Saturday, 10 June 2017

A days photographic play in St Cuthberts Swallet

Mr Marris has been absent for a while having moved a little further afield so we were chuffed to have him on a photographic trip in to St. Cuthberts hole this weekend.

Martin Grass was to take us in and a couple of trainee leaders (Luke and Ollie) would join him. With myself and Jess that would make a full team of 6.

We were soon changed and heading down the entrance rift and down Wire Rift. En Route Martin reminded me I'd mentioned on a previous trip that I wanted to photo The Cascade, which we did before heading down to the September series where Brendan grabbed a shot at The Fingers Formation and Curtain Passage before heading on to the Chain Climb to Gour Hall where again I grabbed a shot.
After this we headed up to Long Chamber to photo a Curtain Martin had mentioned before making our way out. At the entrance ladders after wire rift Brendan and I again grabbed the chance to take a shot.....well it was a photographic trip :)

On exiting we thanked our leaders and grabbed a quick cuppa before heading back to the Midlands after a most excellent days play.

The Cascade
Chain Climb
Long Chamber
Entrance Ladders

Present: Martin Grass, Ollie Newton, Luke Edwards, Brendan Marris, Jess Burkey & Mark Burkey

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Through to Cwm Dwr was a bit of a stretch for Mel!

Mel arrived to a wet Welsh morning on time at 10am. We waited half an hour or so to see if Los was going to make it, but decided she was probably still in bed when the clock reached twenty to eleven and so headed up the hill for a through trip to Cwm Dwr.
No camera today so the going was quick and we were soon dropping in to the main stream way. After the first half dozen pots Mel decided it would be easier just to jump in them, and as we were moving at a reasonable pace she didn't get a chance to chill down.
After an hour and a half of caving we exited the stream way in to Cwm Dwr and as we had made such good time we decided to do a couple of add on's. First we popped up Heol Eira, which was prettier than I'd remembered. We then headed up in to the Upper Smithy for a poke around.
Mel found a couple of the climbs rather strenuous and by the time we had reached the exit crawls her legs were cramping up every time she bent them.
We slowed the pace and took breaks for her to stretch out and still exited at a very reasonable half past 3.  A good fast paced trip which offered the chance to refresh my navigational skills in some of the less explored area's of the system.

Looking like she's posing, Mel grimaces as she tries to stretch out her legs ;)

Present: Mel Bell & Mark Burkey

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Craig a Ffynnon. A damp introduction to caving.

We had promised our latest recruit Rachel a day trip for her first underground adventure.  After plenty of procrastination around the tea pot on Thursday evening we eventually decided upon a Welsh classic, Ogof Craig A Ffynnon.
We introduced Rachel to the Dudley tradition of a full breakfast at Luigi's cafe before heading off to park near the old lime kilns on the old heads of the valley.
As we changed it looked like it would be a busy day in the cave as several of the Gwent caving club arrived and begun kitting up.

One of the Gwent groups went ahead and we followed in. 

Rachel was soon oohing and aaarrring at the decorated chambers as we made our way. At gasoline alley we caught the other group and so opened up the camera kit to waste a little time and take a few snaps. 
After 10 minutes we could no longer hear the others and so the gear was packed up and we continued on. Rachel had no problems with any of the climbs, crawls or water and soon we were at her he first real challenge, the boulder choke.
I led in and could hear her scrambling along behind me. After 10 minutes we emerged the other side. I looked around to find Rachel struggling between boulders, a huge grin on her face....always a good sign :)
Next we slipped and slid through the mud and on to the Hall Of The Mountain King. Here we took Rachel through the bypass to see the start of the Seven Tunnel before heading back in to Travertine Passage for a quick photo before retracing our steps to the entrance to the North West Inlet. Here Keith wanted to grab a little video of people coming through the flooded passage. We each took it in turns to jump in the icy water until we were all thoroughly chilled and then headed out in to the sunshine. I would be staying on for a Sunday trip with Mel, but the others would be heading off so I said my farewells and waved them off after a good fun trip.

