Always Time for Tea: Part 2 – Ogof Ffynnon Ddu


I always seem to make time to visit OFD. For whatever reason, it is just my favourite Welsh cave. In 2010, Les lead a really fun OFD1 round trip for me as my seventh cave trip ever, and I still love visiting it every time I am in the UK. I still have not seen it all, and there are many trips left to be done. I think it is just one of those caves that is difficult to tire of.

While in the past I have stayed at the SWCC, last time I met Paul Fairman and was introduced to The Stump – his club’s hut (Whealdon Cave and Mine Society). I am actually a full WCMS member now, so I stayed there.

I was very surprised to hear that Paul had managed to get permission to go to the Columns. My understanding was that the Columns are only open twice a year, on bank holidays, so I am not really sure how he pulled that one off. They are extremely beautiful pristine formations accessed via the Top Entrance. Footleg also came over to Wales for the adventure, and the Columns key holder and leader, Vince, and his wife, Kim, completed our group of six. While we waited for Vince and Kim to show up, we of course had a cuppa tea.

sheepIt’s Wales. There are sheep.

The route was further into the Top entrance than I’ve been before. First through a large chamber and around and down; we had to get to the lower level. There was a major obstacle for me though – a bold step across and up a steep slope. Lots of exposure and a long reach to just a little ledge of mud. Luckily, Paul had brought a rope but I needed to borrow a belt to clip in for safety (In my defense, I did ask if I needed a harness this trip and was told no!). I did do it fine, no slipping or issues, but I don’t think I could have without. Was just way too much exposure for my taste.

Then a bit further on was a steep climb down, and looking from the top I was convinced that it was another good spot to belay! But upon closer inspection it was not bad at all, however, Paul did keep a tumbling rock up with his leg until it was clear below and then let it fall. There was an easy route to climb down despite it looking bad from the top. Probably about a 25-ft free-climb, quite vertical. Then just a bit of a crawl and dip in the water.

reflectionsThe Columns

Once through the water it opened up into a nice size chamber, and then a hall with the columns! So white and reflective and pretty, I was squeeing with delight! Much to Vince’s amusement it seemed as I couldn’t resist commenting about all the little amazing details and overall gorgeousness. Ferret and Footleg let me photograph first, partly because it takes them time to set up. So I got Vince and Kim to help me fire the flash and be scale. I couldn’t get a backlit photo because of the path ending, but I was able to do some nice ceiling bounces getting some lovely reflections in the crystal floor.

I then resolved to help Ferret and Footleg with their images, and much to my chagrin, Footleg had me stand for scale in a panorama! That’s right, I am now in a famous Footleg Panoramic! Click here to see his amazing 360-degree pano.

We spent about two hours in the chamber. People were starting to get cold, and as Ferret finished his photos I again enlisted Vince and Kim to help me photograph some neat candlestick formations nearby. But it was time to get moving. So we went out a different way, looping down through the Catacomb maze into the Salubrious Streamway, then back up via the Corkscrew. Funny, they thought I would have issue with the exposure of the Corkscrew climb, but not at all! Lots of holds and I always felt secure despite my ass hanging over a 20-foot drop. I love corkscrew climbs! candlesticks_1Candlesticks!

We emerged to a beautiful sunny Welsh afternoon, green grass, white sheep, and blue sky peppered with clouds. The hike down was much more enjoyable than the one uphill, and I took time to grab a few photos of the countryside.


P is for Plum Crumbly Cave

I’ve wanted to see an all-sandstone cave for quite a while. Going through the listing of caves that start with P, I found this gem. Turned in just a year ago, it said it was in Hartselle which is sandstone! It has clearly been known for a long time to locals, as there is remnants of old rope and old charcoal signatures from early 1900’s. The one is best condition is this from 1921, but there were others dated 1912.

Historic Signature - Less HaynesLess Haynes 1921

The path would be long and annoying except for local caver who mapped and turned in the cave, Zeb, had a four wheeler that made it easy! The road is mostly in the sun and an uphill trudge otherwise. There was a fire a while back (sounds like a controlled burn that got a bit out of hand and onto the neighboring property) which is where the cave is. The landowner living out of state wanted the land checked on, to see what damage had been done, but warned, “don’t fall into the big hole!” so of course that piqued the interest of cavers who went to look at it.  And what they saw was pretty awesome.

