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.
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.
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.