Rachel in Gasoline Alley
Rachel admires the formations 
Travertine Passage

Present: Keith Edwards, Kay Wood, Rachel Rushton & Mark Burkey

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Mendip Cave Photography Hat-trick

For the 3rd year running well chuffed to have brought home the top prize to Dudley Caving Club. Again this year judges couldn't pick between 3 of the entries and so the winning spot went to 3 shots rather than just the one :)

The Zig Zags in Upper Flood Swallet
Arete Chamber. St Cuthberts Swallet
Aveline's Hole
Winners Presentation
The Goodies 

Winner: Mark Burkey
MCRA Award: Dave Watts 

Distinctions: Dave Watts & Stuart Gardiner

Dave Watts Flickr feed Click Here
Stuart Gardiner Flickr feed Click Here
Mark Burkey Flickr feed Click Here

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Top Five Things I Learned While Going Caving With the Dudley Caving Club by Sarah Lotz

It started a couple of years ago. I was trawling YouTube for inspiration for a book I was thinking of writing, idly browsing caving videos. All I knew at that stage was that I wanted to write about an adrenalin junkie who has an unfortunate experience when he breaks into a cave that’s been out of bounds for years (I should probably point out that I write commercial horror fiction!). Top of the heap were a series of superb clips by Keith Edwards of the Dudley Caving Club, which left the other videos in the dust (in the acknowledgements of the book I call him the Spielberg of the caving scene – although I suspect Keith has a far keener sense of humour). I was on the edge of my seat watching them, peering through my fingers like I used to do as a kid when the scary bits of Doctor Who came on. I contacted Keith, and asked him if he’d be prepared to let me pick his brain about the caving scene. He did much more than that; he invited me to visit the windmill and offered to take me underground. Everyone I met at the windmill was welcoming and kind, even though I’m fairly sure they all thought I was bonkers. Talk turned to which route to take me. I’d heard somewhere that if you go underground for long enough, when you emerge you can smell what the air ‘really’ smells like. It was Mark who suggested we do the OFD 1 to Cwm Dwr through trip – five hours should give me that. And so my husband Charlie and I set off to meet Keith, Mark and Brendan on a drizzly Welsh morning.

I did get to smell what the air ‘really’ smells like. That and much, much more.

The trip wasn’t easy, but it was bloody brilliant. And I got the inspiration for half a novel out of it (the other bit is set on a mountain), even if I did get some of the caving terminology wrong.

Sarah and Charlie the start of their adventure
Anyway, in the style of Simon Newman, the book’s protagonist, who as well as being a hapless adrenalin junkie runs a nasty little website that becomes the precursor of Buzzfeed, fake news and all that’s wrong about the internet (and yes, he is what most people would call an arsehole), here are The Top Five Things I Learned While Going Caving With the Dudley Caving Club:

1) A sense of humour helps

And you have to have one to take a neurotic writer and her gung-ho husband under the earth for five hours. It was a big ask, especially as I had zero caving or climbing experience (I have a condition commonly known as laziness), and Charlie is at the other end of the scale – he has no fear.

Keith, Brendan and Mark told us exactly what to bring, were endlessly patient, and at no point, not once, did they ever lose their cool. Brendan even took a photograph of us balancing on a pipe on top of a churning pool, which took a great deal of setting up and generosity.

They are exactly the kind of people I would want by my side in a zombie apocalypse. And they’re also what my brother would call ‘as funny as fuck.’

Sarah negotiating the Letterbox

2) Claustrophobia was the least of my worries

In one of Keith’s Cwm Dwr videos there’s a moment where Mark gets stuck in a pipe (I can’t tell you exactly where on the vid it is – I have only managed to watch it once). Those few seconds of footage made The Descent look like Bambi and gave me nightmares. This trepidation was fuelled by Capetonian friends who, on learning I was going down a big hole, all had horror stories about people getting stuck in the notorious Cango Caves, trapped in a funnel for hours with nothing to look at except an American tourist’s giant arse.

But when I was actually underground, the squeeze bits were my favourite – I loved every second of corkscrewing our way through a boulder choke and scrabbling along a squeeze the height of a microwave. And I didn’t experience one second of claustrophobia. I put this down to the head-lamps, which were far brighter than I expected, and the fact I was being shepherded by the best in the business.

