Sunday 27 June 2010

Tooth Cave - Faffing on the Gower

We had made two visits to the cave previously. The first came to a very abrupt end when we found the wrong key was on the fob for the cave. Our second attempt was met with a little more success as the we got into the cave, but was on a day when it was raining so we turned around before we reached the main passage.
Collecting the key from SWCC we headed off to the Gower and after a slight navigational challenge going through Swansea, we found our way to the top of the wooded valley at Llethryd. We walked down the track looking for the charcoal kilns by the side of the track that once marked the location of the cave. After we reached the main clearing in the woods we realised something was wrong and searched around for the cave. We located Cathole before heading back up the track to find that the only remains of the charcoal kilns was a patch of burnt ashes by the side of the track. We were not quick enough to enter the cave and were eaten alive by swarms of horse flies. Now in the cave the faffing did not stop as we decided that we wanted more than a handline down into the first chamber so headed back to the car for some more kit. By 2pm the trip was underway with us all in Bone Chamber and so we headed off through the tight muddy cobble floored crawls that gradually take you to a couple of thruches over cobble banks (the imaginatively named pebble crawl) into the main river passage.

Richard Dearden in the section as you enter the Main Passage.

Once reaching the Main Stream Passage, we followed the upstream section to the right and soon found that the floor cleared of pebbles as short sections of fantastically scalloped phreatic passage were passed. Most of this passage was stooping height with sections where you could stand upright, and after 200m we reached a section where the passage dropped almost vertically to a landing where two rifts dropped into the static blue sump. We retraced our footsteps taking photos of the dry streamway as we headed back to our entry point. 

Rachel Dearden near the upstream Sump.

Rachel Dearden in the finely scalloped passage.

Chris Web in a fine phreatic section.

Richard Dearden in a section of the upstream Main Paassage.

We then followed the down stream leg of the dry Main Stream Passage which was wide but low and involved stooping or crawling over the cobble floor. After 200m the bottom of a boulder collapse was reached that led up into the Aven Series. Our choice was to make the most of the dry spell and follow the main Stream Passage to the "Big Sump". We were greeted by a dive line neatly tied to rock outcrops that guided our way through this now totally dry passage. Beyond the sump, the passage gains greater proportions with one section a walk on a cobble floor through a tall and wide rift passage. Following the main Stream Passage we entered Christmas Cake Chamber, whose dominant feature is a massive sand and mud slope on one side which is topped off with a beautiful icing of white calcite on top. Beyond this chamber the route of the water begins to break up, the passage starting to split into two main routes that both become tall narrow rift passages. Traversing these passages brings you above two of the downstream sumps (dry on our visit). One of the rifts look impossibly tight, but the second has seen the attention of divers in the past. A final exploration of several higher level tube passages in this area followed, one leading to a drop down to what would be the third sump. The group had split exploring this downstream section of the cave so we returned to regroup and exit the cave together. 
This is a great cave, if you can forget the grovelly entrance series, with plenty of prospects in the downstream passage to be pushed in times of drought.

