Some 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 just don't know what you will find. The results can be very satisfying. This was one such trip.
An early start, to meet Olaf and Chris who had the cave key, saw us getting changed in thick fog near the Lamb and Fox at 9am. It is always amusing to witness a German correcting the grammar of an English speaking native! Emma, Olaf and Chris disappeared off ahead of us to go digging, leaving Kathryn, Adrian, Sam, Jess and I to our trip.
At the end of Gilwern Passage, Jess had a quick look up a climb into Old Illtydian's Chamber, but our main way on was through a boulder choke (unfortunately containing a sub-Adrian-gauge squeeze) into the Galeria Garimperios Extensions. We emerged into a mud-floored passage with knee deep watery trenches in the floor, full of 'mud potholes' just waiting to send us sprawling. The ceiling was adorned with clutches of metre-long straws. After a couple of hundred metres of slithering we reached a junction with a streamway.
We headed out of the cave after a brief side trip to the Beyond a Choke Streamway. I may have gotten into a certain amount of trouble when curiosity got the better of me and, against instructions from higher authority, I led us straight past Wonderbra Bypass to the boulder-hopping alternative route to Cairn Junction (I'd never been this way)! But a tackle-sack carrying penance seemed to assuage any mutiny. Soon enough we were sat, muddy faced, in the Lamb and Fox nursing post-cave pints.
|A foot deep crack in the mud|
From Cairn Junction, our first bit of exploration took us left, towards (but I think not into) the Waterfall Series. We passed a fine cracked mud floor and, after a brief excursion for me into Ladder Passage (accessed via a slithery roped climb up and exited by slithering off the climb and being lowered off by Adrian), entered a pleasant gravelly stream passage. Various side passages were looked at here, but we soon turned around and headed back to Cairn Junction. Looking at the survey in Whitewalls later, we could have spent several more trips in this part of the cave.
Our vague objective now was to find Gilwern Passage and explore the northern end of the system; my previous trips had all been to the south. We squirmed down the Wonderbra Bypass to the large, bouldery Tea Junction and soon found the relevant turn off. Gilwern Passage is walking-sized and flat-ceilinged and charges northwards in a straight line for the best part of a kilometre, although the bouldery floor prevents cavers charging northwards at any pace! The main highlight here was Giles' Shirt.
|Giles' Shirt and Kathryn, Jess and Adrian's oversuits|
|Hearts of Olden Glory|
Following the stream to the left soon led to the duck into St Giles Passage. This would lead to some excellent cave, but would have to wait for another day, possibly with wetsuits. Instead we took the right hand branch at the junction to enter the Hearts of Olden Glory streamway, which is one of the loveliest yet austere passages you could imagine: sandy floored, with the gorgeously sculpted walls giving the passage beautiful undulating cross sections, and the occasional nest of straws in the ceiling. We loitered here for some time taking photos and enjoying the acoustics as the echoes of our voices would last for 7 or 8 eerie seconds. Again, the survey back at Whitewalls revealed swathes of cave further north waiting to be seen, but today time was pressing on so we tore ouselves away and returned through the choke to Gilwern Passage, and Adrian.
I had half expected to see most of what the north of Ogof Draenen has to offer on this trip. Instead we seemed to come away with a wishlist of passages here to visit!
T/U 6.5 hours