I’ll put my hands up and say that I fudged this in the book and made it a thousand times scarier than it actually is. (I’m a horror writer – if I don’t tap into people’s fears then I’ve failed). But I have told everyone I’ve met since writing the novel that claustrophobia really isn’t an issue and was the least of my worries.

And when I say it was the least of my worries, see below.

Sarah on the Diver's pitch
Sarah said it was more frightening than being held up by four armed men and being attacked by lions

3) Screaming doesn’t help

There was one point (shortly after we were posted through the letterbox) where I had to be winched over and down what looked to me to be a bloody great sheer cliff (and what everyone else termed a ‘small ledge’). I did have a bit of a cry on the way down (especially when I realised Keith was filming me). Keith, Brendan and Mark lowered me down inch by inch, never once losing patience or calling me out for being pathetic. Charlie showed me up and crawled down there like a monkey.

I did things on that trip I never thought I would do: reaching for a chain and dangling backwards over the unforgiving stone floor; being shoved up a slippery pipe; being hauled across the yawning maw of a plummeting ravine (more a crevice, but still). And although I couldn’t have been further out of my comfort zone (and admittedly had a bit of a meltdown) I never once felt unsafe.

An expression of pure enjoyment

4) Leave it to the experts

At one stage I remember looking up and seeing Mark scooting up a rock face like Spiderman, and then peering down at us from what seemed to be a huge height. I still have no clue how he got up there.

Charlie practically had to be held back bodily from having a go at this. As Keith had just explained to me in detail how difficult it was to get an injured person out of a cave (and we’d passed a crevice in which a young woman had been trapped for hours), we wisely dissuaded him.

Glad to be out

5) Sometimes you can depend on the kindness of strangers

There are many things I took away from this experience: That anyone can go caving if they have a crack team with them (even unfit foul-mouthed writers). That the sport is beyond exhilarating, and the unique perspective you get from being under the earth is priceless, rewarding and like being in another world – something few people get to experience. In short, it’s a real privilege.

But most importantly, that the people who make up the caving community are generous, funny and pretty much unshakable.

Keith, Mark and Brendan have a cameo in the book as the rescuers who show up and risk their lives to pluck Simon out of his fictional cave when he runs into trouble (inspired by Keith telling me that only cavers can rescue cavers). I thought this was fitting, as I could picture them doing that.

Thank you, Dudley Caving Club. The novel couldn’t have been written without you.

You all rock (no pun intended)

Sarah Lotz

A Short Video from the Trip

The Book

The book was published in the UK on 4th May 2017.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A North Wales Mine Exploration Weekend

With Dudley Caving Club it's not just about underground exploration, our weekends away are packed with subterranean shenanigans and other fun activities like eating ice cream, walking along a seaside pier, geocaching and hanging about in karaoke bars.

Mines featured: Great Orme, Croesor, Rhosydd and Hendre Spar.

Another Caver Keith Video Production

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A trip to the airlock in Tunnel Top

After a much better nights sleep we chose Tunnel Top Entrance for our relaxing Sunday trip. I had done this years ago with Andy G & all I could remember of the trip was that navigation wasn't always straight forward and that it was quite physical.

We headed up the hillside above DYO in beautiful sunshine. I had managed to persuade Loz to 'Offer' to carry the rope up and so was enjoying the stroll. This was a far cry from the first time I had attempted to find the entrance and had wandered for almost 2 hrs before discovering it. This time we headed straight there.
Loz's mate Michelle was going off walking and so we got her to be our call out.

We again made swift progress down the pitches and traverse and were soon heading in to the cave. We kept high and right and aside from a single blip had no issues with navigation.
The trip is pretty physical and uses quite a bit of upper body strength and both Loz and Kay were getting pretty overheated. We had planned to go off and explore a bit but decided that could wait for another day and so picked our way back through the passage taking note of the other routes as we passed them for a further trip in the future.

Loz de-rigged on the way out and we emerged from the cave to find our call out anxiously awaiting us......well actually she was asleep on the grass, but I'm sure it was anxious sleep though!

Tunnel Top Entrance
Kay and Loz at the starting climb to Marble arch passage
Success! we made it to the airlock door.
Michelle anxiously awaits our return!

Present: Kay Wood, Loz Appleby, Mark Burkey & Rescue Call Out Michelle