Saturday, 23 November 2019

Provisionals' / beginners' Weekend, November 2019

With a record breaking 30 people to arrange trips for, this weekend was a huge one. We had 18 people completely new to caving and 11 who were within their first year of starting caving with SWCC.
Meeting bright and early on Saturday morning to kick the weekend off.
8 separate trips took place on Saturday to different parts of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. With the streamway high, all trips stayed away from the water but with over 35 miles of cave to explore, there was still plenty for them to do.
Tomasz, Luke, Bev, Bob and Judit raring to go.

Emily, Antonia, Bill, Josh and Malcolm about to go to OFD2.
Darren, Celestine, Helen, Paul, Aga and Anna 

The trips proved to be fun and challenging at the same time and will best be explained in the words of some of the participants.






Sian


Sian in her first crawl underground
A dark, dreich and dreary 6 hour drive in the fog and lashing rain to a weekend underground with a group of folk I didn’t know .... what was I thinking ? Such were my thoughts as I drove the journey from North Devon to the SWCC. Over the last few approaching miles, visibility was next to nil and I felt like the only person around post apocalypse. Finally arriving I entered the clubhouse and immediately felt welcome and at ease. Food and a good nights sleep with fellow female newbies saw us eager to face the caving adventure the next morning.

The club was packed, we were assigned experienced leaders and different caving trips. Us newbie rabble were kitted up and finally off we went into the unknown. I was fortunate in having Claire and Pete as leaders. After a short trudge uphill we arrived at Top entrance .... and then the magic began.
Michelle trying out a squeeze
What followed was 5 hours of walking, climbing, crawling, traversing, squeezing through, squeezing around, standing in awe ... all skilfully led by Claire who was seamless in her instruction, pacing ... and friendliness. I felt safe.
Suze climbing near the Labyrinth
By the end of the trip I was exhilarated and my body felt well worked out! The evening was a blur of camaraderie, food, welcome hot shower, beer and fireworks. A real friendly time.
The Pinata game
The following morning, having found muscles we’d forgotten we had, some of us stayed to do a second trip. This time we entered through the bottom entrance ... and a completely different caving experience. Who knew that sideways rolypolying was a creditable caving technique?! The route was more technical than the previous day which was great for confidence building and enjoyment, again ably led by Claire.
Sian trying out her first wire traverse
The formations and features we came across were awe inspiring and the shared knowledge on their formation, stimulating. After a good four hours or so, as the newbie of the group I emerged completely thrilled at everything we as a group had done on the trip. The caving bug had bitten. The weekend wound down after a steaming shower with post trip banter over steaming tea and cake. What a weekend. For anyone considering venturing into the underground world, I really don’t think you could improve on a SWCC provisional weekend for its friendliness, caving experience, competence, bunkhouse facilities and all round fun factor. I’ll be back!



Emily


This past weekend saw me take on the magnificent caves in South Wales. I’m a member of a Facebook group called ‘Love Her Wild’, which is a group for women who like doing all sorts of adventurous activities, and I saw a post offering a beginners' caving session with the South Wales Caving Club. It sparked my interest immediately, and I signed up. Living up in Warrington I figured I could save money and the environment by seeing if there was anyone who wouldn’t mind car sharing, and thankfully there was. This made travelling down to the club a lot less intimidating. There really was no need to worry however, as when I arrived I was met by a lovely bustle of friendly faces, and people eager to show me around and chat about caving. I met some really interesting people this weekend, including people who had been caving for decades and had actually discovered some of these caves themselves. I also met people who were digging to discover more caves, as it’s known there are many more that haven’t been unearthed yet (I found that prospect quite exciting, yet the feel around the group was somewhat less enthusiastic due to the physical effort needed for such a job!).
Viewing underground formations 
This particular weekend was a great one for beginners to attend as it was the annual fireworks event for the club, and this brought out many of the usual members. This meant that we newbies were in good hands, as the wealth of knowledge everyone had about the caves was vast. The group sizes were kept to a maximum of six people, and with there being somewhere like 30 beginners here this weekend, that meant there were a lot of groups and therefore, many experienced cavers were required. I was given a kit list before I attended which consisted of mainly old warm clothes, and wellies. We had the option to bring our own kit if we had it to save costs, and luckily I had a climbing helmet I could use and a head torch (though I would discover later that torches that were good for night trail running, were not as good when used underground). What I didn’t have was an oversuit. This was a really thick material and provided a form of protection for yourself against sharp edges of the caves as well as protection from the mud. I was able to hire this from a local activity centre. Extra kit which might have been useful I discovered, were knee pads and neoprene socks. Luckily for me only my feet got wet this weekend, but often caving can involve travelling through underground streams, in which case a wetsuit is required under the oversuit, but because of the recent rain, those pathway tunnels were not safe to visit this time (I’m definitely going back to try them out though!).

