Just three of us - how could we possibly Faff? Well, never fear - this time we were helped by the newly reactivated quarry. Excited by the prospect of seven tons of explosive going off we waited at eleven... to have it put back to Noon... and waited till Noon, to have it put back to one... Finally accepting that it was never going to happen, we went caving.
What a lovely little end of the system! Anne very kindly drove we be-wellied indviduals down to the layby, and Ian led us straight around someone's garden to the cave entrance. Upon opening the mighty door, an gale sprang forth - strange to think of all that air dropping down inside the hill and then coming blasting out at the bottom! Finally underground, and just before one. Early part of the cave is very strange - odd pools of concrete and half rusted railings, from an abortive attempt at making a show cave.
The streamway itself was lovely - extremely low water levels so all was peace and tranquility. The scaffolding pole traverses were brilliant - surreal to look ahead in the passage and see someone gently walking across water! Storming chase to where the Waterfall trickled in. Anne and myself climbed direct, Joe & Ian went for the boulder clamber then traverse - on an extremely stout stainless wire.
Away from the smash of the water, we entered an old high-level region. First off was to visit the crystal chamber, a few shots snapped of the sights on the way. And it truly was a beaut! A nice chamber in its own right, one enters via a few slippey climbs in a tight-ish rift. One clambers over a cone of rubble to approach a calcite shelf. Its only when you actually vault (carefully!) onto this plinth that you see the true beauties.
One of the best crystal pools I've ever seen, shimmering cuboids of all sizes reaching up into the sky, almost pure white to neon orange. My shitty digital camera certainly couldn't do it justice, but then again - I don't think any photo could.
With a competent team who could more than look after themselves, Ian was fully up for exploring some of the stranger corners of this den. To this end, he started purposefully inserting himself in a rather nasty rift leading off the chamber. It soon branched, with delicate straws appearing at rather unfortunate locations (generally on the bends), which all had to be carefully manouvered around. Ticking off the possible leads, one by one (one from which Ian reappeared rather sodden with clay), we found a larger way. Crawly and stoopy rift suddenly came across a 10m deep manhole, which could be stepped across. However, the rift beyond did a sharp right, to plunge down a similarly sized rift - almost certainly connecting. A scraped arrow helpfully pointed down. Peering into the bottom, we could spy a few ledges for the clamber down. Getting to the first shelf was certain. Getting back up might be more problematic. Should we have come across such an impediment to our progress on expedition, we would have wasted no time in getting out the bolting hammer and making a lovely little pitch. As such, we turned back at this point.
Once away from the Crystal chamber, we explored some other rather off-the-beaten track locations - the 'West Leg' was particularly nice. It started as a rather challenging double climb of about 2m each. Easy for the long legged, not so for the less well endowed! A tube-tunnel passage led off and up, past a fairly impressive knife-blade stal, to a sizeable junction. It then branched massively, all of us wandering off along strange ways, calling to each other and listening to the sound connect by sme counterintuitive route. Rock bridges and clambers, mud and crawls. Our furthest chamber was fairly interesting, tight rift leading off, massive boulder pile that looked diggable, and some horrific spitz on a bolt-climb that had obviously been attempted significently before I started caving. Or could walk.
A few ambient photos, and we wandered back. A beatiful stall curtain next to the rock bridge led us to a rather unpleasent dried-up mud pool. But what was that glistening white? A mud acorn! Surreal to find such a structure, the mind bogles as to how it could form.
We made a speedy exit, via the flood escape route, in order than Anne could learn it. Nice chambers up there - more challenging caving too. Reminded me very much of the larger chambers in Easegill. Plenty of photo potential as well. Paid our respects at the dug in, and rolled along on the bedding plane tumble. The traverse seemed rather perverse - an easy walk along a rock mantlepiece is super protected with regular bolts and extremely thick wire, whereas the initial step across on a rusted piece of train track while hugging a slippery bolder is left completely bare!
We had to go via the true escape route (the blasted bit) which was rather grim, as the water was rather difficult to avoid when you have to crawl through it. Soon found our way back down to the water, and quickly exited. Still sunny when we were out - lovely!
Joe & mysef stripped off the oversuits & helmets, and wandered back up the Bridle path to the hut, to be met with steaming mugs of tea.
