In Search of The Northern Lights, OFD2 – August 20th 2017

Barry Burn
Tom Williams
Vicky Blümel
Zeb Zerbino

We were getting close to our destination now, the Northern Lights in Ogof Fynnon Ddu2. We were three members of Brynmawr Caving Club, Myself, Rob and Mick, and had got to a point where there was a squeeze up through a dug out section over boulders and under a low section of roof. Mick and I had slithered into the comfortable standing space beyond and were watching as Rob tried to get through. Unfortunately Rob’s efforts were coming to nothing, “It’s my chest” he groaned as he tried a different contortion. “Try moving over a bit” we helpfully suggested, “Or on your back,” but, try as he might, Rob wasn’t going to be seeing the Northern Lights that day. I had visited there on a couple of occasions and Rob and Mick were yet to see this impressive part of the system. We made a quick decision that we’d stick together as a team and retreat as one. After all, Rob could lose a bit of weight and the next time we’d be sure to get through. Life has a habit of getting in the way and I ended working the other side of the country, Rob moved away and tragically, we lost Mick at far too young an age and so it was, that return to The Northern Lights with a slimmed-down Rob was never made.
It’s now August 2017 and after the passing of nearly twenty years, I have grown a bit older, a bit greyer and also a bit outwards, but am still enjoying trips into many of the South Wales caves. Tom, a young whippersnapper caver, and I were trying to decide where we would go at the weekend. I suggested OFD and thought that I detected him mumbling something about ‘showcaves.’ “How dare he?” I thought to myself and so suggested that we should visit somewhere a bit off of the usual tourist routes and head for The Northern Lights in OFD2. I quoted the description from ogof.org to him “That is accessed through a rather complicated and sporting route” and so it was settled. It was agreed that we would head for the Northern Lights but that bearing in mind that I had a hazy memory of it being a difficult place to find, that we’d be happy with just heading to that part of the cave with the intention of getting to know the area better.
On the day we were joined by Vicky and Zeb for the long walk up the track to the entrance. Luckily, we weren’t too far from the cottages when I asked who had the survey. Blank looks all round meant that they’d been left somewhere other than with us. “I gave them to you when we were filling in the ticket” said Vicky cheerfully as this meant that she could abrogate all responsibility and it was down to me to walk back and pick them up where she’d left them. So, I placed my Pelicase with containing the ‘F—ing camera’ as it was known to some and hurried back. At least now I could claim to have travelled further than even Young Whippersnapper Tom and have a reasonable excuse for being knackered later. So, I ambled back to where they were sitting with curious smirks on their faces, retrieved my Pelicase and we were off up the hill again.
The entrance was soon reached and as everyone was adjusting their kit, I produced my camera announcing that we had to do the obligatory selfie. I’d been sure to charge my camera as I love taking photographs of trips to record the experience. Many will inevitably turn out to be ‘crap’ but even these are valuable memories to be stored for later years. So, it was with a puzzled face that I looked at my camera as it failed to turn on. Repeated pressing of the power button gave nothing and I wondered if it had frozen so opened the battery compartment to remove the battery and reset it. The empty battery compartment induced a sense of shock, horror and bewilderment which gave way to comprehension as I connected the missing battery with the smirks seen early. “Okay give it back” and a few choice words resulted in my battery being sheepishly returned. I must admit to losing it slightly, there are some things people shouldn’t mess with, redheads, The Zohan, other people’s wives, and a photographer’s camera(I like to think I can call myself one). Now it was my turn to look sheepish as I got my way with the selfie and we opened the gate and entered the cool dark of the cave..

