Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas eve and all at sea!

Christmas is kinda frustrating. For me a nice period off work, but limited in adventure potential by the demands of family and socializing!

Last Christmas tho' was pretty amazing - the snow and ice was still with us and Christmas day itself was blue skies and icy cold.
Pen y Fan, Christmas day 2010. Emily about to ski back down.

Alas this year somewhat different - mild, damp and very green...... However on Christmas eve I managed to trade in some of those family 'brownie points' for a seapaddle to Flatholm Island with paddling chums Taran and Stuart.

Stuart in festive spirit!
Our start was about an hour prior to low tide from Penarth seafront, with Stuart in festive attire! The day was forecast to be around F5 - 7 but fortunately it didn't get that rough, although the wind and a confused sea state did make sections of the crossing somewhat bouncy. There was also the added bonus of keeping an eye out for a random breaking wave side-swiping you! We aimed somewhat left of the Island and fortunately our guesstimate angling around tide, wind and seastate worked to see us hit the island.
Penarth seafront. Photo by Taran

On the paddle out.
Admiring big guns!

Taran as we leave Flatholm.
Once on Flatholm we had a bit of an amble around but on the island the wind chill definitely had more bite and we soon had the desire to get out and paddle to warm up again.

The tide was starting to turn to the flood so we aimed at Lavernock point and started our paddle back to Penarth. In the distance a large buoy always to our right until we get close and suddenly its on the left as the tidal current pushes us up the estuary. A last effort and a calmer sea state sees our arrival back on the muddy Penarth fore.

An excellent few hours spent in good company. It also shows the fabulous places and adventure that exist on our door step. Flatholm is only a few miles off shore but given the nature of the Bristol Channel and our weather, it's a trip that is foolish to underestimate.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Drop the Dead Donkey.....

This weekend saw a return to a cave, Ogof Gwynt yr Eira, that I used to visit regularly with its frontline digging crew who were embarked on a heroic endeavour to hit the fable Llygad Llwchwr master cave . The site was first dug in the mid '80s by a mixed bag of South Wales Caving Club members. Over the next 10 plus years the cave was pushed to around 500m in length and over 70m deep. However the master cave comtinued to remain elusive and enthusiasm, time and knees gradually gave out.......

However some renewed interest in the cave has re-emerged, amongst which is my good cave diving mate Martin Groves. Years ago he and Rhys Williams (taking a slash below) spent many a wednesday evening digging in the slurry of the bottom streamway instead of getting p*ssed up with fellow students. Eventually they hit a sump, which a fledgling cave diving Martin had a go at pushing. However small passage size and a committing bend prevented further progress.
Rhys admiring the snowy scenary.
A winters day sees a return to the cave after many years. The aim is to dig the bottom sump out and see if safer progress can be made in it. The day fits the caves name well - Ogof Gwynt yr Eira is basically 'Cave of the Snowy Wind'!

The entrance series drops steeply, negotiating past feats of engineering on the way that appear to be with standing time and neglect surprisingly well. You then drop into some horizontal passage at a point that could be called the 'mid level' from which is possible to explore delights such as 'the Squalors' and the 'Alaska' series. However our journey continues down, through a short body sized tube and down a series of pitches called 'Drop the Dead Donkey' pitches! These lie on a large fault line that controls the geology here - passing this is probably the key into the llygad master system. The initial discovers thought they had found it when they first broke into these large open, but loose, shafts. Cruelly the cave just found some new challenges to tease them with!

The shafts need care to descend. The slopes and landings between the drops are littered with loose rock and its impossible to avoid kicking stuff down the shaft. Also the ropes and bolts have been in place for a good 10 to 15 years - some of the mailllon rapids are looking thin on non-corroded metal!

Phil Walker at sump base.
Once established at the sump base Martin got kitted up and digging began. This involved Martin filling a sand bag with mud from the sump, dragging it out and loading it into a drag tray which was then dragged out of the muddy tube and emptied into some rubble bags, and then stashed behind a wooden dam built years previously by Rhys and Martin. While this was going on I, and later Rhys, took time to explore the upper passage accessible from this point. Gained by an old piece and climbing rope, held by corroding thro' bolts and maillions, a considerable amount of passage leads off from the top of the climb. Alas no news leads were obvious.

