Ben Richards, David Wilson, James Perry, James Wilson, Ana Teck, Jan Kożuszek, Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Valery Kirenskis, Laura Temple, Erica Keung, Kevin Sohn, Coco Hu, Xiaoling Zhang, Vinayak Modi, Magor Pocsvelier, Silvia Favero, Tina Wang, Thurston Blount, Kar Jan Chan, Tracey Tay, Melanie Joe
Flying through the countryside by train, en route to Bicester to intercept the DavidCar where a shopping run of almighty proportions awaited. With twenty-something hungry cavers to feed, and David's incredibly specific scaling for existing recipes, we were each tasked with finding "35.6 crumpets", "2.4 bags of frozen berries" and so on. Food acquired, after only taking 4 separate purchases for it all to fit through the self checkout, and congratuations from the Tesco staff, we crammed our rations into the back of the car and continued to the WSG.
"So is this the wrong pumpkin" - Tesco self checkout person
The drive was entertaining, with David having seemingly gone through thousands of roundabouts already, only to go through hundreds more. Erica had been to Portugal to launch a rocket, which makes bringing the slov kit through customs sound like child's play in comparison, and assured us that the rocket couldn't steer itself as then it would have been classed as a missile and she would have been arrested at the border.
"I have committed war crimes. The Geneva convention list is just suggestions" - Erica
"I was very tempted by that cycle lane" - Davey, in a car, driving
"NO MORE F###### ROUNDABOUTS" - Also Davey
After winding through the depths of a bizarre half-under-construction industrial zone we eventually popped out by the notorious sharp turn into the hut and offloaded our cargo.
Squeeze machine was underway as we entered and after unpacking had finished Magor continued to slide through round after round, hardly touching the sides, until smashing the previous record for the hut's squeeze machine and adding his name to the hall of shockingly thin champions. Socialising continued until gone 2am until we eventually headed off to bed, accessed by topping out the grade V1 staircase.
“I’ll not be the problem tomorrow” - Perry
Just as we were quietly getting our sleeping bags into place, desperately trying not to disturb those already fast asleep beside us, Laura suddenly flew up and off of her bunk, crashing onto the floor beside me. As she turned around in panic, I realised there was an enormous spindly-legged spider right above where her head just was. Whispering it an apology, I gently crushed it between my hands and head back to bed.
Cwm Dwr: Ana Teck, Julien Jean, Silvia Favero, Kar Jan Chan, Tracey Tay
A full two years after my ill-fated freshers’ trip, the time had finally come for my return to OFD II (though not before a journey in Davey’s car, stuffed completely full of pumpkins and coconut milk). There were three whole groups heading into the cave, so we made sure to change swiftly and be the first ones underground. Davey and Astrid took the lead, with Magor and Thurston in the role of eager freshers and me as the awkward caving middle child.
Underground, we had to take a break almost immediately, hot and steaming from the brisk walk up to Top Entrance. After cooling down, we made for the Corkscrew. There we had to have a change of plans – Davey was planning to lead us down a small opening on the left, but it turned out to be blocked by an emerging group of cavers heading back to the entrance. Instead, we pushed on, down into Salubrious and further to Selenite Tunnel, shunning for now the Trident and the Judge. We were making good time, rushing behind our leader, who was determined to give us the definitive OFD II experience. Quick glance at the stunning roof of Selenite and off we went, by the Crystal Pool and through the whole length of the Frozen River, sliding happily on our bums. Then back out again and on to the Moonlight Chamber. Astrid had some fun trying to take panoramic photos and videos that included both us and the lone stalactite hanging from the distant ceiling. (These would turn out quite well!)
On the way out of Moonlight Chamber, Davey tried to find a way to avoid a slightly awkward climb we did to get there. This quickly led us into a rather pretty passage that even he had never seen before. It didn’t seem to lead to where we wanted to go, but it had to lead somewhere. After a bit of a crawl we emerged in a larger corridor and turned left and then left again, only to find ourselves over a precipice without much of a way to go forward. There was, however, a space off to the left that tempted me with possibilities. So I placed my foot on a small rock protrusion and, sticking to the wall tightly, swung my body over to a boulder on the other side of the corner. Predictably, nothing was there, and I had to shimmy back around. This whole process was rather unwise and left Astrid somewhat shocked. After looking at pictures (and a cartoon) of the incident later, I have to agree with her judgement – nothing bad happened, but I’ll be sure not to try anything like that again.
