North Wales I
David Wilson, James Perry, James Wilson, Matti Mitropoulos, Leo Antwis, Chris Hayes, Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Valery Kirenskis, Laura Temple, Kevin Sohn, Fan, Matt Elliott
The first time we would be staying at Imperial’s mountain hut! I had mixed reviews: Jergus had said ‘it’s shit’ and Laura described it as ‘actually completely fine’, so I was curious to see how grotty it ended up being, especially given how much cheaper it is than everywhere else we go. It ended up being a bit of a mixed bag – its quite cosy and has good chairs and tables, an acceptably large living room and an actual shower. Downsides are tiny kitchen, one toilet only, parking is a minute’s walk away, weird lock; most crucially though the bedroom and communal space has no division, meaning anyone trying to sleep early has to try to do so with immense noise. When we arrived there was also mouse shit all over the kitchen which was unfortunate.
Another downside is the tap water isn’t drinkable. Rather than boiling it or just drinking it anyway like most others did, I decided to drink nothing but cider for the whole weekend, to the dismay of my nephrons.
We stayed up chatting for a while, discussing the lubricative properties of various bodily fluids, and predicting the CRO’s reaction if they found Kevin at the top of Big Meanie covered in each.
I arrived early in stores to help a few people who couldn’t make it on Tuesday to pack and to soak some expo ropes. Ellie arrived halfway through to replace her bike pedal which took around an hour and a Dremel (it was very entertaining). By 5, most people had a arrived and stores was once again emptied onto the street as Matti went to get the bus. Somehow, we left by 6!
The first hour or so of the drive went very well. Then Matti read the ‘fine print’ for St Mary’s mountain hut, we needed to bring our own firewood, toilet roll, and on top of this, we were advised to bring our own cooking implements?! Furthermore, my friend Matt who was to help with navigation arrived at the hut, only to find he could not enter. Fortunately after some phone calls, he made it in, and we arrived in Birmingham for our shop.
Davie and Leo took off to pick up Perry and for some driving practice leaving the rest of us to wander through Morrisons. In typical ICCC style, we spent ages shopping, and then sitting around eating.
Leo took over as driver, his first time with the fully loaded bus. A few curbs were hit, and several complaints were voiced by James, but he navigated the many twists, turns, and roundabouts of the A5 like a pro. Finally we arrived around 2am and made our way into the hut for the warm welcome of Matt’s dying fire, and so, so, so many mouse droppings.
Croesor-Rhosydd through trip: Everyone
I was awoken by Chris bounding out of bed at half seven cos he left his weekday alarm on and couldn’t find his phone to turn it off. Went back to bed for another 45 minutes before getting up to get breakfast ready. I found Chris already in the kitchen, having spent the time since he got up ridding every possible surface in the kitchen of mouse shit. That did mean I could get to cooking right away, implementing the newly perfected eggy bread – large fresh loaves from the bakery section, cut into thicc af slices to speed up the process immensely.
Chris had spent many weeks planning out the big Croesor-Rhosydd through trip, including inviting his friend Matt to come as a second leader, so nothing was allowed to go wrong. We divided into 3 groups, Matt’s group in front, an unleadered group in the middle, Chris’ group at the back. We determined places where each group would wait for the one behind before continuing, where the chokepoints would be, where the most likely things were to go wrong etc etc. Then the regular program of faff ensued as everyone generally moved to the state of readiness. Ultimately the single toilet was the limiting factor.
We managed to get everyone ready to leave the car park by 12:30, which Matt seemed to find a bit ridiculous but I thought was pretty reasonable. Clearly he was used to significantly less layers of faff. During the arduous yet pretty walk up we met two people and a dog, who started walking with us and ended up walking all the way to the entrance. Turns out they were Chris’ parents, who had driven to meet him on his mum’s birthday. After they left I played us a creative rendition of Mary had a little lamb on old mining equipment, and we entered the stooping entrance into the dead straight tunnel.
I had been in touch with various people about what to expect from the mines in the area, but as is often the case, experiencing it first hand is different to having it described to you. The entrance tunnel was a comfortable walk for a few minutes through a jagged passage featuring the off wooden support structure, until we hit a small chamber. We had a poke around into some of the side passages and James found a gargantuan cavern just off to the side. Here it became obvious that the scale of these mines was completely different to what we were used to – this first chamber alone was probably a hundred or so metres long, thirty metres across and a sloping roof that went from ten meters on one side to thirty on the other in a perfect trapezium. And that was only to the water level – when we dropped a stone into the water it sank out of sight before hitting the bottom, even despite the crystal clear, perfectly still water. Safe to say we spent a good amount of time gawking at the reverberations before climbing up the slope to the first pitch.
