Ogof Draenen

Posted by Grant

Last weekend’s Hereford Caving Club trip to Ogof Draenan with Barry, Pauline, Adam and myself offered me the perfect opportunity to further my aspiration – to get caving fit again. Or so I thought…
The weather for this trip was terrible.  Storm Imogen was battering the southern UK and doing her level-best to make driving conditions better suited to a lifeboat than a car! However, we battled valiantly to a car park near Pwll Ddu on a bleak, exposed industrial wasteland on the mountain high above the Clydach gorge.  With near horizontal rain and a weather forecast promising more of the same, I began to reconsider my quest for caving fitness.  Surely, it didn’t need to be this hard?
In time honoured tradition, Adam and I ate a few sandwiches from our lunchboxes and bolstered our bravado with a few macho comments about, ‘a little rain never hurting anybody…’ Then Pauline and Barry arrived.  They were all efficiency and calm and assured us that the surface water didn’t significantly affect the stream in the cave.  Suitable mollified, Adam and I donned out oversuits, tightened our chinstraps and, as a group, we set off through driving rain to negotiate the hillside (which Barry described as the most dangerous part of the trip) down to the cave entrance. Despite the horrible weather outside, I was seriously considering our sanity when we arrived at the gate.  Immediately outside the entrance was a deep, muddy puddle.  Things did not improve inside the gate either. The passage (don’t let passage conjure up any images of spaciousness in your mind) was small, cramped and very wet.  Oh well, suck it up, I thought and get stuck-in (which nearly turned out to be prophetic).  I’d been warned that there was a tight bit at The Waterfall in this entrance series.  Looking at the entrance passage I wasn’t sure how much tighter I could handle and so my mind games started. The Waterfall, when it arrived a few vertical minutes and numerous soakings later, looked impassable.  But Barry slid feet first into the vertical slot, wiggled horizontally (with his body angled at 45 degrees to vertical) inside and then dropped through a constriction into the tiny void below.  He called up to me that it was okay and that I should, ‘just do what he’d done’ – Seriously?.  ‘Right’ I thought, here goes nothing. Well, four years with very little caving practice, a few too many hamburgers in the States and a hyperactive imagination, convincing me that that the waterfall cascading onto my helmet while I dangled, wedged by my chest, was going to fill up the passage above me and terminally prevent my egress, was telling me otherwise! I dropped into the watery slot, more reminiscent of a plug hole, and made an attempt to get into the 45 degree position.  Nooo! I was stuck!  Water was cascading over me and I was gradually wedging deeper into the slot.  Somehow I found the superhuman strength necessary to extricate myself and clamber back up into the tiny void above.  By then, Pauline had arrived and instantly sensed my distress. Rather than offering me the right advice (namely, ‘Ok, why don’t you go and wait in the car?’) she calmly suggested I try again, find a ledge for my feet, do the 45-degree thing with my body and aim for the wider bit in the slot.  Despite my self-pitiful thoughts and a serious need to stabilize my breathing again, I ventured once more into the plug hole.  It was no good.  I didn’t feel the panic this time but, even with a calm, rational consideration of the situation, while water cascaded over me and my chest gradually wedged deeper into the slot, I couldn’t execute the necessary moves. So I once again extricated my body from the constriction.
Thoughts were tumbling through my head about, ‘Missing an amazing trip’, ‘I’m wet already’, ‘Snoozing in a warm car’, ‘Getting the hell out of this crazy cave’, and ‘Who wants to be cave-fit anyway?’ when Pauline suggested I let Adam, ‘show me how he does it’.  Well! Really!  That wasn’t going to happen!  Its time I got serious about this little damp squeeze.  Once more I entered the slot but this time, combined with a 180 turn (don’t ask) I managed to wriggle through with only a few bruises and a shattered ego!
There was no time to repair my ego, we were moving again (still in tiny passages and lying in the water) and Pauline and Adam were following up fast.  The next obstacle, only a few metres further on, was introduced to me as, ‘Oh, you’re going through “Spare Rib” next’.  What did THAT mean??  It didn’t take long to discover that it meant I’d be needing spare ribs after passing through the next ridiculous constriction.  Actually, after the waterfall slot, this was almost trivial and I was elated to find myself in much higher passage where the only dangers were crashing to my death 20 feet below if I misjudged my foot placements.  Lovely. There followed a short climb down through the ‘Niagara Falls’ which was fun (either that or I was no fully anaesthetised to crazy situations by now) then we traversed a few more obstacles and a few puddles and pools that just about overtopped our wellies.  The first pitch came soon afterwards and this warranted a safety line and caving ladder to assist our passage.  By now we’d been caught up by a second group of 4 cavers (from Cardiff University).  Actually, I say 4 but there were only 3 of them.  They’d ‘lost’ one of their party and only discovered this as they were about to ‘play-through’ at our suggestion.  They rapidly reversed direction and went shouting back up the entrance series to find their fellow student.  The lost soul soon appeared (despite my worried premonition of her being stuck in the Waterfall and blocking our escape…) and they all overtook us on their way to dig in the Gerbil Run – good luck to them with that! We carried on with the cave now beginning to change in character.  It was starting to increase in size and very soon we were in a large chamber and signing the visitors book, some 40 minutes into our trip.  From here, the cave began to reveal why it is such a special place.  We clambered through massive passages, over monster boulders, past mud crystal formations as well as beautiful white calcite formations.  At one point we passed the Nunnery (very obvious how this got named) and then continued into chambers of ever increasing size. 

