Sunday 26 April 2015

Charterhouse - A Cave for Contortionists

This is a cave which has been on my hit list for many years. I knew that since it went big in 2008, bigger in 2009 and even bigger in 2010, making it the deepest cave on the Mendips, that trips deep into the system were very challenging, but I had no idea just how difficult a trip could be until on evening before the trip I read some of the description, talked to people who had done it and watched a couple of YouTube videos.
To say that I was a little apprehensive would be a gross understatement and I think I would have made my excuses then if I hadn’t been told that we were only going to go as far as Diesel Duck - about half way in.
Gate squeeze near the entrance is used as a loading gauge for the cave, limiting the size of cavers who can enter the system. This squeeze is only marginally tighter than many other squeezes and contortions that follow it.
“Never mind”, I though to myself, “Perhaps Mark won’t get through gate squeeze and I won’t have to do the trip.”
Due to the perceived difficulty of the trip I decided to not take my video gear and Mark must have been feeling the same as his camera box remained in the van.
We met our guide, Clive Owen, on time at 10:30, got changed and walked the short distance to the cave. As he attempted to open the lock he explained that recent visitors had had some difficulty unlocking the gate. Perhaps my luck would be in and the lock would refuse to open.

Bugger, the door swung open - the trip was on.

Mark glided gracefully through Gate Squeeze.

Bugger, we would have to go on.

He pissed through the pools and crept through the crawls

Bugger, we would have to go on.

He whizzed through the Wallow.

Bugger, we would have to go on.

After Splatter Chamber the gradient of the cave increases considerably to around 40 degrees. Getting in had proved to be relatively easy but climbing out when tired would be hard.
We scrutinised at the Citadel - a large well-decorated void and continued to descend steeply. We stared at the Singing Stal and articulated through Aragonite Crawl.
We were now at Chill Out Choke. This massive vertical choke, over 100 feet deep took 26 years to get through and was finally passed in 2008. Many of the false leads have prominent warning signs - DANGER DO NOT ENTER.
Shortly after the choke is the Narrows - 60 feet of constricted descending rift with pinch points. Perhaps this would spell the end of the trip for Mark?
He nipped through the Narrows.

Bugger, we would have to go on.

We descended Dragon pitch and still we went on.
We breezed past the Blades (very impressive) and still we went on.
Shortly past Frozen Cascade is Portal Pool, a perched sump that has to be drained by an impressive syphon system. Thankfully we were able to rest for the 35 minutes it took to drain and then we went on.
We rushed through Route 66, oozed through Onion Passage and also swum slowly through sand.
We were now at Diesel Duck.

Double bugger it was dry, we would have to go on.

We hurried on to the Hall of Time - the end of the 2009 extensions and bypassed it by following a high level traverse. Shortly after this was another tight constriction and thankfully we decided to turn back at this point.
The way out was not as difficult as I thought it would be but it is a steep upwards climb all of the way, very tiring, and Mark, the bugger, who slipped easily through all of the constrictions and contortions on the way in needed a little assistance a couple of times on the exit. Why couldn’t this have happened on the way in?
The trip took 5 and a half hours and although it would have made excellent video I’m glad I didn’t take the camera box - I think I would still be in there now!
Would I do it again? To quote the leader of the opposition, "Am I tough enough? Hell, yes, I'm tough enough."

The Team: Jess and Mark Burkey, and Keith Edwards

Saturday 25 April 2015

Shattered on a Saturday

Mark had been invited back to Shatter Cave by Kermit to take a few more photos, so we arranged to meet up at 2pm at the Fairy Caves Quarry. We left Stratford, with Keith, about half 9 to make sure we could fit in a decent brunch on the way. A lie in, on a caving Saturday!!  Unfortunately the traffic through Bristol was heavy and as we approached Mendipshire we realised that the Priddy Good Farm Shop would not be serving breakfast when we arrived, so we were forced to stop en route at a garden centre caff.
We met up with Kermit and were introduced to his friend John who would be our ‘leader for the day’. If you’ve been into Shatter you’ll know that even I would struggle to get lost, so 2 leaders was possibly overkill, but he was very pleasant and came in useful for holding Mark’s flashguns.  As I hadn’t been in before, Kermit and I went ahead so he could show me the whole cave while Mark and Keith were setting up shots in the main chambers.
Suffice to say I was very impressed with the formations in Shatter, you really don’t know where to look first, and many are both large and pure white, such as the Angel Wing at the far reaches of the cave. After a whistle-stop tour, Kermit and I joined the others back at Tor Chamber where we posed for photos and a short piece of video on the way out.

