Wednesday, 9 October 2019

August Bank Holiday Tiger Weekend

Weekend Round Up - by Chloe Francis

I never thought I would ever lose sleep over salad; but as the August bank holiday drew closer, I began to regret my laissez faire approach to certain important event components. For example, a sign-up list to know numbers for catering might have been useful before very late the evening before the event. The wonderful (and very patient) Chris Grimmett emailed some pertinent questions in the weeks leading up to the bank holiday such as: ‘so where exactly are you having this BBQ; where shall we set up the beer and how much are you charging for food’? None of these questions I really knew the answers to.

By Friday night I had been at the club for two days and had a reasonable idea of how I was going to feed 60 people. However, on hearing my plans to “wing it with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire”, the Soup Dragons Annie Hallihan and Amanda Davies, plus Elaine Hall and Hayley Meredith offered their guidance, moral support and an endless set of skills. Friday night was fun: there was a great atmosphere in the club as the car park got fuller and fuller. I went to bed much later than intended - after persuading everyone in the kitchen share my extremely strong whisky with me.

On Saturday morning groups gathered together and headed underground. There was a fantastic array of trips happening, thanks to the organisational brilliance of Claire Vivian. Over the weekend these included: Draenen, to War of the Worlds; Pwll Dwfn; OFD2, to the Traverses; Top Waterfall; a Pendulum Passage pull-down; an OFD through-trip; Dan yr Ogof - both the round trip and to the Far North; Pant Mawr and a Daren Cilau through trip.

As cavers set off towards their caves, I drank tea and tried to see through my poor, bloodshot eyes. An expedition to both Tesco and Asda down the valley ensured that we had the food needed for the party. Meanwhile, back at the club, Graham and Harvey negotiated BBQ transportation from the Stump to our HQ. Many thanks to the Wealdon for lending us this monster piece of kit! The day passed by in a salad-y blurr of chopping, slicing and grating. Thankfully, the magical dragon’s cupboard contained a food processor, which helped enormously with the coleslaw making.

With the glorious sunshine people naturally gathered outside the HQ to bask in the late August warmth. This made it easy to round up helpers to move all the benches from outside the cottages to the BBQ location by the dumper truck shed! BBQs were lit, salads were piled on plates and delicious fruit crumbles were demolished. It was lovely to see everyone sitting outside together, sharing tales of the caving adventures which had occurred throughout the day.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this weekend a success - especially to Claire who coordinated the trips and to everyone who volunteered to lead.

Photo: Graham Christian

Trip Report, by Tim Ball (Shepton Mallet CC & Cerberus SS)
Daren Cilau Through-Trip: Bank Holiday Monday 26 August 2019

Which did I prefer, a through-trip in Daren or War of the Worlds in Ogof Draenen? A close thing to decide upon since I visited both thanks to being guided by Tarquin Wilton-Jones over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Overall I’m going with Daren. It’s closer to my heart as a Mendip caver, and in Draenen I get boulder-fade.

I’d not visited the cave for…not sure, at least 8 years I should think, maybe 10. But the entrance series isn’t so bad when you’ve done time in Mendip. How many phone line junction boxes were there? I couldn’t remember, but I learned that it is 8 by the time you get out at the other end. Only three wet grovels, being the immediate entrance and also a nicely coloured and profiled section around half way plus Stal Squeezes near the finish. Just like caving at home!

Tarquin wanted to see Old Main Chamber which I’d not visited before, and I’m glad we went. Rift Passage leading up to it had a couple of entertaining climbs before reaching a small chamber and then onwards through a welcome (easy) phreatic-like passage into the enormous Chamber itself. Massive with a flat-ish roof, and very mud coated on all of the large boulders.

I can’t believe I’d forgotten how long Jigsaw Passage was. In fact, I can’t believe I’d forgotten the general large scale of the cave. Everything is big in one way or another. Tarquin gave us lots of very interesting commentary about the cave creation and how this related to the features we were seeing – I’ve never been underground with someone so knowledgeable. If only I could remember more than a tiny fraction, but at least I now know something about cryogenic cave formation (cryo-stal and cryo-calcite).

Epocalypse Passage was even larger and had the best formations for me with some huge selenite needles and thick mud deposits plus the White Company and then a detour into the fabulous Urchin Oxbox. Seeing really is believing.

Past The Kitchen and into Antler Passage and one memorable hairy climb/traverse where I made a conscious decision not to think about the depth underneath me, even if only for a short distance before posting myself carefully through a calcited aperture having formations close by. Up and down, up and down, with the Passage really giving more sense of the vertical scale of the place. Some of the fixed aids were comedy!