Obligatory Selfie

The plan was to head through The Brickyard to Gnome Passage and then The Wedding Cake. From here we’d head down Salubrious and a quick viewing of The Trident and The Judge before on to The Crossroads and the beautiful Selenite Tunnel, Shatter Pillar and then sort of find our way from there relying on the surveys and my memory.
It was soon apparent that someone was having oversuit trouble as it had obviously ‘shrunk’ causing some trouble when needing to climb in the Brickyard. No worries though, we carried on and were soon out and in Gnome Passage and turning into the passage that leads to the Wedding Cake. A short stop to admire this formation and, as usual, wondering who would want a cake like this for their wedding. It would be more accurate to call it the Wedding Splat. Young Whippersnapper Tom was eager to get going and led off down Salubrious and I followed. The odd little tearing sound as we clambered over boulders seemed to indicate that the oversuit situation was gradually resolving itself and we turned off for another short stop at The Trident. I was getting twitchy at this point as I hadn’t taken any photographs, this wasn’t normal. The camera was in the Pelicase instead of my inner oversuit pocket so it couldn’t be whipped out so easily. I had taken some pictures of the Judge and Trident last time I was here but was not happy with them and want to have another go with a bit more thought to the lighting. This wasn’t going to be the time though as we were off again to The Crossroads, across President’s Leap with me again telling myself that I shall have to find out why it is called that one day. In Selenite Tunnel I was allowed to take a photo and shot a couple of Vicky looking down the passage.
Selenite Tunnel
After this, we headed to Shatter Pillar and headed down where we had a choice of passages on the survey, the ‘straight way’ and the ‘wiggly way’ as we called them. We chose the ‘straight way’ which we followed to Cross Rift where more boulder clambering brought us to Mignight Passage and then into the top of Midnight Chamber.
We were running late by this point, we’d dawdled a bit and along with getting into the cave an hour late we loitered in Midnight Chamber and pondered where to go now. Someone did mention something about a nice pint of ale in the Briton but we weren’t going to head out yet. It was decided that the elite team of Young Whippersnapper Tom and Zeb The Snake would head off toward the Northern Lights with the survey and some vague recollections from me. These amounted to the squeeze where Rob got stuck, a longish ascending squeeze into the start of the Northern Lights and an ascending tube to be climbed. “Nothing too bad though” I said.
As the others headed off, Vicky and I went for a look down Midnight Passage. It’s not an unpleasant passage and you can soon hear the streamway up ahead. Pausing to take photos, we soon had used up half our alloted time and retraced our steps back to Midnight Chamber to find our intrepid explorers moaning about squalid crawls and water, “I really don’t remember any of that” I said. “Anyway, I want to try out my bulb firer” and produced a strange contraption that I’d made up from an old bulb firer and some spare wire. Vicky was placed at the end out of sight and Tom was told to stand in an ‘epic’ sort of way. “3, 2, 1 fire!” And there was light, lots of light, it worked!
Midnight Chamber
By now, the pub was calling and we headed off. Tom and I had a quick look up the passage that goes off below Frozen River and then we returned back via ‘Wiggly Way’ where we were surprised by some nice helectites and crystals on the walls along with a band of some fine fossils.
Wiggly Way HelectitesWiggly Way Fossils

The rest of the way was uneventful and was pretty much the inward trip in reverse until we emerged back into the outside again and back down the hill to change and a welcome pint in the Ancient Briton.

I don’t think I will ever tire of Ogof Fynnon Ddu, there are always places to go and new things to see in there. It just needs you to head off of the tourist routes and have a look down the small passages on the survey that you’d never bother with usually.
Young Whippersnapper Tom is keen for a visit to the end of OFD3, somewhere I’ve never been to yet. I think I should add it to the list.

Daren Cilau to Ogof Cnwc Through Trip – 13th August 2017 by Trig

Dave Trig Gledhill
Tom Williams

Early start for this one as we had wanted leave a lot of time for route finding, with a belly full of bacon sarnies I set off for , The weather being a bit too nice for the 500m plus of crawling about to ensue. As I get to Abergavenny Tom texts to say his car key is in the washing machine so there will be a slight delay!
We meet in the car park and discuss whether maybe getting a key to OFD would be a more sensible option or even a wander in Dan Yr Ogof showcave. But after a nice cup of “Man Up” we find ourselves at the start of the entrance crawl.

Trig and Tom at The Entrance

Trig and Tom at The Entrance

Slithering into the icy waters the swear words could have probably be heard in Aggy but once we both negotiated The Vice the going eased off and normal conversation was had and pictures taken and plenty of “not as bad as I remember” remarks were said. We cleared the entrance in about an hour, stopping only for a drink and a couple of snaps.

Trig in The Vice

Tom in the entrance series

Tom in the Entrance Series

Trig in the Calcite Squeezes
One thing that annoys me about Daren is how the entrance just stops and you are suddenly in walking passage! God send really. We didn’t hang about and pressed on, Tom hadn’t seen the crystal pool before so we decided to go and have a quick look in there before Jigsaw, as its pretty much en route. Worth noting this part of the cave is quite easy for navigating as there are handy reflectors pointing you in the direction of Jigsaw Passage and vice versa for the Entrance/Exit. After a picture of the dried up Crystal Pool we pushed on into Jigsaw Passage and through The Wriggle.

Crystal Pool

Crystal Pool

Arriving at the logbook in ‘Big Chamber Nowhere Near The Entrance’ we signed the log book and consulted the survey. We both had been in the cave both and Tom had done the route before, but in reverse and we all know how different caves look in the opposite direction so this was going to be a good old fashioned survey and description following kind of trip. We carried on as per description but took several attempts and a compass reading! to find ‘Epocalypse Way’

Now this is when I started to realise what an amazing place this is, as after only a few minutes in the easy going walking chamber on the left hand side in the far distance something catches your eye…..a pure white glow. The pace increases to reach the famous formation of ‘White Company’. Can easily say it was breath taking and well worth the few hours of caving to reach such an epic. We stayed here for a short while taking pictures and having a rest and generally taking in such a sight for sore eyes.

