Pork Pies at The Lamb and Fox Chamber Draenen. Trig and Gareth Rex Jones – 5th August 2018

The original plan today was to do the Daren to Cnwc through trip but Tom had to drop out so a short trip into Draenen was planned instead.

The day started at the shop with a quick chat with Brent whilst I got the key and soon after I was meeting up with Gareth at Pwll Du who seemed to be doing his own ‘Car Pool Karaoke’ shortly after with a text from Barry begging him to stop.

We quickly (well Gareth did, I took ages) got ready and had a chat with some walkers (who were ex cavers from the Mendips) on the sheer size of Draenen. We plodded off to the entrance, emptied bladders and slipped into the fun of the entrance series stopping for pictures in the dug shafts and at the knotted climb.

Enjoying the cool breeze from the lungs of Draenen

Enjoying the cool breeze from the lungs of Draenen

CAMERA CAMERA

We signed in and noticed there hadn’t been many visits as of late or people are opting to not sign in….

Next stop would be the Wonderbra Bypass and then on-wards to Tea Junction where a break, much-needed drink and a general marvel at the huge passage decorated with straws on just one part of the roof. I’ve taken enough pictures of this famous place before so I decided we should press on.

Next was White Arch passage, another massive (in size) passage of the cave with huge and slippy boulder break down everywhere but an impressive place. We proceeded at leisurely pace stopping often to notice other small passages high up and low down always triggering the exploration styled questions of ”has anyone been there and if they have, where does it go?” a cave still with lots of secrets to give up. We went underneath White Arch itself and stopped for a photo.

White Arch Passage

White Arch Passage

White Arch

White Arch

Carrying on we arrived at the choke which leads into Lamb & Fox Chamber ”two pints of Butty Bach please” I shouted but no reply from the barman (can’t get the staff these days) we sat down and cracked open our packed lunch of pork pies which Gareth had the added extra of gummy bears and pepperami! We sat stuffing our faces just taking in the sheer size of some of the boulders which have just peeled off the wall, leading to more questions ”when?” and ”when again”

Before we left we decided to climb up a level into the muddy traverses of Indiana Highway and stopped short before the deep pitch to the left.

CAMERA

Lamb and Fox chamber

Indiana Highway

Indiana Highway

We exited the same way noticing on the way back how low the water levels were which prompted a quick trip down Beyond a Choke streamway to see just a mere trickle.

White Arch passage on our way out

White Arch passage on our way out

Some ''hanging death''

Some ”hanging death”

Gareth opened the gate and instantly I could feel the heat shooting down to me further in the entrance such was the weather outside!

A good short trip to waste away a saturday, home for kebab and pizza.

Ogof Draenen, Thursday 17th May 2018

Gareth Jones, Huw Jones and Dave Gledhill

By Gareth Jones
Photos Huw Jones

So the club have been reminding me of my lack of trip reports, having been on a few cave trips now, and after a gentle Thursday night stroll into Draenen, I feel obliged to write my first.

With my much publicised fear of heights, the plan was to see if I would cry and retreat from the first pitch (“that’s as big as a 4 storey building!”), not far from Cairn junction.

The evening began with Dave picking me up and driving to the car park opposite the Lamb and Fox pub. We started to kit up whilst waiting for Huw to arrive. Huw arrived promptly after us, and together we made our dangerous descent down the steep hill to the gated entrance. On the way Huw told us tales of the initial dig and discovery.

At the entrance, I was lucky to unlock the gate and open the hatch, to be blasted by the incredible draught that departed the unassuming crack in the rock that first drew cavers to dig there.

So, the climb down began. Through a series of flat out crawls, and descents through scaffolded vertical shafts. We emerged into the streamway with much cursing as I received a thorough soaking in the freezing waters. A slot through and under a waterfall brought us down to the initial breakthrough. More tales from Huw about the night the breakthrough occurred. In front of us the ‘Darling Rifts’ continued, while the easy way on was through a crawl in the floor to the right. Of course, Huw wanted us to have the original experience the first discoverers had, so we proceeded through the ‘Darling Rifts’. “Oh darling!”, I was very apprehensive and did not look down, the whole time wondering why we didn’t just go the easy way. At the end of a rift, we climbed down to the left and emerged in a big chamber with a boulder as big as Australia blocking the way on. A climb under the boulder brought us to a huge hole in the floor. The ‘Big Bang Pitch’, the original way on into the cave. After a few more tales, we headed into the Gyracanthus Loop and Psammodus Passage, to see amazing fossils of sharks and Jurassic sea life.

We headed back into the rifts, as I was not feeling the ‘Big Bang Pitch’ tonight (maybe next time…), to emerge back into the entrance series, and continue the ‘easy way’ into the cave. After some more cascades and crawls we emerged on to the top of the 4 storey pitch. To say I was underwhelmed was an understatement. It was a 4m climb down with a knotted hand line. So, I tightened my belt, and followed Dave down the climb, which was no where near as bad as I had scared myself into believing. Feeling like action man at the bottom, I tried not to think about the return climb.

We continued on and headed to the first major chamber, ‘Cairn Junction’, and I signed us into the log book. Job done. Or so I thought.

