Brendan, Jess and Mark were staying at SWCC for the weekend. They had planned a mega-trip into DYO on the Sunday, but not could decide on a caving trip for the Saturday. These days I have to be motivated to go caving. Just going caving isn't enough. I have to have a purpose for the trip, so I wasn't really thinking of joining them on the Saturday unless they could come up with a trip that inspired me, and blank faces told me they hadn't.
Then in a moment of madness I suggested a return visit to Upper Piccadilly in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. I had been to this area of the cave on three previous occasions, but there was still one high level passage that none of us had not visited. Our first visit was to have been Jess’ first SRT trip but when Brendan and I got to the top of the pitch and saw the state of the ring bolt and the awkward ‘get off’ we decided that it wasn't suitable for Jess after all. On the second visit we got a little further, but were put off the next stage of the exploration by an exposed 60 degree climb up a calcite slope. We took along a fearless climber, Mark, for the third visit and got up the slope by means of a hand line rigged by Mark and got to photograph the magnificent rock bridge, but couldn’t complete our exploration as the next climb up was extremely exposed and the only means of ascending it was by climbing an electron ladder of unknown antiquity. Jess hadn't accompanied us on trips two and three so had yet to see any of these high level passages.
To my surprise they all readily agreed – not put off by the dodgy ring bolt, the awkward ‘get off’, the exposed climb up the calcite slope or the unknown ascent to the final high level passage. What could possibly go wrong?
Well as they say in the best adventure stories, it all started well. We entered the cave through the Cwm Dwr entrance and made rapid progress to the boulder choke. After we were all through I turned to the others and recalling an earlier rescue said, “You need to be careful from now on. There’s no way a stretcher can fit through the choke.”
All continued to go well as we made our way to the ‘pull through’ pitch up to Upper Piccadilly. As the lightest I was elected to go up first. At the top I blanched as I inspected the ring bolt, my single point of attachment on the climb. I quickly got off the rope and rigged a back up so that the others could come up in relative safety.
Our rope was still in situ on the impossible calcite slope so we all managed the climb up easily.
It was now time to visit uncharted (well uncharted as far as we were concerned) territory and it was Mark’s turn to enter the danger zone. There were two old spits in the left hand wall and we used these to give Mark a little protection, even so we all held our breath as he managed what seemed an impossible climb. We had taken the rope off the first climb and Mark rigged this from a large boulder so that the rest of us could attach an ascender to it to protect us one the climb.
The passage at the top is massive and consists of a very steep slope of loose boulders terminating in a large boulder choke. It was obvious that we were in a very little visited area of the cave. We spent some time ferreting about in the choke looking for possible ways on before starting of journey out.
Coming back down the loose boulder slope was an interesting experience. We has to come down one at a time as with almost every step a boulder was dislodged and went crashing down the slope. Eventually we were all safely down and were getting out of our SRT gear while Mark was de-rigging the pitch and stashing the rope back in the tackle sack. We all felt a great sense of relief that the most dangerous part of the trip was over. As we started to move off Mark smiled and said, “Well no one died or nufink.” Famous last words!
As we walked up Nether Rawl on the way to the Smithy, I slipped on a simple climb, slid down about two feet and landed on my feet. The rest were therefore a little surprised when I fell on the floor, swore loudly several times and did a very good impression of rolling on the floor in agony. What they didn't know was that a few weeks ago I had torn the ligaments in my upper left arm and had pulled them again as I slid down. Ligament pain I am told is worse than a break and I can believe it! After about ten minutes the pain started to subside and I tried to assure my caving buddies that I was OK to make my way out, but they insisted on carrying my SRT gear and camera bag. So it was a very easy exit for me from the cave, but I don’t think I’ll pull that stunt again.