A very pleasant hour was spent chatting to Kermit and John in the Queen Vic before they had to leave. It was unusual to feel so relaxed and not tired at all on a Saturday, almost like cheating, but the next day more than made up for it…

Jess in Tor Chamber
Trip report: Jess Burkey

Present: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey, Keith Edwards and our leaders Kermit and John.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Wretched Rabbit, A Monster Trip

For Sundays outing it was back to Bull Pot Farm. Our objective for the day was to begin to get the basics of navigating the Ease Gill system under our belts by going in Wretched Rabbit to Stop Pot.
Changing we again met up with a number of other groups who asked what were up to, none of whom could understand why we would want to cave without an SRT kit….Wretched Rabbit is an exit not an entrance!
We consulted our newly acquired surveys and descriptions trying to make head nor tail of them. Brendan had been in this part of the cave before, but that had been 25yrs ago….yep he really is that old!
On our way to the entrance we met up with one of Red Rose’s member who was going in to County Pot to do a through trip and out Wretched Rabbit. He gave us a brief description of the route and it sounded nothing like the guide, but we’d soon find that his was by far more accurate and easier to follow.
Upon finding the unassuming entrance we headed in and soon found ourselves at the head of a number of vertical climbs with in situ hand line.  We made our way down these and in to a crab walk rift passage, which changed level a number of times, but generally kept to the stream. On our way we again bumped in to Alf from Red Rose who again gave us further navigational instruction.
Before we knew it we emerged at Eureka Junction and made our way up the 7m fixed ladder in Stop Pot and continued on through to Monster Cavern. Here we took a couple of photographs before beginning to head out. As we exited we crossed paths with several Crewe members who were doing a top sink through trip.
The exit itself went smoothly, although was uphill all the way so a little tiring. Again we stopped a couple of times for photo’s to break up the slog. At the rope climbs we again paused to get a publicity shot for UKcaving and Spanset who provided our recent prize.

Again a great trip and I look forward to going back to begin to put together the navigation of the massive Ease Gill System.

En Route between Eureka Junction & Stop Pot (Photo Brendan Marris)
Passage just before Monster Cavern
Monster Cavern
Entrance Passage After Climbs
Entrance climbs (Photo Brendan Marris)
Present: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey & Brendan Marris

Saturday 18 April 2015

Mistral Cave & How to polish a turd!

Of late we have spent quite a bit of time in South Wales and a reasonable amount in the Mendips, so for a change Brendan suggested the Dales.  Jess has mentioned a few times that she has wanted to return to Mistral Cave, so this was planned for our Saturday trip.
Jess and I travelled up to Ingleton on the Friday night and so had a good nights sleep before meeting up with Brendan who had arisen at 5am to arrive at Inglesport for our 9am breakfast.
After plenty of faff we made a couple of purchases before heading off.
“What are you up to today?” The guys at Inglesport enquired.
“Mistral”, we replied
“Oh”, was the only reply.
Undeterred we headed off to Bull Pot Farm where we met up with a couple of other groups getting ready including a former DCC member Graham who enquired what we were up to.
“Mistral”, we chirped happily.
“Oh”, Graham responded with a smirk.
Before heading off up the track we made use of Red Rose’s facilities and whilst we waited one of the members enquired where we were off with all our camera gear.
“Mistral”, again we answered.
“Oh”, the guy responded doubtfully. “well there’s the stream way and an arch, but I can’t think of anything else you might want to photo, unless you can do something with mud, it’d be like polishing a turd”, he smirked.
Brendan and I had planned to take photographs on the way in because of the copious amounts of mud we would meet in Hall Of The Mountain King. Jess was quickly very bored of us placing flash guns and wanting to photo within 5 minutes of the entrance and wanted to hurry to the mud to play.

First we wanted to head to Gour Hall as it sounded like there may be something more than mud to see there and we were very pleasantly surprised by the pretty formations en route and the Gour Hall itself. Jess relented and allowed a few photographs on our way back to Hall Of The Mountain King.

Once there we squelched and slid our way past a couple of rather rude life size sculptures, before reaching a small hole at the bottom of the chamber which we would slide through ensuring not an inch of our caving suits would be spared the clay like mud. On the other side we met the cascades which removed a fair amount of the gloop we had just acquired. 

