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Random Furtlings in Ogof Draenen

9/03/2013Some of the best caving trips are the ones where you don't have a particular objective, just a vague idea of somewhere to go; perhaps with a bit of a survey or a description printed out. Any side passage can be worth visiting, and you jus ...
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A Non-Caving Trip

Sunday's caving plans were thwarted by our own laziness, so I thought I'd write about Saturday's non-caving trip to Snowdonia instead, since it was a 'minor epic'. Kathryn and I planned on practicing our winter skills by climbing Hidden Gully ...
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The Restaurant at the End of the Universe


After a Christmas full of excess, I'd built up a considerable paunch that needed removing. Well, that's a bit of an exagerration, but nevertheless it seemed like a good time of the year for a long trip to Daren Cilau with Emma and Tom. We were heading to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe - a campsite towards the further reaches of the cave (although this was only a day trip). Our plan was to take photos of the 'Blue Greenies', a set of formations which, I'd been led to believe, were not white.

Actually, this photo is the Restaurant at the End of the
Universe, not the Hard Rock Cafe.
We left behind a cold, damp morning at around 11am and crawled into Daren's cold, damp entrance series. Forty-odd minutes of squalour later, we were through. Familiar landmarks came thick and fast now, as we made good progress through the cave; Jigsaw Passage, the Big Chamber, the ladder and then boulder hopping in the Time Machine and Bonsai Streamway. After three hours or so underground we had now made it to the Hard Rock Cafe - the first campsite in the cave. I tucked into my carefully protected quiche and scotch eggs, and Emma and Tom started on the mounds of flapjack they'd brought with them.

Rock Steady Cruise was next: a series of pleasant sandy passages, separated by short crawls which filled my wellies with sand (I need bigger calf muscles, or slimmer wellies...). This was now pretty much the furthest I'd been in the cave before. Our next obstacle was Acupuncture Passage, a series of flat out crawls over a sand floor full of stones and sharp bits, hence the name. For the most part this was just plain tedious - the crawls were far too long. However, at the end it was also a little scary as a small bit of wall/ceiling had crumbled away partially blocking the passage (it looked stable now though). When it's a flat out crawl beforehand, a collapse is really not useful!

Somewhere near the Restaurant at the End of the Universe
We were relieved to emerge from Acupuncture Passage into an area big enough to stand in. A distant rumbling could now be heard emanating from a hole on the left. This hole was the climb down into a streamway - Ankle Grinder Bypass (I'm still perplexed as to what exactly it was bypassing - a sump somewhere I think). Ankle Grinder is a really nice looking passage. The problem is that the floor is full of watery potholes and ledges, waiting to catch the unwary, and in places the ceiling is a bit lower than you would like. It goes on in this manner for a long time. At the end of the passage was a short section of wading. In wetter weather this can become a proper duck or a sump, but today it was only thigh deep.

Emma admires some more formations
We clambered out of the stream into a slightly higher level. After climbing a short fixed ladder, we emerged into a sandy chamber full of camping mats and stoves: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe - hurray! The joyous moment was only tempered slightly by the discovery that my lunchbox was breached and my remaining quiche was now wet and gritty. Life can be tough sometimes.

It had taken us 4.5 hours to reach the Restaurant. We now spent the best part of two hours exploring some of the chambers nearby and photographing the formations. The Blue Greenies were suitably blue and green (stained by copper apparently) - we were impressed.

We retraced our steps towards the entrance. I felt fairly fresh at first, yet slowly but surely my body started to break as we neared home. Ankle Grinder finished off my neck muscles and Acupuncture Passage did a fine job on my knees, wrists and arms. We stopped briefly at the Hard Rock Cafe for more food (and so that I could wash the sand from Rock Steady Cruise out of my wellies and wet socks). By the time we reached the entrance crawl, it was a real struggle to hold myself up in a crawling position. I was glad of the canal sections, as I could flop into the water and let it take some of my weight. As I progressed, the water became icy cold, but that was a good sign - the entrance was close. We finally emerged to a clear, frosty night, with a little snow on the ground, 11 hours after we had left the surface. Fantastic trip!
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A Couple of Mines

A couple of quick mining trips to report before the New Year is out.8/12/12 West Mine, Alderley EdgeAn RRCPC trip with a Derbyshire Caving Club member, Nigel, kindly showing us round some of the extensive Alderley Edge Copper Mines. We spent about 4 ho ...
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Some South Wales and Yorkshire Caving

A few more trips to report before my next few weekends are filled up with various wedding related shenanigans.Ogof Ffynnon Ddu27/10/12Martin and I had driven down to South Wales to help show CUCC's latest band of victims recruits round. With Martin,&nb ...
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Car Pot

6th October 2012I'd been wanting to visit Car Pot for ages. Below the various awkward pitches and squeezes it's apparently really pretty. So Kathryn and I jumped at the opportunity to join Emma and Tom on a trip there.A pre-trip Inglesport visit left m ...
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Le Caving

Kathryn and I spent the first week of August in the Ecrins in the French Alps (via ferrata-ing and attempting some big mountains) before joining the Red Rose trip to the Vercors for some caving and canyoning.

