Adam, Arun Paul, Constantinos Lordos, Dave Kirkpatrick, David Wilson, Ho Yan Jin, Jack Halliday, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Rebecca Diss, Úna Barker, Solomon Roach, Ana Teck, Xanthe Hatchwell, William Kerley, Rush, Gionieva Fraser, Charles, Carl Hentges, Andreas Revorta
This weekend was set up to be a bit manic – we had the usual 9 freshers plus two new people from KCL as well as three extras who weren’t in the minibus. Due to some interesting occurrences on the union shop, we had one more person than expected so I ended up being upgraded to the Dubz-mobile meaning I missed out on the hectic Friday packing of the minibus. I left stores just before 5 to make a mad dash to Waterloo where I was to meet Davey and the other car crew members (Yan Jin and Carl). There was some running for trains after Clapham Junction and some confusing logistics where we had to attempt to overtake a train we’d missed and we eventually made it to Chipstead where the non-London air immediately triggered the need for inhaler usage. Damn trees. We arrived at the Dubz household and were immediately given biscuits and chillies. The driving part of the journey was largely uneventful although I did manage to not pee for the whole time (unprecedented!) and we decided that Yan Jin and Davey do not make a good navigator-driver combo.
The minibus beat us to the Croydon hut which is in the middle of a tiny village/town and has no phone signal. The bunk room is great fun and the kitchen is peculiar. I somehow don’t remember if we did anything interesting this evening despite not drinking any alcohol. Curious.
The plan was for David, Carl, Diss and I to travel from Waterloo to David’s home in Surrey, get his family car and drive up to Wales. But, Carl was late so we had to run for the connecting trains to catch up with the train we missed previously. The journey was mostly smooth, except that David’s awful at reading road signs and I’m awful at reading google maps instructions so there were some dangerous swerving and shouting. We reached the Croydon cottage at around midnight. It was small but cozy and had a very tight stairway up to the bunks.
Porth Yr Ogof: Dave Kirkpatrick, Rebecca Diss
As there were so many of us on the trip (which was awesome, btw) the OFD permits we had weren’t enough for us all. Two people would have to go caving somewhere else and based on what everyone wanted to do, DKP and I were said two (he’s done OFD2 a bunch of times and I strongly dislike a lot of it). Everyone seemed happy with their groups so all was well. We weren’t sure if there would be someone to give us keys later in the morning so Dave and I went to the SWCC to pick them up before 10. The duty warden was young and very nice. We went back to the hut for food and faff and then all headed back to the SWCC car park to change. Pretty much all the groups did the same usual trip but were staggered/in opposite directions.
Dave and I planned to do a few things: have me practice driving, have a look around and see if we can find Powell’s Cave and then go to Porth yr Ogof so we could pretend we were real cavers. As the others left for OFD we bumped into Issy from Cardiff who asked us to join one of their trips as they didn’t have enough leaders. Damn, maybe we’d end up real caving after all. We got kitted up and were ready to go until we realised that the two helmets we had (not our own as we’d donated these to the OFD trippers) didn’t have working lights. Ah. Welp, almost went proper caving. We had a brief interaction with a dog and then attempted to find Powell’s Cave with little success. Eh. Driving time it was then. The last thing I drove was an automatic (two years ago) and so I kinda forgot what a clutch was. No crashes occurred though so it was probably a success. I also didn’t have any good shoes so I just drove in wet socks. I’m sure this is normal.
After a quick stop at the SPAR we drove to Porth yr Ogof, the parking at which was free because we didn’t have any change and a guy said it was fine. The cave entrance is big and wet. Some through trips occurred and I got spooked out by the many dead trees lying about the place. Also too many spiders for my liking. On the way out I jumped into an exceedingly cold pool because why the hell not and got fully soaked (head under and everything). Dave then followed to rescue a scout welly which will live on forever in stores. We were likely judged by several passers by and we went back to the car to change, with the knowledge that neither of us had a towel.
Back to the hut to get started on chilli cooking. After being in the hut for a bit I realised I couldn’t find my wet merino pants (travesty) so Dave gave me his car keys, saying “be careful, don’t break the key off in the door” (he had previously mentioned that the metal was very worn away and he should really get a new one soon before it breaks). I of course was exceedingly careful, and the key naturally broke off in the door as I was trying to lock it, after finding my pants on the back seat. I was shocked when the car alarm started and promptly sprinted away, likely looking like an attempted thief to all the other car park dwellers. Dave then spent the best part of 1.5 hours on the pay phone to the AA. During this time I prepped veg for cooking and was rudely interrupted by an out of breath Dave who asked if I had a card with £200 on it (yes). It appears his card was rejected when attempting to pay for the AA to come and save him and so I ran back to the phone box with him and paid with mine. Some time later an apparently very nice AA guy came and broke Dave’s car so he could drive it home on Sunday.
This car issue meant we were unable to go back to the SWCC to check the cavers were ok but they eventually appeared, all intact. Chilli was eaten and far too much rice was cooked as always. We eventually moved onto caving games – the first of which was pot and sling which went on for a considerable time with no actual winners. The ICCC squeeze machine was christened and many bruises occurred.