Tom and White Company

Tom and White Company

White Company

White Company

Continuing on still impressed with White Company we are rewarded once again with a short climb into a very very very well decorated oxbow, ‘Urchin Oxbow’ to be exact with its deposits and crystal lined roof and yet again another reason to side-track from the planned route. Just round the corner from Urchin the aptly named ‘Kitchen’ is found, where we stopped for lunch and refilled water bottles with some of Llangatwgs finest council pop.

Trig in Entrance to Urchin Oxbow

Trig in Entrance to Urchin Oxbow

Tom in Urchin Oxbow

Tom in Urchin Oxbow

Now turning left and then left again we appeared in ‘Antler Passage’ and yet again the cave reveals another one of its secrets in the form of a gorgeous set of Helictites named ‘The Antlers’ (for obvious reasons). Now here comes (in my opinion!) the hardest part of the trip. Antler Passage is long….really long and its 99.8% boulder hopping up and down boulder slopes of which this mountain and its systems are famous for with the remaining 0.2% being awkward small pitches with ladders and lines in situ with one being rather tight at the top where I managed to sub humanly bend my knee in un-godly directions. Its easily to navigate funnily enough as its one long passage with ‘Man in the Roof’ dropping back into the passage at one point. But it does eventually end in the form of a lovely wet boulder choke and another climb……..decent.

The Antlers

The Antlers

The Antlers

The Antlers

Popping out into ‘Busman’s Holiday’ here our survey improved somewhat and route finding was relatively easy until we reached ‘Prices Prophecy’ which is an amazing, well decorated chamber where the way on looks to the right ( I have previously read about some guys a few years previous who took this route and never found the connection with Cnwc and had to turn back and travel the full 4-5hours back through Daren!) but is actually off to the left into a further decorated chamber and low behold a helpful sign reading “Cwnc exit this way!” too easy!
What else can I say about Cnwc…it’s a dig, it’s not hard but it certainly isn’t pleasant but certainly beats having to go all the way back. We exit covered in mud but high, very high spirits into the warm summers day. Back in the car park we entertain some holiday makers with our tales of crawls and endless passages much to their amusement.
Definitely one of my favourite caves and trips of all times and I think Tom would agree!
5ish hours.

The Pagoda

The Pagoda

Bridge Cave – 4th July 2017

Barry Burn
Tom Williams
Huw Jones
Vyvyan and Bevita

Two of Tom’s work colleagues had expressed an interest in seeing what this caving lark is all about and so we agreed to take them to Bridge Cave for an evening trip.

Bridge Cave is relatively short but has a large and impressive stream passage as well as some formations. It is part of the larger Little Neath River Cave system that was originally discovered by divers when they passed the sump at the end of the cave.

We all met up at the car park near Blan Nedd Isaf farm and paid our parking fee before changing and heading off to the cave. Another nice feature of this cave is the very short walk, a hop over the style and it’s just around the corner.

The cave starts out a ‘bit crawly’ and leads to the small boulder choke where it isn’t a good idea to stop and ponder how long the bit of wood has been there holding it up before dropping down and through a narrow bit into the stream where you then shortly pop out into the large stream passage.

None of this fazed Vyvyan or Bevita and they were soon admiring what Bridge Cave has to offer. I’m not sure what they expected, maybe a lot of crawling and mud but were very pleasantly surprised at just how nice this caving thing could be.

We spent a good while exploring the stream passage, heading down the side passage where Tom explained where the water comes from and then down to the end and under the bridge, the span of rock that has been left from the cave formation and which gives the cave its name. The sump was visited and the formations admired while Tom crawled off to have a closer look at the sump whilst Huw and I explained where the sump leads and how caves and formations are formed.

After Tom rejoined us we climbed up by the bridge to view the grotto that can be found there before heading back upstream and out of the cave.

Vyvyan and Brevita definitely enjoyed the trip and I hope that they will join us again sometime soon.

OFD1 – Main Streamway – 2nd April 2017 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Rob Johnston
Ruby Johnston
Dione Ball
Dave Gledhill

A somewhat poignant trip for me as this was to be Rob’s last caving trip before leaving South Wales for a life of retirement sailing the ocean’s and visiting far-off shores.

Rob and Myself along with Mark Wedlock were a regular team that explored a lot of the underground world of South Wales back in the 90s and early 2000s, but sadly, events transpired so that we gradually stopped caving together. Rob has now retired and is planning to whisk Paulyne, his wife, off on a life of mad adventure sailing the globe. But, before that, he wanted one last caving trip and especially one into OFD1 that he hadn’t visited for quite a few years.

Young Rob at LNRC

Young Rob at LNRC

A fine spring morning saw us meeting up at Penwyllt. Rob’s daughter Ruby joined us for her first taste of OFD and along with Dione and Trig we made our way to the layby where we changed and headed off to the entrance.There had been a fair bit of rain recently so the streamway promised to be sporting but we decided to carry on and to see how things looked when we reached The Step.

