W is for Well Then Horror Hole

My friends Brandon and Troy found a new pit recently, and invited me to check it out. Apparently, I was the third person to visit. While they have not surveyed yet, Troy taped it to 186-ft deep, broken in two distinct drops.

The top is very small, not so much to be a huge problem, but tight and awkward. In fact, it is easier to switch to left hand rappel based on where the tiny bit of “elbow space” is.

Entering the SqueezeTroy entering the constriction on the first pitch, while I wait at a “land bridge”.

Once through this tight spot, the pit opens up and actually looks pretty impressive for a bit, and it looks like there are side passages to neighboring domes (so far nothing goes). A little bit of a rebelay/traverse line gets you to the nicely free-hanging second drop.

Drop #2Troy maneuvering to the second pitch.

Down at the bottom there are some nice large horn coral fossils, I am guessing based on what the limestone looks like in other caves in this area that it is Monteagle at the bottom, as there is a bit of a thin shale-y layer we passed on the second drop that is classic of the thin and spotty Hartselle formation in this region.

One side of the bottom looks like there might be going passage up high – Brandon climbed this on a previous trip and said it was another dome.

Look Inside a Horn CoralHorn coral.

Nothing much else to look at, we started climbing back up. Troy went first so I could get a decent shot of the pit, well, really the second pitch. In taking the photo I noticed there was a creepy wedged boulder right above me!

Hanging Rock DropThanks to Brandon and Troy for letting me see your new-found cave!

Always Time for Tea – Part 5: Wheal Jane

2016-08-09

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.

snottiteSnottite!

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

2016-08-08

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

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