Fiona Hartley, James Perry, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Rebecca Diss, Úna Barker, Ana Teck, Matti Mitropoulos, Linus Thümmel, Rory Rose, Filip Novotny, Wendy Meng, Nancy Liu, Ciaran Dowds, Anahita Laverack, Tairan Wang, Jan Kozuszek, Vlad Catanea, Rosa Clements, Olaf (OUCC), Alex (OUCC)
All of us London humans piled into stores at 5pm and put most of our kit into Ciaran’s car. We then split into various groups to head to Bristol, Chipstead and Uxbridge to meet up with our wonderful drivers. There is still a painful lack of minibus. We all managed to arrive at the SWCC before midnight and met some of the Oxford humans.
This is not my finest trip report as it was written in front of the swcc fire on my phone. Made reasonable time to the swcc, arriving at 1145 having left at 7 by throwing fuel efficiency out of the window. Why do the highways people start closing all but one lane on motorways at 9pm Friday night? So inconsiderate for the late nighters.
(We have plenty of underground photos of this trip: some taken and edited by Tairan and Nancy, and some taken by Filip. Thank you!)
OFD I & Cwm Dwr: Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Linus Thümmel, Olaf (OUCC), Alex (OUCC)
It had been raining for a while, so we needed to head to dry caves. Three teams went to OFD II, while I ended up going to OFD I, and then Powell’s Cave, and then Cwm Dwr, with Diss, Linus, and two Oxford cavers, Olaf and Alex. We had packed cows tails in anticipation of doing high level OFD I to avoid water. We only had one key for the club but managed to coordinate OFD II access with Oxford.
Glorious sunshine made our walk to the cave very pleasant and provided some amazing views, but the walk down was very muddy and slippery as evidence of all the water that had recently fallen from the sky. We quickly made our way up the toast rack and to the step to look at the streamway. It was quite a lot higher than we had seen just two weeks ago and looked well churny. Despite its loud roaring we decided that it looked fine to keep going. I learned some route finding and after some crawling through various puddles we reached the wire traverse. [Route Finding Notes: 1) If you crawl through crystals on the floor, it’s the wrong way. 2) The way on from The Dugout (?) chamber is through the hole in the floor which had a small amount of flowing water. 3) The correct traverse is the one which goes to the left, but there are two traverse lines that go off to the right before the correct on is reached.] All our younger/novice cavers seemed to enjoy the traverse and we got some good views of the fast streamway below. Because we aren’t fully familiar with how OFD I responds to water, we decided to turn around at the bottom of Helter Skelter to get past any tight bits before it was predicted to rain again. We met some humans who were a little lost and Diss showed them the way on, but they seemed confident about the water levels being safe. Linus, Olaf, and Alex took turns leading the way out and we exited to sunshine and no sign of rain.
To go a bit crazy with our cave count, we decided to go into Powell’s cave (though of course it only counts once in a lifetime). The cave was short and spidery as expected. On the way back to the hut we got confused by a cow/bush, but it was not there anymore on Sunday, so we are pretty sure it was just a cow that loves standing on top of a hill. Back at the hut we changed our callout to Cwm Dwr.
The plan in Cwm Dwr was to have a look at the water level in the boulder choke and to look at the Mars bar wrapper at the top of the boulder choke. The entrance was exceptionally drippy, but all my yelping did not deter our freshers. Interestingly some humans had rigged the entrance with a rope. We made quick progress to the constriction, but the loud sound of water in the crawl was much louder than I had heard before. After a somewhat complicated consultation with Diss, for which she had to squeeze past everyone, we decided that it was safe to keep going. We made some excellent animal sounds and screeches in the large passage, just before running into a group of humans. The increased amount of water at the bottom of the steep slide created some excellent splashes and the climb out was entertaining as always. The boulder choke proved less wet than the crawl, so we decided to keep going to Big Shacks 2. Some excellent singing of Hallelujah and Country Roads ensued in the dark. We headed out and decided that we did not feel keen enough to also go to the top of the boulder choke. We had to wait a little while at the bottom of the entrance climb to wait for a human to SRT out.
We arrived back at the hut just in time for the pasta bake dinner to go into the oven and the kitchen smelled absolutely delicious. A few hours of pumpkin carving and face painting occurred. Then chaos ensued as Cambridge descended onto the hut and a competitive session of caving games occurred between us, Oxford, and Cambridge. I finally collapsed into bed after some successful squeeze machine (I won, because my head is tiny), pot and sling and a little table traverse I decided that sleep was necessary. I was very glad for the extra hour of sleep from the clocks changing.
