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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