Naturally I was hoping to post lost of photos of the amazing Vercors caves that we visited. Unfortunately on our second via ferrata my camera detached itself from my harness and went bouncing off into oblivion, never to be seen again. We returned the following day with a proper rope, intending to abseil off and hopefully find it clinging to an unlikely ledge. But one look at where it had fallen convinced us to give it up as a lost cause. RIP Canon Ixus 80IS, we had some good times together.

Here are some dodgy photos of some alpine scenery taken from my phone instead:

The Col du Sélé

The Glacier de la Girose
On to some caves now.

Grotte de Bournillon
5th August. 3 hrs T/U with Dalek, Tony, Djuke, Adam and Stuart.
Dominated by its somewhat ridiculous 100m tall entrance, the Grotte de Bournillon basically consists of a huge passage storming off into the hillside, which soon reduces to a mere ten or so metres high and wide. Mark took some nice photos of it a couple of years back. I couldn't take any photos of it myself...I no longer have a camera... It was very dry in the cave today, so Stuart, Adam and I refreshed ourselves with a swim in a pool in the entrance. We discovered that the small branch floating on the surface was actually a dead squirrel.

Trou Qui Souffle
7th August. 4 hrs T/U with Kathryn.
Kathryn was keen to get back underground after a couple of days being unwell, so with others doing a via ferrata, the two of us settled on a trip to the Saints de Glace entrance to the Trou Qui Souffle system. The Trou Qui Souffle entrance itself is a hole next to the road (literally - you could rig off you car) which pumps out cold air on a hot summer's day. Our similarly breezy entrance was a few hundred metres away from this one and, after a couple of pitches, the trip was dominated by a tall rift in very light coloured limestone, interspersed with small chambers and more pitches. The rift gained depth very quickly. Eventually we reached the Toboggan - a 100m greasy slide down which eventually reaches another pitch. This dropped us right into the huge Salle Hydrokarst, now with a much darker kind of limestone (something to do with geology apparently...). At the bottom of the chamber a large passage (with 2m wide scallops in the roof suggesting a sobering amount of water once flowed this way) headed off, eventually reaching a sump at -267m, our limit for the day. We'd rigged all the pitches, but in fact I think the in situ ropes, which we had assumed must belong to another party in the cave, are probably there all the time.

Résau Christian Gathier
8th August. 6.5 hrs T/U with Kathryn, Mark, Tony and Djuke.
A fine and varied cave, starting with a couple of fairly awkward tight pitches which were far easier to get down than they were to get back up! Again, everything except for the entrance pitch turned out to be rigged. Below the entrance pitches the passage contains insane amounts of fairly muddy calcite, some of it very pretty, some of it, frankly, just in the way! A couple of larger passages (the Métros) lead to more calcite passage and then a pitch down into a lovely streamway, the Rivière de Bournette; all blue water, white limestone and stalagmites. After a climb upwards through boulders, out of the streamway, we then reached the Salle des Ténèbres which made yesterday's Salle Hydrokarst look like a small attic room. More clambering over boulders led to the Salle de la Cascade where the Montué stream passage appears with a possible throughtrip for another year. We turned around here, with a brief stop for Mark to take some photos of the Rivière de Bournette. I would have taken some photos myself but I couldn't as I don't have a camera...

Grotte de Gournier
9th August. 6.5 hrs T/U with Kathryn, Dalek, Stuart and Djuke and Steve and Adam near the entrance.
The Grotte de Gournier is brilliant. Everybody should go here. Even if you're not a caver. It's really very fun. See Marks photos from a couple of years ago for a taster. Did I mention that I dropped my camera off a cliff?