We had soon all descended the ladder and re-grouped in the small chamber at the bottom and then headed off into the cave. Ruby’s experience up until then had been much smaller caves with Porth yr Ogof being the biggest and so this was a suitably impressive step-up for her and she was obviously enjoying herself as the cave passage got progressively larger and better decorated. Rob, went into some sort of dreamlike state reminiscing about previous through-trips and we swapped tales about trips into the far reaches of OFD2 and other caves as well as fun times such as when nearly all of GCRT (us included) became trapped on the wrong side of a collapse.

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Ruby Goes Up The Toastrack Ladder

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Rob at The Toastrack

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Admiring Formations

A few photos on the way and we were soon at the calcite climb up into Column Passage and Trig kindly obliged to climb up first to rig a hand line. All were soon up and then along the passage to the small chamber that contains The Column where a fair bit of time was spent admiring it and trying to get Ruby and Dione to lead the way on to Eagle’s Nest through the duck. After is was clear that there was a sad lack of gullibility on this trip, we headed back and down the climb with varying amounts of grace.A few photos on the way and we were soon at the calcite climb up into Column Passage and Trig kindly obliged to climb up first to rig a hand line. All were soon up and then along the passage to the small chamber that contains The Column where a fair bit of time was spent admiring it and trying to get Ruby and Dione to lead the way on to Eagle’s Nest through the duck. After is was clear that there was a sad lack of gullibility on this trip, we headed back and down the climb with varying amounts of grace.

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Dione Admires The Column

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Ruby Is Not Convinced

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Formation on The Column

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Trig In The Column Pool

 

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Ruby Descending The Calcite Climb

At The Step the streamway was indeed slightly sporting, but just enough to make it more fun than the usual sploshing upstream, and so entered the water and progressed upstream. Everyone was more than eager to head off as some caring soul had decided that the passage just before The Step was a great place to relieve oneself and the stink of stale urine was overpowering here.

Heading upstream with more photos and a short diversion up to the start of the Maypole Wire and then a stop for a short break in Boulder Chamber before heading back downstream. Climbing out at The Step, we sent a few helmet-fulls of water onto the rock in a hope of cleaning it up a bit.

An obligatory visit to the passage beyond Pluto’s Bath and then back to the entrance. Trig and I went for a quick look at Gothic Sump before we headed back into the open air.

A shortish trip, but thoroughly enjoyable. It was great to be caving again and hopefully Rob’s travels will bring him back to Wales in the not too distant future and maybe then we can drag Mark back underground again. Ruby professed to having enjoyed the cave and was keen to see more so I hope she’ll continue the way she’s started and join us on some more trips.

Ogof Draenen – Rifleman’s Chamber, 18th March 2017 by Dave ‘Trig’ Gledhill

Huw Jones, Dave ‘Trig’ Gledhill, Adrian Burton & Julian Carter (SWCC/MCC)

Streamway photos & Huw in dig – Julian Carter
Rifleman’s Chamber photos – Huw Jones

So there I was, kicked out the front door by the wife with a darren drum full of sarnies and assorted snacks ready once again for a trip into Draenen. This cave really does fascinate me, the sheer size of it is overwhelming and the feeling of being rather insignificant is certainly a feeling I love with caving in the larger systems.

Pulling up at Pwll Du I realised we are not the only ones going under today as a mixed crowd of MCC and SWCC were already kitting up and assessing wind direction in the car park for the chilly change out of kit in a few hours! Giving a friendly nod and a quick conversation, I bade them farewell for the day as Huw, Adrian and Jules turned up.

Fully kitted up and armed with a crowbar, we headed down to the cave. Worth noting is that with any Draenen trip, this is the most dangerous part as soon most of us had already gone head over heels on the slippery, muddy slope to the entrance. This doesn’t matter because soon the ‘sporting’ entrance series will wash our suits off.

Trigger on a traverse in the streamway.

Trigger on a traverse in the streamway.

Adrian in the streamway below Agent Blorenge.

Adrian in the streamway below Agent Blorenge.

Entering the cave is a flat out crawl through a dig with an interesting tight ‘slit’ to slide down, which larger cavers will discover they will get momentarily lodged in, whilst a torrent of water from a diverted drain pipe, enters the rear of your suit! It’s quite arduous but you have gravity in your favour (bare in mind for way out!) and it usually only takes 20 minutes to enter the cave. We are in luck today as we have Huw who played a massive part in digging and breaking through in this caves so it was epic to have a commentary on how it all happened.

After a small pitch with rope in situ, the logbook was reached at Cairn Junction and I signed us all in with my finest hand writing…… Turning right here we continued boulder to boulder (common theme for Draenen) until we arrived at Wonder Bra Bypass, which is a nice (well I think it’s nice) slippery, muddy crawl and easily passed. Turning left and popping out underneath an interesting, wedged slab and made our way to Tea Junction, where Huw reminded us it’s Tea, as in beverage, not T in shape. Bit more boulder hopping and then Jules dropped off his sample pot for groundwater crustacea in the stream, which he was going to collect on exit. We admired the turning for Gilwern Passage but turned left, downstream.