Entrance ViewThe wide 20 x 20 foot entrance.

The pit reminded me of a small version of one I did in Mexico. All the moss and ferns it almost appeared to be in the middle of a jungle. A carpet of green awaited us below the surface contrasting beautifully with the oranges and reds of the sandstone. Into the PitSandstone was even attempting to make formations, little bits of flowstone and ripples on the wall. I wasn’t expecting to see any formations at all and I wonder how much of this is because of guano, as there were a couple tricolors as well as other birds nesting amongst the shelves of sandstone.

Formations of SandstoneThe ferns were beautiful. It was cool and moist perfect for all the greenery below. The carpeting of moss was delicate and beautiful. We took care to not cross it, less it be disturbed. Sunlight filtered in from the trees above creating a beautiful atmosphere.

FernsThe yellows, oranges, and reds of the sandstone with occasional green coating from the moss on even the walls was a stark contrast to the grays of limestone caves. And of course, the floor was powdered sand rather than mud or pebbles. There was some collapse and little mounds of breakdown, and a bit of passage towards the back but nothing noteworthy. It was really just a beautiful entrance chamber.  Sandstone Ceiling & Fern CarpetCarpet of moss and ferns gives way to sand and breakdown, with amazing sandstone roof.

I admired the layers. The roof itself was very flat, but the walls were crumbly layers that looked like waves. In many areas there was enough light for moss to coat the walls, and you could tell the most recent rockfalls as there would be random chunks without green.

Sandstone LayersThe day had started off overcast but the sun came out while we were in the pit, and filtered through creating a lovely sunbeam as we climbed out.

Mountain of Sandstone

Caves of TAG: 2015 Calendar

This year I did something a little different! Instead of a printed calendar, which fewer and fewer people use, I am offering a computer calendar! Twelve unique photos with the month’s dates on it make a lovely computer/homescreen background. Enjoy caves at work and at home!

There are two screen ratios available – 16:9 and 8:5 – which make up the majority of the common sizes. If yours is not one of those two, you can either download the closest and fit to screen or I suggest the 16:9 and the “zoom to fit” option. If you have questions feel free to ask.

16:9 common sizes are: 1920×1080, 1600×900, 1366×768

8:5 common sizes are: 1440×900, 1280×800

Send payment via Paypal:

caves of tag 2015

Upon payment, a password will be received for the file download (below). By downloading the images you agree to not distribute the file or individual images, not to sell the file or individual images, and only to use the file and images on ONE computer. All images are copyright Amy Hinkle / Sunguramy Photography.


2015 Caves of TAG (8-5) protected

2015 Caves of TAG (16-9) protected


K is for King’s Pit…kind-of…

Alphabet caving continues to be interesting and have a rich history I find most intriguing.

Brian, Robert (a geologist and caver who recently moved to TAG), and myself headed south of the river to find King’s Pit for K. The entry for King’s didn’t make total sense, but the coordinates seemed accurate enough for the GPS conversion so we went with it! First knocking on the door of a house whom we thought owned the property. No one was home. Bummer. We moved on up the road and someone was home, and said “I think the person up on the right owns it.” We asked that house up on the right…and were told “I think my neighbor up the road on the right owns it.” This continued no less than nine times total, including a wild goose (or should I say, chicken?) chase to find a supposed landowner working that morning at a chicken house “just up the road”.

In our quest, we had encountered a very friendly gentleman named Clinnon who seemed quite happy to have company. He said he had a cave that about 15 years ago Brindley Mountain Fire Department had asked to do some rescue practice in, and he knew it had passage at the bottom. When our quest for the landowner of King’s Pit hit a wall, or should I say a pile of chicken poo, we decided to go back to Clinnon’s place and check out his cave. After giving us very good directions to it, we hiked on down.

Entrance for ACSA very impressive entrance! Large 20-25 foot wide crack in the ground, a bit of a drip of water but not much at this time. We looked for how we wanted to rig it and opted to go down in a way that broke the 85-foot drop into two. We actually walked down a crack to get to the rig-in spot, although we rigged all the way at the top to a good tree.

