David Gledhill, Adrian Brown
Nick De-Gare Pitt, Adam Knapp
Huw Jones, Tom Williams, Maxine Bateman, David Gledhill
Nick de Gare-Pitt
All photos by Barry Burn, (apart from Gareth’s one)
A trip was needed, but a knackered knee, a dodgy ankle and recent overindulgence meant that it would have to be a nice gentle trip. With the recent long, dry spell, we also wanted to see what this translated to in a cave that is normally known for a streamway. Thus we settled on a nice easy trip into OFD1.
This was to be a first time into OFD for Terri and Lloyd and I always think that the Bottom Entrance for a pootle upstream with some diversions into the side series that can be found on the way is an ideal introduction.
We met at Penwyllt at the reasonable time of 10:30 and after filling the a trip card, getting a key and a bit of a gossip we drove down the hill to the convenient layby to change.
Being in the middle of the hottest heatwave for over 40 years meant that the walk to the cave, although relatively short, was a sweaty affair. Opening the gate triggered a blast of cooling air that howled out of the cave and each of us took time to pause and enjoy the draft as we entered.
It was soon evident, as we headed up the passage, just how dry the cave was going to be as the artificial pools and steams were completely dry.
Before heading to the streamway, I decided to take everyone up Pearl Passage to Skeleton Chamber to tell the tale of the itinerant castrator and a quick look at Pearl Chamber at the end.
We were then soon back on the trade route with me pointing out places that usually have small waterfalls that were now completely dry. Approaching the climb up into Column Passage, it became apparent that this was a very different cave.
Normally the Main Streamway makes itself known well in advance by the gentle roaring that can be heard. Today, though there was silence. Dropping down from The Step, this was more of a Main Trickleway than the usual exciting streamway that is the norm.
The biggest surprise was the potholes that are passed by scaffold pole bridges. Usually the scaffold tubes are just above or under the water, but now they were a good foot or more above water. The water in them was also very still and clear, allowing you to see to the bottom of the potholes. Most surprising was the first pothole. Most usually assume that if you fall in, that you will be up to your neck. This time though, it could be seen that it is a good 20 feet or more deep.
The plan was to head up to Boulder Chamber and then head back. We took our time heading upstream having a quick look around and pausing to have a good look at various features. The sump was particularly low with an airspace to be seen although we didn’t fancy getting too wet for a closer look. At Boulder Chamber, we spent some time for a quick break with a nose around and some tales of how long it took for a dry connection to be made.
Heading back downstream, a quick look at the traverse up to the Waterfall Series
with a promise to come back to that another day and then we climbed up into Low’s Passage. Gareth was convinced that he could see further leads high in the roof but I explained how Pete Harvey, one of the original discoverers, had spent a lot of time maypoling up to such suggestions only to be disappointed each time. The drop back down Low’s Chain (now Low’s Ladder) was accomplished with varying degrees of finesse before we headed of downstream again with the intention of looking into the Railton-Wild Series. However, we managed to stomp right past the way into this series, so again, it shall have to wait for another day. climb up the Maypole Chain for a look and then we went straight past The Step for the initiation ceremony that is Pluto’s Bath. Before heading up from the Streamway to it though, I nipped down to have a look at what the downstream end was looking like.
Terri and Gareth followed on and it was surprising to see that there was very little water now and a definite absence of a sump. A couple of photos and we headed back to join the others that were waiting for us the other side of Pluto’s Bath. After the correct amount of laughing at Terri trying to cross the pot and Gareth, who’d been chuffed to traverse over it, getting pushed back into it, we popped into the Fault Series that is one of those little visited gems that are to be found in OFD. Again, this had me confused as the climb up into it is always a lot higher than I remember.
We were soon back out into the sunshine and heat, pausing on the way to rescue a small frog. We decided that he may be trying to escape the scorching heat but was unlikely to survive for long so Lloyd was the hero that carried him up into the outside air to hop free.