There seemed to be no way to avoid going back the way we came, so we acquiesced to climbing down the awkward wall and proceeded further to Midnight Chamber (the name similarity with Moonlight Chamber still has me a bit confused). On the way one of the guys confessed to needing the loo, so we made a short detour to a piss passage with a comfortable platform over a waterfall. I didn’t really need to piss, but couldn’t pass down the opportunity to wee down an underground waterfall.
The sightseeing was far from done. We went down a somewhat sketchy climb, saw some more crystal pools, and Davey presented me with a challenge: he handed me a survey and told me to find the passage leading towards Northern Lights. A tight squeeze and a short scramble later, I was faced with two perfectly respectable corridors and a small, half submerged passage going off to the left. Sure enough, that turns out to be the only way to Northern Lights. Another (slightly drier) time, perhaps.
I enjoyed using the survey and was allowed to continue leading the way out as we walked a long, straight passage towards Maypole Inlet. After a turn left, we reached the edge of the survey I’d been given, and so I had to reluctantly fall back and let Davey’s memory guide us again. Without much further trouble we arrived to pay our respects to the Trident and the Judge, and continued along, for a short peek at the pretty curtain formation down in Swamp Creek. Little did we know, our leader had one final surprise in store for us. A bit before Swamp Creek, there is another passage leading back towards the exit. By ‘passage’ here I mean a long, slightly wet crawl, towards the end of which one has to also avoid falling down a hole right in the middle of the floor. Classic, old-fashioned type II fun – it was great. Then there was one final tight squeeze and I plopped out right under the Corkscrew, in the middle of another group making their way out. All three groups ended up leaving the cave at almost the same time (spaced apart, of course) and made their way back to the hut, where many a pumpkin lay waiting for carving. Alas, this was not for me: I made the mistake of laying down for a bit (after the unorthodox dinner of creamy mushroom ramen), and when I opened my eyes, it was morning.
Pleasant dreams were interrupted by blaring sirens and a sudden panic. In fact, it was just the fire alarm, quickly muted by a convenient snooze button. Sticking my head outside, it was pouring it down, at which point the second fire alarm went off. After dashing back through the rain from the outdoor toilet, the third fire alarm went off.
Eggy bread was swapped for fried bread, in order to make the breakfast both more vegan and more miserable. Fourth fire alarm. Laura decided that this wasn't miserable enough and so put audacious volumes of sugar and frozen berries on hers in what was christened Laura's danger toast. Presumably the danger being a prolonged sugar rush followed by sudden onset type 2 diabetes. Ana was cowering in the corner from the sheer volumes of oil in the breakfast as the fifth fire alarm went off.
High water levels and many freshers per leader determined our caves and so we jumped in the cars and headed for the currently-under-constructio-for-some-unknown-reason SWCC. David's driving techniques around the potholes on the approach can only be described as "rally style". While listening to Die Young, of course.
After a chilly but dry change, we did a round of photographs for posterity and headed on up the hill. I also noticed Laura sliding an entire tin of pringles into her SRT bag. Note to self, I must do this on a future trip.
After the obligatory OFD2 entrance group photo we headed undeground and Perry let Valery and Erica navigate. In fairness to them, we didn't get lost for perhaps a full 5 minutes. After some direction suggestions from Perry, we backtracked and headed the way that he remembered, but given it's OFD2 we'd probably have ended up at Gnome Passage regardless. We bumped into a team from Aberystwyth university who seemed to be a group of lags who, having already gone into another cave on a tart trip, had returned to the hut only to realise that the fresher trip had the key with them. They then headed into OFD2 (no mention of a new callout) to retrieve the key from said group and as we were talking to them another of their teams emerged from around the corner.