Jess popped for a quick look upstream and called us to look at some impressive straws before we continued up the cascades and on to the Cigalere stream way. We arrived at the canal and after a rather refreshing dip made our way to an impressive waterfall chamber with rope hanging down. After yet more photographs we made our way out, 

Brendan lost both boots to the mud as he exited and wound up having to fight his way through in only his wet socks. 
I almost came a cropper as I began to uncontrolled slide down the hall of ten, but Brendan just about managed to keep hold of a muddied arm and save me. 

We finally emerged too late to get food and headed off to the YSS for a bunk for Brendan. A really fun trip and some impressive turds were polished ;)

The Hobbit

Entering Gour Hall

Gour Hall
Final Chamber

Present Brendan Marris, Jess Burkey & Mark Burkey

Reservoir Hole & The Frozen Deep

Reservoir Hole, situated a third of the way up Cheddar Gorge is a very special trip with a restriction on numbers entering the system and has to be led by a member of Wessex Caving Club.
So three members of Dudley Caving Club, Becca Kirkpatrick, Daz Long and myself were very fortunate to have been offered this trip, and even more so when we found out that our leader for today was Martin Grass one of the original six diggers who as recently as 2012, crawled, climbed and burrowed their way into ‘The Frozen Deep’, what a tenacious group they are when you consider that the cave has been dug by various members since 1951.

A suitable meeting place needed to be identified and an old favourite, the ‘Priddy Good CafĂ©’ was nominate, it just so happens that they do a stonkingly good breakfast as well.

 Changed and briefed we gathered at the gated entrance to start with a flat out crawl and trying to avoid the spiders and hibernating bats.
There were a lot of near vertical descents down well-built shafts that required upper body wedging whilst trying to locate out of sight footholds. A miscalculation here would have speeded the descent but with dire consequences, ironically they were a pussy cat to ascend on the return leg.
The various diggers have to be commended for the remarkable neat and tidy way they went about their work building ‘staircases’ and neatly stacking dead’s where ever possible, it is probably the tidiest cave you will ever visit. Martin’s knowledge of almost every rock, boulder and puddle meant he was able to give us a fascinating insight of the slow and sometimes frustrating progress of the dig as we moved through the various chambers and passages such as Moon Milk Chamber, Grand Gallery, Topless Aven and following an arduous dig they eventually broke through into a 20 metre long parallel rift and named it ‘Great Expectations’, so no pressure on yourselves there guys!
A large slab begrudgingly moved no more than it felt necessary despite the aid of explosives from the team, but did reveal a 15 metre crawl leading into a 25 meter high by 20 meter long chamber which they named ‘Resurrection’. Beyond this was a boulder slope and a 12 metre vertical pitch now split into a 5metre pitch landing on a platform and the final 7 metres into ‘The Frozen Deep’.

The enormity of this chamber, probably the largest yet discovered under the Mendip Hills is slow to dawn on you, its length and width is in the region of 60 & 50 metres and a height of 30 metres are overshadowed by white calcite flows down the walls. Stalagmites and stalactites abound, some soon to meet in the next million years or so, and there is a pure white pillar of 5 metres in length.
Massive lumps of wall and roof section larger than a Transit Van have plunged to the floor clawing at and scarring the remaining wall as if in a last desperate attempt to remain in situ, smashing and crushing formations that once hung from or sat beneath them.

As you explore ‘The Frozen Deep’ it is clear to see why with so much white calcite on show this chamber got its name, it could be mistaken for a snapshot from the ice age. The team and their colleagues deserve top marks for their conservation work in here (and the inward and outward routes) having marked with a great deal of tape, carefully defined and very narrow walkways to minimise the impact of human footfall on the millennia of undisturbed chamber floor.

An awe inspiring trip of about 4 hours and one to be highly recommended. Our apperception and thanks to Martin Grass who led the trip and was so informative and knowledgeable.

Trip report Ian Millward
Pictures: Becca Kirkpatrick

Present Becca Kirkpatrick, Daz Long & Ian Millward.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Ogof Capel.... The key to a successful caving trip.

I have been pestering Brendan about getting in to Ogof Capel for the last couple of years, so when I got a txt from him asking if I was free Sunday to go in I just about bit his hand off :)

We met en route with our leader Dan and parked up on the old heads of the valley road where we kitted up and then headed through the underpass.