By now, it was clear that my light was nowhere near as luminous the newer LED models being sported the rest of our party.  This became very evident when the chambers we entered didn’t appear to have walls or ceilings when I shined my light around them.  Awesome! Connecting these spectacular passages and voids were a variety of tubes and tunnels. Some had solid mud floors and, with our wet oversuits soon became super-slippery.  This was fine for those of us that found some of these passages rather tight but periodically Pauline needed to resort to canal-boating techniques to walk herself through using the roof! After a couple of hours and an awesome clamber along Megadrive passage we arrived in the “Kitchen” where we found drinking water along with plastic bottles to use as cups.  From here we had a quick look into the First Rift Chamber and then turned around to head out.  Adam took the lead and navigated us back through the huge passages and tight connections until we re-joined the streamway back nearer the entrance series. Interestingly, the stream that ‘never gets affected by surface rain’ was now more like a running river.  What had been deep puddles when we entered a few hours before were now up to a metre deeper and we found ourselves wading, waist deep through mini-lakes and lugging heavy, water-filled wellies uphill. When we got back to the First Pitch the logic of hanging a ladder was validated.  Here the water was cascading over the 4-5 metre fall and proved to be a thoroughly wetting experience to climb back up.  We were now on the final stretch and I don’t know if anyone else was wondering what the waterfall slot would be like with this extra flow.  I’m guessing everyone wanted to be in front of me!  As it transpired, I had clearly lost a few calories during the last few hours and combined with the removal of my caving harness and liberal lubrication with large quantities of H2O, the reverse journey through Spare Rib and the Waterfall provided little to slow us down.  The final climb up through the scaffolding followed by the wriggle back to the entrance offered a wonderful opportunity to allow the ‘river’ to flow in through the neck of my oversuit and out somewhere lower down (!?).  Finally, we emerged at 4pm, thoroughly bedraggled and, speaking for myself, very tired. Of course, the weather outside hadn’t decided to take any pity on us and it was still blowing a gale with horizontal rain stinging our exposed faces.  Wearily we trudged back up the steep hillside and into the teeth of the storm where our cars were waiting for us.  Optimistically, when we had been changing earlier, we’d considered the possibility of slipping off our damp oversuits and leaping into the cars ready to drive home.  Typically, the mountain had had other ideas.  We were completely soaked through, top to toe and our club trip ended up with us getting changed in the full force of the storm.  Despite putting on dry cloths, Adam still hadn’t dried out despite a 75min drive home with the heater and de-humidifying aircon running full blast!
Overall this is a cave to be celebrated.  We’re told that it has over 74km of surveyed passages and just about everything a caver could ever want to find in the way of features, challenges, formations and opportunities to improve cave-fitness.  Thanks to Barry and Pauline for organizing a fabulous club trip, Adam for driving and everyone for having the patience to let me squeeze into this underground wonderland.  This was a trip I shall never forget, even when I’m fully fit (and thin) again.                   