Adrian & Trigger in the streamway.

Adrian & Trigger in the streamway.

Trigger in a deep bit!

Trigger in a deep bit!

Now this is the meat of the trip and it’s worth noting that this stream is long…very long but far from mundane as it tends to change underfoot from ankle twisting worn away limestone to easy going sand and has many a formation, precariously perched rocks and a boulder choke or two. Halfway down we passed the left turn for Agent Blorenge, which is where you pop out after the classic round trip. After this turning Huw pointed up to the left, to Fallout Passage, named because he literally fell out of it and woke up (a slight exageration on Trig’s part!) in the streamway! Now from here on, I remember it getting deep, (See pics!) before it literally felt like it just ended and a muddy slope, with rope out of the stream, is encountered to land you in Rifleman’s Chamber. Moving further up the muddy slope, two muddy climbs, with ladders in place, took us up into Upper Rifleman’s Chamber and the dig.

It’s been a while since it’s been actively dug but the dig itself is still very much established, even with a bottle of red wine ready and waiting. With sarnies guzzled down, Huw and Jules descended the scaffolding to inspect the dig and also release some canned smoke. Then we swapped over so I could have a look in the dig. Very impressive and it seems a fair few hours have been put into this place and let’s hope a fair few more to come….how big can this place actually be or has it only had its surface scratched, with more activity underneath or beyond.

Couple of photos and we were off on our way out, back the way we came, to get wet again and Jules positioned to get the best shots at the wet or sporting sections (see pics). Whilst Jules retrieved his samples from the steam, myself, Huw and Adrian had a quick poke around in Gilwern Passage, a lovely decorated passage.

It was after here and even with strict instructions to follow upstream, that I decided to lead us down the wrong passage momentarily (obviously just checking how well Huw knew the cave….honest). Then we began the exit through the ‘sporting’ entrance series, which is always pleasant but was over fairly quickly in 30 minutes and onwards to tackle the muddy slope back to the cars, with me going via a thorn bush.

Apologies if this is a bit of an essay but I’m definitely looking forward to returning to this cave as it’s truly spectacular.
Time underground 6-7 hours.

‘Trig’

Ogof Craig A Ffynnon ’To The End and Back’ 12th March 2017

Dave Trig Gledhill
Tom Williams
Adrian Burton.

So this would be my first trip into this cave, I’d never really thought much about it until I joined Brynmawr and heard a lot about it so I was pretty keen to do this trip. Tom suggested a generous call out time so we could really see the most and reach the end where it is, oh so close, to the beast of Daren Cilau next door.

The day started by meeting  Tom and Adrian in Asda car park nice and early where I followed them to the car park (layby) to start the age old caving discipline of getting naked in car parks. After a quick ‘’before’’ shot we were off  to the entrance and after a quick faff with the gate we were in and straight away greeted with formations and straws! Through the first boulder choke, up the ladder we went and into a fun wet crawl (well I found it fun as my tackle sack *ahem* floated quite nicely behind me) which took minimal effort.

Before

We reached a junction and I was shown the famous ‘’North West Inlet’’ where we decided that could wait for a hot summers evening maybe. Continuing on, we approached two small pitches. One with a ladder and the other with a fixed handline but feeling slightly exposed at the top. This led straight onto the lovely 2nd Choke. Now this choke was slightly uncomfortable as it climbs and winds upwards but safe in the knowledge that  it could only be easier on the exit we pretty much flew up it.

Our heads poked out of the choke one by one like meerkats….relieved meerkats and we pushed on into ‘’Travertine Passage’’ with its stunning Travertine Dams and formations. Stunning place! But the best was yet to come as next was ‘’The Hall of  The Mountain Kings’’…..WOW what a place, I’d seen this in various books but nothing could prepare me for this place. Thank god for modern cap lamps which helped illuminate this place that day!

After a quick drink and the usual non-caving chat, we set off again to the right through the 3rd choke and on to ‘’Severn Tunnel’’ a nice crawl where at one point many a larger caver has not been able to continue. This uncomfortable passage turns into stooping after 200-250m or so. Here my memory is failing me and all I can remember now is being at a large junction with boulder choke 5 and the pitch down into Promised Land. We dropped the bags off at this point and spent considerable time looking for possible leads which there is no doubt but just need finding or effort. We also went to visit the famous ‘’Helictite Passage’’ a stunning  little passage but with amazing formations where only 2 cavers are allowed at once, now this is why this cave was so strictly controlled in its earlier days.

After a lot of admiration we carried on back to collect the bags and onto the pitch down into Promised Land where we met a small stream. The way on is right but we turned left to go and admire yet another formation in this cave, ‘’The Pagoda’’. Back on track we made good progress hopping boulder to boulder and then turning right we entered an oxbow from the stream which had a few crawls and chokes to overcome before re-joining the stream. We carry on gaining momentum and then suddenly it ends. If only there could be a way on into Daren. We have a breather and drink/food and do the honest thing of turning around to go home to our families to treat them all with our muddy smiles and bruised bodies!