After a quick look at the original divers entrance we headed up the ladder to Ogof Gelynnen and were soon making our way through the crawls and chokes to the gated entrance in to Ogof Capel.
At the impressive stream way passage I was humoured, wanting to photograph just about everything, and we made slow progress through to an aqueous flat out crawl below a stunning straw grill to the T junction. Here we first went to take a look at Slalom passage. After yet more photographs the camera gear was dumped and we made our way through a multilevel route to the 30m duck. This is a very chilly chest deep section with limited airspace in places and led through to the impressive Petrified Forest. After this we needed to keep moving so as not to chill down and we took a steady pace out where I suddenly realised that the car key I had in my hand on the way down to the cave I no longer had. Brendan and I started searching around and fortunately Jess and Dan called down to say that I'd dropped it in the underpass!
Happy to be able to access warm dry clothes we quickly changed, said our thanks and goodbyes to Dan before heading off ourselves.

Ogof Capel Stream Way
Ogof Capel Stream Way
The Straw Grill
Slalom Passage

Present: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey & Brendan Marris

Saturday 11 April 2015

The Late, Late Breakfast Show at Dan Y Lleuad Wen

The plan was to return with additional photo gear and lighting to photograph the larger passages in Ogof Dan Y Lleuad Wen and also explore the Lon Drury extensions below the entrance pitch. The planned rendez-vous for breakfast in Llandovery went a little pear-shaped with only Chloe managing to be at the cafe at the appointed hour of 9am. Twenty minutes later Mark, Jess and Brendan wandered in and we then tucked into a hearty breakfast, Chloe was provided with marshmallows on top of her hot chocolate - the sure sign of a classy establishment. A text from the late Loz Appleby indicated that she was a little behind schedule, only to arrive over an hour late. This was somewhat better than Rob though, who forgot to set his alarm and was still in bed as we tucked into brekky, so missed the days caving.
Once all assembled and fed we headed to Herbert's Quarry, where we changed and headed off to walk across the mountain on a fine, but blustery day. We were soon at the entrance where we entered the cave, stashed walking gear and then rigged the entrance pitch. We first explored the Upper Series and took photos of the Canyon and the fine rock bridge at the far end of it. This was a slightly risky operation as the top of the bridge is covered in a pile of boulders and sludgy sand which made it risky for Chloe at the top and for the people standing below while the photos were taken.

The Rock Bridge - Dan Y Lleuad Wen
Loz and Chloe at the Rock Bridge - Dan Y Lleuad Wen (Photo by Mark Burkey)

The Canyon - Dan Y Lleuad Wen
Jess and Chloe in the Canyon - Dan Y Lleuad Wen (Photo by Brendan Marris)

Much time was taken in the Upper Series, before we headed to the rift climb down and short pitch into A Day at the Beach in the Lower Series. Again we explored and took photos in a couple of locations before we made our way back towards the entrance.

A Day at the Beach - Dan Y Lleuad Wen
Jess and Chloe at the climb down to the Lower Series - Dan Y Lleuad Wen (Photo by Mark Burkey)

A Day at the Beach - Dan Y Lleuad Wen
Chloe - A Day at the Beach - Dan Y Lleuad Wen (Photo by Mark Burkey)

The final objective of the day was to have a look at the Lon Drury extensions that lie down a 13m deep rift climb below the boulders that lie at the foot of the entrance pitch. All that lay ahead now was the long walk back to the cars.

Present: Mark Burkey, Jess Burkey, The Late Loz Appleby, Chloe Burney and Brendan Marris

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Elusive A2 in Dali's Delight. Dan Yr Ogof.

For Tuesday I was joined by Keith, Jess and Loz.

For the last trip of the weekend an easier trip was the order of the day, so a trip in to Dan Yr Ogof to Dali's Delight via Elliptic passage was decided on.
I loaded a bag with my camera gear, SRT kit and a ladder which weighed in at a hefty amount and meant my easy bimble was actually quite a workout!
Although the lakes seemed to be at normal levels the rest of the system seemed to have a good amount of standing and flowing water. We took the usual route in to the Canyon. The bag not causing too many problems through the crawls and headed in to Elliptic passage. At the pot to climb down to the sand crawls to link in to Bakerloo I paused to take a picture of Loz and then on we went. The Camels Arse proved interesting doing in reverse, especially with the full tackle sack!
I went up Dali's climb using a hand jammer and rigged the ladder for the others who quickly joined me. Again we paused for me to take a shot at the pinnacles before heading in to every hole and climb we could find. Our objective was to find the link to A2 chamber, but there were a few leads we would require a hand line for and time was running short so we decided to do a little more research and come back another time with a bit more kit.
Upon trying to exit we found that the inner door of the show cave had lost the knob to unlock it and had a moment trying to fashion a ratchet out of our belt buckles.
We finally managed enough grip to turn and open it and were greeted by sunshine.
The cafe was closing up as we changed, but Jess managed to grab some takeaway drinks and donuts which we munched after changing :)