We decided to explore a bit more of the cave. Continuing downstream, through the ‘Wonderbra’, and ‘Tea Junction’, we headed up ‘Gilwern Passage’. I was struggling to stay on my feet for looking at the amazing passage and formations all around, and not at my feet and the path ahead. We stopped for pictures at the bigger formations and decided to turn back at an impressive inlet flowing in from an aven in the roof.
After we arrived back to the junction, we followed the ‘Beyond a Choke Streamway’ downstream. An impressive streamway, with deep pots, and traverses. After what felt like a few miles, Huw reminded me that we weren’t even a quarter of the way to the end of the streamway. With that, we decided to turn back, as it was getting late, and begin the ascent out the cave.

We arrived promptly back at the log book and signed out. We decided to take the easy way back out the cave, instead of ‘Darling Rifts’. At the foot of the 4m pitch, we climbed up with ease, and made our way back into the wet entrance series. I received another soaking at the slot in the waterfall, with the flow going down my neck into my oversuit. After ascending up the scaffolded shafts and through the flat out crawls, we popped out the hatch into the dark, pleasantly fresh, spring night.

We started the dangerous climb back up the steep mountainside, to get back to the cars and change.
A thoroughly enjoyable trip. Although I kept reminding myself that I had barely scratched the surface in Wales’ longest cave system. My lasting thought about Draenen is that it is like climbing a mountain in reverse. When you summit a mountain, the way home is downhill all the way. When you descend into Draenen, the way home is to climb a mountain.

Ogof Draenen Conservation Trip, 17th February 2018

David Gledhill
Huw Jones
Thomas Williams (Fixed aids officer)
Barry Hill (Hereford CC)
Josh White (Aberystwyth & PDCMG Conservation officer)
Ed (SWCC)

By David Gledhill
Photos by Barry Hill

There’s a massive push to re-tape Draenen in the coming future and 17th Feb was set as date for another re-taping session, this time in the northern passage of the cave through Gilwern and into Forever Changed.

Tom was relieved, as at first thought of doing some conservation trips, he presumed he would be picking up the human poo he discovered down in Haggis Basher a few weeks previously and he had been fretting about which pooper scooper would be sufficient and strong enough to survive a trip in and out whilst scooping up the smelly mars bars.

We all met up at Pwll Du and being a fairly mixed bunch; we introduced ourselves to new faces, got kitted up and packed meters plus meters of conservation tape with new pickets into our tackle sacks. Making good time through the entrance series and into Gilwern we stopped at Giles Shirt to marvel at the formations.

Whilst making our way through Gilwern Passage, Josh showed us the previous few trips’ efforts of re-taping. Reaching the choke into Forever Changed it was here that I discovered that I had probably enjoyed a bit too much steak in France a few weeks previously, as I found it to be tight! Once I had I popped out the other side like a popped champagne cork the taping was in full flow already.

The emphasis was getting the mini stakes and pickets to raise the tape out of the mud and to bring the walkway in slightly, before more people accidentally stepped over, ruining pristine passage. There’s not much more to say on this subject apart from a lot of tape was nicely laid and old tape removed. I’d have to confirm with Josh how much we laid and length of passage covered but I do know we stopped short of the junction leading off to the duck so another trip is needed to finish that off.

Once the tape had run out, an hour or so was spent exploring some of the northern passages in this part of the cave. Possible conservation work was found and most importantly…possible leads? Who knows? On exit from Gilwern Passage an old camp was spotted just before Tea Junction, so it was decided to pack this away but nobody fancied trying the out of date pot noodle!

Outside it was finally a little bit sunny and it wasn’t even raining! Very odd. Great to meet up with some other clubs to look after a special place.

Huw, Dave and Josh

Huw, Dave and Josh

Huw Jones

Huw Jones

Ed and Dave in the distance

Ed and Dave in the distance

Tom, Ed and Dave removing old tape

Tom, Ed and Dave removing old tape

Tom, Dave and Josh

Tom, Dave and Josh

Huw and Tom busy re-taping

Huw and Tom busy re-taping

Some of the finished product

Huw Jones

Huw Jones

Half a Path Re-taped

Half a Path Re-taped

Draenen170218#10

Ogof Draenen Round Trip 3rd December 2017

Huw Jones
Thomas Williams
Richard Gledhill
David Gledhill

Report by Dave Gledhill.

All photos by Huw Jones.

As per normal drills for a Draenen trip, I turned up to Pwll Du at 0900 and funnily enough, the weather had changed from a lovely dry early winter’s day in the Usk valley floor, to a howling gale with threats of rain. I decided to lead the way by pointing my car into the wind for the inevitable chilly change in/out of kit. I was soon joined by Richard who has the luxury of a van to change and brew up in closely followed by Tom ‘McCrae’ in his Landy. Huw wasn’t far behind and we all convened before getting kitted up. Now it’s worth noting that the last time Huw and Richard had caved together was some 25 years previous and it just goes to show how small a fraternity the South Welsh caving is.

Kitted up within minutes we stomped off to the entrance like we were paid models for ‘Aventure Verticale’ but only better! Gate opened, local’s trees freshly watered and we were in. Forget my previous reports on Draenen, I actually love this entrance series! It’s fun…on the way in anyway.