Entrance PanoramicThe drop is about 85 feet from the top in total. From this level in the photo above 10/15 feet less than that. Rigging on this side of the pit breaks the rappel into two, but is easily done with one rope going over a ledge partway down.

Entrance RappelThe first part of the drop.

This ledge has some good fossils, and a cute little side shoot with some nice flowstone and a good upper view of the room below. In addition, a high lead can be seen, if anyone is crazy enough to traverse around the pit. A traverse line could probably be bolted for exploration, if there is not another way to get to it from the main cave. However, easiest would be to figure out how to get to that level from within…a feat in and of itself.

Entrance DropThe lower part of the drop.

The top edge in the above photo is the ledge I was standing on for the photo of the upper part of the drop. Put the two together, and you have the entire drop (minus the 10-15 feet from the very top where the rig is). The entrance chamber is large, and has some nice formations and cute side rooms.

Formation ChamberSide formation room

Splattermites & Flow Closeup of some splattermites forming.

SplattermitesVery interesting branching splattermites, forming in a downward angle.

We didn’t explore all the holes off of it as there wasn’t enough time. We did, however, climb through and down and around massive boulders to pop into walking passage where the water runs when wet. Instead of mud floor, there, was actually cobbles. There were formations pulsing with water drops, probably being fed by a pool with surface tension as they pulsed in rhythm. We passed by a bit of a waterfall as well. It was a lot of up-and-down, not straight walking, as mud mounds needed scrambled over, a slot crawled, then pop back into walking stream bed. The entire cave so far had been rather slick. Smooth cobbles coated in thin wet slippery mud, and of course, the wet slick kind of mud itself too thin to provide good traction.

We hit the end of that path. It started to have more and more airflow but we never found where the air was coming from. Not wanting to spend a bunch of time poking at the breakdown choke, we turned around and headed back to see where the upstream part of the passage took us.

Initially it was a bit crawly, but soon opened into a massive dome/canyon, clearly a junction area for the cave. Huge boulders that reminded me of Moby Dick in Kennamer cave were all over. (Although not quite that big, the sheer scale of the area is what brought that thought into my brain.)

ChamberThe canyon continued on. We started hearing running water with good flow, but we couldn’t see it! We climbed up a slope and got to a window that overlooked a massive chamber with flowing water. We could hear it louder than before but still couldn’t see it, but we knew it was down there. A drop of about 30 feet prevented us from going down, because we had no more rope! So we continued on in the canyon.

Looping around we ended up even lower than before – the massive boulders to climb up, scramble around, or duck and crawl under made it a maze of a canyon! Again we heard the water loudly. Brian made his way up on water-carved sharp boulder the size of a school bus to peer into the darkness on the other side. Finally, eyes on the water! But we were still separated by a 20 foot drop. We were lower than the original window we had found, but not low enough.

Deciding against trying to slide down slots in the middle of the boulders (which seems like a bad idea with no rope and no idea how tight the slots got) we continued through the canyon. It narrowed and no longer were there huge boulders but instead a slippery mud floor (as always, in this cave!) and shoulder width walls with about 30-foot high ceilings. It was clear there were still multiple levels of cave here. We were heading uphill though, and the walls narrowed. Soon we were walking sideways, packs off and held at our sides. As the mud floor rose, the canyon got “shorter”! Eventually it was only about 15 feet above our heads. A rock projection in the middle stopped us, and knowing the trend would be smaller and smaller and shorter and shorter, Brian climbed over and back down the other side to scout.

Brian reported that it was shoulder width for a couple hundred feet, then sharp edges started poking out making it very awkward. Eventually it intersected the illusive water! But, it was an army crawl (2 foot ceilings at height, football shaped passage) in the water. Brian decided, “Interesting! But not for today…”. The amount of passage we had covered we know it must be a couple hundred feet of crappy crawling. The canyon passage continued beyond the 4-way intersection with the stream, but got worse and worse of course to traverse.