Just before the pitch Chris led me around to what may have been the sketchiest traverse I’ve done underground - in situ rope on rusty hangars with immense rope rub against sharp slate over a twenty meter drop. I very, very cautiously made my way over, doing my absolute best to avoid the plastic rope being sliced by the extremely jagged slate shards. It was worth it though – looking down the huge chamber from a high ledge was awesome.
At the first pitch I saw the lights of the other group in the distance as they were preparing to go down the next pitch already. Down we descended into the next, slightly smaller but more collapsed-looking chamber, scrambled over some huge boulders to the next pitch head. Here I looked over the edge just in time to see Matt zipline across the lake. Excited to get to the zipline I zipped down the rope and climbed down to the waterside. Here I hear Davey call: ‘make sure you use your cow’s tails to BRAKE!’
I waited for Perry and James to get there before I went, just in case something did go wrong, before clipping myself into Matt’s friend’s tandem pulley and my cow’s tails as a lifeline and jumping off. I had absolutely no idea how much to brake but I did pretty well and landed smoothly on the other side. Called rope free, and jumped straight onto the cable bridge to come back and do it again. James was up next and, after he had landed safely, called that he didn’t really brake at all and it worked fine. Laura was up next, and Perry and I gave very helpful advice about braking ‘just do whatever feels right, you probably don’t need to do much, maybe just keep a hand on it, you know, see how it goes’. Given these extremely clear instructions she smashes straight into the bolt and flies into the ceiling on the other side. I did feel quite bad about that but spent a good amount of time laughing too, after she said she was fine and uninjured. Sorry about that…
On the second time, just as I was getting ready James quietly says the fated words… ‘I dare you to just hold on’. I sway for a second, weighing up my options, and then of course take the challenge, only clipping my cow’s tails to the rope and holding on to the pulley without clipping it to myself. Funnily enough, I had absolutely no control over the amount I braked, and massively overdid it, getting stuck 4 meters from the other side. I spent a good amount of time flailing around barely above the water whilst Perry and James laughed their heads off on the bank. Eventually I found a way to scoot my way over to the shore where Valery was quite concerned, bless him, and I collapsed laughing too.
Eventually we did have to move on, past the Indiana-jones-esque rickety ladder over another lake, and through a series of tunnels interspersed with more rickety bridges and traverses. We soon made it to the fated Chamber of Horrors just as Matt was about to jump down into the canoe. He explained that the original pulley system had broken so they had paddled over using an in situ paddle and attached two strings to the boat, one each connected to each side of the lake. That way the canoe could be retrieved by pulling the twine.
I went over first in my group, realising quite quickly that I probably hadn’t been in a boat this size for about 5 years and had to be quite careful not to fall in. I was over in no time, and watched the canoe disappear around the corner to Valery. James pulled out his speaker and played appropriately epic music into the echoic chamber as Valery gracefully glided over the lake. Soon after Laura and James both made it and we kept moving up a very long steep passage to where Group 1 were waiting for us next to some impressive old mining equipment.
They departed to keep the spacing even, and we waited for Group 3 to arrive. We then made our way through to a series of large chambers interspersed with various collapses which opened out quite dramatically into the grey daylight. Finally we met the last group just as we got to the level 9 adit – the 15 minute walk to the exit.
Once everyone was out Chris and Matt led us through the boggy undergrowth until we hit the main path again, and walked the lengthy way back down to the car park.
Here I realised that we had no vegetarians on the trip (probably should’ve realised that when we didn’t buy veggie sausages on the Friday) so had the opportunity to put some cheeky meat in the dinner; especially since Matt offered to go to the shops anyway to buy some logs for the fire. I joined him in his car full of a random assortment of interesting objects and straight up rubbish, enjoying the ride while he whizzed at high speed around the country lane corners.
Shop complete and back at the hut, the unspoken agreement was made that Chris was head chef but Leo would actually do most of the cooking, as Leo was the only one who actually knew how to cook but needed a stress sponge to be able to utilise his culinary skills unhindered. It worked well – the pasta bake turned out excellent, and it got Chris really drunk. I managed to get out of doing much once more by floating around and answering people’s questions with undeserved confidence.