Leaving them to discuss their situation amongst themselves we continued on to take a look at Arete Chamber and then headed on to the infamous Edward's shortcut. Erica pointed out the scene of her Herman Hertz nomination last year and we then saw where Jan had twisted his knee. What a lovely bit of cave. We bumped into yet another team from Abberyswyth who we helped up the shortcut, hearing how they went off the edge of their survey and further navigation had failed a vibes check. After poking in every other potential hole in the area they called it a day and headed back, so it seems. We then made our way down via some Perry shoulder standing action, before passing over the traverses. Vinayak had a strike of the fear, having had a previous near miss at heights while mountaineering, but courageously continued on through the entirety of the rest of the trip, step by step, when many others in the same situation would have turned back.
After passing a few pretty things, the judge, the trident, some nice dark tunnels with stals in the roof, endless fossils and many pools of crystals, we headed up that one streamway I can never remember the name. Turning off up the corkscrew, as I was bringing up the rear of the team I turned around to see a headlight pop out of a hole in the floor, which turned out to be Jan. Moments later another headlight popped out of another hole on the opposite side of the chamber, which turned out to be Laura, meaning all three teams had accidently simultaneously ended up in the same chamber despite taking completely different routes. Spacing ourselves out as we continued onwards, we headed back to Gnome Passage and out via the big chamber near the entrance, into the twilight. Unfortunately, someone took a kneepad, hat and water bottle all of which were left just in the entrance to the cave. We did ask the Abber teams we saw on the way back but none were aware of taking anything. Email follow ups will be had, rest assured.
Returning to the hut, we were faced with David's epic ramen plan. All 30 litres of it. Given it had potatoes, spinach, coconut milk and all sorts of other bizarre ingredients, I don't think I can really call it ramen but it did at least have noodles in a liquid soup. That being said some vats were all noodles while others were all liquid. Someone commented that the liquid simply tasted of each of the odd ingredients individually, rather than bearing any semblance to a an actual meal. What started as four enormous pots turned to 6 as more and more ingredients were added. Individual pans were then each given their own unique blend of herbs and spices, with one ending up as "the really spicy one". Laura initially went for only soup with no noodles, foolishly accelerating the onset of the ensuing soup coma. However, it was only a matter of time until the coma spread, with many cavers becoming horizontal.
“I’m full but I’m not nourished...” - Julien, horizontal
But the night was young and despite our prior culinary endeavours, it was time to turn our fire hose of artistic talents upon some unsuspecting pumpkins. After gutting them into buckets Laura, our health and safety officer, began hitting hers with the back of a knife with the blade pointing towards her face. Various designs were attempted, some successful such as a magnificent rendition of the day's adventures with a caver crawling through a dark cave, headlight fading into the distance below beautiful stals, while being chased by a giant bat over twice their size (?). Outside there was also a lunar eclipse hiding behind the clouds, which we caught glimpses of here and there.
Upper Dinas Silica Mine: David Wilson, Valery Kirenskis, Coco Hu, Xiaoling Zhang, Melanie Joe
OFD II: Astrid Rao, Julien Jean, Kevin Sohn, Silvia Favero, Kar Jan Chan, Tracey Tay
Bridge Cave: James Perry, Erica Keung, Vinayak Modi, Tina Wang
Sunday happened as usual, with me waking up at 6:30 am thanks to daylight saving. Since I was surrounded by cavers still in their deep slumber, I had to quietly crawl my way out of the sleeping room, least I accidentally wake one up and have to endure their fury. Since it was so early, I decided to sit outside in a nice chair and did some coursework while trying not to freeze. Soon after cavers emerge one by one and breakfast was started. Due to the terror of the fried bread yesterday, we used up our only 10 eggs and made some eggy bread, which was consumed in a flash. Laura was still enjoying her fried bread with berries and sugar which I must say, was quite enjoyable. After breakfast came the time to decide the cave of the day. Since I was still tired from yesterday’s adventure I opted to join Perry with a shorter trip to the 3 bridge caves. We were soon joined by Tina and Vinayak, who all wanted an easy day. Thus we slowly prepped our kit as we watch others leave in a hurry to both OFD caves.
Shorty after everyone have left, we all hopped into Perry’s sister’s car ( sorry ) and tried to made our way to the bridge cave, which Google maps somehow turned a 20 minute drive to a 40 min long adventure. Deciding the amount of gas left wouldn’t have lasted us all the way, we drove to a gas station instead, where I bought cider and drank some in the car, which made the drive even more enjoyable. With my amazing help as the drunk GPS, we safely made our way to a random parking spot that was close to the bridge caves.