We were soon at the climb down, but before we continued, Tom did some checks on the fixed aids as part of his checks for the Pwll Du Cave Management Committee. Log book signed, we stomped off from Cairn Junction towards Wonderbra Bypass and further onward towards Tea Junction where we stopped off for a quick water break and collect some rubbish and old kit we had spotted on previous trips. We piled it all up ready to take out on our exit in a few hours.

Conversation was flowing now as usual with mostly expletives from myself when finding those unwanted slippy edges of boulders for which Draenen has many! We boulder hopped our way through White Arch Passage and Lamb & Fox until we reached the Indiana Highway where the expletives swapped from me to Richard as he discovered his new wellies weren’t very grippy on muddy traverses!

We ‘’popped’’ out into Megadrive, I don’t know why but I really like this part of the cave and its always worth stopping to look up, around and behind to see what/how the water has done to create this cave. Heading off into The Nunnery and further onward turning right into Perseverance 2 which is a hands/knees crawl which every time I do it always ends up with my dragging bag getting stuck on something.  Forgot to mention, both The Nunnery and Perseverance are nicely decorated and well worth a very short stop to admire some of the formations.

Perseverance gets larger and we achieved walking status again only for it to suddenly stop at an 8m laddered pitch….and I mean it literally comes out of nowhere. You have two choices at the pitch, a rigid ladder which is getting old and has a few steps missing (so who knows when the others will fall off) or more conventional/safer caving ladder albeit more awkward. Being the brave souls we are we opted for the rigid ladder….purely so the fixed aids officer could do his ‘’checks’’…..obviously.

The pitch drops down into Cardiff Arms Park, an impressive chamber and the way on is pretty much back underneath the pitch and leads into Player’s Tunnel where we encountered some good formations and we stopped for drinks/pictures. Soon after, some more boulder hopping the awe inspiring St. David’s Hall was reached and lunch was called whilst sitting in the marvel of this enormous chamber. It has to be seen to be believed!

Richard Gledhill on Balcony Pitch

Richard Gledhill on Balcony Pitch

Dave and Tom in Player's Tunnel

Dave and Tom in Player’s Tunnel

Tom in Player's Tunnel

Tom in Player’s Tunnel

After lunch the fun starts, being The Round Trip Connection. Now this is where we start to cut across with an end goal of getting into Beyond A Choke Stream to head back out of the cave. To start, we headed into Squirrel Rifts, a notorious part of the cave for navigating with its many choices of different rifts to take and all very much polished by wrong steps before! Thankfully every time I’ve done the Round Trip I’ve been with someone who knows (relatively) the way through and Huw was no exception so no hiccups were encountered. Carrying on through Wooden Spoon we squeezed through quite an awkward sideways rift just before Haggis Basher and I heard swear words a youngest nephew should not hear from his uncle! But I didn’t blame him whatsoever.

Some stunning stals and formations were found in Haggis Basher where we left the bags and headed off to the chokes at the end for a nosey. Tom sadly found a newer formation in the form of a pile of human poo…yeah nice one whoever did that. We had a poke around in the chokes then we went back to collect the bags to head off towards Far Agent Blorenge where pleasant stream walking was encountered and the conversation was back in full flow. Best way I can describe Agent Blorenge is sporting…lots of awkward traverses where Tom was heard to be having fun with his bag getting stuck at every opportunity, a couple of unofficial fixed aid climbs down and also the fun Sewer which is a short duck but with today’s water levels was just a soaking. Towards the end of Agent Blorenge the cascades were met with some interesting climbs down.

Dave admiring stals in Haggis Basher

Dave admiring stals in Haggis Basher

The Beyond A Choke stream way is reached at the end, we took a right, ending the connection, Round Trip and beginning the slog out of the cave. I love this stream way, it changes so much in its length and even has a few boulder chokes chucked in just for good measure and most importantly my favourite formation so far in this cave (I still have much more of this cave to visit) in the form of pure white stalagmite up on higher level of the stream way. It’s very photogenic!

We passed the entrance to Gilwern Passage and checking our watches decided it would have to wait for another day and collected the rubbish from Tea Junction. We exited the cave to more darkness but nice, still weather and the conversation soon changed to what was for tea and what beers were in the fridge.

Cars reached, kit stripped and final few words of the day were shared!

Heres for the next one 😉

Ogof Draenen – Fault Chambers Bolt Climb – 2nd Trip – Saturday 7th Oct 2017

Tom Williams, Dave Gledhill and Huw Jones

By Huw Jones
Photos – Tom Williams (Taken on his old phone!)

Dave, Tom and I, have been back to complete the climb in the tall but short rift passage, leading off from the southern end of Fault Chambers in Ogof Draenen, after our first trip there in June.

Tea Junction

Tea Junction

Just upstream of Tea Junction

Just upstream of Tea Junction

In the time between the trips, we had decided to start again and try to climb to the lower window in the hope that the rock here was better and that there was a passable way up into the higher window, that we had tried to reach last time.

The rock was mostly good and 7 bolts, plus 1 that seemed to go into some sort of pocket in the rock so wasn’t used, saw me gingerly pulling over the edge into the window, on a boulder that was lying on a slope of loose rock. The window was roughly 2 metres wide by 1 metre high but the rift behind it, that I was now standing in, was longer and about 4-5 metres high. To the South was a narrow rift that rose up and turned a corner so that I couldn’t see to a definite end. At the northern end, was a good sized but short rift, rising steeply up to the other window so there was a passable connection between the windows, after all.