The way out is un-eventful and the 2nd Boulder choke is a breeze with gravity on your side.

In summary its certainly is a highly decorated cave and certainly can provide a good days caving. I cannot wait to return hopefully by the end of the year. No pictures underground sadly.

5 or 6 hours underground…I think.

OFD2 – Salubrious and Selenite 5th March 2017 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Tom Williams
Nick De Gare-Pitt

All photographs by Barry Burn

Having sampled most of what OFD1 has to offer, I needed to get back to OFD2 and start to re-discover the delights that the more complex part of this system presents. So, it was that Tom and I were joined by Nick, an old member of Isca who was returning to caving after a long break.

Meeting at Penwyllt we soon discovered that opting for a trip on a CHECC weekend has it’s own problems with the huge numbers of hung-over students that were milling around looking for their trip leaders. At one point, Tom and I were examining the survey in the common room when we heard a subtle groan and discovered a comatose male student looking up at us and wondering where in the seven circles he had found himself. We offered to show him an eighth one but he just cuddled up under his blanket and tried hard to ignore us.

Tom was on his second trip into the system that weekend having helped out with leading hordes of students around the OFD2 system the day before. He was at pains to point out that technically he’d actually done 1 and a half trips as on exiting the cave with one group, he’d been grabbed, before he could escape out of the entrance, to help show another group around. He pointed out that this was the reason for the state of his kit, although I personally couldn’t see the difference from a normal trip.
Nick GlowingMuddy Tom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The three of us did the usual trudge up the hill, Tom dripping mud, whilst Nick and I looked more respectable alongside him (although Nick was glowing slightly in his nice new oversuit), to the OFD2 entrance. A pause for a selfie and we were off into the relative warmth of cave.

OFD2 Selfie

OFD2 Selfie

We were soon heading past Big Chamber Near The Entrance and via The Brickyard into Gnome Passage. The plan was to do one of the trade routes down Salubrious and then via Selenite Tunnel to Edward’s Shortcut and then back into Gnome Passage before heading out.

We were soon at The Wedding Cake that is more of a splat, perhaps it should be rename the Wedding Cake Smash. We headed up Chasm Passage for a look at The Chasm before retracing our path back to the start of Salubrious Streamway.

The Wedding Cake

The Wedding Cake

Chasm Passage

Chasm Passage

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There was a group of students in front of us when we reached the Corkscrew so we waited to allow them to get ahead.

We soon caught up with them though and they asked for directions to the Trident and Judge. We’d borrowed a copy of the old survey and using this we gave them what we thought were the correct directions. Thinking we’d let them get ahead, we decided to go past the junction and have a look around before coming back to for a look ourselves. However, we soon found ourselves at The Trident and realising that the survey may have lied, Tom went back to get them on the right path whilst Nick and I stayed to take some photographs.

Nick at The Judge

Nick at The Judge

Nick And The Trident

Nick And The Trident

Tom reappeared with the students in tow and they were suitably impressed with the formations although none of them seemed able to ‘see’ the Judge. They soon left back up Salubrious and we headed in the other direction to see Selenite Tunnel.

Tom in Selenite Tunnel

Tom in Selenite Tunnel

Nickin Selenite Tunnel

Nickin Selenite Tunnel

We now just needed to head back to Gnome Passage via Shatter Pillar and then into Edward’s Shortcut. The climb up at the end of this has always been a slippery awkward climb but since I was there last, it seems to have become a really slippery awkward bastard of a climb. However, we were soon up and then back in Gnome Passage then back out the way we had come into the cold, sleety outside for a chilly walk back down the hill.

Group Selfie

Group Selfie

Me

Me

OFD II Rescue Practice – 3rd December 2016 by Huw Jones

Tom Williams and Huw Jones

With thanks to Helen Stewart of Morgannwg C C for the photos.

Myself and Tom attended South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team’s annual Big OFD Practice. Apparently it was big to, as the organisers hadn’t seen as many people at a practice before. Apart from the local people like us, there were representatives from the Gloucestershire, North Wales and Irish cave rescue teams.

As there were so many people, two scenarios were run. Both myself and Tom decided to join the A Team! Actually, this was the beginners team, for people new to cave rescue or who hadn’t been to a practice for a while. That suited me as this was my first practice for over 15 years!

Our scenario was that someone had fallen off the slippery climb at the start of Edward’s Shortcut and sustained a lower leg injury. The casualty, Claire, (who had volunteered!) was to be assessed, her leg splinted, then ‘packaged’ into a stretcher, hauled up the climb (which was treated as a small pitch) and carried out of the cave, where she would be loaded into the team’s land rover and driven down to Penwyllt. Also, communications needed to be established, both to the surface, where a person was stationed to relay messages to and from control at Penwyllt via radio and to the B Team involved with the second, more challenging, scenario.

