I've been caving for well over twenty years and in all of that time I've had great fun taking the p*** out of the larger members of the caving club when they have been confronted by a confined space, and I've never had to remove clothing to get through a squeeze. In fact I never been put off by the warning, "Not passable by persons of larger than average build."
All of the above was of course until I attempted Lesser Garth Cave or as it should more fittingly be called Lesser Girth Cave.
The cave is situated near to the top of a steeply inclined wooded hillside. This would have been potential heart attack scenario anyway, but we had to pick one of the wettest days of the year at the end of the wettest April for 100 years. To add even more to the sporting challenge the slope was covered in a thick layer of sodden wet rotting leaf-mould. So by the time we got to the cave entrance we already felt like we had done a hard caving trip.
Inside the cave a short boulder strewn passage leads to a balcony overlooking the tall Main Chamber. We rigged a rope off natural belays and abseiled down. The Main Chamber is an impressive tall passage that has walls covered with fine calcite flows. We followed it for about 200m where it ends in a drafting boulder choke with no clear way on. We also explored a small rift on the right hand wall which proved to be an alternative route to the boulder choke. Brendan then took several photographs as we made our way back to the pitch. On the way out we discovered that it is possible to free climb out of the chamber.
|The impressive main chamber in Lesser Garth Cave|
Back at the balcony and to the left of the main chamber is a 9m rift. We rigged a rope off 2 dodgy 'P' bolts - the backup bolt does not act as a backup and the single bolt for the main descent has cracks around it! Not liking the look of the bolts, while the other 3 descended the rope, I decided to attempt a free climb down a narrow part of the rift. This didn't go too well as I managed to get myself wedged with my chest jammed and my legs dangling free. Finally I had to have the rope pulled across to me and then had to pendulum out into the passage - putting even more strain on the dodgy hanger!
Eventually we all arrived safely at the bottom where the tall rift passage quickly narrows down. The way on is at floor level through a very tight squeeze past a calcite projection. Rachel, the most petite member of the party, tackled this obstacle first and promptly declared it too tight for her to get through. I also failed at the first attempt with my chest jamming tight. Brendan found the same problem, but Richard managed with some grumbling and groaning, and after emptying his chest pocket, to squeeze through. Rachel got through on her second attempt, but Brendan decided at this point that he was never ever going to get to see the rest of the system. I decided to have one further attempt. I unzipped both over-suit and fleece-suit, breathed out as much as possible, held my breath and just managed to get through. With three of us through Brendan rose to the challenge and using the same technique that I had deployed succeeded too, but at the cost of gaining painful ribs and losing some skin off his chest. When we asked him why he hadn't bought his camera box through he said it was because he never expected to get through. Richard was then sent back through to retrieve it.
|Keith making the 1st squeeze look easy|
Beyond this squeeze a short section of larger passage leads to a point where a passage on the left leads to a zig zag route to a higher level. Just before the passage appears to end an awkward squeeze upwards, up on the left wall allows entry to 10m of walking passage - a short respite before the next obstacle. At the end of this section in the floor is a squeeze, which Rachel christened 'the coffin', this leads down into a passage over a calcite flow.
|Rachel sliding into 'the coffin'|
|Brendan entering 'the coffin'|
This passage closes down ahead, but before it becomes too tight a climb up on the left leads into an alcove with a high level crawl leading off. Following this crawl through a small pool of water leads to yet another obstacle, a squeeze into the top of a calcite walled rift passage. Negotiating this proved interesting both going in, where one ends up trying to wedge oneself into the top of the rift to prevent failing down head first, and also coming back out where fiction holds are the only thing allowing one to gain the height needed to post oneself into the small hole at the top.
|Brendan squeezing out into the top of the rift|
The way onwards is found high up in the left hand wall where a route can be followed up through boulders leading to Ogof Ffynnon Taf. To the right leads to an area of boulders, while to the left the passage quickly increases in size on reaching Oliver's Secret Garden, a large and well decorated passage. Along most of this passage are seen tree roots descending from the roof and spreading across the calcite formations. The passage is formed on two levels, the upper level is followed past the tree root covered calcite flowstone and past the 2m tall bright orange Surah's Column to reach a chamber decorated with curtains and straws before ending at a choke. Following the lower route passes some fine formations ending in a grotto with some of the finest curtains seen in any cave in this country.
After an hour or so posing for photos all that remained was to tackle to obstacles we encountered on the way in, in the reverse direction.
|Keith near Surah's Column|
|Rachel and some very impressive curtains|
|Rachel in Oliver's Secret Garden|
This small cave of less than 400 metres took us five and a half hours which makes it another one in the series, "Remember we do these caves so that you don't have to."
The Team: Brendan Marris, Keith Edwards, Rachel Dearden and Richard Dearden