OFD II: Fiona Hartley, James Wilson, Rory Rose, Filip Novotny, Wendy Meng, Jennifer R, Úna Barker, Ciaran Dowds, Anahita Laverack, James Perry, Matti Mitropoulos, Nancy Liu, Tairan Wang, Jan Kozuszek
An unknown phone alarm rang just below me at 7:30 in the morning rather loudly, and continued to ring for a good half-minute before Perry’s hand reached out from underneath my bed and turned it off.
‘Sorry’ a hushed whisper emitted from the sleeping bag.
At 8:30 my alarm woke me.
And I didn’t even stay conscious long enough to get out of bed.
At 9:15 I finally forced myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag.
‘What time do you call this?’ Fiona berated me in the kitchen.
A low grumble was all the reply I could muster.
Oxford’s people were already finishing off breakfast by the time I wandered in, maniacs, though that did solve the problem of having more people than seats. Breakfast was had, caves were chosen, cavers were chosen, and preparations began. As I had been too late to help cook I was first on dish duty, but was soon getting changed and checking batteries.
After the 2 rules of caving had been cemented into the fresher’s minds, I began leading my first OFD trip down the entrance chamber and surprised no one by immediately getting lost. Fortunately, all roads lead to gnome, and hence should have gnome that one is never truly lost in OFDII, as we presently emerged into Gnome Chamber.
Edward’s shortcut presented a problem – the climb down was looking quite difficult, but the traverse was looking even more difficult. I had a look to see if it was possible, but a brief exchange with Perry confirmed that it was not a good idea. We decided to do the route clockwise instead, reasoning that it would be easier to help freshers up the climb than down. Back through gnome passage, I completely missed the wedding cake by staring at the map for ages, and was guided towards salubrious streamway via the corkscrew by some friendly swcc members. Following it upstream led to some fun clambering and some straightforward traverses, but we hit a crossroads far sooner than I expected. I continued to lead on up through a climb where you loop back on yourself.
‘This looks a lot like corkscrew doesn’t it?’ Jan says.
I agreed with a laugh, still wondering which crossroads we had hit. Surely not The Crossroads?
‘I think the is the corkscrew.’
But so it was. I had gone the wrong way up the stream and we had done a loop and ended up back at salubrious streamway, and I had climbed back up the corkscrew without realising it. Embarrassing.
Never mind, back to the streamway. ‘We’re going back down!?’ Nancy was unimpressed.
Going the correct way this time (downstream), we marvelled at the Trident and Judge and jokingly sent the freshers down the offshoot muddy climb that dies after a flat out crawl. Through the crossroads, down to shattered pillar, and back up through Edward’s shortcut, the other way round this time.
I climbed over a large boulder blocking the way, and made sure Tairan got over safely, but Jan gave a yell of pain as he was halfway up – he had wedged his foot into a hold but slipped down, twisting his knee. I was too far ahead and unable to switch places with Tairan to help, but fortunately Perry was right behind him, and so able to control the situation, first making sure that he wasn’t seriously injured (he could still move it and put weight on it, even if painful), and then getting him to rest to let the adrenaline die down, to check how much pain he’s actually in. Once everyone had calmed, Jan said he was ok to carry on, so he began to climb over the boulder again, commenting that it looked like it was possible to squeeze around the side of it instead. After a few attempts, with some help from Perry’s shoulder and my hand, he managed to haul himself over. And it turned out you could just squeeze around the side – sorry Jan.
Then came the climb we had deemed not suitable to climb down. I climbed up first to give Nancy and Tairan a hand up. Jan couldn’t put much weight on his knee so was relying a lot on his other limbs and Perry’s shoulder to push him up. After several unsuccessful painful attempts, a combination of Perry’s squatting power, my hand grip, and Jan’s elbow shuffling managed to get him up the climb. After brief celebration Perry climbed up too, and we headed out.
Many lessons were learned – Route finding, fresher leading, dealing with difficult situations such as injuries. The trip definitely upped my experience level closer to first leader.
Many caving games were played in the evening. Cambridge were staying at the Croydon but came over to join in. Pumpkin carving occurred, and my bat got slagged off by everyone. It was called a fox, a spider, an owl, a cat… awful. Given how much effort I put in, it was quite terrible. Squeeze machine followed – I didn’t join in until a later round, which resulted in some excruciating bruises on my hips from the one and only round I joined in for. Ana was crowned overall champion, beating Úna and Ibrahim (Cambridge) through sheer head-narrowness. Pot and sling followed, where Perry and I tried our very best, but were ultimately beaten by smaller humans. Harry (Cambridge) and partner did showcase an insane technique where the vine does a handstand and hooks their legs around the tree’s shoulders. While very cool, it was deemed to be not very effective – the sling must pass over both hips simultaneously – and also quite dangerous – two weeks ago Harry got a concussion doing it. They did manage it for one round though.
