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!