saw' this in 2014 with a less bright caving light. Even with a much more powerful light it is still impossible to see it all. This place is vast, and is made even more impressive considering you have just come through the Last Sandwich crawls to reach it.

Decisions, decisions! Where to go first... Head straight for the Geryon or go and look at Nicola's Grotto. I opted for the Geryon as this was the furthest away from our current position and I fancied doing that while still feeling fresh as I had wanted to see it for a long time. With Tarquin on the hunt for CCCs (cryogenic cave calcite) and me photographing every helictite in sight and having a play around with my new camera, we took our time to get there and just enjoyed being in that section of cave. It was great. Iwouldn't say I am very familar with Draenen (my trip total there is less than 10 trips) and being able to go in with Tarquin who knows the name and history behind every passage was a real treat.
Tarquin at Medusa's Children
Helictites near Medusa's Children
We headed on past Medusa's Children (amazing!) and then on to Cantankerous Surveyors' Passage.
This was not as long as I was expecting it to be. I had envisioned another very long crawl, but it was only a few feet long to get to the Geryon's Lair. The first view you get of the Geryon is spectacular. You enter the bottom of the chamber and look up at the Geryon and a fantastic domed roof of the chamber.
Tarquin and the Geryon.
The Geryon
Claire and the Geryon
I was delighted to have finally reached the Geryon and spent quite a while taking photos in the chamber. We then headed up for the end of Cantankerous' Surveyors (which ends in a dig at the moment) and then headed back to the large passages of MSAD and the Hall of the One.
Tarquin in the Hall of the One.
From here we experimented with taking some photos in the large chamber and then headed up to see Nicola's Grotto. This was excellent and well worth the visit and subsequent photos.
Nicola's Grotto
Nicola's Grotto
We turned around and headed back to the Hall of the One again. It looked incredible from this angle, so we paused for more photos.
Tarquin in Hall of the One. Additional editing by Peter Wilton-Jones.
Next on the agenda was a bit of an explore to Squealing Like a Stuck Pig and Pisspot Passage. Neither were quite as unpleasant as they sound, but then I didn't go the whole way down Pisspot Passage. I let Tarquin explore the rest of that for a few minutes while I gathered my strength for the return trip. We'd been pretty fast so far, so I wasn't sure how tired I would be on the way out. We turned around and headed back down via a slightly different route to MSAD. We then decided to have a quick look at the Snowy Christmas Tree before heading on out. This is definitely worthy of a diversion when you are in the vicinity of it.
A smaller section of MSAD
Tarquin and the Snowy Christmas Tree
We had a late lunch (around 7pm) at the entrance to the Last Sandwich and then began to head back. I feel myself getting more tired and slowing down on the way back, but we managed to exit Draenen by 10pm and then headed over to Chris and Judith's for a very welcome cup of warm tea after getting changed in the ice cold wilderness of the car park opposite the Lamb and Fox. Altogether it had been an excellent 12 hours underground and I wouldn't hesitate to go back to the Dollimore Series again - both to do more of my own routefinding and to see more of the area itself. Thanks for a great trip Tarquin!


  1. 12 hours! Great photos. I would like to see the Geryon, just need to make sure I have plenty of pork pies to power me there and back!

  2. Me too! I would also like to see the Geryon. Maybe one day.... Great write up Claire.

  3. Excellent efforts.mega pictures.12 hours .....well worth the efforts with them stunning formations