I placed another bolt, nice and high in the back wall of the rift, opposite the window, to rig the ladder from so that the other two could join me. The ladder could then also be used to gain the rift rising to the upper window. This turned out to be the final bolt as the drill died as I was placing it! I rigged the lifeline from the bolt and a natural thread off to one side. The 10m ladder turned out to be too short when rigged directly from the bolt so I had to extend the belay with a long sling.

Dave joined me and waited in the narrow rift to the South, while Tom climbed up. I then suggested, that as he was already on the lifeline, he carry on up to the upper window. The ladder was re-rigged directly from the bolt and after a word of protest as he struggled slightly to leave the top of the ladder and establish himself in the rift, he was up in no time. The news from above wasn’t great. The window / ledge up there was larger than the lower one but there was only one small passage going off, which closed down completely after just 4 metres. Tom took a few photos on his phone(!) (I’d left my camera at the bottom of the climb) and then came back down to where Dave and I were waiting. While Tom had been exploring above, Dave had checked out the small rift to the South, which unfortunately went nowhere. I had a quick look at the upper window as well but where I thought I had seen a tube last time, heading upwards from the northern end, there was nothing! I was glad that we had decided to switch windows, as there was a huge amount of small, loose rock, lying at a precarious angle, that would have had to have been climbed over, to gain the upper window directly.

The ladder was re-rigged again from the sling and Tom climbed down. Dave decided he wanted to abseil so borrowed my Stop (to save weight, I was the only one who had brought an SRT kit) and used the lifeline rope. I pulled up the rope, which had my Stop clipped on the end, then carefully de-rigged everything, lowering it all back down on the lifeline rope, before doubling the rope through the ring hanger on the bolt. Only one bolt I know but it was bomber. I then abbed down, retrieving all the gear used on the climb as I went. When we tried to pull the rope down from the bottom, it snagged. Luckily Dave could still reach the other end and pulled it back a little, to try to release it. We tried this a couple of times before myself and Tom ended up sat on our arses, when the rope suddenly released with a stronger pull!

Derigging the rope from the previous climb

Derigging the rope from the previous climb

While Dave and Tom started packing stuff away, I prusiked up the rope we had left on the other climb last time, to de-rig it, leaving behind another hanger and bolt at our high point. Thankfully the rope was retrieved with no problem, this time. All that was left was to make our way out, carrying a very heavy bag each!

Battery change for Tom and Huw on way out

Battery change for Tom and Huw on way out

So no big discoveries! If you include the windows in the total of what we found at the top of the climb, then the passage amounts to about 15m. If you don’t include the windows, as they are open to the main, big rift passage, then you can halve that! Oh well, on to the next lead! We may take a look down a pitch next but there are also some avens and chokes to check out.

Ogof Draenen – Fault Chambers Bolt Climb – 1st Trip – Sunday 25th June 2017

Dave Gledhill, Tom Williams and Huw Jones

By Huw Jones
Photos – Huw and Tom

As we headed out from our trip when we finally dropped the Boulder Rodeo pitch in Fault Rifts, back in March 2016, I spotted a window, high up in the Eastern wall of the tall rift passage, at the southern end of Fault Chambers. It was above the top of a large boulder pile and I remembered that we’d spotted a window high up on this wall, when I’d first visited Fault Chambers back in 1994, on the day we first climbed up into and explored Fault Rifts. For some reason, the window wasn’t exactly as I’d remembered it from back then. I thought we’d finished with this area of the cave but now we were going to have to return, to see if the window led anywhere.

I returned with the two new tigers of the club, Tom and Dave. We’d decided to make an early start as Dave and myself both needed to be home by early evening. We’d arranged to meet at Pwll Du at 8am but a message from Tom said that neither his alarm clock nor his young son had managed to wake him and he was going to be late! When Tom arrived, we quickly got underground and headed to the climb, which took about two hours. We had a quick look around and Tom spotted a second window, in the same wall. This window was lower down but as it was above the base of a steep slope and the higher one above the top of the slope, the height of the climb to either was similar. A tube, visible in the roof of the lower window, looked to be heading towards the upper window so it was decided to try to reach the upper one as there was no way of knowing if the tube was passable. Also there was a ledge below the upper window, which looked like it could be reached by free climbing, to hopefully save time and bolts. I recognised the lower window as the one I’d seen back in 1994.

Tom at the start of the traverse to the ledge

Tom at the start of the traverse to the ledge –
Photo Huw

Being short on time, we got the kit sorted straight away and made a start. A bolt was placed for protection on the rising traverse to the ledge and Tom started the climb, with Dave life-lining. Unfortunately, when Tom got there, the rock above and around the ledge turned out to be so poor that it was almost funny! Tom came back down and we discussed options, whether to try for the lower window and hope there was a passable connection to the upper or to persevere where we were. It was decided to carry on above the first bolt, placed originally for protection, as the rock seemed to be more sound here. That could mean having to traverse across slightly, at a higher level though.

