Monday, 14 January 2013

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!


  1. Nice blue greenies photos :-). Hope your knees are okay now.

  2. Thanks - hope Tom's photos came out OK too.