David Gledhill, Gareth Jones and Huw Jones
By Gareth Jones
Photos Huw Jones except where otherwise stated
A Saturday trip into OFD 2, lead by Huw Jones. My first trip into OFD 2, and Huw’s first trip for a few weeks. So he had planned a long trip at a good pace to try fit in everything OFD 2 had to offer. (well, we probably covered less than 10% of OFD2!! – Huw)
We’d planned to meet in Merthyr before 9am where Huw jumped in my car, after I’d bought a pork pie and sweets. Dave was going to meet us at Penwyllt.
Arriving at a very busy Penwyllt, we struggled to park. We got in eventually, and thankfully there was an entrance key spare.
After changing as quick as we could, we started off on the tram road, up the hill. After a 10 minute hike we arrived at the entrance, Ogof y Nos Hir, which is an unassuming entrance that you’d never notice unless you knew where to look. The story of its opening is interesting, with diggers underground and above pushing to meet each other, eventually leading to a top entrance into the vast system of OFD below, the deepest cave system in the UK.
We stopped for a photo outside the entrance, now a padlocked gate.
Opening the padlock and switching on my light, I lead the way in. To say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. The very first chamber we entered through the tight entrance gate was so vast I struggled to imagine how it could exist so close to the surface, initially discovered from the inside from an entrance much lower down the hill. Oos and aahs aside, we had a cave to explore. So off we went.
Our trip took us through ‘Big Chamber Near The Entrance’, through bouldery ‘Brickyard’, and into the impressive ‘Gnome Passage’. Numerous stunted stals cover the floor of the chamber, giving the appearance of a garden full of calcited gnomes. Legend says in wet weather you can hear the gnomes whisper to each other, but with the recent dry weather, the chamber on this occasion was quiet.
Leaving the gnomes after a brief discussion, we decided to test my fear of heights, again, and as luck had it Huw had a ladder in his bag. So to my surprise, not far round the corner, in ‘Chasm Passage’ was a supposed 8m pitch we could practice climbing down an electron ladder and back up again. After 10 mins of rigging, Dave decided to show how it was done, with courage and dignity. At the bottom he called up he was at the bottom, safe.
Now it was my turn. I’d like to say I followed Dave’s example and climbed down graciously with style. But that would be a lie. I panicked and panted and cursed and shook and eventually, I made it down. Now for the climb back up. I went first so Dave could capture the event on camera. After a few failed attempts, the thought of the sweets and pork pie at the top spurred all my courage and energy, and slowly but surely, I managed to climb back up. Dave quickly followed behind.
I spent a minute getting my wits back while Dave and Huw packed away the kit.
We headed off continuing down into the depths of OFD 2. We descended a corkscrew obstacle to arrive into ‘Salubrious Streamway’ where we tried to find a way upstream, before giving up and heading off down the streamway.
Eventually after a few sporting obstacles, climbs and traverses we made it down a side passage off the streamway, into arguably OFD’s most famous formations, the ‘Trident’ and the ‘Judge’. After some more pictures we headed off up ‘Swamp Creek’ to see another impressive formation. From here, we turned around and headed back into ‘Salubrious’ and continued downstream heading for ‘The Maze’.
We stopped to look at the survey and decided to explore a bit. None of us had been in this part of the cave before. We found lots of formations, and some impressive fossils of coral. After spending some time getting lost in ‘The Maze’, we again back tracked and made our way to ‘President’s Leap’ via ‘The Crossroads’.
Why this obstacle is called ‘President’s Leap’ I can only imagine, because traversing over a certain drop to your death, one is leaping anything but presidentially. However, this obstacle is entirely worth the shaky knees. It leads straight into, in my opinion, one of the finest passages I have yet seen in my life, ‘Selenite Passage’. This densely decorated passage filled with selenites, is what makes the leap worth it. It truly is breathtaking passage, and no pictures would do the endless formations justice. You really have to get in there to see them.
At the end of the passage at ‘Shatter Pillar’, we stopped for lunch and a chat. We then decided to have another look at ‘Selenite Passage’, before we realised we had to pick the pace up if we were to cover more ground and see as much of the cave as we had planned.
So at a quicker pace, we headed up into ‘Midnight Chamber’, where we bumped into another group of cavers. Then quickly on to see ‘Skyhook’. Then onwards down to the end of ‘Deja Rue’. We had a look at the junction to ‘Northern Lights’ but unfortunately time had caught up with us. So we decided to start making our way out. So we headed back the way we came, back to ‘Shatter Pillar’ where we then made our way to ‘Edward’s Shortcut’ to exit. However, Huw had one more amazing place to show us on the way. After ascending what felt like a never ending boulder collapse, we were back up at the upper levels of OFD 2, where we took a side passage off to a passage equally as breathtaking as ‘Selenite’.
We had entered ‘Frozen River’. This passage involved a bit of stooping and hands and knees crawling, and a slide down some calcite. The whole way the passage was lined with endless straws and helictites. We reached an amazing column at the end, with conservation tape barring the way on. We took some time to admire and take in everything there was to see. Everything seemed so fragile that even our booming voices felt like they may shatter the pretties.
Realising time was running out, we headed back on our journey out the cave. We arrived at ‘Edward’s Shortcut’ to face another crazy traverse, so wide we were almost horizontally spanning the lofty rift, and at the end, with a foot at either side of the traverse I was doing the splits for the first time in my life.
We reached the last major obstacle, a slippery 4m vertical climb that Huw shimmied up, putting my following attempt to shame. With huffing and puffing, anyone round the corner might have thought I was giving birth. But with Dave pushing from below, and Huw pulling from above, I eventually made it. Dave followed swiftly behind.
From there we were plain sailing. Back into ‘Gnome Passage’ and following our route in, we swiftly made it back to the gate, 6 hours after we entered. Dave opened the gate to a, not so typical as of late, warm and wet beautiful hillside.
Weary but elated, we made our way back down the tram road to Penwyllt, to get changed and dry off.
A thoroughly enjoyable trip. If my achy joints are anything to go by the following day, as I do this write up, a very physical trip too. Some call OFD a show cave. Yes the formations, scale and grandeur are worthy of a show cave, however, the physical undertaking we endured is not comparable to the concrete footpaths and handrails in nearby show caves. Show cave yes, but no gentle walk in the park. This cave is a show cave for cavers.
The longest I have been underground yet. Potentially one of the most memorable trips, I’m sure I will never forget. Thanks to Huw and Dave for letting me experience this one.