Martin returning with an empty cyclinder from the sump.
Eventually Martin emptied both cylinders (used one at a time as no room to have two cylinders in the sump!) and we could think about heading out, but not before taking an anniversary photo of Krysia and Martin who were celebrating their 6th wedding anniversary on this trip! Never marry a cave diver if your expecting champagne and oysters............

Hard to tell what air is left from the mud.....

happy 6th wedding anniversary!

1996 survey of cave

We found this snow man guarding the cars when we came out!

Martin emerging from the cave
Our arrival on the surface finds it snowing, giving us a nice breezy and chilly changing spot! Then back to South Wales caving Club to retrieve my car and steal some cups of tea - an excellent day.

Rhys slightly muddier than when he went into the cave....
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Monday, 12 December 2011

A Paddle on the Usk - Sennybridge to Aberbran

To make up for yesterdays missed seakayak opportunity (see previous post) I managed to get on a river trip with the Glam Boaters crew. A good mix of abilities and ages saw eight of us paddle the popular section of the river Usk from Sennybridge to Aberbran, commonly called the 'three falls'.

Gathering boats and paddles!
The day was pretty dank and miserable - good welsh canoe weather - but spirits were warm! My canoe career is pretty limited and this was a stretch of river I hadn't done. Water levels were reasonably high so we moved along quickly even on the flatter sections.
Start of the trip

Overall the river is class 2/3, with the technical bits being in the first mile in the form of the 'three falls'. The first is a meter drop, but with a shoot hard right which we did have a throw line ready on. All the group more or less happily shot through the fall with suitable grins on their faces. The second is similar but we took it left of centre. There were a few frantic paddles to get out of the back tow at the base of the drop from some of the team! However the third is the most technical as well as the biggest drop and this we all portaged. The good line has a tree in it, and the water levels were sufficient to make the rest of the fall look pretty nasty with a harsh back tow into the undercut thats below the water line. We went for the better part of valor!

Unknown paddler on first fall

Another paddler from same group taking the shoot

Young David going over the first fall.

Luke enjoying the river

The rest of the trip is a bouncy class 2 with regular play waves and bouncy standing wavesets - nothing technical but enough to keep you interested, and to keep you moving along. At one of these spots, where a tributary joined the river, Lauren did her first moving water roll - and well pleased she was!
Our youngster David (age 11) desperate to play!

....with dad following!

Moonlight running

Todays original adventure plan had been for an epic sea paddle with Taran, but alas the timing belt on his fan decided to snap giving him a severe mobility and financial problem in one hit. 
Summit of Pen y Fan in the moonlight.
So advantage was taken of the fine weather to earn some 'brownie points' and catch up with tasks about home and garden, but with the cunning plan to drag the dog out for a run later on. 
That later on was just after sunset, as myself and hound set off up Pen y Fan in the tail end of the dusk twilight. A steady plod using night vision and light from the rising moon gained the classic summits of Corn Du and Pen y Fan. 

As usual the wind on these tops was much stronger, with a keen bite. The tops themselves had a dusting of snow, and the surrounding landscape had a dispersed moonglow to it as th moon tried to shine through the thin cloud.

I stopped to try to take some pictures, but a keen wind and a lack of gloves (as well as tripod) soon won over from photo creativity! So the dog lead was grabbed and steady pace back down the hill made, this time with torchlight as well, in an attempt to blast some warmer blood into the hands!

Looking back from the base of the 'toilet carpark' track
A short but magic run, with only the dog for company... the things you have to do to get a Pen y fan to yourself!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Classic dog runs. Part 1

If I remember then this post will be the start of an irregular series.... Anyway a few years back my beloved missus and daughter decided we were going to have a dog. I didn't want a dog. It's not that I don't like dogs, in fact I do like dogs, but they need lots of exercise, attention, feeding, holiday care....... Cutting to the chase I lost the argument and shortly after christmas 2009 a dog home near Bridgend had one less dog to worry about.