With the UK weather doing its usual thing, only the original bridge cave was accessible. I regretted not bringing my kneepads as we crawled through the wet hard rocks and boulders in order to descend further down the cave. There was some formations here and there, but all of the cave was drenched in water, with a rather quick stream flowing through it. It was safe to say that most of me was completely soaked by the time we got to the main channel of the cave river and was very thankful that I had worn my thermals. I had to be quite careful as to not fall of my balance but I think we were all having a great time. After the main passage should have been more crawling, however due to the water level we couldn’t go any further and we had to leave, but not before we all submerged ourselves into a waterfall, which turned me from 90% to 100% wet. The coldness after we stepped outside of the cave made me immediately regret that decision. And perhaps Vinayak was affected the most. While we were walking to the two other caves to check out their entrances, he got hit by sudden coldness and we decided it was best to turn back and change into warmer clothes. All in all, it was a nice day, with a chill cave.
Powell's Cave: Ben Richards, Jan Kożuszek, Laura Temple, Magor Pocsvelier, Thurston Blount
OFD I Centenary Extravaganza: Ben Richards, Ana Teck, Jan Kożuszek, Laura Temple, Magor Pocsvelier, Thurston Blount
It was to be a momentous occasion underground: Ana’s 100th trip with the ICCC (not counting the expeditions among other things, but let’s not get bogged down by the details). Candles were purchased, and Laura could be seen stuffing several of the (normally post-cave) pies down into a Pringles can. The plan was to have celebratory pies in OFD I’s Pi Chamber.
The plan ran into a hitch at almost the first possible opportunity. At the entrance to the cave, Ana looked back at us with a look of panicked disbelief: she had left the keys in the minibus. She quickly set off to retrieve them, and we decided to occupy ourselves by enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime experience of Powell’s Cave. After about 5 minutes of climbing, we emerged back out uphill and walked back down to Laura, who stayed on the road. Considering the number of spiders she managed to avoid seeing because of this, perhaps the decision was wise.
Despite getting through a whole other cave, we still got back to the entrance to OFD I before Ana managed to return with the key, but we didn’t have to wait much longer. Merrily we climbed down the entrance ladders. I love OFD I, with its black-walled, white-veined canyons and constant rumble of water. Even when we took a wrong turn, we ended up crawling into a passage made entirely of little crystals. Also, there was a glass box marked “emergency use only” that held a can of Gordon’s gin and tonic, so of course Laura got a picture with it.
After the Bolt Traverse and the charmingly named Elephant’s Asshole we got to Pi Chamber, which turned out to have a rock table with a little hole the exact size and shape of one of our pies. The stars (or rocks) could not have been better aligned. What proceeded then is best described as a professional photoshoot, with all of us directing the various lights we had around the chamber so Ben could take the best possible pictures of Ana, her pies and the candles (one of which was shaped like a unicorn). The pies, incidentally, had survived caving remarkably well, owing to Laura’s excellent packaging and care in transport. The pictures turned out amazing, and really have to be seen – hopefully right next to this report.
Engrossed in the photoshoot and the celebrations, we lost the track of time for a bit and had to rush back not to miss our callout and to avoid keeping others waiting at the minibus for too long. There was time only for a quick refreshing dip in Pluto’s Bath rather than a full swim that Ana was hoping for.
We ended up coming back to the hut just in time: I was going back in Davey’s car, which was due to leave within 15 minutes. Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot to pack so I even managed to have two toasted crumpets before we began our long way back East.
Woke up to another fire alarm, shortly followed by a second fire alarm, which finally motivated me to get out of bed and take in the beautiful sunny morning. Breakfast thankfully included eggy bread and once again Laura ruined hers with sugar and berries to make danger toast. Third fire alarm. Kevin attempted to organise the countless constraints on who goes where and with whom. Ana and I had already put together a plan for a pie party in pi chamber, OFD 1, for her 100th trip with the club according to the website, her centenary trip. Kevin tried to lure me away to look after freshers elsewhere but I successfully convinced him into thinking this was not necessary. Fourth fire alarm.