The caving club has a big kitchen where you can cook your own food, dorm rooms with bunk beds separated male and female, and a ‘long common room’ where everyone chills out with a nice warm fire. This room has a massive map or ‘survey’ of the caves, so you can see where you’ve been. On Saturday morning we all met here at 09:30 and were allocated our caving teams. We then donned the kit and headed up the hill to the caves. Once inside I could see the difference my head torch made compared to the experienced cavers, but mine was good enough to get by. 

Throughout the trip I was given lots of information regarding how the caves were formed and the science behind the structures we saw. The actual caving consisted of walking, climbing, crawling and pulling yourself over, under and through the muddy rocks. You had to use your whole body to do this and often you were straddling chasms or jumping over big holes you could easily fall into. 
Darren traversing above Salubrious Streamway
In this beginner trip we didn’t use any rope or do any abseiling, but often caving can involve using these techniques to allow you deeper into the caves (definitely a must do for my next visit). All of the chambers/routes had interesting names, such as ‘Gnome Passage’, or ‘Brickyard’, or ‘Corkscrew’, which aptly described the locations well. We were underground for many hours and were advised to bring a snack because of this. I had absolutely no idea where I was the whole time, and immediately thought how easy it would be for someone to get lost if they didn’t know what they were doing. Often the path would seem obvious, but it would turn out to be a tiny hole facing the other way which you had to squeeze through to make progress. 
Admiring a crystal pool
We bumped into a few groups along the way and the community spirit shined through once more.
After the day’s adventure we hung up our kit in the drying room ready to explore again the following day. That evening we had the fireworks event which was pretty spectacular despite the wind and rain, and then it was off to bed after sharing a communal nachos and chilli (with veggie option).

The SWCC club hut with some fireworks

I was sad to see that the next day many of the beginners were headed home instead of caving again, I never discovered whether it was a logistics thing where they needed to get home, or if they’d had enough, but I was eager to get back down in the caves. 

The second days experience for me was a bit different than normal, as I was assisting some people practise filming with their brand new camera. This gave me the opportunity to try out some things with my GoPro too, which I’d never have considered previously. Unfortunately, because I had to get home, the second day of caving was not as long as the first, but it definitely gave me the bug to come back again and do more exploring. There are caves up closer to me in the Peak District and Yorkshire, so no doubt I’ll be visiting them soon to have a good old explore.

So, if you’d like to try caving give it a go. There are things for all skill levels and everyone is so accommodating. Thanks for a great weekend South Wales Caving Club, and hopefully I’ll see you again soon.


Suze

Paul and I have been caving at another club for a couple of years, but decided we wanted to get involved with another slightly bigger club and SWCC seemed like the ideal solution.

So, we duly arrived for our first provisionals trip, on a spectacularly wet day even by Welsh standards! Stomping up the hill to OFD2 it managed to dwindle to a cold drizzle which made the walk a little more agreeable, and our group gathered by the familiar hatch to the underworld. Having sustained a few injuries and still getting physio for a recent car accident tis was the first trip I'd been on for a while so I was both looking forward to it, and also a little anxious! We had a look at the survey as a group and then, we were off in to the hole, straight into that peace and darkness that envelops you underground.


With two novices in the group we did the standard "pure darkness" lights off moment, and then we were off into some great little passages, climbing up and over boulders, and onto a passage that was admittedly not my favourite with a lovely gap in the middle to straddle, and a bend with a small void which made me question why I'd put myself through this again. But after having a word with myself, and some words of reassurance (also known as "get a grip, you've done this a hundred times, now shift it") from Paul, we were past it and into the next chamber. 

Being short of leg, the next challenge was climbing the waterfall at Arete Chamber, not hard by any standards, but it's a bit of a stretch if you haven't the height for it! But the reward of the formations at the top was worth the effort! We eventually ended up at Salubrious which I loved and Trident and Judge which were great to see and grab some photos. Then it was time to turn back, and head towards the outside again. We left the novices to head on to a couple of other chambers and passages with our other leader, and headed on out with Claire, having a look at Gnome Passage on the way out, and the Wedding Cake (which is more like a dropped Wedding Cake actually). Outside the sun was glorious, okay it was absolutely hammering down, and we enjoyed a very wet walk back to the hut to clean up and grab a cuppa. A great trip, we had a fantastic time meeting new people and starting to learn more about navigating OFD2. Thank you so much to SWCC, and especially to Claire for her outstanding efforts organising everyone on the Saturday morning!



