Always Time for Tea – Part 5: Wheal Jane


My first mine! Ferret promised me a mine trip in 2013 and we never went, well, because I didn’t even really see him that year except briefly at Hidden Earth. We met up with Hugo, who is a mine explorer but not caver (apparently, there is very little crossover) at the parking about an hour from Plymouth. Wheal Jane is a very pretty mine that has an easy 40 meter entrance pitch.

I laughed hysterically at the rope pad Hugo brought. Proper commercial belt of some kind, about 1/2 inch thick, 18 inches wide, and 15 feet long. Heavy as sin! The rigging he did was interesting but I was okay with it. I told them about tensionless and they preferred what they had; they basically did it like a Y hang but off two slings one above the other on the same tree. Figure eight on a bight to an alpine with a big loop (common use in the UK instead of double figure eight/bunny ears). Sure, if that is what they are happy with. It was safe and it worked, so I’ll giggle at the over-rigging but won’t fuss.

Hugo rappelled first, fair I thought so if it was short roped it was the rigger’s fault. I went second and zipped down. Hey, Hugo had asked if my rack could handle 11mm rope. Oh silly, that 11mm was loosey-goosey compared to PMI Pit Rope. I had a great ride on four bars, only slowing to avoid a bit of ledge and look at the hanging clothesline of underwear someone had rigged up on it for shits n giggles.

diamond-stopeHugo by cool stopes.

Ferret followed. Finally all down safely, we decided to perambulate. Ferret said we saw about 5-10% of the mine, but the 5-10% best parts. The stopes were really neat, and the old mine workings too. I loved how orange everything was (but ochre stains and does not come out of anything!), reds too. There were lots of soda straws but they were all dark with minerals and so rather difficult to light well. Unlike calcite of cave soda straws, they did not stand out against the background.

hanging-wall-of-a-stopeFerret near a hanging wall of a stope.

hugo-by-iron-soda-strawsSoda straws and stals, oddly dark in mines.

 There were snottites! I have heard of them, and seen pictures, but never in person! Wow that was exciting, I had no clue I would get to see those and it was kind of a bucket list item to find some in person.


There were pools of deep orange, and I was warned they were acidic. Now it made sense why some drips from stals above felt a bit burn-y. Sulphuric acid is common in these mines. And where you have sulphur and iron…you get…PYRITE. Yup, lots of fools gold! Pretty amazing I thought.

fes2LOTS and LOTS of FeS2

Just when I thought the colors couldn’t get any better, Hugo said, “Hey, there is blue!” Which I ran over to carefully – good call as there was a pit between me and them! I skirted around on the far side and made it, and giggled with delight at the blues and greens, contrasted by the oranges and reds of the iron in the soil and walls. Yup. I am hooked on mines. I want to do many more!

layers-of-colorCopper painting the iron makes pretty rainbow mines…I approve of the colours!

blue-lillypadSwirls of blue and green.

 I found a lonely looking pole, asked if it was holding anything and it was not (apparently, all the wood is so soft that there is no way it is holding anything anymore, what will collapse has for the mostpart). This lone pole was begging for a dance. My new favourite photo of me underground is of me pole dancing in a Wheal Jane! SO AWESOME. We probably spent about five hours underground despite seeing very little but this was because we are all three photographers so again we spent lots of times just enjoying the sights and taking pictures.

photo_2016-08-13_09-23-08Ferret’s photo of me…check out Dark Element Photography

 We decided it was time to leave and despite a rope walker having more gear, I was kitted up first so I jumped on rope. The edge was no issue as it has poured concrete in an upside down U shape so although the rope had a low angle, there was not a long edge to pass. Even without a QAS it was super easy. Hugo and Ferret followed.

killroy The sun was going down and we were hungry. Hugo kindly invited us over for dinner as he lived nearby. It was a good thing we had tea and food our bellies on the way back to Plymouth, as there was a detour on the way back to get around the night roadwork closures.

If you’d like to see a video of my first mine experience, check this out!

Always Time for Tea – Part 4: Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1


The trip that did not want to happen! We had a cup of tea, then decided to finally get up the energy to get ready to go caving. Both Ferret and I were tired from the three days in a row of caves. But finally we dragged our arses to get kitted up and drove up to the SWCC to pick up the key.

…The code did not work.