The cave starts with a 40m long entrance lake; deep and blue. Tourists look on as you dinghy (or swim if you have a wetsuit) across to the climb and traverse at the far end. This leads to a couple of kilometres of huge fossil passage, adorned with mammoth stalagmites, gour pools and more. We were now looking for the climbs down into the famous Gournier river. There was a certain amount of confusion/lack of communication in finding the right hole, which resulted in Stuart vanishing for half an hour, but eventually the five of us were gathered in the stream. We now worked our way upstream, traversing vivid blue deep pools and climbing cascades with fixed metal staples or traverse lines in place. I was the only one in a proper wetsuit, and had great fun splashing into all of the pools, not caring how wet I got, as the others attempted teetering traverses round the sides to avoid getting cold and wet! After several hundred metres, we reached the 12m cascade and belayed each other up the side of it, using the fixed metal staples that have been put there. An airy traverse and more stomping upstream brought us to the Salle Chevalier and our turn-around point for the day.

We headed back downstream, jumping into pools or traversing round them according to the amount of neoprene we were wearing. After stomping through the stunning dry fossil passages, we met Steve and Adam who were messing around with the dinghy at the entrance lake. A brilliant trip - I intend to go back and make it further upstream one day!

Our final day in the Vercors was spent doing two canyons: the Furon and the lower part of the Ecouges. It's basically like wet caving without a roof on.
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A Rematch with Fault Aven

21st and 22nd July at SWCC

Saturday: Ogof Fynnon Ddu 1 to Cwm Dwr via Fault Aven

A couple of years back I went to try and have a look at the Pom Pom, a formation in Fault Aven, high above the OFD streamway. We saw some pretty cool stuff that day, but had not quite gotten to the Pom Pom so I vowed to return one day for a second attempt, this time with a camera.
Calcite flow on a false floor
Matt, Jess, Nial, Kathryn and I set off from the OFD 1 entrance and were soon splashing up the streamway. Previous trips to OFD1 had always required a leader, so we'd never had to navigate ourselves; this time however, we were on our own. Nevertheless, through a combination of following the polish, using a description and a couple of minor wrong turns, we squirmed our way through the boulder choke, the Connection, and the Letterbox (I used up all my mail-based puns last time, but we got through in a jiffy). After a damp climb down from the top of the Diver's Pitch we were into Cwm Dwr.
We walked through Cwm Dwr's large sandy passages, and back to the streamnway, where, soon enough, I recognised the scaffold bar which helps you up the first awkward climb towards Fault Aven. The pitch up followed, and I managed to pull the rope up on the in situ cord and through the hangers at the top without too much difficulty. Kathryn belayed me and I climbed up, winning lots of "man points" in the process, but using up pretty much a whole weekend's worth of nerve at the same time. I rigged an extra hand line and belayed the others up.
The Pom Pom

Now in the Fault Aven Series proper, we first found the impressive calcite flow over a false floor that I'd seen last time. Soon afterwards we found the traverses towards Pom Pom Passage. Finding the lack of floor somewhat perturbing, I held back for a while (man points lost again), and Jess (immune to passages with no floor), Matt and Nial went first. I soon followed and it turns out that actually the traverses are not too horrendous at all and the floor isn't that far away. The trickiest bit is a very wide "back and legs" sytle stretch to avoid muddying some of the stunning calcite floor.

The Pom Pom itselft was amazing: a straw down into a lovely crystal pool, at the end of which (underwater) a cricket ball-sized crystal has grown. I've certainly never seen anything like that before. In fact I wouldn't have been surprised to find some hens teeth scattered around the passage nearby. Traversing over the floor we found the crystal pool I'd seen last time (about 10 metres away - we were so close!) and headed round to the top of the awkward climbs which lead back down to where Kathryn was waiting, so she could come and have a look.

After somehow mandhandling each other back down the climbs, we abseiled back down the pitch on Italian hitches and headed back out of Cwm Dwr via a couple of great side passages: Hoel Eira with it's huge moonmilk flow and another very nice sandy passage with a small stream in the Piccadily area. Great trip!
Crystal Pool
More photos here.
Time underground: 8 hrs

Sunday: Pant Mawr Pot

Pant Mawr has an impressive daylight entrance shaft, marred only by a foul smelling dead sheep which seems to have landed precisly where the abseil drops you (I guess that's no coincidence...). After a quick look upstream (with some impressive phreatic shelving), Nial, Kathryn, Aiora, Olaf, Siobhan and I spent an hour or so working our way through the impressively large downstream passage as far as the sump, which is surprisingly small. We had a look at the climb up to one of the pretty higher level grottoes but it looked a bit desperate so warrants a return trip with some slings/rope/bravery.

Back at the entrance pitch, Nial prussiked up and chucked our ladders down. It turns out two ladders strung together are the correct length for the pitch to within a few inches - the last rung just swings gracefully through the sheep's innards on the floor...

Olaf's photos here.

Time underground: 2.5 hrs ...
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