After a wild goose chase through the Union for new minibus keys, we set off from the Beit Quad at 8:30pm , leaving Ben at the bar with a few beers and Rhys at A&E with a few stitches. We arrived at the CSS hut at around midnight. A good chess game followed before we all headed off to bed. We had received news from Rhys at that point, and quite confident that he would be around on the morrow decided the ominous start of this trip was over.
On the morning however, a curious sight awaited Jack, Sally, Giulio and I as seven ducklings came quacking at us, and started nibbling at nettles, grass and polyethylene shoes. It was their first Big Day Out, it would be our first Big Day In ( that is if we managed to find the HRC camp in Darren). They were leaderless ( until a fluffy white dog arrived ), and so were we ( until Rhys/Clewin arrived ). The ominous start wasn't over after all.
At midday after much and more faffing, eating, greeting, darren drum filling, faffing, packing, waiting and faffing we set off to Ogof Darren Cillau and its renowned entrance series. Turning after the Hawthorne Tree on a crude path and heading towards the Quarry Face, we found the entrance below ground level. A strong cool draught came through, water had pooled there and we KNEW it would be a long unpleasant crawl ( even if Grades aren't meaningful, a 5+ is bound to hint at some degree of difficulty ).
We abandoned daylight and crawled. And crawled. But I enjoyed it. The way in seemed much dryer than the way out. I am gladdened by the fact than everyone of us passed this fitness test with flying colours. Next time we'll be timing it and Rhys will take part. That is my view however, bruises on countless legs testify that the crawl was exhausting rather than exhilarating.
Having passed the entrance series we walked down Jigsaw passage, wriggled past the Wriggle and reached the main chamber. The camp was still hours away and the first route finding troubles appeared when we took the Loop Route, which unsurprisingly is a loop. A search began for the way on with hopes of an easy passage to Hard Rock Café waning as time flew by. Upon the fifth hour, no further progress was made and a consensus was reached: we would go back through the afore mentioned crawl instead of spending precious minutes in a futile attempt to find a way on. But before that we would have some tea.
That's when we realised we hadn't packed any pans. Not that it mattered much because HRC had lots. So we returned outside by way of Entrance Series after breaking fast on meat, cheese and gritty water in Big Chamber Not Near the Entrance. Thrutching our way out, we were reborn in freshwater and muddy lime. The gentle breeze outside was warm with the fragrance of freshly cut nettles, the sun setting over the hills.
Another consensus was reached, never go back. Well, William said he'd probably do it. I might be swayed. But it deserves a 5+ grade.
Saturday morning started with a blue sky, a beautiful view and a mob of ducklings. John, the hut owner, took great amusement in how entertained we were by the ducklings, and despite those of us who were awake squealing about just how cute they were the others remained resolutely in bed for another hour or two. We set off to Agen Allwedd at around midday along a path overlooking the valley. With such good weather and such a nice view, it was almost a shame to go underground.
It only took a few minutes for me to remember what caving was and how much I enjoyed it. The cave was very pleasant; a minimal amount of crawling and squeezes and quite a lot of boulder hopping. John kept us entertained with amusing anecdotes and retelling his near-death experiences. He also showed us tiny insects and a place to lap up water from the cave floor. When we reached Keyhole Chamber, and after a luxurious lunch of hummus filled pitas and satsumas, he taught us how to use his surveying equipment. For the most part, Fiona had the task of finding suitable places to use as survey stations and marking them with tipp-ex and I had fun firing a (very clever) red laser in all directions. When it got to a wet part though, I handed Fiona the laser and she kindly took a dip into the water and made the measurements, while I climbed over the high dry route. A little later I got the laser back and kept firing it upwards to find the highest ceiling. 12m was about as good as it got. To be honest, I probably wasn’t the most helpful surveying assistant for John, but we did manage to cover most of Keyhole Chamber and the stream way beneath it.
After about four hours of surveying both Fiona and I were shivering, so it was nice to get moving again and head back. When we reached the main stream passage, we stopped at a very narrow unsurveyed passage. John was excited at the prospect of this joining up with another part of the cave, and because it was too tight for him, I thought I would give it a try. Every time I saw a bend, I hoped that after it the passage would widen. It did widen slightly for a little while and I climbed up over some boulders and then it went back to being incredibly tight. I felt like a proper explorer and I was very aware of the fact that neither John nor Fiona could reach me. At some point I had to stop and go back. It was too tight. So my only discovery was that the tight passage remained a tight passage at least for a while, which could have been more exciting! Fiona led us back to the entrance and we got out of the cave just before sunset.
On the morrow, all but Sally and I remained with enough commitment to go caving again. Exploring Elgwys Faen for 1h30, checking all entries and exits, a very enjoyable Sunday trip for both, breaking the chimney exit when I was held in check last time I attempted it. Back at the CSS hut, we found out our colleagues had been helping themselves to a few pints at a nearby pub, and swum in a swift river down the valley.
Time to go home, after a truly knackering trip.