I do wish that I’d thought of having a quick look at Gothic Sump before we headed out, it would have been interesting to see how low it has gone in the drought conditions. I also wonder if anyone has undertaken to document the system in these conditions. It may happen again next year, but chances are we won’t see such low water for another few decades and perhaps we should be more proactive in taking some measurements and recording observations.
After changing, dropping the key off and a good gossip with the DO who was intrigued with our descriptions and some of the photos, we did what should be done after a good trip into OFD, a pint in the Ancient.
Driving to Penwyllt on such a sunny day its hard to process that for the next few hours you are going to willingly go underground and descend a hill only to then walk back up it but classic trips are worth it.
We met up, had a quick chat with Brendan at the club who happily gave us the key and then we studied the survey.
Kit on we plodded our way to the top and by the time we reached OFD2 it felt like I had already sweat out a days worth of sweat! We quickly got into the cool and got started.
I lead the way to Maypole Inlet via the main routes stopping only at Gnome passage to get a picture with my new lamp on full (cheers Roy!) the route all seemed fairly familiar even though the last time I had been down Maypole was 17 years previous. We climbed down the free climb into the inlet itself and slid our way to the ladder where we stopped for another picture. As we approached the climb into streamway I said happily to Huw ”at least it’s not slippy” and within seconds all I could see was Huw very rapidly descending into the stream but luckily he managed to stop himself! I don’t think ill tempt fate like that again this trip.
We made good progress down the stream way which was low but stunning nonetheless and arrived at the sump for a quick look, we then back tracked up-stream and jumped out at the Great Oxbow to by-pass the sump.
Jumping back into the stream from the oxbow we continued on our way at good speed enjoying the many potholes and plunge pools en route. There always comes a point where you just have to accept your legs aren’t long enough and just enjoy the cooling water. After quite a lot of stream way the walls start to get pretty….very pretty and before you know you are in Marble Showers. What a place, never ceases to amaze me the beauty of OFD and hands down the best underground stream in the UK. We stopped for a water break and for some pictures.
Carrying on even further down stream we passed, on the right, the confluence for main and Cwm Dwr stream. We lost the stream soon after and ended up in Piccadilly. What a huge and amazing place to test out the new lamp and stop for a bit to eat.
We carried on and climbed up divers pitch which is a relatively if not ever so slightly exposed free climb with an in-situ old handline to aid. At the top we turned right into the crawls which would soon post us out of the Letterbox where obviously we had to take some pictures of the flat out backwards crawl leading to a sudden drop and a chain to assist climbing out. We had a quick scan and head down the slope underneath the Letterbox and into chokes for the way on. To say we had a quick navigational boo boo would be over exaggerating, we just wanted to spend bit more time in the lovely loose choke…..
Once through Huw mentioned about going to visit Dip Sump, the point of many of the early dives into OFD2 itself from the bottom entrance long before the days of a dry connection and a top entrance.
All that was left now was to head towards the dry Breakthrough point and choke and make our way into OFD1 which took no time at all apart from pausing in the choke to admire the old scaffold that has substantially bent in the years gone by luckily now backed up with a new one!
We made our exit through OFD1 quickly only pausing to try to find Huw’s glove which has been swallowed by the albeit dribble of a stream and also the standard swim in Pluto’s bath.
We exited the cave after 4 and a bit hours to a raging hot day, good job we’ve got a hill to climb in our caving kit……….
After our trip to Pwll Dwfn a few weeks previous myself, Huw Jones & Richard Gledhill decided a trip to top waterfall was in order and via The Nave pitches for a bit more SRT loving. Now i’m going to mention that Tom Williams was meant to be joining us but because he had 3 pints 3 days before the trip he decided he was still hungover (these young un’s)
We met at Penwyllt at the gentlemanly time of 10am (standard cavers meet, worldwide) had a look at the topo of the pitches and packed the bags and made the glorious journey up to the top entrance. We took the main trade route down into Salubrious and onwards to the pitches themselves which only took 15-20 minutes travelling time.
