Arun Paul, Ben Honan, Fiona Hartley, Jack Hare, James Perry, Kelvin Choi, Kenneth Tan, Rhys Tyers, Tanguy Racine, Will Scott, William French
Everyone looked grimmer than usual on the morning, no doubt due to the prolonged Friday evening a trip to Wales enables. Only Will Scott accepted the offer to go caving in Daren Cilau. The daunting entrance crawl was probably compensated by the promise of large passages and pretty formations that lay beyond. For me, the alluring Time machine we had failed to reach two years ago called. Caving as a pair turned to be very enjoyable, being generally faster moving, especially through the arduous sections, with very limited waiting time before and after the obstacles.
We left Whitewalls cottage at 10:30am, in search for the entrance. The description jogged my memory, and after locating Ogof Pen Eryr, it was easy to find Daren the next entrance north, with its triangular opening, the brown puddle, and the cobbles. I dived in first, with Will hot on my heels. Very quickly, we passed the Vice, and started counting the numbers on the relay boxes. Whilst some sections of sideways crawl in deep pools of water were objectively unpleasant, (and there were many) other sections would hardly qualify as a crawl, being stooping passage, especially towards the end. As the passage fills with calcited ramps and squeezes, one knows the end is nigh.
We popped out into the walking passage and made our way towards the Big Chamber Nowhere near the entrance. This was found after the long walk of Jigsaw Passage. At the Chamber, I raced up the boulder choke, towards the right where the passage opens up. Twenty metres on, a massive muddy boulder slope partially fills the chamber from the right. At the top, two ways beckon, taking the left (Eglwys passage) led us to the very roof of the cave. At this point, the calcite gives way to rippled sandstone, and further up a muddy layer, a deep blue over yellow. The smooth stooping passages led to an inconspicuous squeeze on the right, followed by a short drop and then a climb that emerged at the top of Valentine’s chamber.
We found the way on at the lowermost part of the chamber, through well-polished boulders. The passage then became lofty (twenty metres), and broad (5 metres). Not far into this passage, we reached a water refill spot followed by the White climb ladder. A new lifeline h ad been installed recently, so I showed Will how to belay me from the bottom. I then went up and belayed him when he followed. Again, we were at the shale structural level. Easy going along the dry silent passages saw us reach a short roped climb, then a traverse and two further down climbs to reach the base of the large passages again, with a small stream running through the boulders.
Downstream, the Time machine awaited us. We ate lunch at the start of the largest passage in the UK. A series of orange reflectors guided our way like little wildfires. A helpful arrow guided us to the start of the Bonsai streamway. A series of helictites and white stalactites started adorning the left hand side of the streamway. After the Bonsai (couple of inches high, but arguably one in a forest), a stream joined in from the left, which we identified as Crystal Inlet. Soon after the road sign ‘Hard Rock Café ‘ we stopped and decided to turn around. I took this opportunity to photograph some of the exquisite formations found on the left hand wall of the streamway.
The way back to Big Chamber Nowhere Near the Entrance was uneventful. From our turnaround point to the start of the roped climbs took only twenty minutes. Another forty were needed to pass the 1985 extensions, a true rabbit warren back to BCNNTE. There we had a dinner stop, before considering our options, given the amount of time remaining before our ETA. With some of the pretties so near, we decided to dump our bags and storm through Epocalypse Way. From the BCNNTE, a flat out crawl over the top of boulders to the left led to a dry, spacious walking passage. Towards the bottom a large 3-4 metre wide alluvial notch could be seen, and higher up large scallops up to 40cm long, a testimony of the old, lazy stream that once snaked its way here. Tapes and reflectors guided us to the White Company first, a series of gnarled stalagmites and helictites of a pure white calcite, with translucent blades of aragonite growing outward. Further on, a roped climb led to Urchin Oxbow, the start of a small round trip to and from Epocalypse Way. This hosted the fine ‘urchins’ of the same aragonite blades. In Epocalypse, we spotted the Pagoda, and at the very start of Antler passage, the famed Antlers.