Present: Brendan Marris, Chris Webb, Rachel Dearden, Richard Dearden

Saturday 19 June 2010

Stal Cleaning in Otter Hole

As a talented cave photographer with thousands of great pictures to his credit and whose pictures have appeared in books and magazines, Brendan had never photographed Britain's best decorated cave, so this was going to be his big opportunity.
Also at almost the eleventh hour it was dropped on us that 2010 is a conservation year for Otter Hole and all over-tide trips were expected to help with stal cleaning.
Over-tide trips are long trips without a cave photographer in the team. Over-tide trips are very long trips without stopping to scrub stal. So with photos to take and stal to shine this was set to be an epic. Epic trips require a decent brekkie and much discussion took place about where to stop. Eventually those of us who like a good breakfast before a caving trip, i.e. Brendan, Chris and Keith, chose the recently re-opened Pencraig Diner. Out genial host asked if we would like toast or fried bread. For a trip of this magnitude there was only one possible answer, but we won't make that mistake again! The fried bread consisted or two thick crusts each and we all had to admit defeat which prompted out host to ask if anything was wrong with the meals.
We met with Andy, Mel and our guides on the Otter car park where for reasons that Andy himself cannot explain he decided that in spite of Otter being on his 'must do' list for over a decade he wouldn't be coming into the cave with us.
Over-tide trips in Otter are strenuous without carrying tackle. Carrying a large Pelican Case loaded with a heavy camera and flash guns through Otter's tortuous squeezes, climbs and rock-strewn passages must be purgatory, but such is Brendan's dedication to his art that the case was transported without complaint, although the look on his face told another tale.
We made good time through the muddy entrance crawls, through the very muddy tidal sump (which was empty with the stream free flowing when we passed through), through the first choke, across the traverses and to sump two where we stopped to scrub the caked mud of our over-suits before proceeding to the extensions. We made slow progress though the magnificently decorated passages leading to and through the Hall of Thirty so that we could stop and admire the formations. Brendan was anxious to start snapping but decided to wait until the way out when we would be stal cleaning and he would have more time.
After a short break at the camp we made our way on through Long Straw Chamber towards Tunnels Junction.
Just before turning back we visited a well-decorated grotto on the left of the passage. Brendan could resist no longer. The camera box was flipped open and he reached for camera and flash guns, however as the box was opened Brendan's face dropped. There was water in the case. Undaunted he dried off the gear and started the ritual, "Stand there", "Hold this", "Look at me", "Let me focus on your lamp" and so on, but the damp flash guns stubbornly refused to cooperate so no photos were taken and the box had to be abandoned. Brendan was not happy! He went very quiet and it was the closest any of us have ever experienced to Brendan having a sulk.
We turned back at Tunnels Junction and I took a few minutes of video on the very back to Long Straw Chamber.
Back at the camp we filled water sprayers and spent the next hour or so cleaning mud of the formations.
The way out from here didn't seem so long as on the way in and we got back to the tidal sump before it had completely emptied.
From here the pace of the party slowed considerably as the tired team made its slow way out through the muddy entrance crawls.
I was first out and it was about twenty minutes later that Chris finally surfaced. He was completely spent, totally knackered, done in, and the famous grin was conspicuous by its absence. I thought that there was a real possibly that we had broken him at long last but the following week he was off again caving.
Finally the walk uphill back to the car park nearly finished me too.

The Video

Present: Keith Edwards, Brendan Marris, Mel Wakeman and Chris Webb

Sunday 13 June 2010

A Digging Trip to ODB in which Mark gets into a tight place – with apologies to A. A. Milne

While Jessica was away in foreign climes, Mark wanted to get a few “classic trips” under his belt. This coincided with an invitation to assist with the dig at the end of OBD.
We met up for breakfast at the Little Chef near Oswestry and then met up with Alan (NWCC) at the car park near the cave, and everything went smoothly until we got to the boulder choke when ……

So Mark started to climb into the choke. He pulled with his hands, and pushed with his legs, and in a little while his feet were through . . . and then his ankles . . . and then his legs . . . and then his hips . . . and then —
"Oh, help!" said Mark. "I'd better go back."
"Oh, bother!" said Mark. "I shall have to go on."
"I can't do either!" said Mark. "Oh, help and bother!"
Now, by this time Keith wanted to go through the choke too, and finding the choke full, he moved towards Mark, and looked at him.
"Hallo, are you stuck?" he asked.
"N-no," said Mark carelessly. "Just resting and thinking and humming to myself."
"Here, give us a hand."
Keith stretched out a hand, and Mark pulled and pulled and pulled. . . .
"Ow!" cried Mark. "You're hurting!"
"The fact is," said Keith, "you're stuck."
"It all comes," said Mark crossly, "of not having caves big enough."
"It all comes," said Keith sternly, "of eating too much. I thought at the time," said Keith, "only I didn't like to say anything," said Keith, "that one of us was eating too much," said Keith, "and I knew it wasn't me," he said. "Well, well, I shall go and shout for Brendan."
Brendan was on the other side of the choke, and when he came back with Heather, and saw the bottom half of Mark, he said, "Silly old Mark," in such a loving voice that everybody felt quite hopeful again.
"I was just beginning to think," said Mark, sniffing slightly, "that Heather and Alan might never be able to use this cave again. And I should hate that," he said.
"So should I," said Alan.
"Use the cave again?" said Brendan. "Of course he'll use this cave again."
"Good," said Mark.
"If we can't pull you out, Mark, we might push you back."
Keith scratched his whiskers thoughtfully, and pointed out that, when once Mark was pushed back, he was back, and of course nobody was more glad to see Mark than he was, still there it was, some lived in trees and some lived underground, and —
"You mean I'd never get out?" said Mark.
"I mean," said Keith, "that having got so far, it seems a pity to waste it."
Brendan nodded.
"Then there's only one thing to be done," he said. "We shall have to wait for you to get thin again.”
“How long does getting thin take?” asked Mark anxiously.
“About a week I should think.”

So we had no alternative but to make our way back out and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Minera “Hoffman” Lime Kiln.

The Team: Mark (Pooh) Burkey, Keith (Rabbit) Edwards, Brendan (Christopher Robin) Marris and Rabbit’s friends-and-relations, Heather Simpson and Alan from NWCC