Cindy (the name the kennel gave her!) is a hybrid hound of barrel body, short legs and collie colours. she has an affinity for stinking boggy holes and hence I've decided this is a breed of 'swamp dog'. She soon learned that me clad in running kit meant a decent 'walk' which now means if I want to leave the house for a run without the dog I have to sneak out without her noticing!

Saying that, and despite the short legs she has become a regular running companion. Not an ideal one I may add. Her ability to come when called depends on;
a) Number of squirrles around
b) Number of rabbits around
c) Anyother small furry things around
d) any foxcrap available to roll in
e) any quality smelly swampy places to squallar around....

Livestock is also a problem. Sheep run so the dog has to run after them (the collie part comes out). Thankfully shes not a danger to them just a pain and I have to thank at least two farmers for being understanding when she has caught me out. So anywhere with sheep about she has to be on the old bit of climbing rope used as a lead.

Despite all this she can be used as an excuse to go hill running. In the summer I introduced her to Munros whilst up in the Oban area. The dogs first Munro was a classic run taking the standard route up Ben Cruachan whilst the family did the hydro electricity station tour. The first bit of fun was on reaching the top storage reservoir for the hydro station. My route took me to the left of the dam and I suddenly realised the path involved a 20 - 30ft ladder up onto the left edge of the dam! So I grab the dog, sling her under my arm and romp up the laddder one handed much to the amusement of several walkers I had just passed! Fortunately the dog is quite used to such silliness and doesn't wriggle too much.

Views from the top.
The route then follows the track along the dam for a while before turning left to ascend a path following a stream line up to a col on the flanks of the mountain. I have to admit I cut off before his on the way up. Not having a decent map (only an old 1:50 of the first series converted from the old 1 inch) I was following my nose and thought I'd missed the route up so had direct lined up to the ridge on my left before reaching this path. This plonked me on a hill top overlooking the col the path comes up on so I quickly dropped down to the col before attempting to follow the path through the boulder fields up to the summit of Ben Cruachen. A final grind through the rocks and boulders saw our arrival on the summit. I have a quick scoff of a few cereal bars and some water, whilst the dog successfully scavenged some sandwich titbits from two walkers feasting on the summit, and then it was back down.

The run back down through the boulders was pretty tough for the hound and her short legs, but we had a good descent once we hit the proper path off the col, skidding the loose sections whilst avoiding pushing rocks onto walkers coming up. Not relishing down climbing the ladder on the dam with the dog I crossed to the other side and used the path off from here, before enjoying the final fly down the narrow path back to the road. A great run and a knackered dog!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Deeper on down.......

Pwll Dwfn is the only 'proper' pothole in South Wales. A series of around 5 pitches drops down around 80m with the cave finishing at a pool. Many divers have splurged around in this pool hoping to spot a potential way on, and many plans hatched on how to dig it. Recently a team of divers, spurred by enthusiasm from Gareth Davies, have gone to considerable effort to set an airlift system to excavate a way through the silt and gravel in the pool. Sunday I joined in the fun but primarily to try and take a few pictures of the dig front action but also to offer to drag some of the empty cyclinders back out!

Gareth begins the first dive inspecting progress before the visibility is lost.

Return from the first inspection - more digging required!

Visibility in the pool soon deteriorates especially once the airlift gets going.

Chris Minton at the base of he last pitch.

Mike Barnes coming to join the fun after starting the airlift compressor.

Chris Minton in the short section of passage between the final pitch chamber and the pool on his way to take his turn diving.

Chris and Malcolm Stewart at work.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A fettle in Cwm Dwr Quarry Cave

A bit of a tough weekend has just past. Not from physical challenge but from fighting some damned bug (well virus). Whilst not bed ridden, the original plan for a run on the hills with my good caving mate Martin Groves and our dogs was out of the window. It didn't help being at the South Wales Caving club for the weekend for fireworks and fine ale......... the subsequent late night and beer didn't help with a cure!