So we found some cell signal and Ferret got a hold of Vince and we tried a new code. Ferret walked over this time to the SWCC and tried.

…The code did not work.

Ferret called to let Vince know, since there is no reason his code should not work! So he actually drove up and met Ferret at the SWCC and got it straightened out and we got a key (big thanks to Vince for fixing the system for us!)

The plan was to just bimble about in drier areas and do some photography, and dip toes in the streamway because I really love the OFD1 streamway and have not seen it since 2010. So after some confusion of where to park and hike in (luckily – I remembered seeing on UKC forum that the farmer didn’t want cavers using the old route, so we checked with Paul who told us the new walk in) and we finally made it at about 3pm in the afternoon. We had originally left to the cave at 1pm, and it’s only five minutes from the Stump!

ofd1-blue-poolsWe made our way to Pluto’s Pool and went up the ladder above it. I don’t remember such lovely flowstone and curtains. I think it is the kind of stuff on regular trips one just runs by. We meandered around to try and find the top of the traverse that Ferret wanted to try to get a good photo of. We got a bit off track and came in and out about the streamway on ledges but not on the actual traverse, and in one spot was an easy climb down to it, so we did. I got to dip my toes!

climbdown-to-streamwayOn the way out we checked out Pearl Passage and Skeleton Rift, just a little off shoot that he’s never seen (neither have I, of course). Pearl Passage was disappointing, it just ended in a flowstone thing with a few pearls at the bottom, difficult angle to even get photos. Skeleton needed some rope, was about a 8-foot climbdown that might be doable if you had a tall person to give legs-up and then get out on their own, but we had neither, so we left.

Standing in a waterfall for some of the photos had me a little chilly but luckily the showers at the Stump are wonderfully warm and so I had no issues warming back up. Tea also is a good cure. 🙂

Always Time for Tea – Part 3: Ogof Capel


Paul is one of the keyholders for Ogof Capel, one of the Welsh caves that Rostam had mentioned to me on one of his visits to the states and it sounded amazing. Sadly, trips are limited to three (leader plus two), so Footleg couldn’t join. He and Peter decided to hike around the valley some while we caved.

The entrance for Ogof Capel is terrible. Let me just say that again. It is terrible. It’s not just crawling, it’s crawling around and over and under rocks and cobbles. You can’t drag a pack behind you despite it being basically belly/army crawl size, because it gets too caught (even a swaygo). So you have to keep one arm out in front to push it ahead of you, and not just push, but lift it up and over and around. Going in it is uphill, so it is a major struggle. I wondered if I should have stayed at the Stump and had more tea instead!

But then it finally opened to where I could kind of walk, and then finally properly walk. But it was narrow and wet and arrows pointing to go under, luckily, water was low and so it was just a chest-dipper not an ear-dipper. All of a sudden…PRETTIES. Wow. I admitted to Paul it was worth the work to get there. Crystal clear, pure white, long soda straws with funky helectites dancing off of them. Never seen anything like it! all-the-strawsFerret standing among the long amazing straws!


Ferret decided to stay in that straw chamber while Paul and I continued on towards the back of the cave. First was a sideways crawl in water up to my neck for about 40 feet, and then a difficult climb up not that much easier than the slot I got stuck in inside Unterstein. Paul had to talk me through it some. But I made it and we continued on, dancing and ducking around formations, splashing into the streamway, and canyoning above it in other places. The entire cave is basically a narrow waterway canyon, never much more than body width.

toothpasteWeird green and blue toothpaste-like goop.


There were crystal balls on the ceiling that looked like someone threw snowflakes onto it. There was a crack with greens and blues as if someone squeezed a tube of toothpaste. We got to where the cave really narrowed and Paul said there wasn’t much past it, nothing any better than we’d already seen, so we turned back and started to take photos as we worked our way back up to where we had left Ferret.

dancing-strawsMore straws.


I took some really pretty photos but it is a kind hard area to light since most of the decorations are in a bend, and they are mostly “on top” of where the canyon cuts back at about 6-8 feet up to makes a shelf. Also, one has to be delicate because you can’t just get into them for close ups or you’d knock them!

fake-droplets-of-waterTiny helectites with solid crystal water-like “drops”.