Agen Allwedd

Posted by Pauline

This was originally supposed to be a traditional New Year trip into Craig y Ffynnon but the persistent rain over the last month made this dodgy and Aggy was suggested as an alternative,   The group assembled at the cattle grid.  With Paul, Grant and Adam Hartwright, Pauline and Barry Hill and Kingsley Hawkins we realised that HCC took on a whole new meaning.  Even Rae Hardy visited briefly to return some kit and introduce her new puppy, Daisy.  This meant that Jan was the odd one out being a Langmead!
We put this aside and got ourselves ready quickly in the rain for the slog up the hill.  We were all looking forward to getting into the nice warm and relatively dry cave.  Kingsley was going for a walk with Ben so he stayed on the lower path heading towards Eglwys Faen when we started to head straight up. Arriving at the gate we were quick to scrape a channel in the mud to drain the water that had pooled in front of it.  This was surprisingly effective and we were able to enter without having to lie in water at the start.  Barry completed the log and we peeled off our waterproofs, hanging them on various protruding rocks so that the corner took on the appearance of a cloakroom.
Progressing through the entrance series, it wasn’t long before we noticed bats.  Grant had to remind himself how to negotiate the canyon section, opting for the higher traverses while the rest of us slid through sideways beneath him. The first hint of excess water in this normally (relatively) dry cave was in the ducks.  Recently someone had dug a shallow trench along one side which drained them quite effectively but today they were back to their previous depth.  However we didn’t really take this on board until we passed the inlets of Stream Passage and Queer Street when we realised that there was a substantial amount of water flowing between the boulders.

The plan was to look at Paul’s dig in Draught Passage.  I hadn’t been there before and wasn’t exactly sure where to turn off.  I was right behind Jan as she disappeared down the corkscrew but there wasn’t even a hint of light or sound by the time I followed and got to the bottom.   It took me a couple of minutes to realise where they had disappeared to. Once reunited and being of smaller stature that any of the others, it wasn’t long before it was suggested that I check out a couple of leads.  The first was an ascending slot from where we had congregated to wait our turn to check out the dig.  Starting a metre off the ground I required a bit of assistance, mainly pushing my feet, to get in but once in I was able to move forwards for a couple of metres until it closed down.  The descent was a bit faster, especially as water had emptied out of my boots making the mud a bit slicker.  Then I headed down to the dig.  Here there was water flowing in from two directions which Paul hadn’t seen before.  Did this suggest that there was passage beyond?  The source of this flow is not known.
Returning to the stream-way the water was knee deep and difficult to avoid.  We continued towards Baron’s Chamber.  Popping out of the crawl through the boulders we turned right along the bedding plane where Paul had spotted a small passage heading back towards his dig.  “Pauline, can you check this out?.....”  A vertical 1m descent was easy to negotiate and there was just enough space for me to turn at the bottom.  This led to a flat out crawl with smallish boulders packed between with dry mud.  This continued for several metres until I had to squeeze through a narrower space and was looking into a small chamber, no more that 50cm high and approximately1.5m in diameter.  In the centre was a pillar of shattered rock, reminiscent of a miniature Shatter Pillar in OFD and no obvious way on or a draught.  I then had to reverse all the way to the bottom of the climb down.  Where I had thought I might be able to turn prior to that wasn’t quite big enough. Once I had extracted myself and reported back to Paul, we paused briefly in Baron’s Chamber.  Barry tried to get a group shot here and caused much hilarity as he slowly slid sideways down the slope.  Then we continued to Main Stream Passage to the junction with Meander Passage just to assess the amount of water flowing from each direction. We then started our return journey.  124 bats observed, I’m sure there were plenty more tucked away.  Outside the rain had stopped and there was even some sunshine on distant hills!  Kingsley met us at the vehicles having walked along the escarpment then driven over to Craig y Ffynnon and observed copious amounts of water flowing everywhere.  It was a good call to go to Aggy!