Desperate to do something 'useful' I quietly slip on caving kit and disappear for a couple hours on my own into the entrance area of Cwm Dwr Qaurry Cave. Part of the plan was to do some 'beastie hunting' - basically looking for small miserable spiders living in the entrance zones of caves (something I do some research on). The other was to spend some time getting my cave photography head back on and sorting the reliability of the photo kit, particular to properly trial some cheap radio slaves I recently bought.

I settle on a nice calcite column in a section of passage on the main route through the cave as a the subject matter of my testing. The images on the right show some of the attempts messing with flash positions and getting to grips with setting up for solo cave photography. However I do need to invest in some micro tripods for the flashes as positioning these where you actually want them is the key problem when you are on your own.

Whilst not the greatest of cave shots it was a useful hour fettling with the kit, plus I didn't have to worry about other people hanging around getting cold!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Teifi Tour 2011

Warm up!
The Teifi Tour is a weekend festival centred on canoeing the Afon Teifi. Normally this is a weekend spent competeing in the OMM mountain marathon, but this years event was in Scotland - I didn't fancy the trek up north and nobody had asked me to partner them! Thus I went for a day of the Tour, joining my fellow Glam Boaters.

Laura in 'action' shot!
The event is well organised with shuttle buses taking you to various drop off points on the River. saturday saw a mixed bag group of 15 of us doing the Grade 2 section back to Llandysul.  A slow but steady journey was had as we quitely floated downstream and introducing our newer faces to the joys of moving water.

After a chilly and damp lunch stop back at the camp, some nine of use continued with the grade3 section through Llandysul, whilst others in the group got the raft out. The whitewater course section through the village is great fun, but we had a few swimmers on the way. Eventually we arrived at 'the Cauldron'. Here we stopped to watch a steady stream of canoeists paddle this 3+ rapis with about a 20% swim rate, but with good bank cover on hand! Most of the group went for an attempt at the rapid, and most made it! All came out smiling.

Pete learning fast....
Time was now against us - we didn't have time to get to the next pick out point about 3 miles downstream so opted to carry the boats back to base. However the river was now quite and we counldn't resist a final run down the course, enjoying a good play on the way :-)

Big rubber fun ?!
By now the weather had become really crap again. For the rest it was a night of feasting and drinking and attempting to sleep in a sodden tent amongst many drunken students... for me it was a pretty horrendous drive back to Cardiff.

Almost lost.......

A chance meeting on the Taff Trail with the evergreen Nick Dallimore reminded me that some orienteering was to had over the 22/23rd October weekend. It had been a good year or two since I'd done a 'proper' event, so sunday saw some venturing up the old 'heads of the vallies' road to Clydach Terraces. This area was mapped only a few years ago and is a technical navigators dream, being a chaotic rambling mass of contour lines set amongst an area of old tips and open moorland.

I went for the 'Brown' course to get maximum value out of the days fun. Needless to say my lacl of recent orienteering showed, and whilst I navigated ok I wasn't very sharp, and ended up in the lower quarter of the field... but it was great! As ever very well organised and very friendly. If interested visit SWOC's website.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu ramblings.....

An early picture of 'The Junction' in Ogof ffynnon Ddu 1
I sometimes forget how good caving can be. With the general balancing of work, family and play some months can pass without a caving trip. The weekend just gone had seen a large gathering at the South Wales Caving Club to raise funds for the recent purchase of the land around the bottom entrance to the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system.

The good thing about such weekends is you catch up with old friends. On this ocassion I arrive, sort sleeping arrangements and let the kids loose before tagging onto a trip with old friends Tim and Lou, and another of the Oxford Uni Caving mob, Simon. A fabulous social trip ensues - nothing serious - just a general plod from OFD1 to the middle entrance Cwm Dwr. Some furtling around in various places along the way, and some 'cave beastie' spoting - looking for Proasellus and Niphargus (true cave dwelling crustacea) in pools and streams along the way.

