Ogof Ffynnon Ddu II, Saturday 11th August 2018

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.

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.

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.