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Success and failure in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu

By Roy Unstone

By Roy Unstone, Thursday 30 November 2001

HPCC's First International Meeting requiured an auspicious objective and President Cave Grosvenor had therefore obtained a permit for Ogof Ffynnon Ddu - one of the crown jewels of South Wales caving. We aimed to get through OfD 2, into OfD 3 and on to Smith's Armoury. Four members of the AHPES were joined by a downcast Roy Unstone who had recently been suspended from the Elite Section by Dr Beale, for a technical infringement in Thrupe Lane Swallet. Nevertheless, the spirits of all were raised when the President revealed that he had checked and serviced his lighting system the night before, giving back to the underground mission the 45 minutes we had scheduled for cave-side repair of Presidential illumination.

By making wild assurances about our competence we were able to extract a key from the South Wales Climbing Club Duty Officer/Obersturmbahnfuhrer, and we set off. Despite a distance of only 400 meters to the cave entrance, and the presence of four KIMM veterans in the party, we were able to get lost on the walk-in. Luckily a group of novices yelled across and guided us into the correct zone, and soon we were happy subterraneans, speeding competently toward our goal. The President showed normal HPCC respect for underground niceties and, within 100 meters of the entrance, nearly stomped through a taped-off set of formations. He then regained group respect by leading us accurately for almost another 100 meters before exclaimng "Fuck! I've gone wrong!" Soon, however, the President became the finely honed underground navigator we all know, and we were rushing onwards.

A small climb delayed us for a while but International Member Brunt (from Cheshire) was deployed and we were on our way. Shortly afterwards we reached Poached Egg Climb which Roy Unstone was surprised to discover is so named because there are small proto-stals on the floor, which look like Poached Eggs. He remained silent on this point for fear of stating the obvious and thus decreasing his chances of re-admission to the highest echelons of speleology. However, the thought had re-opened the mental wound, and a little later he bemoaned his suspension to IM Brunt. IM Brunt responded with an allusion to an underground navigational infelicity on a Yorkshire trip led by Dr Beale. Roy Unstone immediately rushed over to interview Dr Beale on this matter. However Membership Controller Beale was too preoccupied to deal with the matter at this time, and it had to rest.

As we traversed the top of The Crevasse we began to see flashing blue lights in our rear-view mirrors, which turned out to be the SWCC cave police on patrol. In a cunning ploy (which has served HPCC well in the past), the President was dispatched to discuss rugby with them so they couldn't see the mess we were making of laddering down into the continuing passage. However, the SWCC cave plod were proving more resistant to the President's treatise than is usual, and seemed to be taking a worrying interest in our fitness for underground work. At this point International Member Willerup (Grenoble, Copenhagen and Bristol Docks) had an inspired idea. He began to whistle the French, Danish and British national anthems. The cave police were soon on their way back to the surface, recognising a nutter when they hear one.

Our team eventually re-grouped in a chamber at the base of the ladder pitch and struck out towards President Grosvenor's Holy Grail: The Traverses. A couple of obstacles still lay between us and The Traverses however. First, a tricky 4 meter down-climb, which was executed more stylishly by non-climber President Grosvenor than by the rest of us, and then (after passing a distinctive RED ROPE hanging down on the RIGHT of the passage) The Shambles - a chamber containing much loose rock and a "vdb" (Very Dangerous Boulder?). The way on was not obvious, and Roy Unstone tried to point out that it was impossible to match any part of the survey with the configuration of passage we were in. He was, of course, ignored because of his suspension. Fortunately, Membership Despot Beale was in charge of navigation and led us over a boulder heap, and on into the continuation passage. We passed a distinctive RED ROPE on the LEFT of the passage and negotiated a tricky 4 meter climb up, and rushed on to a chamber. Here, IM Brunt found a ladder going up a pitch. "Lads, I've found a ladder," he cried, and then - "It's OUR ladder!!"

It's fair to say that our state of mind at this point was confused, and for a while it got worse. One basic navigational fact was that we had definitely not un-traversed The Crevasse, or traversed The Traverses without noticing, so we could locate ourselves to within 100 meters or so. It slowly dawned on us that we had reversed direction in The Shambles and we all felt the donkey ears start to grow under our helmets. We reacted decisively:

"That survey is shite there!" "Shite!" "Aye, shite." "It's totally shite!" etc. etc. ad nauseum.

