Monday, 28 February 2011

Ogof Draenen

26th February 2011

Kathryn, Emma and I had travelled to Whitewalls from our respective locations to join a 3-person Cambridge contingent. With the possibility of very small caving groups and therefore minimal faff, it was an excellent opportunity for doing a long trip, so the three of us settled on trying to find the formations at the very furthest southern tip of Ogof Draenen, 3km as the crow flies, but 4.5km caving (according my survey and piece of string) from the entrance. This sort of distance is generally classed as 'a long way' in my caving world. Kathryn, presumably having realised this, attempted to sabotage the trip by forgetting her battery pack and only realising whilst getting changed that Emma's spare wouldn't fit. A finger-numbing bit of light-fettling at the blustery changing spot soon had us underground though.

It was Kathryn's first trip in Draenen, but between us, Emma and I navigated our way successfully to the Dollimore's Series in 3 very sweaty hours or so, stopping to photograph the Snowball on the way.

Kathryn at the Snowball
The Snowball, close up
At the Hall of the One, we turned away from the usual route to the digs, and climbed up a slope into the start of Luck of the Draw and new territory for us all. We were still a fair way from our destination even though we were pretty much as far in as Emma and I had been before. It was starting to feel very remote.

The Hall of the One
We followed the walking sized passage for over a kilometre. It started with some very nice cracked-mud formations in the floor. These soon gave way to small crystals on the wall and floors, absolutely everywhere. With so few visitors (perhaps less than 100 at the far end of the passage since it was discovered 13-14 years ago?) the passage was in pristine condition. We then got to a few sections where somebody seemed to have exploded a bag of icing sugar on the floor, which semed a bit clumsy. Further along, at Medusa's Children, presumably the same person had covered the walls in fondant icing and then stuck sea urchins to the ceiling which was unfortunate. We had to move very carefully to avoid making our caving gear all sticky and sugary.

Medusa's Children consists of several dozen metres of this sort of stuff.
A hundred or so metres of more traditional brown cave brought us to another dazzingly white section, lit up by a light bulb dangling in the roof. By now we were looking for the turn off into the Cantankerous Surveyors Series. We eventually found it after a low crawling section, but had almost given up after quite a long time looking, convinced that we'd missed the turn off earlier (as a general rule in Draenen everything is either further away than you think, further away than you remember, or further away than you'd like). I'm glad we persisted though, because a few minutes later we found ourselves in a rather nice chamber, Geryon's Lair, containing The Geryon, our goal for the day:

Geryon admiring a helictite.

Same caption applies really.

Close up.

Another close up of the Geryon
After sigining the log book, we began the long haul out. Did I mention that it's a long way? Anyway, the Last Sandwich crawl was a bit of a blur as Emma, worried she was holding us up at the front, hared off at lightening speed, hounded by Kathryn behind her who was worried that she wasn't keeping up, and me panting at the rear. A few hours of boulder-hopping later we emerged from a refreshing drenching in the entrance series to a cold, clear night with lovely views over Abergavenny. Half an hour later we were back at the hut nursing sore legs, plates of food and mugs of tea.

Is anybody still reading this far? Well, I've put together one of my trademark grainy, badly lit and shaky videos, which you can watch below as reward (or punishment) for having read so much of the dirge above.

Time Underground: 10 hours

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