Paul




It’s not easy trying to compress a whole weekend of fun into a few paragraphs. Where to start… well I have to admit I have visited the SWCC HQ as a guest not so long ago (where I found out about last weeks beginners weekend in the process) so on this occasion I managed, despite the thick fog en route, to avoid all the fun and games of Google Maps insisting you should be using gated hill roads to get there (coming from the Brecon / Sennybridge direction). Being a complete outsider to the sport, I have to say, I was completely taken back by just how big and organised caving actually is. If I’m truthful I didn’t really know what to expect that first trip to the HQ… but a impressive, purposely converted row of 10 small cottages, in what seems like the middle of nowhere, probably wasn’t it (and I mean that in a good way, of course). I’d clearly underestimated the popularity of caving, the size of SWCC and more importantly the facilities it has available.
Viewing the Trident 
Despite probably living close enough to be able to have driven down each morning for the 9.30 starts I decided (following several recommendations) to stay over both Friday and Saturday nights to experience the post caving fun and games and I’m glad I did. Friday evening was certainly the quieter of the 2 evenings but I felt I’d learnt a lot very quickly through talking (and also just quietly listening) to members in long common room chat about caving until well past my bedtime. Having hired some kit from down the road and been sorted into groups and appointed a leader for the weekend Saturdays caving experience consisted of a tour around OFD 2… some parts of which I had seen before, the majority though was a whole new experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Everyone had different ideas of the worst bits of the day and it certainly pushed comfort zones for some but we all completed the route and made it out safe and sound with some patient encouragement from the leaders. There was a noticeable sense of achievement from everyone in our group whilst walking back down to the clubhouse though it was clear everyone was left with varying degrees of eagerness for more the following morning. Saturday evening started out much the same as Fridays… plenty of caving related conversation in the LCR to start with followed by even more entertainment, despite the foul weather, with an impressive firework display which literally kept everyone on their toes 😂. An excellent 2 course communal meal of nachos and Chilli soon followed and was very well received before the LCR chat resumed over a few pints of beer. Saturday was certainly the busier of the two evenings and with plenty of lubrication it wasn’t long before vocal chords were being exercised… a hilarious spectacle for those sober enough to remember it 😂. Retiring even later than the previous night, tired from laughing so much and with several beers on board I had a good night sleep! I may well have been one, of only a few, arising Sunday morning bright eyed and bushy tailed and keen for more caving. Sadly, the rest of the beginners in our group, through work & family commitments etc wouldn’t be joining in on Sundays caving trip.


Paul's Sunday group. Celestine, Helen, George and Paul
After a little re-jigging of the groups we soon on our way down the road to OFD 1 for a “dry” / high level / escape route trip. It’s hard to put into words but this lower system, seemed to me, to have a whole different atmosphere and right from the off proved much more challenging and consequently even more enjoyable than the previous day. Navigational “oversights” on the way back out resulted in what was, for a few seconds, a completely confusing and disorientating (but at the same time hilarious) situation of arriving back at the same boulder choke we’d passed through not 10 minutes or so before… much to the two more experienced leaders amusement at the back… a very good lesson learnt and made for a trip that I will certainly never forget! The walk back uphill to the club house brought the weekend, and what a weekend it was! to a close. Roll on just a week and having enjoyed the experience so much I’ve made my application to become a provisional member, already had another mid week trip to OFD 2 and bought some gear for next time so you can safely say I’m hooked… It wouldn’t be right to conclude this without a few thank yous Firstly to SWCC for welcoming a bunch of strangers to the club and running these beginner weekends… without which many wouldn’t get the chance to try caving at all. Also I must thank Helen & Celestine, the leaders of our particular group, for giving up their time to show us beginners around though, of course, they are just a few of many volunteers who obviously work hard to make these weekends a success. Lastly but perhaps most importantly a thank you must go to Claire for organising it all… I can only imagine the amount of time and effort required to coordinate everything make the weekend run so smoothly. If anyone is reading this is in two minds about giving caving a go, especially at  one of the SWCC beginners weekends a go I can only say do it! You won’t regret the experience! 



Aga




I had a great day. It was very challenging but I was able to finish the route with the help and support from our guides, Helen and Celestine.
Paul, Helen, Anna, Aga and Darren outside OFD2, Top Entrance
Going underground is a very unique experience, you get to explore an environment that is beautiful and very much off the beaten path.

Anna at Swamp Creek
The trip might not be easy but SWCC is a very friendly community that would make anyone feel welcomed and at ease.

Celestine advising Aga how best to approach a climb


Tomasz


Thank you very much for the great weekend with SWCC. I am very impressed with everything I have seen and experienced. People are fantastic, caves are epic and the club very well organized, especially your organizational skills are just outstanding. My mind is still with you guys at Penwyllt and underground. The commitment of the club committee and all members to organise the provisional weekend for beginners and bonfire night for everyone was just unbelievable, caving trips, food, beer, heating, fireworks, accommodation and entertainment, everything spot on.  I would like to come back as soon as possible and get more involved in your activities. I look in the SWCC  blog, and the things you have done are amazing. I am very excited about becoming part of your team.

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