Jess at the Pinnacles

Loz descends Elliptic Pot

Present: Keith Edwards, Jess Burkey, Mark Burkey and Loz Appleby

Monday 6 April 2015

Rocking around Carmarthenshire

Bank holiday Monday saw us taking a drive to Crwbin Carmarthenshire to meet up with Phil and Emily for the second day of finding and photographing some of the less visited caves of South Wales.
Brendan had skipped breakfast and wasn't feeling 100% after walking the Black Mountain the day before in the blazing sunshine, so it was just as well that our objectives were only a ten minute walk from the parking spot where we met up.

Ogof Nant Hyfryd

After kitting up Phil led us to the quarry where an impressively unstable looking quarry face awaited us.
The entrance was clearly visible from across the quarry 16m above a shelf with a further 10m drop below the shelf. 
We ascended the loose slope to the face where the final 4m looked almost impossible. We looked this way and that trying to find a way up until a metal stake was spotted up a loose looking climb. As I ascended large chunks of rock came away as I gardened my way up the face. Finally I reached the last awkward move and reached for the metal stake only to find this also come away in my hand!
Finally I scrambled in to the entrance and begun to look for a suitable place to tie off the rope for the others to ascend. Phil came next and found the climb harder than he had expected, even with a hand line.
Brendan and Emily watched nervously as again Phil found good chunks of the face give way as he climbed & decided it would probably be wise for them to continue the search for other cave entrances Brendan had tagged for finding.
We arranged to meet back up at 3pm and Phil and I headed in to the cave.

Brendan and I had read the description and I had some survey which described a linear rift passage with route names such as the Double Totem poles & Pete's paradise, so we were expecting something rather pretty.
As phil and I rounded Curtain Corner we found the rift begin to close down until after 15 minutes we were forced to crawl through the phreatic passageway.
There were a couple of respites butr the rest of the cave proved to be mostly crawling and flat out crawling with the occasional squeeze.
The formations were quite pretty, but not quite what I'd been expecting and near impossible to photograph due to the constricted nature of the passage.
After flat out crawling around White Corner we reached a chamber with a squeeze which took us in to an unstable choke and here we could go no further.
A few photographs were taken on exit where we found the other two waiting in the sunshine. Phil had another good chunk of the quarried face give way as he made his way down and this echoed impressively around the quarry as it went.
I managed my way down without issue and was very happy to arrive safely with the others to continue the hunt for the couple of remaining entrances.

Phil at Curtain Corner

Phil in passage just before Pete's Paradise

Phil in the final chamber before the choke

Crwbin Cave

The van was parked en route so we stopped off for a drink and snack before continuing. Emily had to get off, so it would just be the three of us continuing.
We were soon in a confusing wooded area with different levels of 'steps' from the old quarrying.
Phil led us to the obvious entrance, but Brendan was looking rather pale. He was pretty sure that it was dehydration from the long walk in the sun the previous day and so elected to sit in the shade whilst Phil and I had a quick dive in to the cave. 
After a short crawl we were in a tight rift marked as a squeeze on the survey. This is an awkward piece of passage that exits in to a right angle bend.
After this the passage gained in size and entered a sand floored chamber with an impressive ceiling sloping down before us to meet the floor. To the right of this we entered some steeply descending mud filled phreatic passages which pass a couple of avens and passage way which all end in deep pools of water except in the driest of weather. The entire cave took only 25min's even stopping for a quick photo in sand floored chamber before heading out to meet Brendan.

Phil in the Sand Floored Chamber

Ogof Capel Dyddgen

With Brendan now looking almost human again we continued through the wooded area to an impressive 3m cave mouth in the quarried face. It was obviously a favourite for locals with beer cans, garden chair and even a BBQ area around the front. What was unexpected was the sheer size of passageway in this interesting cave. We were immediately greeted by a 9m high passage which would not be out of place in the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu system. Brendan took a couple of photographs and Phil and I went to take a look at the duck, which was sumped, before we made our way back to the cars. We said our good byes to Phil and took the hours drive back to Penwyllt stopping off for a well earned meal on the way.

Phil in the Main Passage
Phil in the Main Passage

Present: Brendan Marris & Mark Burkey, with thanks to our guides Phil and Emily