Huw Jones, Morgan Specht, Malcolm Reid and Huw Durban
By Huw Jones
Photos Huw Durban
It was very nearly a year on from the last trip but we were back, all ready to drop the pitch in Fault Rifts, Ogof Draenen. Everyone was available this time so we had four people to share carrying all the kit.
We met up in Blaenavon again and then drove up to Pwll Du for another early start, picking up the 40m rope from Indiana Highway along the way again. Once in Fault Chambers, we quickly got our SRT kits on and headed up the rope into Fault Rifts, that me and Morgan had rigged last time. To keep things moving nicely, as soon as I was up, I stripped of my SRT kit and headed straight to the climb up Headache Rift and passed the message back for everyone else to do the same. The rift was still very hard work, even using a jammer and footloop but definitely easier than doing it without! As soon as the next person (Morgan) was up we moved off to the next obstacle, the low, tight crawl leading from Headache to the parallel passage. It was hard work dragging a bag through here and the team bunched up again. Once through the damp choke, we made our way down the parallel passage, to the pitch.
Things at the pitch head were a bit different from what I thought I remembered from my last visit but that had been twenty months ago and the batteries in my lamp had been running low so I didn’t have that much light! The top of the pitch seemed smaller, the right hand wall very uneven but more solid and the left hand wall, that I’d decided it would be best to rig from was covered in a thick layer of wet mud. We got the kit out and I started rigging on the left wall. I placed a bolt back from the pitch head and tied in the rope to give protection to rig the main hang further out. I had to use the chisel we had with us to scrape off the mud before I could drill the hole for a bolt. It was so bad that I had a bit of a wobble and thought maybe it would have been better to use the other wall. I felt a bit under pressure. This whole thing had been my idea and I’d persuaded the others to go on a number of long, hard trips. Now, the others were getting cold waiting for me to rig the pitch. I realised it was silly to feel under pressure like this. If it was me up there, I would have been happy to wait for as long as it took for someone else to rig the pitch. I pulled myself together and got on with it. Two more bolts gave a nice Y-hang and I slithered down the muddy wall for about 6m, landing on boulders wedged in the rift. Out to my right, the shaft opened out, with the water falling on one side. The muddy wall ended in a sort of a prow, sticking out into the shaft. I held the rope to different parts of the prow, to find a good spot for a rebelay, then placed a fourth bolt, which gave a 20m free hang to the floor.
We’d finally got down the pitch but were we in new passage? A small rift passage headed back under the way we’d come in and I check out a muddy slope at the start of it. There were footprints! Not many so probably only a very small number people had been here before but it wasn’t new passage. From the very small number of prints there could possibly have only been a single trip here before us. They hadn’t come down the pitch so the passage must connect to somewhere else in the cave. I didn’t tell the others about the footprints, just called for them to come down. I walked across the shaft base, through the falling water, through a short rift passage, to where it opened out into a small but high chamber. I sat on a steep, loose slope and waited for the other’s, telling each one about the footprints as they arrived at the bottom.
When everyone was down, we had a little explore, finding a long, narrow rift with a stream flowing at the bottom. There were a couple of crawls going off and in the tall chamber, a passage could be seen, a few meters up one wall. We didn’t feel like pushing along any of the small passages and anyway time was getting on. We all got back up the pitch, de-rigged it, packed the kit up in the bags and headed out disappointed.
Where did the name Boulder Rodeo come from? When Morgan got back to the top of the pitch, he sat down, straddling a boulder that we’d all clambered over/around to get to the pitch head. I’d sat on it while getting my SRT kit on. This time however, it started moving, twisting right over towards the pitch, with Morgan still sat on it! It seemed funny, if a little disturbing afterwards but could have been nasty as a few rocks fell down the shaft as Malc was coming up. Morgan came up with the name!
It was a long, hard trip out, especially with the heavy bags and I, for one, was very, very tired. It took me an hour to get out from Cairn Junction to the entrance, double the normal time! It was a disappointing end to the effort but I suppose a lead in the cave had been ticked off and no one else has to go there.
A short piece about dropping the pitch appeared in the Welsh News section of Descent magazine (No. 250, June/July 2016), accompanied by one of Huw Durban’s photos.