Before heading back out, I set up a shot and handed Paul my camera to take a picture of me! I have loved getting so many shots with me in it on this trip, I guess this is the bonus of caving with other photographers.

amy-in-ogof-capelThe way out was not any more fun than the way in. I was literally doing 360’s as I was corkscrewing my way through. While Ferret and Paul could slither out straight, my wider hips required much more finesse, finding the right angles to move between the rock.


We got out of the cave to bright rare Welsh sunshine; lucky two days in a row! Peter was waiting at the entrance for us but Footleg had left, he had to get back to London area by 6pm. Figuring this may be the case, I had said goodbye before we went underground. It was lovely to finally meet the famous Footleg!


It was time to part with Paul and the rest as well. Folks had to get home and Ferret and I were going back to the Stump to stay two more nights. Ferret had arranged access to OFD with Vince for the next day. So we headed back and had a nice cuppa tea.

Always Time for Tea: Part 1 – Shatter Cave

Enjoy my journal of caventures in the UK in early August 2016!

First stop: Mendip. It was wonderful to see Pete again! He mentioned he would be around mid-week so I popped down to Mendip  – as it has the Hunters, aka the Center of the Universe! No cave trip to the UK is complete without a stop there.

Ferret and I met up with Pete at Fairy Quarry. This quarry ended up blasting into many different smallish but very decorated caves and eventually the quarry did shut down. One of the most beautiful of the caves there is called Shatter, and Pete could get us in. Knowing I love the pretties, he thought it would be perfect for me to visit.

Soda Staws

12-14″ Long pure soda straw columns

The trip was a nice bimbly pace – we are all three photographers after all. The entrance is a horizontal pipe into the side of the cliff so it won’t collapse on you, and there is some crawling and squeezy bits but overall Shatter is a pretty open cave. The most difficult part was to get to the back column chamber.

Ferret in the column chamber

Back column chamber

This involved a wiggly slithery climb up about six or eight feet, with a turn then to horizontal for a body length, before dropping back down. It took me a good five minutes to negotiate the last bit before one drops back down into more open space, as the wall came in on one side, and a stal on the other, created a true pinch point for my hips, even turned sideways. I blindly felt around and finally found a hand hold above me so I could lift my body by my arm to pop my hips over the stal.

Pete and the ColumnPete in Shatter

The badly bruised hip was worth it, however! The entire cave is gorgeous, and has lovely white formations, long straws, and even red formations! One of the rooms is called the Rose Room for a reason. Imagine walls of pure white flowstone coated in a translucent red that looks shimmery pink in areas.

Rippled RibbonRippled curtain

After the trip we headed back to the Wessex. I had told Les I was in Mendip and said we must meet at the Hunters, but he turned up to Wessex so we first had some tea. After enough tea was consumed, I hopped a ride with him and Wendy down to the Center of the Universe for some food and beer. Les always amuses me; he has the best stories and the most wonderful way of telling them! Always makes me laugh. We all had a lovely time and it was great to see Les and his family again.


Caving in the UK – Part 3 – South Wales

From the Dales I headed to Wales! I met up with Paul Fairman at the Wealden Cave and Mine Society hut, and the next morning, headed down Dan yr Ogof. DYO has been a cave I’ve wanted into since I first saw photos from Cloud Chamber, with its soda straws a long as I am tall, and pure crystalline white. Making it even more amazing, is that the limestone in this region is very dark, when wet, BLACK. The contrast between the pure white formations and the black limestone is simply put, amazing.

Dan yr Ogof

DYO was my first wetsuit cave. Paul had a spare for me to use, and I tried it on briefly before the cave and it was tight, especially on my chest. But it zipped all the way up with some help, so to the cave we went! The beginning of DYO is a show cave, that you hop the fence and jump into The Lakes. Which, are as they sound. It’s an upstream swim on the way in. The water was frigid but the wetsuit kept me relatively warm, however, I started feeling like I couldn’t breathe. By the end of the swim, it felt like the world was collapsing in on me, as if I had a bus sitting on my chest preventing me from breathing, and in a brief moment of quasi-clarity I realized I was trying to literally rip my wetsuit off. I can’t say I remember who saw what first, or who unzipped the back of my wetsuit, but as soon as it was off my upper half I could breathe again. I gasped in air, shuddering, wondering what just happened and why it had felt like I was dying. Paul explained he’d seen this happen once before from a mate of his – the wetsuit when it’s not fit right and compresses the chest too much can trigger a claustrophobic attack. Considering as soon as it was off, I was fine, I’d have to agree that’s what happened to me. It’s an experience I would like to never repeat again. Considering the wetsuit was tight enough to make my VERY curvy chest almost flat, I was definitely very compressed.

