Monday, 17 March 2014

"Did I Mention I've got lurgy?"

15/03/2014 - The Psychotronic Strangeways, Daren Cilau, with Tom and Emma

I'm lying on the sofa feeling quite broken typing this on Sunday evening. I guess that's what happens if you go caving in Daren Cilau when you aren't very well (actually I think that's what happens when you go caving in Daren even when you are well). The thing is, trips to Borrowed Boots Streamway and the Psychotronic Strangeways don't seem to happen that often and we'd been planning this one for months, so I thought I'd soldier on. Plus it was my birthday the day before. Anyway, that's enough whingeing for now. I'm sure I'll mention my man-flu again later, but stop me if I keep going on about it.
The finest birthday cake a caver could wish for.


I think it took us about two and a half hours to get to the Hard Rock Cafe. The pace was OK but I did feel a bit like I was caving at high altitude. After the boulder hopping of the Time Machine and Bonsai Streamway, the crawling in Rock Steady Cruise and Acupuncture Passage was a welcome relief...initially. Since my last trip in Daren, in which we had been a bit suspicious of the stability of the roof and walls in Acupuncture Passage, it had indeed collapsed; but the bypass dig looks much safer and more civilized. So it was that we arrived at the Micron - the top of the climb down into the stream. I treated myself to a bit of a lie down.

Most trips at this point head upstream towards the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Our goal today was to make our way a similar distance downstream and have a look at the interesting passages to be found in that area, leading ultimately to St David's Sump. The first section downstream is known as Borrowed Boots Streamway. Initially very slippery, and with an annoyingly low ceiling, it eventually enlarged and was characterised by multiple sharp vertical ridges of (I think) chert through which the stream flowed. Very weird, and unlike any stream passage I'd been in before. After several small cascades and 'chert windows', an upward sloping traverse took us away from the stream and into Encilio Passage.
Half-hearted photo attempt. A pool in the Psychotronic Strangeways.
After some walking, some flat-out crawling, a brief watery wallow and a slightly awkward but fun letterbox climb, Encilio Passage ended at a T-junction with a large echoey passage - the Psychotronic Strangeways. We spent a while here exploring the various ways on and admiring the eerilly shaped cave. The passages were large (several metres) and round (sometimes keyhole shaped) with more of the strange chert flakes everywhere and tide marks on the walls. The name seemed somehow completely appropriate. Initially we found no flowing water, but the damp mud underfoot and the odd thigh-deep pool suggested there were sumps nearby which must back up in wet weather. The closest of these was the Gloom Room, a silty chamber containing a murky-looking sump, which eventually leads to passage very close to Agen Allwedd.

Heading in the downstream direction, a 4m climb down an electron ladder led us eventually to flowing water. The vertical chert flakes were present here on a grander scale and deep, fast flowing canals seemed to appear from behind them or from parallel passages in quite a confusing manner. We turned round about 20m upstream of St David's Sump, at a pool that looked out of depth. Tom took various photos on the way back upstream, and after half-heartedly trying to take some myself I decided I was too cold and ill and that a point-and-shoot alone wasn't quite going to cut it here, so I helped Tom with some flash gun holding instead.
An old digger's shovel with vast quantities of mould growing on it.
Thoroughly impressed with the fantastic passages we'd seen, we began the slog out. Feeling quite broken by now, I had a lie down every time we stopped. Tom's knee was also causing issues (particularly in the entrance crawl), but the prospect of dry clothes, a warm hut and a hot cup of tea proved sufficiently motivating to get us out.

Sitting in the sun the following morning at Whitewalls, eating fried eggs on toast and drinking tea, I  must admit that I felt quite exceptionally smug. The Psychotronic Strangeways seems like a relatively rarely-visited part of Daren Cilau and feels very remote. But it's such a  cool and intriguing section of cave to look at that it's well worth the long return trip, even if you aren't very well. Thanks to Tom and Emma for their patience during my numerous episodes of lying down - hopefully I wasn't infectious anymore! I can't remember if I mentioned that I had lurgy or not.

T/U 11.5 hrs

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