Pausing for a quick drink we started to kit up and I went forward to rig the first pitch under the watchful and critical eye of my uncle!
Descending the pitch a deviation is required to avoid rope rub and the anchor point was spotted quite quickly so I clipped a deviation into place. It was this point I realised why it is called The Nave. Stunning place! and quite quickly after clambering up some boulders the second pitch was met requiring an initial natural anchor point. A suitable boulder was chosen (i.e me and Richard could not move the beast!) Now I enjoyed rigging this pitch as its more free hanging and a nice free descent to the bottom with more stunning views of this beautiful system.
After a short bit of caving and down a short traverse the 3rd and final pitch was met which Richard was going to rig. An in-situ rope is in place for pull through trips as there is only natural anchors. We decided to rig our own as we planned to prussik this way back out on our exit. After spending a short time trying to find a suitable boulder (which there is many boulders but all loose) we were all making our way down into an Oxbow at the bottom.
After a quick check nav on the survey we were on our way splashing upstream. We jumped out the stream at Pendulum passage to seek out a climb that Andy Freem had told us about back at the club but decided against the free climb. Me and Huw then carried on upstream to Top Waterfall whilst Richard had a poke around in Pendulum.
Arrived at the waterfall and photos were taken at this breathtaking underground fall. I loved it that much I decided to be at one with the streamway and slipped over straight into the plunge pool at the bottom ruining my pork pies which I had stupidly forgotten to zip up the waterproof bag! all recorded on film……
Me and Huw turned round at this point and met Richard on our way back downstream and agreed we would start to climb out whilst he visited the waterfall. En route we discovered a poor frog who had decided to come caving aswell (his fate unknown) and when Richard joined us back at the pitch he told us that he had seen a trout of all things.
We exited the pitches each taking a pitch in turn to de-rig and made our way out of the cave stopping for a few tourist shots on the trade routes.
An amazing medium shortish trip but with plenty to do, next time will be a pull through and downstream.
With a view to visiting the Railton-Wilde series in OFD1, Adam and I met up bright and early at Penwyllt after a period of heavy snow the night before and reviewed the plan for the day. Overnight, there had been a heavy fall of snow with significant accumulations that were now melting. This would mean that there would be a large amount of water that would have entered the system and it was possible that there would be an additional input somewhere that would result in water levels rising again or further. We decided to write out the ticket to indicate an intention to visit the series but also to have a general bimble around the Fault Series and other areas of OFD1.
The OFD system is a marvelous place that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of visiting. There are always other places to find and explore. In 2016, I enjoyed becoming very well acquainted with OFD1 and in 2017, I think I shall reacquaint myself with OFD2. there are some places there I may never see but I would like to get to know this extensive system and revisit some of the lesser visited places such as the Northern Lights that I haven’t seen for a good many years. But for this day, it was OFD1 again.
Driving down to the lay-by and changing, we were soon off down the lane and up to the entrance. A quick selfie (I still can’t get these right) and we were down through the gate just in front of a group of SWCC prospective members that were visiting OFD for their first time.
We quickly moved off into the cave to reach the Toastrack and then on to The Step. Here it was obvious that there had been a significant amount of water that had entered the system and the stream level was quite high. Not the highest I have seen but high enough to potentially give some problems. At this point the following group turned up to have a look and the leader decided that it would be better to take her acolytes into some of the upper series instead and they returned the way they had come. Adam and I stepped into the stream to see if it would be passable and found the stream to be over well over knee level. We found it was relatively easy moving against the current but turning around it was obvious that this is where the potential problems could lie. Without a lot of concentration, it would be easy to lose one’s footing especially when descending the small cascades and water chutes that are in the streamway. We felt that if the water levels were dropping that we would be okay, however, it wasn’t known if there was further snowmelt still entering the system potentially increasing the water levels further. So, deciding it was likely to be a geological age before the Railton-Wilde series went anywhere, we entered into bimble mode.
