South Wales 2018: probably the best weekend away for some it
Thursday, 25 January 2018 – Monday, 29 January 2018

Departed Dublin at around 9pm, then 4 hours later driving commenced from Emi and Rocky, who put in a great effort to get us to SWCC for 4:45am. After around 4 hours sleep I awoke to York CC cooking breakfast, which I watched hungrily as I hadn’t had time to purchase any food the day before. At least I had coffee.

A pot of coffee later and the Irish still weren’t up so I arranged to go caving with YCC after being kindly invited by Matt Ewles onto their trip going from OFD bottom entrance to top entrance. I had been informed previously that this was one of the best sport caving trips available, and this was not wrong. It had turned into a bright day after the rain the night before, which made the walk to the entrance very pleasant, and Matt, Gary, Chuck, Ian, Rachel and Toby made great company.

Water levels in the cave were higher than when I was last in OFD at this time last year. The streamway was excellent as always but disappointingly no one fell into the pools, though in my one thermal layer and with no wetsocks I got quite cold anyway, the water carrying a significant chill in its reasonable flow. Soon we arrived at the rope climb up into the continuation of the OFD1 round trip (only trip in OFD I really know) and then headed off toward The Connection and OFD 1.5. this was navigated seamlessly by Gary and Matt, who clearly knew the trip well.

Quick progress took us to the Letterbox and the Divers Pitch, then onward to the Confluence. Here there was a quick lunch stop. The amount of food brought on the trip by the Yorkies was an achievement in itself, with sandwiches, pork pies and choccies for all. The water levels were assessed and we decided it was safe enough to go out of top, rather than Cwm Dwr as Gary had thought might be safer. We headed off up the streamway, and I was really starting to get pretty cold. Avoiding a total soaking became quite important, and my choice of footwear (5:10 approach shoes) helped me traverse reasonably easily above all the deep pools. The streamway is extremely sporting and exciting, with the black limestone struck by streaks of white calcite veins. The water cuts an incredible path through the rock and there is seemingly no end to the variety of stream passage.

Soon we reached Maypole Inlet, and headed up to the high level dry passages, where the roar of the stream became only a distant rumble and soon faded to nothing. The change in character of the passage is amazing, and the Trident and Judge are quite spectacular formations. It was nice to be able to relax, knowing that I wasn’t going to suddenly keel over with numbness now we were basically out. We were greeted by clear skies on exiting, and the ten minute wander back to the hut was very pleasant. I even dried off a bit.
After getting changed, we set in for the evening. Chuck had brought a barrel of beer down which he kindly offered some pints of to me, and I gladly accepted while I waited for Nadia to arrive with my own stash, which would not be for at least another 6 hours. It seemed that a lot of interesting people would be turning up that weekend, and I quickly got chatting to various friends, new and old.
One man who I was not expecting to see was Chris Densham, who had some interesting ideas about using muons to see what could be seen above his dig in Yellow Van in Draenen, which he invited me on a trip to the next day. It would have been rude to refuse, so I recruited Nadia for the trip and continued to be merry for some time.

I awoke at 8am after another 4 hour sleep and began trying to help sort breakfast. Chris wanted to leave at 9am, but he had to be sick and seemed to be struggling a bit so it was more like 9:15 when we left. We were joined by Reuben, also of OUCC, who seemed to be a regular visitor to the dig. Other ULSA members headed into Gilwern Passage and beyond to help Josh White from ACC to do some retaping and help with some filming of the conservation work. Our trip to Yellow Van had a few different objectives: drilling some holes, a bit more shoring, and cleaning up an abandoned dig nearby, along with possibly some retaping of our own. Yellow Van is right at the end of Draenen, and the way in (from the One True Entrance or OTE) is complex and covers a lot of ground, so I was sure this would be a long and epic trip.

The entrance series to the logbook was quite wet, but this is pretty much the only water between here and the Dollimore Series. Once at the logbook, we signed in and headed off towards Megadrive along Indiana Highway. From here, the passage is magnificent, constantly varying and always interesting. The gypsum crystals present in Midwinter Chambers are excellent, and the Mayhem of Pillars passage is also quite amazing. The draft in the passages near to the Nunnery entrance was substantial, a result of the recent re-opening of it. The snowball was also pretty awesome, though the story of it being moved around a lot for photos was quite ridiculous.

After around 2 hours of caving we reached the Last Sandwich, a mainly crawling passage that takes around 20 minutes. With scaff this would be quite a time-consuming bit of cave. The Dollimore series, on the other side, is really quite spectacular. MS&D passage is just huge: 10m wide and around 20m high in places. The streamway of ‘Out of the Blue’ is just that, and the passage is followed until the huge Rock and Roll choke, which would be a very worthwhile dig for some very keen people with a lot of time on their hands. Yellow Van is the flood overflow passage to the Into the Black streamway, and is still a substantial size.

We followed this passage for around 5 minutes until we reached the dig, which is situated in a rather serious boulder choke. It was not especially drafty today but a draft was still noticeable, both in the old (now abandoned) dug route going down and the new route heading up. While Chris sorted out the scaff, we got on with tidying the other dig (Gavin Lowe’s former dig), which involved emptying plastic bags of spoil into the dig and then carrying the plastic bags out of the cave. The plastic bags had a lot of wet mud attached to them so we spent a good 20 minutes washing them in the streamway, which although utterly ridiculous did make the bags much lighter to carry out. By this time we had been in the cave for around 7 hours, so we decided that we would finish up for the day without taping the formations at Circus Maximus. We arrived at the entrance for around 9pm, making it a 10 hour trip, the longest I have done in South Wales by some margin. We were back at the hut for curry, more beer, more curry, wine and whisky along with hearing a quite unique and exquisite tale involving the Westminster, a chair and a plate.

Sunday and Monday involved mainly bimbling in OFD 1 with students followed by the journey back to Ireland. Huge thanks to Emi and Rocky for driving, to Matt and the YCC for inviting me on their trip, to Chris for the excellent Draenen trip and to everyone at the hut for making it one of the most productive and fun weekends away caving I’ve ever had!