After this tourist trip, we headed back out of the cave at a steady space, passing Jigsaw, the breakthrough choke, and then the start of the crawl. The last of the water went, we equilibrated our bags and headed forth into the first calcite squeeze. Counting down the numbers, past the unpleasant pools, past the two inlets, past a sign indicating ‘Caution Runners’ and then, earlier than I imagined, the Vice. One left, one right and a last left turn. We started singing ‘on the surface once again’ to complete the last section of the crawl, and very soon we glimpsed the entrance puddle, the light of the sun.
We emerged in the shadow the Llangatock escarpment, but the sun still inundated the valley in front. After nearly nine hours caving, Will and I were fittingly knackered, but for me this brought much needed closure after our previous attempt. I now know more of Daren than just the mud and boulder strewn grey-brown passages many easier caves offer. After the crawl, it is generally a big cave and easy enough for the proficient caver, provided the group is small. I will go back there to see more.
After the usual fry-up, we made the caving plans for the day. This resulted in a group of five (Rhys, Kelvin, Ben, Perry and I) going to Aggie for another ‘crack’ reconnaissance trip to Turkey streamway. We made our way to Mudrose chamber easily enough and climbed down the ropes to join the main stream. This was boulder strewn for a while, until after a climb up and down a boulder choke, we reached an easygoing section of stream. Stomping down the stream we somehow managed to miss Northwest Junction where Turkey streamway and Mainstream passage join up and take a SE course through the mountain.
Only when Rhys and I noticed we were actually going upstream did we call to a stop to let the others know the Junction could be easily missed. In fact I’d made that mistake during my first ever caving trip to same cave, only to realise this when the stream got deeper and more powerful. We decided to carry on upstream and explore as much as we could. Soon, a large junction was reached (Coal Cellar) with Turkey streamway coming from the left. We continued passed a large precariously wedged boulder to a nipple deep pool and further on some lovely phreatic passage. This ended in a climb up through boulders to Turkey Chamber. A climb to the top, and back down the other side led back into the streamway which we followed for another 100m, until a passage on the right appeared. This was part of the route leading to the Outer Circle.
Leaving the stream took us to the Sand Caverns, a high inclined rift. On the right hand wall, by a sandbank the low entrance to Selenite Needle Passage beckoned. This was mostly stooping or crawling dry passage, up until a flat out squeeze, which heralded the start of a dry, walkable abandoned streamway. After a few meanders a stream joined on the left. The passage widened, and boulders started littering the floor. At the junction with Central Avenue on the left, we spotted a pair of ammo-tins, and carried onto Eastern Avenue to a large oxbow right by another junction. To the right, downstream was the beginning of Midsummer passage. We took this option; now holding a SE course parallel to Turkey streamway until a series of boulder chokes disoriented us. We couldn’t find the start of Coal cellar streamway in time to complete the Outer Circle and decided to turn back then. We had been very far in the cave and seen some of the parts rarely visited during Fresher trips and there was more still to do in the system.
The stoops and crawls taxed our energy on the way back, and it was with relief that we approached Baron’s Chamber and the entrance series. Out in the sunshine, I double-marched the way back to the hut to let the other group know we were all out, and after a quick wash we started cooking some egg fried rice. After the meal, the minibus was loaded and the journey back to London began.
Eglwys Faen: Arun Paul, Fiona Hartley, William French
As I'd been physically unable to move without my insides trying to go outsides for most of Saturday, I wanted to go underground. The consensus of those who weren't cracked (me, Will and Arun) was to go to Eglwys Faen, because I knew where it was.
So we jollied along and spent a couple of hours getting muddy as we explored the cave and pondered whether the squiggles on the wall really did read 1692 or were just intriguingly smudged. We nipped in and out of all of the entrances, including the wet one under the waterfall. I remain unwilling to do the aven, however, despite watching people climb it several times. Too dodgy for me.
The cave's innermost depths still elude us, as we didn't fancy the bailable sump or the bit at the top of the fixed ladder that looks a bit grim for a Sunday. One day, though!