Took Joe on a tour of the easily-accessed tourist sites in OFD. Couple of SWCC old lags were wandering in for a trip, and reminisced their first time down Top as sixteen-year-olds, just after it had opened - with failing lights they found themselves begging any spare illumination off the not-too-impressed SWCC committee! Initially accidentally found ourselves in the big-chamber near the entrance where I finally accepted that my battery was too flat to cave by (I couldn't see my feet), and so changed it. Route finding became rather easier after that.
Since we were there, bimbled amongst the rift passages beyond - very nice little traverses, with corridors of soft mud, moon milk in every alcove. Might take some novices here next autumn for a quick intro...
Back on track, we almost fell into Gnome passage, and down Ed's shortcut. The frozen river was visited, the shattered column located and the way on to the crossroads immediately found. Everything had been perfect in fact! Our rather old photocopy of an older survey (found unfiled at the bottom of the filing cabinet in stores) was actually quite useful!
Shot down the maypole, razzed upstream (even doing a rather exciting climb in the process to avoid getting our midrifts wet), and found ourselves to the Top waterfall. On the way, I had a very lucky sight - stumbling around a corner in the streamway I illuminated the water to see... an OFD fish! A good 12cm little beaut, looked like a Chub. Very white; though no idea whether he was properly albino. I called to Joe - who was a fair way behind. The fish was motionless in my headbeam. Perhaps I should douse it? That was clearly a mistake - the moment I shadowed the fish with my hand he started swimming of with lazy strokes, disappearing before Joe managed it round the corner.Our way out should have been so easy. Simply find the Corkscrew, then out from Chasm passage. If only.
The location of the corkscrew foxed us for hours. We found a scot hole on the right, which led to a boulder choke clamber up to an odd chamber, with a big drop on the right, and a clamber down on the left. This then led to a more impressive chamber - possibly Arete? Or Bagpipe? Which had an obvious way on which led us straight into the Labyrinthe. This bit of the cave justifies its name, branches faster than you can imagine.
This we explored, vaguely aware of our position and wondering whether we could push into the 'columns' area. It was rather unclear from the survey... Joe's perfect memory came to the rescue more than once - 'Left then right then straight on then left then right' was a typical explore to the dendritic ends. It was pretty unweathered, and with some nice formatons (honest!), in particular a calcite squeeze that led to a tiny piece of calcited rift - very warm colours, peaceful and perfectly still. Little streamway. Some of the wear marks were most distressing - the moonmilk on the flood and walls looked like that fingers had scraped through it. I eventually decided that this was the mark of hob nailed boots from a long time ago.
We back tracked eventually, and found our way back to the Trident. Despite searchin a few more times up and down, we simply couldn't find the corkscrew (I wonder if some mischevious chap had hung a sheet across the corridor leading off Salubrious?). Wary of our call out, we accepted the inevitable and exited via Edward's shortcut. Smoothly out, except for getting lost between Gnome passage & the entrance chamber! At one point, I swear we entererd the entrance chamber via some circuitous route that involved us climbing down from the ceiling on exceptionally sharp rock, only to decide that it clearly was going anywhere & back off!
Finally out in the last rays, we downed helmets and went to watch it set from the ridge.
At long last, irrefutable proof. Though people have long harboured their suspicions, they have never had conclusive evidence. Until this weekend that is, when I finally caught him.
That this man has hidden his true identity for so long is testament to his skills of deception. In the presence of others he appears to be nothing more than a talented caver, graced by long limbs and the ability to scratch his ear with his foot. However, when he's alone, or rather when he thinks he's alone, he changes...
This weekend, 5 hours into an OFD II session, Jarv and I found ourselves in the 'Labyrinth'. I realised something was amiss when Jarv kept on disappearing ahead of me. No matter how fast I followed him he vanished every time we reached a corner or junction. Then I caught him: no longer earth bound, but flying, eyes closed and obviously navigating by sonar, guided by some innate geographical knowledge, truly at one with the cave. Shocked beyond action I sat still as Jarv flew by. Then I ate some malt loaf and peanuts. Three minutes later Jarv re-appeared round the corner on two legs, eyes open, totally oblivious to the fact that he had been caught.
I never raised it with him; 'live and let live' is my motto. However, let this be of comfort to anybody else who struggles to follow Jarv through caves: he is no ordinary man.
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