Today’s team is…
Once again – On another cold gloomy Sunday in the Brecon Beacons a caving trip was in order. The plan was a nice early meet for 9.45am but this turned into a 10.30am meet and then resulted in myself flying home via the never-ending roadworks to retrieve the key which I had stupidly left hanging on the cuckoo clock. Never a dull moment with us lot clearly.
After retrieving the ellusive key – we continued our clothing change n the usual Blackrock lay-by situated underneath UB40, a quick team selfie was in order and off we went to explore the sights and sounds of my favourite cave in the Gorge – Ogof Craig A Ffynnon.
As already explained in previous trip reports – the entrance to OCAF is unstable and myself and Tom have had the pleasure of having a near miss with a breeze-block sized boulder at the beginning of the year. PLEASE anyone visiting here make sure your helmet is on and done up before you start the climb up to the entrance. The lock is a little tricky to master but today was an exception as we were in within no time and gathered at the logbook ready to embark on todays adventure. A quick sign in and brief reminder of cave conservation and we were off.
OCAF is possibly one of the most decorated caves within the gorge next to Ogof Nant Rhin and Ogof Capel and on every visit you will see something you didn’t notice last time. In recent weeks the rain seems to have calmed a little but that said the rain has been replaced by bitter temperatures so that coupled with the possible thought of having to crawl Gasoline Alley was pretty depressing however we were lucky enough to see that water levels were low much to our excitement.
I will not bore you with the usual details of our trip upto the NWI and 2nd choke split so ill just go straight to the fun part.
We approached the entrance to NWI in anticipation knowing that today we would not have the pleasure (thankfully) of having to submerge ourselves into the icy water but we would be taking a much dryer trip today.
Dione has been down to NWI so today’s route was a new one for her. I led our party to the right past the beautiful almost blue in colour flowstone pool, past the formations and up the short passage to the 1st tight squeeze. This was the first time in a while I have used a caving bag on a trip and it was at this point – just 10mins into the trip I remembered why I stopped taking one. It’s such a hindrance especially as it only contained a flask of sweet tea, Lion bars and a camera which turned out to be a waste of space but more on that in a moment,
Our tight squeeze up to the bolted ladder at the bottom of the pitch was just a small taster of what was in store for us when we reached the top. Zeb flew up the pitch and used the fixed ropes to pull up the tackle sack which contained our safety lines. Barry then joined him at the top of the ladder as they spent a few moment rigging the pitch mostly for mine and Dione’s piece of mind. After 10mins we were up the top and ready to rock. It was at this point that Barry left us to potter about with his camera.
Now the real fun begins!
Once at the top of the 15metre (49ft) pitch you are met with a claustrophobe’s idea of hell! a long winding upwards boulder choke of calcited and jagged rock which in all fairness could make a killing as a ride in a theme park! You journey upwards though small climbs and crawls where you contort yourself into something you’d find in a circus freak show. It really is a game of nerves here as if you panic your will be way up the creek and your paddle will be long gone. A few deep breaths and you push on through the fear until you pop out of the top and then question whether that was fun of sheer hell.
Usually there is a continuous flow of water down the choke but as said before there was a lack of water on today’s trip which would prove a problem in the next section of the cave.
Once you have popped out of the choke you will find yourself standing on a large mound of boulders and realise you just spent 10mins resembling an octopus when in actual fact you travelled about 15foot to the other side of the blockage. It was at this point i thought i would get the camera out and take some Choke exit images – Forgot to put the SD card in so clearly we were having no images today! As you descend you will start to notice the mud tracks covering the rock. These are the mud marks of the victims of the previous visit as you are about to meet your match.
I can honestly say when I was first told about the mud in this part of the cave I could not believe that you would find such an abundance of it – I was wrong… Very very wrong. In comparison there is NOTHING I can use to explain what this is like. Zeb has recently described it as custard. It’s like the thick and lumpy custard your Nan would serve on your apple pie after Sunday lunch. You could throw it at a wall and it will still be there the following Sunday. It’s horrendous. They say to run through it which is fine until you find one of the hidden rocks below and fall face first into it. You will lose your wellies, as Zeb found out; lost a welly then on retrieval almost lost his head. It will be in your hair, underwear, your ears, nose… There is nowhere it will not go!
When we had finally navigated this obstacle we continued our trip but to then be met by a calcite “slide” which is a lot of fun when you resemble mudman. another quick walk bring you to a small mud pool where i lost a welly and then a celcite belly crawl upwards (upwards and muddy indeed – Better not to ask how that went)
This passage is filled with some beautiful formations. There was an image captured many years ago of Spike admiring said formation which is pretty famous within the Welsh caving community.
A quick walk/hop/run later and you are met with the magnificent gour pools which is a sight that really needs to be admired. As your headlamps light up the passage below you remember how beautiful the natural world really is.
Finally we arrive at the Hall Of The Mountain King! Every visit here makes me hum that tune made Famous by Alton Towers. Its is truly outstanding! The roof above you is adorned with some of the most impressed formations you will ever witness. The ground below mirrors what is above – It is utterly breathtaking.
After what seemed too short a time exploring it was time to make our way out.
The walk back was pretty uneventful bar myself slipping and cracking my hip on a rock. The mud floor however was once again proving an issue. Dione somehow managed to get out slightly unscathed however I lost the will to live at one moment and did my usual flapping like a fish to freedom. Zeb lost another welly.
As you can imagine, the climb back to the the top of the boulder choke becomes a game from Total Wipeout. It’s a case of 1 step forward 2 steps back.
The plus side of the mud is that it makes the boulder choke exit much easier. I like to use the term of a bullet leaving a gun so be wary as you will fly (literally) if you’re not careful.
A quick exit out of the choke and climb down the pitch to meet Barry who was ready and waiting and we were pretty much home and dry. The last decision to be made was do we take a dip and try and clean off or do we fly out and head to the pub Guess what we chose…?
Pint of beer and some pork scratchings please