Huw on the climb

Huw on the climb – Photo Tom

I took over climbing duties, with Dave again life-lining and placed a few more bolts, gaining a view into the window. Unfortunately it wasn’t the start of a large passage going off but part of a small tube, which seems to be running diagonally down and parallel to the wall. The windows seem to be where the chamber has intersected the winding tube. There looked to be a part of the tube heading down towards the lower window and another part of it heading upwards. There are no windows visible higher up the wall so it needs checking out but unfortunately we had run out of time. I put a second stainless steel bolt in at the high point and rigged a length of rope directly to a couple of stainless ring hangers. Unfortunately we’d reached poor rock again so we’ll have to think carefully on how to proceed from here.

Dave with the rope left hanging from our high point

Dave with the rope left hanging from our high point – Photo Huw

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 Draenen – Boulder Rodeo – 3rd (and last!) Trip, Sunday March 13th 2016

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.

Huw J at the pitch head

Huw J at the pitch head

Huw J rigging

Huw J rigging

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.

Malc arriving back at the head of the pitch

Malc arriving back at the head of the pitch

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.

Ogof Draenen – Boulder Rodeo – 2nd Trip, Sunday 12th April 2015 by Huw Jones

Morgan Specht & Huw Jones

After our failed first attempt to drop the undescended pitch in Fault Rifts, we needed a rethink. It had been a long, hard trip and we hadn’t even managed to get the rigging gear to the pitch. Plus of course, Morgan had been unable to climb the tight rift up to Headache Passage.

To start with we needed an easier way into Fault Rifts. The Going Square route was hard work and the climbs slowed things down. We could use the original route via Fault Chambers but that involved a very exposed 7m climb. It was also longer but hopefully easier. But what if we did a separate set-up trip and rigged the climb as a pitch. When we came to drop the 30m+ pitch we’d have our SRT kits with us so another little pitch would be no problem.

Next was the tight rift climb; what to do to ensure every member of the team could get up it? Various solutions were thrown around. The rift could be widened in some way, chiselling or capping maybe. Apart from making it bigger, that might also produce better holds. Stemples could be fitted in the rift to give something to push up on. A third idea was for someone to climb the rift again and rig a rope down it. A jammer and footloop could then be used, pushing the jammer up the rope a tiny bit each time and then forcing yourself upwards by standing in the footloop.

Another way to make the route to the pitch easier and quicker could be to dig out the larger, choked crawl that went between Headache and the Parallel Passage. This would cut out the very low crawl, the damp choke and the other crawl in the Parallel Passage itself. It would be awkward though as the slabs blocking the way were through a little arch, which restricted working room. They’d also probably need to be capped so we’d have to drag a drill (which we didn’t have) all that way.

I the end we decided that the choked crawl between Headache Passage and the parallel passage was too far in and the time saving wouldn’t be worth the effort, likewise widening the rift climb up to Headache. On the other hand, rigging ropes on the climbs seemed like a good idea, made even better when Huw Durban donated a small drill to the club so placing bolts would be quick and easy. I still thought that fitting stemples in the tight rift was a good idea as well.

It took a long while for the next trip to come to fruition. In that time, apart from the new drill, some of the club equipment had been replaced, including ropes and karabiners. That meant there was some old gear knocking about, which included the 40m rope we had stashed in the cave, that could now be used on projects like ours.

Only myself and Morgan were available on the date chosen for this set up trip, 9 months after the first one! We met in Blaenavon at 8am on a Sunday morning again and this time I made sure I had the Draenen key with me! We transferred all the gear into Morgan’s camper van and drove up to Pwll Du. It was windy and cold, which made changing unpleasant as usual. We were underground by 9am, with a heavy tackle bag again each. Apart from the drill, we had a good length of the old rope, some through bolts, hangers and slings of mine, plus a few of the old club krabs. Along with that lot we had a lump hammer, crowbar, and chisel and a couple of pieces of timber for stemples, plus a saw to cut them to size. Plus, of course, food, drink, spare light and batteries and some emergency stuff. Morgan also had his SRT kit. The drill was protected inside an insulated/padded lunch bag, inside a dry bag. Most of the rest of the gear was sealed up in bin liners to try to keep everything dry through the entrance series, to keep things lighter and the wooden stemples easier to cut.

We made our way via Going Square, into Fault Rifts, again with the faff at the climbs, to arrive in the chamber overlooking Fault Chambers. We got to work straight away. I unpacked the drill and placed a backup bolt to rig a traverse line, for protection at the head of the climb, while Morgan got his SRT kit on. Then Morgan used the rope for protection while placing two bolts at the pitch head, one in each wall and rigged a Y-hang. Then he descended the pitch and cut off the spare rope, using the lighter from my emergency kit to seal the ends. Once he was back up, we quickly packed up and moved on to the tight rift climb.

This was proving to be such an obstacle, that I decided it needed a name, Headache Rift, as it obviously led up to Headache Passage but also as it was proving such a headache for the team! I really wasn’t looking forward to it again but started thrutching for all I was worth, slowly working my way up, heart and lungs working like crazy. Again, I’d trailed a rope behind me and once at the top, I had to decide how to fix it in place. I could haul up the drill to put in a bolt but first I looked to see if there were any useful natural belays. At the top, the passage went a short distance in the opposite direction to Headache Passage, and had a boulder floor. Here, there was a tight thread belay, in a little alcove, that could be used. The only thing was, the rope would run over a boulder in the alcove that rocked back and fore but which wouldn’t actually come out of the alcove. I thought about using the boulder as belay, as I couldn’t remove it but decided against using a rocking belay so awkwardly pushed a sling around the thread. The rope ran over the boulder and also over the edge of the boulder floor and I considered using the drill to place a bolt out in the rift, to give a better hang but in the end decided that what I’d rigged would be adequate.

