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Caving in February 2014 – Getting a Little Bit Lost

<2>Caving in February 2014 - Getting a Little Bit Lost

~~Following the prolonged wet weather, the upper sections of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (OFD) were among the few underground places still safe and accessible.  Being safe from flooding is not the only consideration, though – there is the little matter of making sure you do not get lost.  A small GOC team spent a February weekend at the South Wales Caving Club (SWCC) hoping to find their way around.
One member of the group, Tabitha, is fairly new to caving.  The rest of us have visited OFD many times but the cave is complicated and most of us were pretty hazy about navigating through it.  We were glad to have Bob – a member of both GOC and SWCC who knows OFD extremely well – to lead us on the Saturday.  He took us through, among others, Gnome Passage, with its many small stalagmites; Selenite Tunnel, where the near-black walls and ceiling are decorated with formations ranging in colour from brilliant white to intense orange; and Salubrious Passage, which is washed clean by a modest stream and requires some climbing and traversing to surmount waterfalls, and from which a short side-trip took us to The Trident and The Judge – two large and noteworthy formations.  The interconnecting passages involved some airy climbs and traverses.  Tabitha, who had not been into OFD before, conquered them all despite some moments of hesitation when we stepped across alarming voids.  One traverse was made awkward by formations high on the side of the passage and not to be touched, just where you wanted to put your hands to maintain balance.
Bob could not be with us on the Sunday and we decided to try to find our own way on a different circular trip that involved some of the same passages.  After a while we climbed down a rift and discovered there was no way on at the bottom.  This was puzzling as fifty metres back we had been sure it was a passage we had gone through with Bob.  We climbed back up and tried a side passage but that came to an end.  Returning to the top of the rift we finally recognised those formations we had needed to keep our hands off on the previous day.  We took the traverse again and were quickly back on route.
Once we were in Salubrious Passage the plan was to take a climb out of it that we remembered not from the day before but from a year or two ago.  If we could find the climb, it should lead us back to Gnome Passage and the entrance.  We went on and on upstream without finding the climb.  We were supposed to be nearing the end of our trip.  Time was running out and we did not want to have to retrace the route all the way back that we had come.  Another group appeared, led by a SWCC member who advised us to follow a small passage that branched off close by.  We started along it, with them following, but even they began to lose confidence in the route.  We tried a side passage but it looped back to where we had come from.  We returned to our first choice and continued for some minutes, only to drop back into Salubrious Passage some way downstream.
Things were looking unpromising but the leader of the other party pointed out a climb right opposite.  Once it was drawn to our attention, we realised it was the one we had been looking for.  We clambered up and followed the passage beyond, soon coming to a corkscrew climb up through bolders that we also recognised.  Fifteen or twenty minutes later we pushed open the steel gate to the cave and emerged into the sunshine.  We had planned on a three hour trip and it had taken us three hours and ten minutes – not bad for a speculative trip in a maze.

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