OFD Group 1: Adam, James Wilson, Jennifer R, Solomon Roach, William Kerley, Gionieva Fraser
OFD Group A: Arun Paul, Ho Yan Jin, Úna Barker, Xanthe Hatchwell, Charles, Andreas Revorta
I went down OFD 2 with Arun, Una, Charles, Xanthe and Andreas. As somewhat of a senior, I had to look somewhat competent and unafraid, despite not having been to any of the caves in Wales and hearing about scary traverses from Diss. A complicated cave system with many side passages, it took us an hour to find Gnome passage when it should have taken around 15 minutes. Most of the cave was big (the smallest bit was a short baby crawl), had boulders to climb over and was very pleasant and dry. There was one very dodgy traverse with at least a 2m drop that involved putting your hands on one side, feet on the other and shuffling across. Una was vertically challenged and ended up using her bum instead of her hands (it was terrifying to watch). Charles seemed to enjoy the cave quite a lot and was keen to explore side passages. Xanthe was quite keen on navigating. Most of the passages were a blur to me, but I remembered the pretty crystals at Frozen River and meeting Cardiff, Redding and SWCC (?) at some point.
The night was spent playing a lot of caving games – Pot and sling, human traverse, chair traverse, the squeeze machine and cardboard for the few of us who were still awake. I did Pot and Sling with Carl and basically gave up because it was not worth the pain and effort. I dropped Arun while attempting a human traverse (sorry Arun). It was funny watching James and DPK try very hard at the squeeze machine while Una just slips it through it.
OFD Group Alpha: Adam, Arun Paul, Constantinos Lordos, Xanthe Hatchwell, Carl Hentges
OFD Group Omega: James Wilson, Rebecca Diss, Solomon Roach
The usual morning ritual happened – sadly with humans getting up before 9 to cook breakfast (horrific). Jimmy and Jack went to collect keys for the trips we had planned in the OFD area – OFD1, OFD2 and Cwm Dwr. Davey was also leading a trip down Ogof Fechan which was shockingly popular despite how grim he made it sound. Breakfast was eaten, featuring an eggy crumpet (pretty tasty) and a severe lack of mushrooms – two packs should definitely be purchased for future breakfasts. Faff faff faff.
We eventually arrived back at the SWCC car park and got ready for cave-ification. I was to go down OFD1 with Jimmy and Solomon. The survey was nice and we didn’t get lost at all. The walk down was interesting as I wasn’t entirely sure where it was but Jennifer’s directions eventually made sense and we appeared at the entrance to the cave, where another group were preparing to get in. There are three fixed ladders to get down to the main passage. From there it’s pretty much all easy walking with some pools and nice formations until you reach the Toast rack (I think) where you climb another fixed ladder over a nice bit of flowstone. More walking passage and you can drop down into the streamway at a place featuring The Step which is used to gauge whether or not the water level is dangerously high (it was not). We wondered up stream, which featured some fun poles over deep pools which are surprisingly easy to walk on but make you feel like you’re a skilled tight-rope walker. We turned right at a fork and quite quickly met The Sump, which made us realise we had moved way further on the survey than it seemed. Then continuing upstream we reached a ladder and rope which Jimmy went up and swiftly back down again. Eventually we reached the boulder chamber which totally looks like a dead end until you look to the side and see there’s a small way through. There’s also an impressively large seesaw rock here which lead to some entertainment and large banging sounds. The way on also leads to another sump which could have been in the Shrimp Series (possibly the completely wrong name but I can’t quite be bothered to look at the survey to check) but we weren’t sure as we’d not been there before. We then turned back and came out a slightly different way through a short crawl that brought us out at the Toast Rack. A cheeky look at another sump on the way out and we were back at the bus by 3pm. A short but sweet trip – I’d definitely like to have more of an explore in OFD1 in future. There’s a sincere lack of scary ropeless traverses which wins points from me.
We somehow all managed to be out of the cave around our agreed time and were on our way back to the Croydon hut by 4pm. So efficient! Copious amounts of egg fried rice were eaten along with fried eggs, brie and crumpets. There was a brief gas alarm (terrifying) and we evacuated but it quickly stopped, and we deemed the place safe to enter once more. There was the usual manic frenzy of humans packing things away and we had an interesting time switching off all the things.
Back in London at a respectable time after me almost wetting myself and having to stress this to a petrol station cashier in order to get access to a previously out of order toilet. Note to self: coffee on bus is a bad idea.
All in all a good trip with no terrible fuck ups (that we know of) despite the lack of real adults present!
Ogof Fechan: David Wilson, Ho Yan Jin, Ana Teck, Rush, Charles
In the morning, Diss tumbled down the dodgy stairs and ended up with a cut on her knee. We looked through the hut’s first aid kit and was horrified/amused by how things expired decades ago (something like 1980s). I’ve been convinced by David that Ogof Fechan was a fun enough cave to try so I went along. He also did a great job of convincing freshers that crawling, water and a duck would be exciting and ended up having to reject one because we had too many people. We drove up to the farm and were circled by 5-10 dogs as we got out of the car. When we found the owner, David politely asked, “mind if we visit your cave?” and she let us park there as well (“Well if she didn’t let us, I’d have written a bad review on UK caving”). We got changed as a disapproving cow, a few piglets and cats looked at us. The entrance had a mildly unpleasant but doable squeezes, which eventually lead to dry crawling and then wet crawling. Charles had an interesting way of belly crawling that kicked a lot of water around, so I kept my distance from him. The fun bit of the wet crawling was when the water level was high enough to have some buoyancy that allows you to float through. The duck was also fun (for most of us) – Charles floated along, couldn’t get through to the other side and started panicking and rolling over. David then went across to get him out, and in the process somehow managed to rip the bum of his oversuit. It took us 4 hours and was a pleasant but long Sunday cave. We had sporting freshers (Ana, Rosh and Charles) who were very keen and went along fast. Charles also commented on how Fechan was “proper caving” and what he expected caving to be, and that OFD2 had “too much walking and space”.