Games began with the human traverse, which Davey and I dominated, and most were too scared to try for fear of concussion. Never mind – Perry’s ‘pass the pot around your body’ game made a comeback, despite the complaints at WT2021 that it destroyed people’s necks. Funnily enough, there were lots of complaints that people’s necks hurt after that game; don’t think that will be played for another 15 months. Other various games ensued of which I remember progressively less of as I got drunker and drunker on a club-brandy/strong-cider combo. Eventually I found myself hopping the wall into the neighbour’s garden and trying desperately to squeeze my head through a hole in some chicken wire leading into what looked like a small mined out passage but getting dragged back into the hut by Leo.
In a brilliant moment of competence, I forgot to turn off my phones alarm and had to run out of bed at 7 in the morning to turn it off. While I may only have had 3.5 hours of sleep, this gave me a great head start on sterilizing the kitchen. Matti awoke around 8 to begin his 2 hour Eggy-bread ritual.
Everyone was fed by around 10:30, and yet it still took us until 12 to leave the hut! The plan was for 3 groups to do the Croesor Rhosydd through trip (CRTT), the first led by Matt, the second following a route description, and me following up behind. Parking in Croesor car park we kitted up and began the long walk up the valley. Despite our large party of 13, we made good time, completing the hike in only 45 minutes! I also had the pleasure of meeting my parents halfway who joined us for the second half.
Another 20 minutes of faff and the first group (Davie, Matt, Fan, and Kevin) entered the Croesor Adit to begin the rigging. As the other two groups waited Leo took the chance to run off in search of rocks, and James took out his packet of (‘Tangtime’?) sweets. Eventually the sweets were finished, and Leo returned prompting the second group to enter (Matti, James, Valery, and Laura). The third group (me, Perry, Leo, Julien, and Astrid) stayed back a little longer talking to some walkers.
Finally we got marching down the adit and bumped into the second group as they marvelled at the size of the flooded chamber on the right and we headed up the incline together. Things got a little chaotic here as a few of us ran off around the sketchy traverse for a look, and others squeezed through the steel grate before we slowly trickled down the two pitches and played on the zipwire. For a fast method of transport, the bridge beside it made the crossing very slow, as people just kept crossing back for another go. Not eager to queue me and Astrid took a look around a traverse atop the second pitch and found an alternative pitch down which was quite interesting.
Eventually Matti ended up in the lake, and the second group moved on. We followed a few minutes behind. The ladder bridge posed little trouble, and we enjoyed the short walk to the next, admiring the mine as we went. Upon reaching the rotting wooden planks of the third crossing we hesitantly edged our way across and continued to the traverse. While this section can be tricky, we crossed it with relative ease. Finally we reached the last bridge, this one did have a bit of a swing to it which was quite unpleasant!
We again, bumped into the second group at the infamous chamber of horrors. As always, it took quite a while to get everyone across, (especially with the boat becoming tangled around a wire) and it was rather chilly, but watching James paddle across to his tunes, and brilliant torchlight reflection in his wake made it all worth it! Leo also taught me how to C-rig my descender. This was very helpful. All in all it probably took 40 mins for the 7 people there to cross.
I descended into the canoe last and paddled across to see everyone wating happily at the top of the up rope. We crossed quickly through to Rhosydd and marched our way up to the incline. Leo and Perry had a great time spinning on the turn tables here and the headtorches of group 2 could be seen in the distance. Walking upwards, I quickly popped off to check the ahead before we met up at the top for some sausage and rest. Some cavers ran off down the tunnels there and came back with a candle (maybe one of mine and Matt’s old ones?) and we all sat in silence to enjoy some candlelight.
Eager to avoid getting lost, we merged our two groups and began our way out. Navigating the large loose chambers of Rhosydd took some time, but it proceeded without incident, and we soon found ourselves beneath West twll. A few took off at this point, running up the slate pile to see if they could get out. They could not. Finally we re-grouped and made our way down the final incline and met with group one.
It was at this point we were told that Davie and Kevin had left us a buoyancy aid in the canoe (maybe this would have been useful to know earlier?) and we decided to leave it as a donation. Together, we made our way out, sloshing through the level 9 adit and into the open night sky. With some dodgy route-planning from me and Matt, we passed through a bog or two, and found the path back to Croesor. Everyone was quite tired, so this took a while, but we made it back to the bus with a pleasant 2 hours until callout.