Eventually we turned into Busmans Holiday where the scale increased in width once again. Did we see condensation formations here? I can’t recall but that is another new formation type (to me) that I learned from Tarquin (thanks). Finally into Price’s Prophecy which reminded me very much of Gnome Passage in OFD 1.

And then the sting in the tail. Which is worse, the entrance crawl or Price’s Dig? Well I know where you get muddier that’s for sure. Up until this point I was clean! And I can’t believe that people used to free-dive the sump (now by-passable).

Finally out into daylight and a cuppa brewed for us in the car park by some friendly folk staying in their camper van.

It’s been too long since I’ve visited Daren, and this is a classic trip which everyone should do. Don’t be put off by the entrance series since the rewards are worth it.

Many thanks to Tarquin W-J for guiding us round, and to Claire Vivian and Chloe Francis for organising the SWCC weekend.

Dan yr Ogof: The Far North
by Dave Eason

After the festivities of Friday night, and a hard days digging on the Black Mountain, I was apprehensive to say the least about the Far North trip! However, this is a classic trip that I have always wanted to do since I started caving and eventually found the enthusiasm. Tony Baker was leading this trip, so this was my first time on a big trip with Tony, after spending about 2 years digging with him! This was my 4th time into the cave, after helping Phil Knight with conservation work in recent times & a first time in for Lee, Ariana and Sanita. Soon we were all ready to go and set off at about 9:30 A.M. from Penwyllt. After quickly kitting up, we were soon walking past the tourists and heading into the cave by about 10:00. With water levels low at the Giedd on Saturday, and the weather being fine, I was surprised to see how much water was coming out of the resurgence, with it's mildly peaty complexion.

Within about 5 minutes we were at the end of the showcave, and stomping off down the concrete path towards the lakes. The water was a couple of inches over the path, and it was a bit higher than I've experienced here before. A strong current was felt crossing lake 3 and climbing the water falls, making it interesting! We shortly got to the 1937 Series, and stomped on through here. It's a shame to stomp through, as there are lots of interesting features to look at when you have the time.

Once through the Long Crawl, we made our way down to the Lower Series of DYO II, as this was a first time in for three of the party and it was well worth a look down here. The mythical, mysterious passage shapes never fail to impress me. After about 45 minutes we were eventually up & over the Camel and at the top of the Abyss, peering down.

Onwards, we headed towards the Rising. We needed to re-rig the pitch into the Great North Road, and had to pick up a new rope, that was stashed by the Battleship. We paused at the rising, spent some time untangling the new rope and got our SRT kits on before making our way up the ladder, then up the rift climb to the hole at the top where you post your self into the Windy Way. The short, very draughty crawl, ends in a traverse over the top of a 15m or so pitch followed by a short pitch down into birthday passage. We were all taken aback to how pretty this passage was, and Sanita spent some time photographing the very fine, delicate helictites here. Tony rigged the 14m pitch down with the new rope and we all made our way into the Great North Road. The sense of remoteness suddenly hits you here, and you are committed to the trip, now in DYO III. You look ahead into the absolutely massive rift passage ahead (sometimes well over 40 m high in places near Pinnacle Chamber), with the stream flowing, and it's awe inspiring.

We headed onwards, before popping up into the massive Pinnacle Chamber where it gets large enough that my light wouldn't illuminate the end & sides of the passage. Climbing down through the boulders took us into the Meanders, with the most incredible horse shoe bend carved into the passage. This part of the cave is not so much controlled by the major fault, so has a less linear nature, and is more carved in great meandering passages. We were then stomping along all sorts of varying terrain, more fault controlled again, with perfectly flat roofed straight, rectangular passages and boulder, gravel and sandy floored streamways, ever getting bigger and more impressive. The passages get sandy, as you reach the big sand chokes where you make your way up the 17m North Aven climb.

At the top, we passed the most amazing layered sediment banks and complete fossilised coral reefs in the roof, before reaching the starting gate, where immense avens rise up above you and 20m sand banks rise up in places at the sides, all the time with various forms of the streamway running loudly under the floor. The floor is either sandy, or made of rounded sandstone cobbles, or a mixture of large limestone blocks, or all three!

We eventually arrived at the immense Grand Hall and Far North Choke, where the passages get huge and immediately end, albeit with some fine formations. This is a fine, dramatic, and impressive place and certainly re-enforces my interest in digging on the Black Mountain. Being here makes you realise why Tony has been digging there for many years, as theoretically, this is all but a fraction of a larger system of caves and these passages continue beyond in some form.