The Nether Rawl in Cwm Dwr taken some 20 years ago by the late Giles Barker
A few hours of caving and then a run across Pant Mawr moor and back with another friend and our dogs, before getting back to roast pig and real ale. Now that makes for a pretty fabulous day.

Heol Eira in Cwm Dwr. Technically Industrial pollution from an old lime kiln!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Three Peaks Cyclocross 2011

On the final descent off Pen y Ghent... yee hah!
The (almost) annual trip 'upp north for the Three Peaks Cyclocross race. This was the 49th edition of this classic cycle race. Whilst a mere 40 miles in length, around 22 miles of the course is off road and of this you can expect to carry the bike for around 5 miles. Plus you can only use a cyclocross bike - no fat tires or suspension here!

Last year I completed using my singlespeed, but this year went for a return to gears. A few reasons - one to see how much faster gears would be, but mainly because the singlespeed is my commuting machine and to convert over to 'cross racing would be a faff!

Once again this years trip was driven by my illustrious good mate Simon Nurse of Cardiff's JIF cycle club for whom 'cross and Belgian culture (mainly its beer...) have become somewhat obsessive. Our drive to Yorkshire became the usual M5/M6 torture. We wisely observe the gantry signs warning of problems around J13 and detour through Wolverhampton only to run into another jam as soon as we rejoin the motorway - caught by another and recent crash which had just closed the M6 ahead..... A couple hours of crawling and we are off the junction but wisely ignore the detour signs. Instead we go the opposite way and use some old fashioned map navigation to get back onto the open road. Close to 9 hours from leaving Cardiff we arrive at Settle..... so fish and chips and a couple of bottles of 'Black Sheep' and I'm race prepared!

Sunday morning is grey and drizzly, and the tops are in the cloud. Not a good start. Some 30 minutes before the race start and heavy drizzle closes in. Huddled in the start crowd the drizzle starts to seep into you and create that chilled dank feeling. Countdown and we're off - a frantic flying start in which I spin my wheels but loads fly past - I'm not a roady and cant hold my start position. soon though we are in my comfort zone - open muddy fell and I do my best to dash around the snaking trail of bike carrying souls whenever I can.

Dashing up Ingleborough. Andy Holden images
The top of  Ingleborough is damp and grey, and I'm hampered further by my spectacles which I remove and stash in a back pocket. The descent off proves slower than last year as I try to avoid deep bits of bog and fellow cyclists! Back onto road - and chain gangs cruise past. I try to hang on some tails but my roadie skills just ain't there, but its soon back to fell and the slog up Whernside where I quietly pull some places back trying to push through the wandering line. Whernsides descent is rocky and quite technical - a good ride - with the final few miles of helter skelter along a gravel track. Past the iconic viaduct and back to road.

Frantic dash off Pen y Ghent. Andy Holden Images
Energy feels low so time to feed - futile attempts to clean the mud and cowshite off the gel packets before slurping the mix of sweet slime and gritty bits. Grind on along the road. Soon its on the track to Pen y Ghent. As I start the grind up the lead men come racing down. The fabulous chaos now ensues of riders grinding their way up, while other riders are coming slinging down at a rate of knots. Meanwhile spectators, walkers, supporters, dogs, mountain bikers, runners add to the mix of potential carnage.. but it all works. No Mr Angry from Slough shouting 'this isn't right', more akin to a 'tour de france' Alle' alle' alle'..........

I chase what turns out to be third lady off Pen y Ghent. We both get held back by some slower riders but she takes some necky lines and gets past - I have to wait a bit longer before getting a good passing slot. Its then eyeballs out down the track, gaining a few more places before a great crash on a lose corner trying to miss a fellow cyclist coming up! Fortunately its quickly back on bike and to the finish.........

The finish line - 4 hours 12 minutes - a good time. Simon is a few minutes ahead. We scrub the worst of the mud and get changed. The sun is now out and its a fine Yorkshire day, so its to the Helwith Bridge for a pint or two! Another fab event - Well done Three Peaks people!