The B Team were at the far end of Edward’s Shortcut and were to carry their, much heavier casualty, along the narrow winding passage and over the exposed traverse. In the end they brought their casualty all the way to the surface.

For underground communication, the team were using the new Cave Link system, which sends text rather than speech and which worked superbly.

Everything seemed to go well and I’m sure a lot was learned by everyone taking part.

Assessing the casualty. She's just out of shot on the right.

Assessing the casualty. She’s just out of shot on the right.

Carrying the casualty along Gnome Passage

Carrying the casualty along Gnome Passage

The team, with the casualty still in the stretcher, after successfully bringing her to the surface

The team, with the casualty still in the stretcher, after successfully bringing her to the surface

OFD1 – A Wee Potter Around – 20th November 2016 by Barry Burn

Barry Burn
Adam Knapp

With a view to visiting the Railton-Wilde series in OFD1, Adam and I met up bright and early at Penwyllt after a period of heavy snow the night before and reviewed the plan for the day. Overnight, there had been a heavy fall of snow with significant accumulations that were now melting. This would mean that there would be a large amount of water that would have entered the system and it was possible that there would be an additional input somewhere that would result in water levels rising again or further. We decided to write out the ticket to indicate an intention to visit the series but also to have a general bimble around the Fault Series and other areas of OFD1.

The OFD system is a marvelous place that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of visiting. There are always other places to find and explore. In 2016, I enjoyed becoming very well acquainted with OFD1 and in 2017, I think I shall reacquaint myself with OFD2. there are some places there I may never see but I would like to get to know this extensive system and revisit some of the lesser visited places such as the Northern Lights that I haven’t seen for a good many years. But for this day, it was OFD1 again.

Driving down to the lay-by and changing, we were soon off down the lane and up to the entrance. A quick selfie (I still can’t get these right) and we were down through the gate just in front of a group of SWCC prospective members that were visiting OFD for their first time.

We quickly moved off into the cave to reach the Toastrack and then on to The Step. Here it was obvious that there had been a significant amount of water that had entered the system and the stream level was quite high. Not the highest I have seen but high enough to potentially give some problems. At this point the following group turned up to have a look and the leader decided that it would be better to take her acolytes into some of the upper series instead and they returned the way they had come. Adam and I stepped into the stream to see if it would be passable and found the stream to be over well over knee level. We found it was relatively easy moving against the current but turning around it was obvious that this is where the potential problems could lie. Without a lot of concentration, it would be easy to lose one’s footing especially when descending the small cascades and water chutes that are in the streamway. We felt that if the water levels were dropping that we would be okay, however, it wasn’t known if there was further snowmelt still entering the system potentially increasing the water levels further. So, deciding it was likely to be a geological age before the Railton-Wilde series went  anywhere, we entered into bimble mode.

We made our way back the way we had come stopping for the odd photograph and looking into most of the small series that can be found around that area such as the Upper Toastrack and Coral Pool series. We then headed back towards the Fault Series with the intention of finding a passage that we thought we missed last time, stopping on the way to have a long chat with a couple of SWCC members.

A quick visit to the stream again by traversing over Pluto’s Bath for a lunch stop and another couple of photos and then we headed off and were soon climbing up into the Fault Series. We found the missing passage but it was taped off and weren’t going to be able to visit it anyway and so contented ourselves with another visit to the previously visited passage and a look at the formations there.

We were soon back on the surface for another selfie (I’m getting better) after a shorter than intended but still thoroughly enjoyable wee potter around OFD1.

(Please note, photographs to be added later).

A journey to the Hall Of The Mountain King – Sunday 6th November 2016 By Vicky Bluemel

Today’s team is…

Vicky Bluemel
Dione Ball
Zeb Zerbino
Barry Burn

Once again – On another cold gloomy Sunday in the Brecon Beacons a caving trip was in order. The plan was a nice early meet for 9.45am but this turned into a 10.30am meet and then resulted in myself flying home via the never-ending roadworks to retrieve the key which I had stupidly left hanging on the cuckoo clock. Never a dull moment with us lot clearly.

After retrieving the ellusive key – we continued our clothing change n the usual Blackrock lay-by situated underneath UB40, a quick team selfie was in order and off we went to explore the sights and sounds of my favourite cave in the Gorge – Ogof Craig A Ffynnon.

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As already explained in previous trip reports – the entrance to OCAF is unstable and myself and Tom have had the pleasure of having a near miss with a breeze-block sized boulder at the beginning of the year. PLEASE anyone visiting here make sure your helmet is on and done up before you start the climb up to the entrance. The lock is a little tricky to master but today was an exception as we were in within no time and gathered at the logbook ready to embark on todays adventure. A quick sign in and brief reminder of cave conservation and we were off.