With the rope rigged, it was time for Morgan to try it out. He clipped on his jammer and with his foot in the footloop hanging from it, pushed it up the rope a little and stood up, forcing his body up the rift. It was still very hard work and slow but Morgan made it to the top! He was keen to take a look at Headache Passage but we didn’t get very far as there was a bat hanging in the boulder choke, just a little way along and not wanting to disturb it, we decided turn around.

Back at the bottom of Headache Rift, we made a start in fitting the wooden stemples. I measured up the first one, Morgan cut it to size and I tried it back in place. Repeating that a few times, plus some light chiselling and we had a nice fit so I hammered it into place. We decided that one would be enough but left the other one there, along with the saw, just in case it was needed on the next trip. We also left the digging kit for next time.

Back at the climb, now pitch, down into Fault Chambers, Morgan put on his SRT kit while I abbed down using a sit sling and an italian hitch. I hadn’t been in Fault Chambers for a very long time and I’d forgotten how impressively big they are. The way through Perseverance Series back to The Nunnery was longer than I remembered but still easier than taking the Going Square route.

Back at the car, it was still cold but the wind was now much stronger and where we were parked was very exposed. Morgan made best use of a small embankment by a fence to get, at least, some shelter. I headed across the road, to a clump of trees and got changed there. It was definitely a bit better but I just wonder what the people in the two cars which passed thought when they spotted me stripping off in the trees!

It had been another hard trip but everything was now set up to drop the big pitch.

Ogof Draenen – Boulder Rodeo – 1st Trip, Sunday 27th July 2014 by Huw Jones

Huw Jones, Malcolm Reid, Morgan Specht

Fault Rifts is a small and obscure series of passages in Ogof Draenen. It was first entered when myself and Peter Bolt of Morgannwg C C, climbed in to it from Fault Chambers, soon after the initial big breakthrough in the cave, in 1994. We found that the series had another connection into Fault Chambers, plus a connection to another passage that we later realised was Going Square. I explored the series again, a couple of weeks later, with Huw Durban. We did the scarily exposed climb up out of Fault Chambers again and followed a southerly trending passage down a loose climb, through a bedding plane and to the base of a narrow rift. The rift is a bit like the notorious entrance rift in Llanelly Quarry Pot but much, much more difficult! At the top we found a loose passage trending South but choking after a couple of hundred metres. I named this Headache Passage, as that’s what Huw D was suffering with! Unfortunately his headache quickly developed into a full blown migraine and we had to start out, leaving a couple of crawls heading off to the West. Back down the rift and up the loose climb, I spotted a little rift on the left and pulled out a few boulders to find a large shaft with a fair bit of water falling, which obscured the view up and down. We then made our way out via Going Square.

Later I dropped the wet shaft with some MCC people but at the bottom, the water flowed into a passage much too small to follow. I named the shaft Vertical Reality. Sometime later, while talking to the people from Chelsea S S who were doing the Grade 5 survey, they asked about the way into Fault Rifts from Going Square. “Is it up the climb, across the awkward traverse and through the little hole?” “That’s the one.” I replied. Sometime later again, I bought an interim copy of the survey and noticed that Fault Rifts was on there. I also noticed that the surveyors had obviously been through the crawls Huw D and I had left in Headache passage. I’d forgotten all about them! It was a bit difficult to work out from the survey but it looked as if at least one of the crawls linked into a passage running parallel with Headache. To the North it ended at the other side of the wet shaft we’d dropped previously – Vertical Reality (we had noticed a window, high up on the other side). It also headed South, well beyond the limit of Headache Passage, to end at another shaft. It was the way the pitch lengths were marked that got my interest. Where as all the other pitches on the survey were marked with definite and obviously accurately measured lengths, such as 14m or 22m etc., here the shafts were marked as being 15m+ (Vertical Reality), 20m+ (same shaft but from the window at the northern end of the parallel passage) and 30m+ for the shaft at the southern end of the parallel passage. They looked like estimated depths so it was probable that the surveyors hadn’t been down the pitches and maybe no-one had been down the 30m+ pitch. 30m would also make it the biggest pitch in the cave and I thought I just had to check it out. I never did though and then I stopped caving for ten years!

When I’d started caving again and rejoined my caving clubs, I had a few things in mind that I wanted to check out, including some in Draenen. I was chatting to Malcolm Reid about Draenen at one of the BCC meetings and he mentioned the 30m+ shaft in Fault Rifts, which was one of the things I wanted to look at! He also thought there was a chance that no-one had been down there, despite it being nearly 20 years since it was discovered. We soon had Huw Durban and Morgan Specht interested too and started to make plans to drop the 30m shaft.

In the end Huw D. couldn’t make it so it was just myself, Malc and Morgan. We arranged to meet at a car park in Blaenafon at 8am on a Sunday morning, where we could leave two of the cars and travel up to Pwll Du in just one, hoping to be underground by 9am. The early start was because it was going to be a long trip and also Morgan was hoping to spend some time with his better half in the evening. Unfortunately Malc was a little late and then realised that he’d forgotten to bring the Draenen key with him! We put all our stuff into Malc’s car, went to his to pick up the key, then drove straight up to Pwll Du.

