First trip of the year! And the first that I haven't organised for quite some time. Packing was smooth, the drive smoother and we got to the WSG with no trouble.
The morning comes and most people are surprisingly eager to follow Martin's lead and get out of bed (or it could be that the bedroom is immediately above the kitchen). Stuffed with the usual greasy breakfast we head off to OFD. A pleasant surprise comes as no-one has forgotten any of their kit! We did have a case of too small wellies but luckily tackle master extraordinaire Jack had packed spares in the right size. We were harried by spitting rain as we walked up to Top entrance which hopefully made everyone (certainly me) more eager to get inside.
I was the last in and closed the gate behind me which sprayed the contents of a muddy puddle in my face. After a brief inspirational talk by Martin we wandered into the big chamber by the entrance where we split into two teams.
Taking one team I confidently lead them, taking my initial directions from Martin, and immediately became somewhat lost. Unfortunately our directions had taken us off the map (at least the one I had) and Martin had only gone as far to say "Take the first right". After picking random directions at at least 3 junctions (assuring the freshers meanwhile that this definitely was the way) we ended up somehow at the top of Gnome Passage.
There we heard Martin in the distance and followed his voice, eventually arriving to find him 10m up a dodgy climb rigging a rope. We skirted round this scene and climbed down into Salubrious Passage. We were quickly at Trident and Judge, the agreed meeting point with the other group, and with everyone suitably awed by the 5m stal we wandered off upstream somewhere where we assumed Martin's group would be coming from. Techniques varied in what turned out to be a fairly active wet rift. There were the climbers, clinging and bridging the walls, the waders, with no regard for the sanctity of the wellies, and the swimmers (mostly Cecilia) willing (maybe not) to wholly submerge themselves.
At some point we decided to turn back, not having met the other group, but as luck would have it we had spent enough time wandering and Jack, Martin and co. were gathered round Judge. We took some photos and split up once again.
For me the thirty foot drop provided a useful navigational point of reference. For most of the freshers it was a large hole you needed to step carefully over. With the usual sage advice (don't fall down that big hole) and wedging myself in the hole to block it for the unconvinced freshers we made it across. We made good progress onwards, through the Crossroads and Cross Rift and were soon at our next obstacle, the dodgy traverse in Edward's Shortcut.
Initially I didn't remember it from the few times I'd crossed it before and so set about trying to find a way round, including climbing down into an incredibly loose rift (I would not recommend anyone go there) and backing up to the previous junction to make sure we hadn't gone wrong somewhere. After wasting about half an hour I decided just to go for it. Bridging the gap and staring directly down the pit I remembered doing this before and shouted back to the freshers that it was actually fine. Most of them were unconvinced and required a fair amount of coaxing to get across, though one by one everyone arrived safely on the other side.
We conveniently et up with the other group at the top of Gnome Passage and made it out to the surface for some beautiful cloudshine.
Back at the hut we made delicious burritos and played the required caving games.
On Sunday we visited Bridge Cave. I hadn't been there before but Martin suggested it as it is near to Little Neath, where he was planning a trip. On arrival (with nearly everyone caving again!) Martin decided that as Little Neath was underwater we'd instead just explore Bridge and White Lady. Again we split into two groups one led by Martin and James and the other by Jack and me. We decided that some independent exploration was called for.
Cecilia, Bogdan and I found a very small crawl with some interesting climb bypasses before we caught back up with Jack and his little group near the streamway. Bridge Cave is incredible! Particularly if you are completely in the dark about it before hand. The small entrance crawls quickly break into a huge streamway and we spent a good while exploring it.
On the way out we met Martins group who had just come from White Lady and were dipping in for a very quick visit to the streamway. We had a little stomp down the River Neath before turning back to the van.