Blaenau Ffestiniog Mine: David Wilson, James Wilson, Matti Mitropoulos, Leo Antwis, Chris Hayes, Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Matt Elliott
I was awoken by Matt leaving the bunk below me… not my alarm as I had expected. Hastily checking my watch – Shit, I had overslept by two hours. I ran down the stairs, and didn’t even have time to appreciate the comically pathetic scene that was Chris lying in pain across the comfy chairs. I had a brief exchange with Matt about the timeline of the day and immediately got to making breakfast. It all went pretty swiftly, and we were eating chonky eggy bread before long. We split into those that wanted to cave and those that didn’t, and decided to put all our oversuits into one rucksack for the walk up rather than walking up in oversuits. The drive was lengthy but picturesque, and we were soon in the beautiful tourist destination that was Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Chris had extensively taken the piss out of Blaenau Ffestiniog for being an obvious omission within the area of Snowdonia national park, and the walk up proved the reasoning – it was quite reminiscent of the wasteland Earth from Wall-e. Literal mountains of scrap slate lined the town’s outskirts which we trekked up in the bleak skies, eventually reaching the old mining buildings. Here we walked to the entrance, hid our bags and walked into the impressive entrance chamber.
Matt acted as quite the tour guide, explaining how all of the old equipment worked, from primitive long-distance communication using cables and weights, to an impressive array of mechanical speed regulators for the winches. We did also have some cheeky fun joyriding the old minecarts on the rusted rails, and completed the round trip through windy access tunnels, also lined with old equipment.
The whole vibe of the place was quite imposing; it was clearly an enormous complex – Matt has spent days exploring the system and there are still places he hasn’t been to – and all of the chambers were absolutely cavernous. It did give off major horror film vibes as well: moreso than Croesor-Rhosydd for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. At least C-R had some fun things like ziplines and canoes, this was just a maze of harsh, bleak walls.
Huge thanks to Matt for helping out on the weekend, and Chris for doing lots of the organising, it was a rare example of an ambitious and successful endeavour.
I awoke even earlier on Saturday feeling ‘a little ill’ and proceeded to spend the next four hours downstairs, throwing up and shaking. I couldn’t eat breakfast, but some delightful drugs from Davie aided in a miraculous recovery.
With access being a concern for the trip to the Blaenau Ffestiniog Mine, the reduced number of cavers was rather useful. The 8 of us wanting to cave (me, Matt, Mattie, Davie, Julien, Leo, Astrid, and James) packed only our oversuits, wellies, helmets, and torches into Perry’s bag and hurried off to the grey land of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Parking was £2.20 for four hours (not bad) and callout was at 6:30 so we didn’t have long. We marched up through the slag heaps and wandered briefly through the mills at the top before kitting up and heading underground. There are rumours of several large warning signs in the area, but we couldn’t see any - So weird!
The two slab wagons in the compressor chamber were a big hit, and we spent some time looking at the many pieces of metal lying around. By the old workings, we bumped into some other cavers but didn’t have long to chat as we hurried our way down the miner’s path to the lowest level. Here admired the draining work Matt had done (of which he is very proud) and re-railed a minecart, de-railed it in spectacular fashion, and respectfully re-railed it again. Moving onwards we saw the flooded mystery staircase and made our way back up the miner’s staircase turning left for the crystal tunnel. Up and down some more stairs we went, and then up the far incline to see the winding gear.
To avoid rockfall, we split in two for the ladder climb. Those of us who we second got a little carried away by the artifacts and Matt had to come back to get us! Hurriedly crossing the Bowydd fault, we reached the mucker, and made our way back to the snake-pit. We took the miner’s stairs out and quickly popped by the tunnel boring experiment before changing on the surface and slogging down the road. We shed tears in a heartfelt goodbye to Matt and made it back to the bus just as our parking expired.
Since Matti was driving, I thought taking the winding country lanes would be quite fun. It certainly was not boring! Buy some miracle we packed and left half an hour ahead of schedule. However, Perry did almost miss his train, and we did very nearly run out of petrol, and then Fan almost missed her train, though we did make it back before 12! Unloading the minibus was fast, and being lazy drove ourselves back to cave house in the minibus.