Our plan had already involved procuring the finest candles in Tesco to get a 1 candle and two 0 candles, however, our thought of sticking them in chocolate bars was foiled by the lack of spikes on the bottom of the chunky 0 candles. Cave pies to the rescue. New challenge, how to get them to pi chamber? Fifth fire alarm. With her cave pringle experience from the day prior, we recruited Laura to pack the pies into a bread-bag-lined pringle can (both fished out of the rubbish) and seal them against the hostile environment of Wales. This worked brilliantly. Who would have thought cave pies are practically the exact size of a pringle? I discovered a bonus unicorn candle in the kitchen, which I gave to Emma, my first aid kit. The candles were wrapped in duct tape, the pringle can wrapped in duct tape and a lighter was located and brought along as well. Sixth and final fire alarm.
The weather was terrible but remained just dry enough for an okay change. I tactically "helped" Jullien into Chris's PVC gilet, created as part of his manic fit of productivity fixing practically all the oversuits, and since it was so tight there was definitely absolutely no feasible way he could get out of it on his own. He had no choice but to go caving in it. This led to some incredible photos.
We quickly headed down the hill, jogging at times, moaning that it would be a very long and tiresome walk back to the bus. On reaching the entrance and attempting to open the cave door we immediately realised the key was back at the bus, and so Ana volunteered to run back and get it, enjoying the walk back to the bus much earlier than anticipated. The rest of us got to enjoy the once in a lifetime through-trip that is Powell's cave. All 50 spider-infested metres of it. Laura did technically step foot in the cave but sensibly decided to meet us at the end. Ana soon arrived back though and we were on our way.
I looked at my watch in horror, realising that our trip to Powell's cave had taken almost an hour and half. Ana then enlightened me that the clocks had changed that morning, and in a moment of elation I gained a whole hour that I thought I'd lost. Passing by the font and the emergency gin (?) we then passed the correct way on, instead crawling along some muddy tube to find some crystals which apparently got even better just beyond where I got to. I shall return.
Reaching the traverses we then climbed up into the roof, 10m above a streamway on some rickety ladder with no protection. Ah, Welsh caving. Beyond this was the very entertaining helter-skelter climb, followed by a few more crawls and climbs before reaching the promised pi chamber. True to name, we found the perfect stal which doubled as a perfect cave pie holder and had a warm up photo with the unicorn candle before the main event. The pies had fared shockingly well despite Laura dipping them into a pool she was attempting to splay over, and bashing them against all sorts of things before we both remembered the precious cargo. This initial photo shoot went very well, and so we moved onto the culmination of multiple minutes of planning - the triple pie 100 candles. The three finest pies were chosen and sadly the unicorn candle lasted a grand total of about a minute before the wick fell out so a backup candle was identified. Ana cut perfect candle shaped holes in the pies with ruthless efficiency and various unsuspecting cavers were told to hold bright objects in certain directions. Eventually the moment arrived and the candles were lit in commemoration of Ana's 100th trip. All pies were then devoured rapidly. We will attempt to make this a tradition given Fiona is currently on 99 club trips.
After clearing up our crumbs we checked the time and headed for the surface. We were fine to leave the cave before our callout but given the long walk up the hill afterwards we picked up the pace and made rapid progress towards the surface, stopping briefly for the crazy people (read: Ana and those she'd brainwashed) to jump in Pluto's bath by the entrance. I then headed on up the hill to cancel our callout while the others headed on up at a more leisurely pace.
After changing and hearing of adventures from the OFD 2 team, we drove back to the hut. On walking through the door I was informed that I had 10 minutes to pack my things, go the loo, eat dinner (more noodles in soup) and then get in the car to leave for the station, as the others wanted to catch an earlier train. I managed 12 minutes, which I thought admirable.
Upon leaving I hopped out in Merther Tydfil, where I then got a lift to Pontypridd where I was filming for the Filkin's Drift folk band, who were playing one of their final gigs as they walked the 870 miles of the Welsh coast path. As you do. All in all a cracking weekend with a healthy sprinkle of historic achievements.