On the way back, we went via the beautifully decorated Mostest oxbow back to the Meanders, with it's crystal floors. Back into DYO II, we went back via Green Canal into the Upper Series, with it's immense, scalloped phreatic passages, carved into jet black, sparkling limestones, with high-contrast pure white & translucent straws and helictites. I've always found the acoustics of this part of the cave interesting too, having a massively long reverberation time whenever you speak.

We eventually made our way out by about 7:20 (slightly longer than anticipated) with the water now below the path at Lake 1. I almost immediately headed off to Brecon with some other members for a curry. What an amazing trip in a fantastic place. Huge thanks to Tony for leading, and thanks to the others for being great company!


Far North Trip by Sanita Lustika


Top Waterfall Trip Report
By Chloe Taylor

Having not been underground all summer (I can’t bring myself to willingly crawl into a dark, wet and muddy hole when we are blessed with some rare sunshine!), it’s safe to say I was a tad anxious about embarking on an intimidatingly named ‘Tiger Trip’. Luckily, I was reassured that it didn’t mean MEGA HARD caving, just something a little more than you are used to. With that in mind, I happily scrambled into my suit and crawled into the dark, wet and muddy hole that is Top Entrance (on a particularly sunshiny day).

John was our leader for the trip to Top Waterfall, which, he gleefully told us, he had never actually been to before. Jane, Carwyn and I didn’t mind – we were up for an adventure! We headed for the streamway, pausing at times for Jane to take some samples for her university students. When it came to lowering ourselves down into Maypole Inlet, John said the climb up could be tricky and asked if we would like a rope attaching – later on, I was glad we had said yes! We continued on down Maypole Inlet (one of my favourite parts of OFD – it makes me think of cows!) and to the main streamway. Here, we unfortunately got into a little trouble. On climbing down, Jane missed her footing and fell into the streamway. Being an absolute trooper, she insisted that we carry on, but from above it definitely looked like it hurt.

We gingerly continued up the streamway to search for Top Waterfall, keeping a close eye on Jane and her sore arm. Not knowing how much further away it was, and being concerned that we’d miss our ticket time, we turned around. The way back was mostly uneventful, but I was nervous about the climb up from Maypole Inlet, having needed to make much use of Nigel’s shoulders to get up it on a recent through trip! Luckily, Carwyn’s climbing skills came in handy and he was able to scramble up and move the pre-attached rope into a good position for us to use, which I was very grateful for. We found ourselves getting quite shivery at this point, and I must say I was glad to get back to the club and stuff my face with cider and grub at the brilliantly organised BBQ

Pwll Dwfn Trip Report
By Alan Walsh

The sweatiest part of the trip was undoubtedly the long slog up the hill from the Dan yr Ogof car park, even taking into consideration that we only got changed into our full gear at the entrance to the cave! While Bob headed in first to get started on the rigging, the rest of us basked in the sunshine, with Morgan following second to assist Bob where necessary. Stephen was third, eager to get some practise in with the new design of Petzl stop! I followed up at the back, pausing for a ‘milksop moment’ as he lowered himself through the awkward scramble at the cave entrance and failed to find a foothold without assistance.

The first pitch was described as being climbable, but this certainly didn’t look the case while descending. It looked a bit more hand and foot friendly from the bottom but the rope negated the temptation to try it out! The second pitch involved a rebelay for practise, where the cave helpfully offered me a small ledge to push off with my feet to release the short cows tail before testing the descender!

The further pitches offered a chance to practise passing deviations. I only made it down 4 of the pitches, somehow doubting the efficiency of my ascending technique to the extent that it felt like the mouth of the cave may be out of reach! I started out first and experienced a unique blend of surprise and annoyance as I found I was ascending the rope with a speed and efficiency that I no longer needed to be ashamed off, so could have easily managed the final pitch. In the swing of things even the rebelay was far quicker on the way up! Inexplicably the tight climb at the entrance went smoother for me on the way out than on the way in, while Bob seemed to find the reverse was true. It can only be assumed that my body had detected some deficiency in my bones during my four pitch ascent and decided that not a second could be lost in obtaining some vitamin D!

Overall the trip was a fantastic opportunity to practise SRT close to SWCC, which I didn’t know existed a few days before, finished off by a discussion over the merits of snap gate, screw and twist lock karabiners on the stroll back to the car park. It was only after Bill returned after his second triumphant ice cream hunt of the summer (of the ones I am aware of) on Sunday that I regretted not partaking in one myself!

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