Table traverse – widthways most managed, and lengthways Ciaran raced against Rory. 12.7 seconds, I believe, extremely impressive. They also managed it backwards, going feet first and pulling their legs up on the other side by pure arm strength. Non-competitive human traverse, and finally the cardboard box game finished off the evening. I chatted to Perry, Nancy and Tairan about the trip before going on a final walk. The swcc is unfortunately not as nice as the Croydon for evening walks – the many potholes filled with muddy water were difficult to navigate in the dark, resulting in a very wet left shoe.
I wanted to go to Cwm Dwr but it was clear it was not really a goer. Every cave other than ofd2 was dubious given the pissing rain in the days before. James offered to lead an anticlockwise round trip in Ofd2. I know little of top entrance as I keep not caving in it so I went with James.
With our crack freshers Wendy and Filip we were underground just after midday, ensuring the trip wouldn't be cursed. We started off by immediately wandering into some stuff off the main way to gnome passage that included the climb to the bedding Chambers and Shale Chamber. We connected into Gnome and headed to Edwards Shortcut. Both Wendy and I sat on Rory to help us down the slippery climb. I complained four times about the fact that this climb even exists without aids. I have no memory of a traverse following but perhaps one does.
I recognised frozen river, which is really very pleasant and pretty. Backed up towards the way on, and found Jennifer and Una's group coming the clockwise way - they had done very well as Jennifer's route finding was flawless and the freshers were very crack. I remarked how Ed's Shortcut could do with a ladder similar to the one bolted beside the crystal pool.
We passed the Shattered Pillar (again I recognised but no real concept of how we got there, the survey is… iffy and as we all know the only way to know ofd is to go a lot) and somehow ended up at the bottom of Salubrious stream. We had a snack at the Trident, went to look at the Nave, and then searched for a sandy crawl that James thought went to a point at which one could look over the main stream. We found both of these things in the end, though they are not the same. A sandy low crawl lead to lots of dust and connected back to Salubrious via unsurveyed passage (we had the old survey, not the most updated one). So we looped around to Trident again. We investigated the other turning at the Trident to its end (which is another low sandy crawl at the top of an interesting striated mud wall), then went to Swamp Creek.
I'm not sure what water levels are normally like here but going downstream was usually knee deep and quite loud, splashy and fun. It terminates in a big old waterfall plunging down into the void, a pitch that wouldn't be out of place in Yorkshire (and would not be recommended in high water!). This was my favourite part of the trip.
We headed out to the entrance steadily and proceeded to take a left turn too soon back into Shale Chamber. It's very easy to have no idea where you are even when you were just in this section of cave mere hours before. Describing ofd as a maze doesn't really do justice to the feeling of it. Rory scouted the way back to the main drag and we came out after five and half hours to a lovely yellow sunset.
Back at the hut Jennifer and Una had mostly made dinner, thank you. The other groups filtered in over the next couple of hours and then we settled in for an evening of combined partying. I ducked out for a couple of hours. It was really nice to see everyone having a good time nonetheless. In the end Imperial were overwhelmingly triumphant at pumpkin carving. I also witnessed many rounds of pot and sling before heading to bed.
OFD II: Fiona Hartley, Jennifer R, Filip Novotny, Vlad Catanea, James Wilson, Linus Thümmel, Rosa Clements, Rebecca Diss, Ana Teck, Nancy Liu, Tairan Wang, Matti Mitropoulos, Rory Rose, Ciaran Dowds, Anahita Laverack
Rory was exceptionally keen to go caving and was sorting out groups before I had even grabbed any breakfast. Because I wanted to relearn route finding in OFD II, my plan was to have a chill trip to The Judge and Trident with Diss. In the end, after much chaos, Nancy and Tairan came with us. Everyone ended up in OFD II due to the forecast rain warning. Some briefly torrential rain probably made the walk to the cave quite unpleasant for some people, but we were smart enough to wait for a dry gap.