We made our way back the way we had come stopping for the odd photograph and looking into most of the small series that can be found around that area such as the Upper Toastrack and Coral Pool series. We then headed back towards the Fault Series with the intention of finding a passage that we thought we missed last time, stopping on the way to have a long chat with a couple of SWCC members.
A quick visit to the stream again by traversing over Pluto’s Bath for a lunch stop and another couple of photos and then we headed off and were soon climbing up into the Fault Series. We found the missing passage but it was taped off and weren’t going to be able to visit it anyway and so contented ourselves with another visit to the previously visited passage and a look at the formations there.
We were soon back on the surface for another selfie (I’m getting better) after a shorter than intended but still thoroughly enjoyable wee potter around OFD1.
(Please note, photographs to be added later).
Adam Knappe (Morgannwg)
4th September 2016
A short trip into OFD1 for a bit of a bimble up to the Fault Series and a poke around some of the other passages that are generally ignored by the majority of visitors.
There was supposed to be six of us but that had become three by the time we set off in the morning and it was only Tris and me from Brynmawr that met up with Adam from Morgannwg at Penwyllt bright and early.
There had been torrential rain the night before and we had to fend off a number of advisories to keep out of the streamway. I explained that we weren’t that daft and were only planning on a trip to The Fault Series. I did want to have a look at the Main Streamway though so intended to get close to it and see what state it was in.
We did our usual thing of driving the cars down to the layby to change where I discovered that instead of just forgetting my towel or clean undies, I’d managed to forget everything bar my oversuit, hat and lamp. “Ah well” I said, “It’s a dry trip, we’re going to be keeping out of the water” and so off we went with me less cosy than usual. We were soon into the cave and made our way to the start of The Fault Series that is a high level passage reached by climbing up a steep flowstone ramp. It was here that I remembered the unwritten rule of caving that every dry trip will always have a spot where you get wet. There was a lot of water flowing down the calcite ramp and at the top, there is a climb up through boulders where there was enough water cascading into it to give me a good wetting down.
The Fault Series itself is short but well worth the visit. There are some nice formations as well as some unusual mud formations. The whole area is well taped to protect these and they must be observed or the area would soon be trashed.
The passage after the mud deposits becomes larger until progress is halted at a large choke that hasn’t yet been passed. As we had plenty of time, we lingered awhile taking photos before returning back down the calcite ramp.
We decided to have a look at the streamway at The Step so headed off there to be impressed with the torrent that was flowing. It would be definitely sporting to have tried to go upstream that day. Some foam flecks far above the current stream level showed that it had been considerably higher quite recently.
Instead of climbing back up The Step, there is a short section of passage, marked on the survey as Loopways so we had a quick look down there. This ends at a drop to the streamway but it is worth the quick look. In Traverse Passage, there is a window that looks down onto this short passage.
A look up the start of the Escape Route and then coming back down the Toastrack, Tris and Adam decided to go through Pluto’s Bath and down to the streamway again. I was feeling the cold by now and didn’t fancy a dunking so elected to stay put. I soon heard calls that I really should come on down and see something. I was able to avoid the water by traversing across Pluto’s Bath and headed down the passage. The lower end of the passage was covered, walls and ceiling in foam and was a stark testament to just how high the Streamway can rise in flood. It must have risen to somewhere around six to eight feet above the current level. At this point is was possible to sit right by the water’s edge without getting swept away and this we did for a while before heading back out stopping briefly for Tris to perform his ‘ablutions.’
Of course, it is almost obligatory to visit the Ancient Briton after a good trip into OFD and so we called in for a swift half on the way home.
This was a good fun trip. It was something different, a good easy trip looking into some places in OFD1 that see few visitors. This can be immensely enjoyable and almost therapeutic that allows you to really see the cave and enjoy it rather than rushing headlong to a remote destination for a quick look around and then rushing back. For me, caving is more about exploration and discovery than scoring ticks in the manner of Munro baggers and I always say that more people should slow down and look around them as there is a lot to be seen that is often missed.
Note to self: get your kit ready the day before then you won’t forget anything.