Jess and I had stopped the night before in the van and the boys had stayed in a bothy en route so we arranged to meet up at a car park in Tanygrisiau. Having become accustomed to the tradition of a hearty breakfast before a trip I had to smile (I’m not sure where you find a hotdog vendor on a Sunday morning in North Wales, but the boys had managed it! )
Jess and I had a quick cuppa whilst the lads finished their hotdogs and then it was off up Cwm Croesor. The boys had managed to convince us that full caving gear was overkill for the trip, so we went with walking gear and waterproofs rather than furry and over suit and after an hour and a half of trekking over the hills I was quite grateful that I was in the lighter weight gear!
Climbing in through the half barred window with the guys leading the way we were soon arriving at the head of the first pitch. Not knowing what to expect I was pleasantly surprised at quality of the fixed aids in place. For the lads this was their seventh through trip this year & using Fig 8’s they were at the bottom of the 80ft pitch in seconds. Myself and jess in full SRT gear took it a little easier, carefully making sure that the ropes were hitting their protection.
At the second pitch even the guys took a little more time making their way down over the sharp slate edges. Ben had caught a shin on the first abseil & not to be outdone I slipped over an edge and took a little skin off mine too, just a gentle reminder that although a terrific amount of fun, this disused mine should not be taken lightly. At the bottom of the pitch I paused to take in just how vast the place is, as well as just how much of the ceiling is now shattered on the floor!
At the bottom of the huge gallery we arrived at the zip wire. Grant was the first to go & told us you needed to get a bit of a run up to make it across in one go as they were using traxions. Arriving safely on the other side he called across to say that there was now a fixed pulley that could be pulled back over. As mentioned their pulleys drag a little and a big leap is required to get across in a single go. With the larger fixed pulley this was no longer needed and a simple step was more than enough to get you across, a fact that Carl nearly found out the hard way as he hurtled toward the opposite wall.
Everyone across safely, our next obstacle was a very rickety ladder bridge which literally had you walking on water as you swayed at its center. It was also our first good look at the deep, clear blue waters. It was hard to tell the actual depth but It certainly wasn’t something I was in any hurry to check first hand! The first of the bridges was next and although not much of a bridge it didn’t cause an obstacle as we each skipped across the decaying wooden beams. We were then on to some interesting traverses and through to the second bridge of death, with only a bent single rail and shattered wooden beam on the other side Jess made her way to the mid-section, only to find that the short cows tail she was attached to had become so short that she was unable to move any further. Standing on tiptoe and removing all protection she carefully made her way over the half-way point and safely to the other side. With everyone safely across it was on to my personal favorite…a 20ft abseil over ice cold deep black water, (hopefully) landing in an inflatable to paddle across the underground lake. As we made our way across the still water Ben pointed out where he had previously explored by boat across the other side. Looking over with my Scurrion, you could see the huge cracked slate roof just waiting to fail in to the cold waters and shivered at the thought of paddling beneath it. On the other side all that was left was a short prusik and a walk out through the flooded passage to daylight.
Ben, Carl & Jess at the Traverses
This is a trip I had wanted to do for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. I would just like to say a big thank you to Ben, Carl & Grant who were great guides and helped make the trip something to remember.
Carl Knott, Ben Marklew and Grant Wilkes, Jessica Harding & Mark Burkey