We easily found out way to the boulder chamber and also the way on via the short traverse. Some chaos ensued at the next junctions that led us to go in a mini circle and then to Arete Chamber. The stream there looked really pretty so we attempted to take photos with a disposable camera I had brought (in a small BDH cushioned by buffs). We will have no idea how any of the photos turned out until I get them developed, how strange. We then found the way on into gnome chamber and past the wedding cake, which I think looks more like a Jellyfish. For some inexplicable reason I was convinced that the Corkscrew was on the right hand side of the chamber, but it is just the really obvious slope on the left. With Diss and me guarding the slightly scarier bits of the climb, we all made it down fairly easily, though I did establish that I cannot fit through the little triangle hole with an SRT bag on my hip. We briefly wondered where the little squeeze below the Corkscrew goes but chose the correct way on. Salubrious Passage is great fun and the water levels were not any different to how I remember them from 2 years ago. I managed to keep my feet mostly dry, except for a little hole in my left wellie, but Diss successfully dunked her foot in a shallow part after traversing over a deeper section. We managed to make it to Trident just as we reached our turn-around time. A wild Matti appeared. We started to walk back upstream while the other humans had a poke down some hole. We sadly did not make it to the 30m waterfall into the main streamway this time. The way out was quick and easy with Tairan and Nancy leading some of the way. We even managed to walk a slightly different route back from the Big Chamber Near The Entrance. Outside we were met by brief sunshine and then immediately strong winds, hail, and rain. We did some more or less elegant surfing down the path and saw some adorable sheep. Back at the hut pure chaos packing occurred, which briefly resulted in the disappearance of Fiona’s helmet and many lone knee pads. I escaped the final chaos as Diss needed to leave early-ish to get back to Norwich. I left my novices on the Piccadilly Line to walk down a creepy dark country lane to the Central Line and made it home at a very civilised time to write this trip report.
Jennifer and I were first ones up after a surprisingly peaceful night, despite the lashing rain starting up again. Jennifer did eggy bread which is apparently her normal role. I did mushrooms - they take ages to chop and yet there are still never enough. Somehow for the second day in a row Perry was next up and grilled bacon. The humans had varying responses to being summoned for breakfast at half past 9: "what time is it", "oh fuck", "clock change shit", "it's too early" and, "oh god".
The palaver of assigning people to caving was undertaken by Rory and Matti. Cwm Dwr was still probably not viable which was disappointing again but, as ever, ah well. For some reason the idea of the Columns came to my head and we decided to recce the way beyond big chamber to the Columns gate, using some casual comments from morning conversations with swcc people and memories of the big coloured survey (because when Jennifer looked for the survey section we needed, it obviously wasn't there).
I nipped to the nearby Spar in Ynyswen and when i returned to the hut the rain really started lashing down. These spells of heavy rain continued through the day. Some faff with freshers dropping out of caving and being swapped occurred and then our crack team of me, Jennifer, Filip and Vlad from OUCC was heading up to Ofd2, mostly not being rained on.
We started with Big Chamber Near The Entrance (where I had not ever been!) which is immediately off all the old surveys. The small coloured section of survey barely went beyond big chamber. We went up what seemed like the way (middle passage) and came to a climb down a hole. I did a faintly concerning unprotected traverse to look at what looked like the way on above the hole. Of course it turned out to be an alcove, or maybe I'm blind.
Down the free climb we followed the clear continuation until Jennifer gardened (you can take the girl out of Slov but you can't take Slov out of the girl) a big rock into the only way on she could see. We went back to big chamber and tried to find the other route going in the columns direction. Up here was quite a reasonable area of ofd, slightly different in character to the boulder hopping of yore - more rounded tunnels with darker ceilings and white mineral lines. Still plenty of sticky mud and maze loops to investigate one by one.
We did find an interesting window looking down at a junction with tape. I went back to look upwards for the window, thinking it would be easy to see the others, but it doesn't overlook anywhere we'd already been. After a bit we abandoned this and spent a small amount of time in a boulder choke, which my body thought was far more than enough time to spend in a boulder choke. I didn't know I didn't want to be doing full body boulder choke caving until I was already doing it though.
Filip was still keen though my enthusiasm was lagging so on our return to big chamber we gave him the survey and told him to lead us somewhere. We ended up at a chamber containing water running attractively over a large flowstone slope. The water then falls over the edge of a pitch.
Retracing our steps Jennifer recognised how to put us on the main way out, which was very polished, to the point of unpleasantness in my opinion. Pretty sure we didn't go that way the day before. We stopped off once more in big chamber near the entrance and then popped out. It poured on us on the way back down to the cottages, but only horizontally and in one direction, so only our fronts got wet. The weather continued to be vile on and off through the rest of the afternoon.
Brief drama occurred when Ana alerted me to the fact some of my personal stuff had been cleared up by well-meaning tidiers, including my helmet. I became pretty snappy and stressed by the idea of losing my light to a London bound vehicle. Fortunately Matti found it in one of the kit bags. Tranquility mostly restored, I hugged Ana apologetically, and the student clubs soon headed off. Their carved pumpkins live to grin ghoulishly at visitors to the swcc for another week (as long as they survive being drowned by heavy downpours).