Always Time for Tea – Part 3: Ogof Capel

2016-08-07

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 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.

hiking-back-halfway-down

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.

 

U is for Unterstein Cave

Unterstein = Under Stone

This is a different post from usual…I have been shooting video and been making clips.

What started out as a normal ridgewalk with my dog, Edraith, happily running back and forth between myself, Brian, and Alexander, turned into a dig project when Edraith indicated a hole. With zero surface indication I was dubious but she was intent (and loves caves). I stuck my hand over the fist-sized hole and felt cold air blowing out! It was good enough to end our ridgewalk and switch to digging 😀

Day 2: The day we named it:

Day 3, the second day into the cave!

It is still going, and still blowing, and we are exploring!

T is for Three Turkey’s Plunge

Impromptu mid-week caving trip to a T-Cave! Troy and I headed out to a mountain on the outskirts of Huntsville to Three Turkey’s Plunge. We ended up hiking in on the correct elevation, a nice level section near the contact. We found the entrance without troubles and started to rig. Our original intent was to bottom the cave, so we brought extra rope and I brought my in-cave vertical system. The entrance drop is almost 170-ft, but there is more vertical to make it to the bottom.

Pit EntranceEntrance and our choice tree to rig.

It is a beautiful pit, the rappel quickly joins with two parallel domes, the other two don’t reach the surface. It was one of the prettiest drops I’ve done in a while.

Main Dome EntranceThe main entrance shaft.

Second DomeA parallel dome, complete with a waterfall!

The drop was a bit drippy but not overly wet. Right now, the weather has been dry so in the Spring I would guess one might wish a rain jacket for the entrance drop. So far I’ve shown photos of two of the three domes (the entrance shaft and a side dome), but what about the third? Well, the third had a pool in the entire bottom of it, and it was loaded with cave crawfish, more than I have ever seen before in one place. There was a lot of organic matter so they are quite happy little critters.

So many cave crawfish!There were about 30 I counted in this pool…the largest ones were almost the size of my hand, very large for cave crawfish! Even the big ones were amelanistic and had no eyes.

I’m guessing the one of my friends who hates cave crawfish will never want to go here, now. I guess they are kinda like spiders to some people. Me, I think they are cute. They just want to cuddle….with their pinchers! Obviously we don’t touch them, I’m just making a joke here 😉

We explored onwards. We didn’t like what we quickly ran into…a canyon that looked difficult to climb, and tight.

Up is the Way OnThis is a vertical pan, the slot at the top is in the ceiling about 15 or 20-ft up.

The walls were covered in a dried and cracked almost-rock that I am told is called breccia. Chimneying up is extremely difficult so we backtracked a bit, piled up rocks, and Troy got up into the canyon crawling forward. Putting together slings and prussiks, he lowered a line down to which I clipped on one of our ropes, which he pulled up rigged around himself as a meat anchor for me to climb up and join him. It would’ve worked great! Except…I got stuck. The first level you see in the above photo I made it through, but the narrower slot above it, which went to the level required to move forward, I didn’t fit.

Vertical Crack SelfieSelfie!

My chest got through, but my hips are my limitation, and I just couldn’t make it up through this vertical crack into the 90-deg bend to move forward. The photo above showed how tight it was, and to make it worse, the walls up here are covered in popcorn which just grabs everything. I tried for about 20 minutes, and then gave up and just sat there “stuck” (not stuck-stuck, just wedged) while Troy checked the way on. We couldn’t figure out how to get me into the right level to continue, and so we turned around and headed back out.

Horizontal TraverseThe way on, Troy made it to where he could sit and even stand up.

It was an exercise in some fun rigging again on this trip, Troy meat anchored my climb, then I meat anchored a traverse he did to move forward, then he hard rigged to rocks for my descent, then we re-rigged for a pulldown to get him down without leaving the rope, which I meat anchored in a bottom-belay fashion. Creativity at its finest!

So in the end, we didn’t bottom it, but I don’t think I could make it to the bitter end of this cave size-wise. I would go back to do the entrance drop though, as it was lovely!