We headed into Draenen with a heavy tackle bag each and I remember saying to Morgan that it was going to take about two hours to reach the pitch but that the route was a bit involved. We stopped off in Indiana Highway to pick up the 40m rope we’d stashed there after the trip where we dropped the big pitch that you normally traverse over but where we’d failed to get down the second pitch (see the previous trip report). Two hours after entering the cave and we were just heading into the start of the ‘involved’ bit as we turned down Going Square! Going Square is mainly walking but interspersed with a few tight crawly bits. At a corner we headed into the connecting passages to Fault Rifts, which start with an easy going crawl leading to a slightly larger passage. At a complex little junction we took a short, flat out crawl on the right, which includes a couple of tightish bits. This led into a walking passage, where a hole at the back of an alcove on the left is the way on. The hole is at roof level, about 3m up and can’t be reached directly. We crawled through a hole at the base of a wall which separates the alcove from the main passage and climbed onto the top of the wall. Then we had to traverse over to the hole which is awkward because the tiny footholds are only about a metre below the ceiling, which means the traverse has to be done whilst bent double. I went first, then hauled the bags up. Another climb followed, higher but more straightforward. As I touched the first handhold, it promptly fell to the floor! With one person at the top and one half way, the bags were passed up the climb. At the top, we entered a chamber at the head of the direct climb up from Fault Chambers, the original way into Fault Rifts. Turning right, we made our way along the bouldery passage, taking a quick detour to have look at Vertical Reality, to the loose climb down near the end. Something fell off this climb every single time someone climbed up or down it! At the bottom, a short crawl through a bedding led to the climb up to Headache Passage.

I remembered how difficult the rift had been, when me and Huw D climbed it for the first (and for us only) time, all those years ago and there were a few doubts in my mind as to whether or not I could still climb it. Below where you climb up, the rift opens up and drops away so there’s the worry that if you slip, you’ll slide passed the bedding plane, into the wide bit and fall right to the bottom. Not wanting to think about it too much, I made a start. I stepped off the bedding floor and wedged myself in the rift, that bit was easy, making upward progress was a different matter. This part of the rift is very narrow and there is not much in the way of hand or foot holds other than a few, not very pronounced, bulges. Thrutching for all I was worth, I started to make agonisingly slow progress, sometimes slipping back a little, loosing hard fought ground. I was already breathing very hard and my heart was pounding so I decided I needed to go for it as hard and fast as possible, to get up before I got too tired. After about three metres of this frantic effort, the rift became less tight and the holds a bit more defined, although well spaced out. At least I could rest a little and was now fairly certain I could get to the top. It still wasn’t easy but I arrived at the top, at the opposite end of the rift to where I needed to be and traversed easily over to the other side. I’d trailed the end of one of the ropes behind me as I climbed and used this to haul up the bags.

Morgan tried next. He got into the rift but just couldn’t make any progress. He’s taller than me and I think he just couldn’t raise his long legs enough to be of any use in pushing upwards. He soon got tired and had to slip back down into the bedding. Morgan and Malcolm were both concerned about slipping and falling to the bottom so, finding a large, solid thread belay, I dropped a lifeline down. Malc tried next but made little more progress than Morgan had, until Morgan wedged himself in underneath and let Malcolm stand on his shoulders! Malc managed to push upwards a little and then started thrutching diagonally up the rift, towards me. This meant that rather than going straight up to reach the wider bit, it was tight all the way but he made it, passing under a boulder that was wedged in the rift. He went to have a look along the passage while Morgan had another go. I tried hauling on the lifeline but that didn’t help so I locked it off so Morgan could pull on it. That didn’t work either as we were at opposite ends of the rift so he was getting pulled sideways rather than upwards. As Malc returned, Morgan had to give up. We had now been underground for about 3.5 hours, so much for my estimate of 2 hours to get to the pitch!

Still keen to get down the pitch, I asked Morgan if he would be prepared to wait while myself and Malc at least made a start on rigging the pitch. If there were no useful natural belays, then we would have to install a number of bolts by hand and that would take 20-30 minutes per bolt! Morgan agreed and we repacked the rigging gear from Morgan’s bag into the other two. We lowered Morgan’s bag back down to him and luckily he had brought along some extra clothing that would help him keep warm.

Malc and myself started off along Headache, each lumping a ridiculously heavy and over stuffed tackle bag. First of all there was an extremely loose boulder slope / choke to negotiate. In fact, the whole of Headache Passage is very loose, being developed along a fualt. I’d forgotten just how loose! We made our way along and soon found ourselves at the choked/calcited end of the passage. We’d completely missed the crawls! We backtracked and found the first crawl that looked like it should connect with the parallel passage shown on the survey. This was the larger of the two but quickly choked at a narrower section. We backtracked some more and soon found the other crawl. This was a lot smaller, wide but very low and with a few small stals dotted through. We’d now been going for about four hours and still hadn’t reached the pitch. It looked like it would be a very difficult job to get the big bags through the low crawl and even if we got the gear to the pitch, we wouldn’t then have time to do anything useful. We also didn’t want Morgan to be waiting alone for too long. It was time to make a decision. I suggested leaving the bags but still going to the pitch, that way something useful would come out of the trip. We could quickly reconnoitre the parallel passage and could confirm whether or not there were any signs of the pitch having been rigged in the past, such as bolts or even just tell-tale marks.

