Sam Jones, Pete Jones, Paul Chilcott, Adam Knapp, Huw Jones
By – Pete Jones
Photos – Huw Jones
On a cold Sunday morning we parked up in the layby next to the Blackrock quarry, Clydach Gorge. Huw, Adam, Sam, Paul and I, sorted ourselves out and made our way up to the entrance past the nineteenth century lime kilns. John Parker and group of friends opened up the cave in 1976, looking for a back way into Agen Allwedd. Unfortunately, they never did find the back door to Aggy but instead found approximately nine kilometres of spectacular caving.
Entering the cave through the metal gate, a strong draft is immediately noticeable. We made our way along a low passage, to the first chamber, where we filled in the logbook. I was amazed how quickly we came upon well decorated formations, including one where the roof is covered with delicate straws. Moving along the stream to the first boulder choke, the climb up begins using fixed ladders and scaffolding poles and if you’re quick you don’t get too wet from water cascading down.
Exiting the choke, we followed the tapped path and made our way to Gasoline Alley. The water level in the long duck was very low, I don’t think Sam even got damp. Coming to Northwest Inlet, the passageway looked inviting but the water looked cold. We thought we’d save the cold clear water for later and instead turned right, crawling over flow stone towards the base of the climb up to the second boulder choke. A fixed iron ladder takes you up the first section to a ledge where a guide rope and bolted steel plates help you up the next section. To be on the safe side Huw rigged a safety rope to prevent any unwanted dramas.
After the climb, the second boulder choke starts. It’s a gnarly but fun climb which snakes up through the choke. It narrows at the top, before you emerge onto a slope which drops down into a muddy passage. The mud is deep and sticky, it’s a welly boot trap. After pulling out lost wellies and a lot of laughter we made our way to a small flow stone rise which then drops to the start of Travertine Passage.
Travertine Passage is enormous and breath-taking. The calcite floored passage looks infinite and wonderful formations flank the route. As you follow the taped path through the pools, there is almost too much to take in, there are formations wherever you look. Eventually the passageway lowers, and the mud pools begin to reappear. The passage way then increases in size as you approach the Hall of the Mountain King. Its a massive chamber with fantastic formations. Following the perimeter tape around the edge of the chamber, we made ourselves comfortable on the third boulder choke and had a cuppa. Unfortunately, time was against us, and we turned around and headed back towards the exit. The entrance to the second boulder choke looked narrower on the way back. A feet first decent, with the help of gravity, was far less demanding than the ascent. Now covered head to foot in mud the safety line, rigged up earlier by Huw, was very welcome. Coming back to the entrance to the Northwest Inlet, the cold water no longer looked quite so inviting, and we decided to give it a miss this time.
Dropping back through the first boulder choke we made our way back to the entrance, from where we emerged covered in mud to a cloudy and cold afternoon. It is a great cave and next time, I am looking forward to going beyond the Hall of the Mountain King to explore the Severn Tunnel and the Promised Land.