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Ogof y Daren Cilau - St David's Streamway

By Martin Beale, 27 January 2002

Report with photos available on vHut

After several evening trips into Ogof y Daren Cilau, I at last had the chance for a significant weekend exploration of this fine cave. Although this day trip was brilliant and we covered nearly 9km underground in total (there and back), it is clear that a day simply does not do this cave justice.

Changing in the Daren Cilau car park was particularly gruesome as the rain was torrential and almost horizontal. I had previously sought guidance on the suitability of OyDC for a day such as this. Crickhowell Adventure Sports very kindly phoned Martyn Farr for his opinion. "The entrance never sumps, but it should be pretty unpleasant in these conditions" : we had the green light.

Looking into the entrance puddle, I knew I was back where I belonged. I was not sure how Tom would take to the intricacies of the entrance series, but he seemed to start off at a fairly good pace. I was giving him encouragement and useful little tips along the way (I hope to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of this entrance series before the winter is through). All the obstacles were reasonably despatched and we popped out of the entrance series an hour after we had grovelled in.

We hoped to make swift progress on the way in in order to try to reach some of the further reaches of the cave. We trotted down Jigsaw Passage and were at Big Chamber in about half an hour. We sat down and signed in. Last time I had been here, I had a heart sinking feeling as I opened my Daren drum only to find it waterlogged. I apprehensively opened the drum once more and this time pulled out some dry Mars bars and chocolate biscuits : they tasted all the sweeter following the mishaps of last time.

The navigation to the ladder climbs was easier the second time round. We made swift progress through Royston's Five Ways Chamber, Five Ways Chamber and Valentines Chamber. The obstacles in this section didn't put up too much resistance even with the bag.

After stopping for a drink from the drip bottles in Preliminary Passage, we unpacked the cowstails and Stitch plates for the ladder climbs. It is always amazing to realise that this climb was originally done without ladders : the line at the bottom was somewhat different, but at the top, real climbing techniques would have been employed. It looked like a truly audacious piece of exploration on the first ascent. The cowstails made the descent into White Passage seem much safer. The ropes on these rope climbs have knots in them and it is possible to clip the cowstails into these knots. I would not like to do these climbs without protection as the mud makes them pretty slippery.

White Passage and the red river headed inexorably inwards. We stomped down the streamway and climbed the boulder slope into The Time Machine. The Time Machine's vastness defeated even my FX-ion with an FX3 bulb : that place is really big. I should probably spend some time in there to appreciate the sheer emptiness of it all. We picked our way between the house sized boulders and around the holes in the floor to the drop into the Bonsai Streamway.

The Bonsai Streamway was red which presumably means that it is the same water as that in White Passage. I showed Tom the amazing displays of speleothems on the way. There were treats for the eyes around every corner : a little helictite and stal gallery above the river, the Bonsai Tree itself (so delicate and fascinating), a collection of single crystals that seemed to form diffraction patters in the light of my torch (well, that's what I liked to think), the Crystal Inlet... One of the fascinating things about this section of streamway is that these speleothems have survived despite being so close to the stream. In 10000 years, the Bonsai Streamway has never risen to engulf these sites.

At Perseverance Passage, we were breaking new ground. The Bonsai Stremway was more active because of the water from Perseverance Passage, but was no less well decorated. Straws hung above the river in places, crystal walls towered up to the ceiling some 10m overhead. The streamway sloped inexorably downwards and we picked our way over boulders through the stream with those beautiful walls trying to distract our attention. Eventually, the stream deepened and we were wading in waist deep water : according to the book, the cave was in flood.

Climbing out of the streamway, we found ourselves in the Hard Rock Cafe. I was shocked to see a spider hanging from the ceiling and then a dismembered hand. As the adrenaline subsided, it became apparent that these were thankfully just made of plastic. The Hard Rock Cafe is a luxurious looking speleocamp and a place that has to be visited again.

The cave changes character as you walk down the Kings Road. This is a fossil passage though you can occasionally here the water of the Bonsai streamway beneath. What was unmistakable was the roar of St Davids Streamway at the end. It had that inexorable sound of a train as it thundered through the tunnel. As we approached the banks of this underground river, we realised that this was the limit of our exploration. The foaming angry river would be impassable in these conditions : we would have got swept away into the sump. We sat on the near bank and gazed down towards the sump in the light of the FX-ion. In a way, I was grateful that we had been stopped just short of the sump : there is now so much more reason to come back and explore this downstream end of the cave. I cracked open the barrel once more and we took our pick of the feast inside. A tin of fruit cocktail was particularly re invigorating and this little delicacy has now firmly established itself on the cavestodge menu.

We had reached the sump in 4h30m and it was certainly time to go home. I was teasing Tom about forcing his weary body through the entrance series, but he confidently stated that the entrance series held no fear for him. We made good progress out of the cave to Big Chamber (passing what seemed to be a genuine spider's web in Royston's Five Ways Chamber!). We probably reached Big Chamber in around 2 hours from the sump (and an hour from the Time Machine, thus establishing the Time Machine as an evening objective). We had one last little morsel from the stodgedrum before abandoning it as the HPCC gear dump (it will be a welcome sight on evening meets). I left it with a heavy heart : it had been our companion on a fine exploration.

I had estimated an hour for us to exit the entrance series. Although we were tired, I thought that Tom would have become akin to it on the way in and these opposing factors would cancel themselves out. However, Tom was really tired and his knees and elbows were bothering him (knee and elbow pads are de rigeur in the entrance series). I honestly felt in fine form as I negotiated the obstacles, but I kept waiting to coax Tom through the bends and grovels. I knew what his knees must have felt like as he crawled along bouldery floors. At last The Vice appeared and we could feel the fresh air blowing down the cave. The last few corners were not going to stop us at this stage. I saw the other drum we had left on the way in and I knew we were almost there. The roof lowered, I pushed myself through the entrance puddle and I looked up at the night sky : I was out. A couple of minutes later, an exhausted but exhilarated Tom Brunt popped out of the cave too. Despite a nasty hour and three quarters in the entrance series on the way out, Tom couldn't help but agree with me that that was one of the finest trips ever. OyDC holds so many possibilities.

Tom Brunt comments ...

It is the cave that has everything - squirming, streamway, formations, huge passages. It was an excellent trip to St. David's Streamway. For a short while we were contemplating getting across the roaring white water to view the terminal sump. Such ideas didn't last long when we tentatively stepped into the torrent. The risk of getting sucked into the sump and making an involuntary free dive to the Clydach gorge was far too great.

On the way in the entrance felt fine. None of the obstacles individually seemed too desperate and the entire section was enjoyable in a burly sort of way. On the way out it was completely different experience. Insufficient padding on the knees and none on the elbows made progress agonising (and agonisingly slow). Every so often my calf muscles would go into involuntary spasms and cramps. The occassional opportunities to stand were blissful. Getting out was a just a great feeling. I felt like I'd been through a mangle several times - completely spanked.

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