Malc agreed and so I led on through the crawl, now into new passage for me and thankful to be caving without the bag for a while. The crawl was low and got lower, to the point where you had to breath out to move forward. The crawl rounded a very sharp bend and ended at the base of a damp choke. There was a route upwards through it and I wondered if it had had to be cleared the first time someone had come through here. At the top was a small, short passage and then a little porthole through into a much larger space, the parallel passage at last. We turned left, South, and the passage immediately shrank to a hands and knees crawl. After a climb down into a continuation of the crawl, the passage enlarged to a taller rift about a metre wide. A short passage on the left was obviously the other end of the larger but choked crawl between Headache and the parallel passage. After a short traverse we arrived at a climb down with a large, deep, straight rift heading off in front. I climbed down and considered if it was best to traverse across from where I was or drop down again to the base of the rift. Malc decided he was going to stay at the top of the last climb and wait for me there. I decided to drop down and moved forward along the bottom of the rift but it was tight and I was dislodging crystals from the walls as I went so I regretted coming this way. At the far end, the rift was wider but also had a big pile of boulders almost filling it. There appeared to be two possible ways on, either underneath the boulders or a tricky looking climb up and over the top. I could now hear falling water, I presumed from the pitch itself. The sound of the water was loudest from above and so I decided to go that way. The rift was wider here and the climb a little daunting, particularly as I was on my own and it certainly got the adrenaline flowing as I really didn’t want to take a fall here! At the top, an easy passage, with the boulders on the left and a solid right wall, quickly brought me out to the pitch head.

Glad to finally be at the pitch, I started to have a good look around. Ahead was a decent sized black space with water falling on the right hand side. From where I was, I couldn’t see the top or bottom of the shaft but turning my lamp up to full power, I could just make out the far side, where it seemed to narrow back down into a rift. It was impossible to tell if there was a way on but a dark area part way up held out hope. I carefully checked out the walls and boulders around me but I couldn’t see any marks that showed that someone had been here before. Someone had of course, as the place was on the survey but whoever it was hadn’t left any signs of their presence. There were certainly no bolts in the walls and no scuff marks from ropes or slings. To get a better look down the pitch I needed to move forward but I couldn’t be certain if the boulders in the floor were solid and the walls were too far apart to bridge. Memories came back of doing something similar at the Vertical Reality shaft nearby, where I’d stepped onto a large slab lying on a slope dropping to the pitch head and it had started sliding towards the pitch itself! I’d probably only ‘surfed’ the slab for a fraction of a second, before jumping off and doing a starfish impression between the walls but it had seemed like much longer! I carefully stepped down onto a flat-topped boulder near the pitch head, very slowly transferring my weight onto it. It held firm and as I put my foot down a thin mud crust on the top split apart. I was obviously the first person to step on this boulder and I didn’t think anyone could have dropped the pitch without having stood on it. I was now completely sure the pitch had never been descended. I dropped a couple of stones down the pitch to try to get an idea of it’s depth. I didn’t time them properly or do any calculations but it seemed to me that the shaft was about the same as others in the cave I’d dropped stones down, most of them around 20 – 22m so less than the 30m+ shown on the survey.

It was time to head out. There was a hole and a slope down below the boulders wedged in the passage. I decided to check it out, to see if I could bypass the climb back down, on the other side of the boulders. The slope was steep and loose looking and as I carefully took my first step, a boulder slid away and caused a chain reaction, knocking down a lot more below it as it rolled. It made a terrific racket and Malc said later that he was a bit concerned about what had happened. I reasoned that the slope was now a lot more stable and tried it, with nothing much else moving. This brought me back to the start of the long, straight rift and this time, rather than squeeze along at the bottom, I climbed up a little and traversed, which turned out to be relatively easy. As I got closer to him, Malc started out in front of me. Back through the crawl and we were soon in the larger part of the parallel passage, where the route out to Headache was in the right hand wall. We continued North along the passage, to were it ended, overlooking the Vertical Reality shaft, then backtracked to take a look at a side passage that headed towards Headache Passage. This choked, probably near the loose choke at the start of Headache. The only option was back through the low crawl, after which we picked up the bags and made our way back along Headache, to the top of the tight rift climb. There was no sign of Morgan so we dropped down, crawled through the bedding and scrambled up the loose climb, where more things fell off! We were reunited with Morgan in the chamber at the head of the climb up from Fault Chambers. He had been waiting on his own for an hour and a half! We discussed leaving the ropes here for a return but Malc didn’t think it was a good idea to leave them in such a remote place, just in case we didn’t come back, plus he thought we might take another look down the pitch in Indiana Highway first. We gave Morgan some of the kit to carry and made our way out via Going Square, stashing the 40m rope in Indiana Highway again. I, for one, was pretty knackered by the time we got out! It had been a long, hard trip and we’d failed to get down the pitch but at least we now had better knowledge of the route and knew that no one had been down the pitch before. We were going to have to go back. Unfortunately for Morgan, he was too late for his evening out, which I don’t think made him very popular!