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.
It’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.
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!
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.