A moment’s rest and I was ready to continue. Let me warn you – The Long Crawl is indeed long. Very aptly named. There are a few ultra-squeezy bits, and the trough, a long bit of water a few inches deep that requires belly crawling through, but otherwise it’s just long rather than particularly difficult.

Popping out into larger space, we traversed around the crystal pool up into tube-like passage, where an 8-ft tall soda straw column is. It’s quite impressive, and absolutely amazing.

Flabbergasam Oxbow

Back out and around and into a different passage the soda straws started occurring in the ceiling. As we moved inwards, they seemed to get longer and more concentrated. All pure white on the black limestone walls and ceiling. Then…Cloud Chamber. A good-sized room with indeed clouds of soda straws varying from 3 to 5 feet in length, possibly longer, as it is hard to estimate size above my head!

Vastness of Cloud Chamber

We moved on to the Green Canal but opted to not go that route. The water is abnormally frigid. They say it’s green because the antifreeze in it keeping it from turning into ice. I say let it freeze and then you could skate across rather than swim it! Of course, this is in jest, there isn’t really antifreeze in the water.

Les points out the frigid Green Canal.

Coming back out through The Long Crawl, and the trough of water, Paul says “hold on wait a minute!” right as I’m in the worst part of it! I holler back to Hat and Les behind me to stay out of the water for a bit. Les says “why, are you taking photos?” I said “No it’s not me, I swear! It’s Paul!” and sure enough Paul took a few photos of me coming out of the trough.

Me coming through the Trough in the Long Crawl. Photo by Paul Fairman.

Repeating the swim out wasn’t as bad as the way in. The water is too cold to leave the wetsuit off, so back on it went. Going downstream meant I didn’t need to breathe as deeply for air, or even move as it was basically a float out, so there was less stress on my bound up compressed chest. I think once I get a chance to get a wetsuit that fits well, I will enjoy wetsuit caving as I absolutely love swimming and water.  I grew up swimming in Lake Michigan, so cold water doesn’t bother me at all!


The next cave I wanted to see was Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. I have been to OFD before, and was looking forward to return. This time however, I went with Josh and Ellen into OFD2 via the Top Entrance. We did a standard trip to the Judge, Trident and Selenite Passage.

The Judge


Selenite Passage


Soon it was time to leave for Hidden Earth. It was interesting. Contests included blindfolded knot tying with a barely-long-enough piece of rope, tackle bag rope stuffing, and ladder coiling! I’d never coiled a ladder before, and after a quick lesson I did it in just over two minutes, quite a respectable time for the length it was. I was told I did it correctly and very neatly as well. The cables need to be laid in such a way that you can just unroll the ladder right down the pitch without it getting hung up, so there is actually technique to it.

My lecture about TAG caving went very well. The room started full, and ended packed with even standing room almost filled up. I ended it with a pit bouncing video I made last fall. People’s questions mostly surrounded the use of Racks. Racks were commonly used in the UK until the invention of the Stop so it’s not crazy to think they work fine in that sort of rigging – it’s just been forgotten. However, the wide variety we have in the States are not readily available so I think it was an eye-opener to the newer generation of cavers there. The common Stop complaints I heard were “heats up too fast”, “hand cramps”, “jerky ride / not smooth”, and “lack of speed control”. I let people borrow my Micro Rack to try out, and everyone who tried it, loved it.


From Hidden Earth I went to Chris Crowley’s place as he was heading back to London on Tuesday morning and could give me a lift to the airport. I ended up getting underground one last time before I left. We went to Clearwater Cave, indeed a cave but mined for iron.

Old mineworks inside the cave.

It was rather interesting to see old mining tools and all the interesting colors in the cave from the iron. There were other minerals in the cave as well, as I even found some purple crystals growing! I can’t say I remember all the details, but since Chris is a geologist and quite knowledgeable about local history he knew many interesting facts about the cave and the mining operation in it.



The next day was my flight back home. I will probably return again someday. In particular I would like to spend a lot more time in Wales and do some more trips in the Dales. Also, I have yet to make it to Titan, their deepest pit. There are so many caves all over the world, I’m sure I will never get bored!

You can see more photos from my trips on my flickr account.