OCAF is possibly one of the most decorated caves within the gorge next to Ogof Nant Rhin and Ogof Capel and on every visit you will see something you didn’t notice last time. In recent weeks the rain seems to have calmed a little but that said the rain has been replaced by bitter temperatures so that coupled with the possible thought of having to crawl Gasoline Alley was pretty depressing however we were lucky enough to see that water levels were low much to our excitement.

I will not bore you with the usual details of our trip upto the NWI and 2nd choke split so ill just go straight to the fun part.

We approached the entrance to NWI in anticipation knowing that today we would not have the pleasure (thankfully) of having to submerge ourselves into the icy water but we would be taking a much dryer trip today.

Dione has been down to NWI so today’s route was a new one for her. I led our party to the right past the beautiful almost blue in colour flowstone pool, past the formations and up the short passage to the 1st tight squeeze. This was the first time in a while I have used a caving bag on a trip and it was at this point – just 10mins into the trip I remembered why I stopped taking one. It’s such a hindrance especially as it only contained a flask of sweet tea, Lion bars and a camera which turned out to be a waste of space but more on that in a moment,

Our tight squeeze up to the bolted ladder at the bottom of the pitch was just a small taster of what was in store for us when we reached the top. Zeb flew up the pitch and used the fixed ropes to pull up the tackle sack which contained our safety lines. Barry then joined him at the top of the ladder as they spent a few moment rigging the pitch mostly for mine and Dione’s piece of mind. After 10mins we were up the top and ready to rock. It was at this point that Barry left us to potter about with his camera.

Half Way Up

Barry Half Way Up Photo by Vicky

Now the real fun begins!

Once at the top of the 15metre (49ft) pitch you are met with a claustrophobe’s idea of hell! a long winding upwards boulder choke of calcited and jagged rock which in all fairness could make a killing as a ride in a theme park! You journey upwards though small climbs and crawls where you contort yourself into something you’d find in a circus freak show. It really is a game of nerves here as if you panic your will be way up the creek and your paddle will be long gone. A few deep breaths and you push on through the fear until you pop out of the top and then question whether that was fun of sheer hell.

Usually there is a continuous flow of water down the choke but as said before there was a lack of water on today’s trip which would prove a problem in the next section of the cave.

Once you have popped out of the choke you will find yourself standing on a large mound of boulders and realise you just spent 10mins resembling an octopus when in actual fact you travelled about 15foot to the other side of the blockage. It was at this point i thought i would get the camera out and take some Choke exit images – Forgot to put the SD card in so clearly we were having no images today! As you descend you will start to notice the mud tracks covering the rock. These are the mud marks of the victims of the previous visit as you are about to meet your match.

Mud!

I can honestly say when I was first told about the mud in this part of the cave I could not believe that you would find such an abundance of it – I was wrong… Very very wrong. In comparison there is NOTHING I can use to explain what this is like. Zeb has recently described it as custard. It’s like the thick and lumpy custard your Nan would serve on your apple pie after Sunday lunch. You could throw it at a wall and it will still be there the following Sunday. It’s horrendous. They say to run through it which is fine until you find one of the hidden rocks below and fall face first into it. You will lose your wellies, as Zeb found out; lost a welly then on retrieval almost lost his head. It will be in your hair, underwear, your ears, nose… There is nowhere it will not go!

When we had finally navigated this obstacle we continued our trip but to then be met by a calcite “slide” which is a lot of fun when you resemble mudman. another quick walk bring you to a small mud pool where i lost a welly and then a celcite belly crawl upwards (upwards and muddy indeed – Better not to ask how that went)

This passage is filled with some beautiful formations. There was an image captured many years ago of Spike admiring said formation which is pretty famous within the Welsh caving community.

A quick walk/hop/run later and you are met with the magnificent gour pools which is a sight that really needs to be admired. As your headlamps light up the passage below you remember how beautiful the natural world really is.

Finally we arrive at the Hall Of The Mountain King! Every visit here makes me hum that tune made Famous by Alton Towers. Its is truly outstanding! The roof above you is adorned with some of the most impressed formations you will ever witness. The ground below mirrors what is above – It is utterly breathtaking.

After what seemed too short a time exploring it was time to make our way out.

The walk back was pretty uneventful bar myself slipping and cracking my hip on a rock. The mud floor however was once again proving an issue. Dione somehow managed to get out slightly unscathed however I lost the will to live at one moment and did my usual flapping like a fish to freedom. Zeb lost another welly.

As you can imagine, the climb back to the the top of the boulder choke becomes a game from Total Wipeout. It’s a case of 1 step forward 2 steps back.

The plus side of the mud is that it makes the boulder choke exit much easier. I like to use the term of a bullet leaving a gun so be wary as you will fly (literally) if you’re not careful.

A quick exit out of the choke and climb down the pitch to meet Barry who was ready and waiting and we were pretty much home and dry. The last decision to be made was do we take a dip and try and clean off or do we fly out and head to the pub Guess what we chose…?

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Pint of beer and some pork scratchings please