Armed with this knowledge, we headed back toward The Traverses. Roy Unstone was first down the tricky 4 meter climb. He had just cleared the bottom when IM Brunt decided to test the human glide angle by flying the last 2.5 meters of the climb. With a sickening crunch, the ground broke his fall and he gave out a little groan. We all anxiously awaited the results of IM Bruntt's self-damage inspection, while inwardly wondering about the apportionment of IM Bruntt's caving kit; rescue clearly being out of the question. IM Brunt announced that he was pretty sure nothing was broken, but he was shaken up. IM Willerup had watched him fall, and was surprised more serious injury had not occurred. We decided to abort. A slow return (including the tricky climb for the fourth time) was made to the surface. The stalwart IM Brunt made it under his own painful steam, and once we reached the pub medicinal lagers were taken before and after meals, but his ankle was swelling rapidly and he decided to return to Cheshire.

The rest of us returned to Bristol. The President was restored to his palace in Frampton Cottrell. After further refreshments, Dr Beale, IM Willerup, and Roy Unstone set off for Rachel the Cave Ferret's house warming party. Rachel the Cave Ferret was modelling an experimental warm weather caving suit which did not seem to offer much protection against abrasions or leering male scrutiny. She was urged to put on her Warmbac. Fred Wong, a keen rock-climber from Cardiff, was auditioned for possible Cave Ferret aptitude. More lagers were taken. We returned to the Kingsdown Beer Depot.

The next day saw a depleted team (Dr Beale, IM Willerup and Roy Unstone) back at the SWCC HQ for round two. It was raining hard, rivers were in flood, Smith's Armoury was clearly inaccessible due to sumps; so how far could we get? Chatting to the SWCC Obersturmbahnfuhrer Dr Beale let it slip that on the previous day we had (a) not found The Traverses, (b) that we had discovered a new round trip in the vicinity of The Shambles, and that (c) there had been a small injury. Roy Unstone was moaning gently about a hangover. Herr Oberst scratched his chin and averred that perhaps he would just give us a pass to Big Chamber Near The Entrance and a ball of wool. We pleaded for the full pass and he relented, but gave us a ridiculously early exit time: 5pm. As we headed off we could see him laughing with the other SWCC gauleiters about how we'd go wrong.

We proceeded as fast as people who are still drunk can and took a wrong turn down Gnome Alley almost immediately. After that though, it was plain sailing and we sped over the obstacles that had detained us the day before. For safety we put a rope down The IM Brunt Memorial Lob Pitch, and correctly negotiated The Shambles:

"That survey is shite there!" "Shite!" "Aye, shite." "It's totally shite!" etc. etc. ad nauseum.

Immediately after The Shambles we entered The Traverses! We'd only been a few meters away from them the day before. The Traverses are sensational, but no harder than The Crevasse, and soon we were pressing on. We began to feel, rather than hear, the roaring streamway up ahead. Soon, in an area decorated with amazing helictites, we got our first glimpse of it through a hole in the floor. An awesome glassy rope of water sped past beneath us and dropped over a small cascade. All agreed it would be a bad job to fall in there. We pressed on and clambered over a maypole bridge to reach a passage that traversed above the stream. After a short way we stopped at a chamber by the side of the torrent, took some photographs and ate nutri-bars (our first food of the day due to possible pollution of one of the lagers the night before). Then we hurried back, back over the maypole bridge, back across The Traverses, through The Shambles, up the Lob Pitch, up the ladder pitch, across The Crevasse, down into The Shakehole and up out of it, through Bhowani Junction and Poached Egg Climb, through Chasm Passage and on to the Entrance Chamber. We emerged at 4:45pm and met Herr Oberst at 4:59pm, with a minute in hand, and told him of our expedition. Some honour was restored to the HPCC. As the 3 speleologists sped back to Bristol, having vowed to return one day to claim Smith's Armoury, Membership Controller Beale was dreaming of running along that marvellous streamway; IM Willerup was imagining the photographic possibilities of the final chamber; and Roy Unstone was wondering how he would ever get his fucking suspension from AHPES lifted...

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