We turned around to head back out. We didn’t scout out half of the leads, easily, and there are a lot of huge rooms we barely set eyes on. The cave reminds me of a mini-Fern. No where near that massive or extensive, just the overall character of the 3-dimentionality and huge canyon with multiple levels and major junctions with pretty side rooms. I would say we traversed a good 3000+ feet of relatively complex passage, and would guess fully surveyed, the cave would be over a mile in length.

Drapery RoomOne of the pretty side rooms.

Now, this cave fits nothing currently in the ACS database, although it seems to fit little bits and pieces from multiple entries in Cotton Sinks. Thinking we had a new cave, we thought of the name Koccyx, because for one I was hoping for a K cave, and for two, well, I almost broke my coccyx when I fell. I bet everyone who ever does that cave is worried about falling and breaking something with how slick it is! We all about took a splat at some point or another! Excited, I turned it in to the ACS. Even though it was known at some point by a few, it clearly has been lost to the caving world for about 20 years, maybe more.

Here is where the story *really* gets interesting, as if this amazing “find” isn’t interesting enough! It is in the ACS. As THREE other caves.  So good news, it’s re-discovered and the database can get straightened up!

This cave should really be known as Durbak Cave. It was initially discovered by Huntsville Grotto member Terry Faulker in 1963. But, due to confusion in the report, the exact location of Durbak was lost, and to make matters even worse the entry was misspelled Dubak.

In 1977, some folks went to a “new cave” dubbed Whispering Spring. A ladder was built for the short drop next to the larger diameter drop (the entrance of Durbak is actually two holes in the same “crack”, a smaller one and the large main one) and down folk went. Stu Clifton and Bill Witherow mapped a good bit of the cave and said it connected with Saving Well but this connection is unconfirmed.

Even worse, in 1994 Durbak was again submitted to the ACS as Kings Pit. The coordinates were so far off that it was difficult to make the connection that it is one in the same Whispering Spring and Durbak! However the coordinates turned in yield absolutely no caves, and the description of King’s Pit matches that of Durbak. They are all the same.

So. Yes, I found King’s Pit in the end! But….I also found Durbak, the misspelled Dubak that should have been Durbak, and Whispering Spring. Four caves in one day?! Not bad, I say!

On a side note, we plan on doing survey for Durbak (aka Dubak, aka Whispering Spring, aka Kings Pit, aka Koccyx!), so if you are interested, drop me an email! It has potential to connect to two other caves and become a pretty neat system.

How the Media Works

Cavers often have issues with news articles on caving. The press is certainly not the most accurate. From saying the World’s Most Beautiful Cave is in Sheffield when clearly it’s not a photo of a cave, and probably most people would beg to differ, to calling us Daredevils, comparing us to Hobbits and thinking I am male…I think it’s safe to say the media likes to exaggerate, takes a lot of dramatic license, and doesn’t do thorough fact checks.

But people love cool photos, and no photo is complete without a story. Buzzwords are required. THE FIRST, THE BEST, THE MOST, CRAZY EXPLORERS, etc, sells to the public, so it’s what they write.

Here’s how it generally works in my experience: A news agency contacts the photographer. If the photographer agrees to let their works be published, a few questions are emailed. The photographer replies to the email with the facts. The news agency puts together a small blurb about the photos to accompany them. The photos are then sent out to the networks. A network staff writer then pieces together a story for the photos, and the Amazing News Story of Crazy Daredevil Cavers Who Found the Hobbits True Home! is printed.

As you can see, there are (at minimum) two end stages of which the photographer has no control over what is said. Once the photos leave their hands, it’s gone. Think of it like a game of telephone, but playing it with people who of their own agenda want to create an adrenaline-rushed story.

It happens to me, it happens to everyone else. Some networks are better than others at fact-checking and not going crazy with exaggerations, but almost any mass media cave article you read will have errors. (Just makes you think: if they can mess up such simple stories where they had the facts directly emailed to begin with, how much do they mess up much more important news stories?)

So, sit back with your cuppa tea and mug of coffee, enjoy some photos of caving reported to the general public in a positive light, and have a laugh that stories can get twisted to the point where I, Amy Hinkle, am all of a sudden magically male!

Faff now, Cave Later mug from SWCC