Sunday, 20 November 2016

Provisional Members' Weekend

On a gloriously sunny 5th November 15 provisional members gathered in the Long Common Room. It was the first visit to SWCC for some and for several more, today would see them complete their first ever caving trip. They were supported by a team of current members who were ready to act as cave leaders for the weekend and introduce everyone to the club and caves they love. Although a nervous sense of anticipation was in the air, they need not have worried! A great time was had by all - and there was also an incredible fireworks display to watch on Saturday evening and a group curry in a nearby restaurant. A very big thank you to all involved. Here are some photos from the weekend and some descriptions of their trips from our new cavers in their own words.

9.30am start in the Long Common Room!
There are a remarkable number of people awake and eager to go underground for this time of day.

Leaders and new SWCC members sit side by side to have a chat before splitting up in to groups. In the left hand photo, wearing a blue hoody, we have James Hallihan, now 12, who has been caving since he was 3 years old and loves helping to introduce new people to the underground world.
Standing room only as people introduce themselves.

Last weekend my sister and I visited Penwyllt for the first time, we were strangers to the South Wales Caving Club and strangers to caving. Upon arrival I noticed how beautiful the cottages and surrounding area were. We arrived early Friday evening and there were already many club members there, all of them made us feel very welcome. At one point I was introduced to a young boy named James, he was 12 years old and told me he had been caving since he was 3, I couldn't believe it, it's safe to say I was both amazed and impressed, little did I know that he would be leading us on our second day of caving (he did a fantastic job). We spent the evening having a few drinks and chatting with members about their experiences in caves, I did feel a little anxious but that soon ended after discussing the next day's plan with Andy and Antonia.

Andy and Antonia with Kirsty, Chloe, Katie and Sarah.
Saturday morning came and the group took a lovely walk up the hill towards the entrance of OFD II. I couldn't wait to get in there! Having never been caving before I had no idea what it was going to be like, I expected dark tunnels and was actually shown a whole new world, there were some truly amazing sights... Who would have thought there was so much down there? We walked, crawled, slid, climbed up, climbed down and waded through water. At points when I thought I'd panic, the group leaders and adrenaline took over and helped me through it, I think the part that scared me the most was going down the corkscrew, knowing there was a big drop behind me and not being able to see where my feet needed to go was quite scary, that's where team work came in, without my team mates guiding me down I wouldn't have managed, it's definitely safe to say that teamwork is a must down there, luckily everyone was great and we all got on really well, helping each other along the way.

We were in OFD II for five hours, when we first went in it was broad daylight outside, when we came back out the sun was just going down. We'd spent the majority of the day travelling through a beautiful cave system, I felt like I'd seen so much, but after seeing on the map what areas we had covered I realised we'd only seen a tiny fraction of what was there, I couldn't wait to see more of it.

Andy disappearing down a small hole near the Corkscrew

Chloe in the Bedding Chambers

The team near the Judge formation

Swamp Creek
After getting back to the cottages and having a well needed shower, we settled down for dinner and drinks, again we had the chance to meet other members of the club that had arrived while we were out, I must confess that I don't remember the names of everyone we met, there were so many people and my nerves made it difficult for me to converse as well as I usually would, but I'm sure in time it will get easier for me, I was certainly made to feel very welcome there and everyone was really nice and friendly.
A mix of new and established SWCC members go for a curry after the fireworks.
Sunday morning came and we were getting ready for day 2 of caving, this time we were going to OFD I, we took a long walk down to the entrance, after climbing down a few ladders we were in, at this point I felt more excited than nervous.. I couldn't wait to see more! This time we had to take a cows tail each, I looked forward to finding out why we'd need it, little did I know that it would turn out to be one of my favourite parts of the day!
The team arrive at the Toast Rack

Kate on Bolt Traverse, her favourite part of the OFD1 trip.

On the route we took, there were four challenging parts that we were told to expect, although I must admit that two of them I found easier than some of the normal caving. At one point we had to climb up quite a slippery section, I lost grip of my feet and was dangling by my arms. Usually I'd have panicked in a situation like that but I found it a little funny and knew that my team leaders were there to help and that I had no reason to worry, Claire was very patient with me on that part and was a big help. One of my favourite parts was the Bolt Traverse, followed by using rope to get over and down a steep edge (Low's Chain), being afraid of heights. Both were scary but exciting. 

On the third challenging part Claire led me up first (we could only go one at a time), after I was up safely, she went back to guide the next person up, whilst I was waiting I took the opportunity to take a seat, turn off my head torch and just sit in darkness and listen to the sounds around me, it was very relaxing.
Much like day one, we had to crawl, climb, wade through water etc, we also had chance to go back to our childhood and roly poly through a long narrow patch :) everyone had some laughs at that point, it was good fun. We did a fair bit of climbing down boulders/rocks, it reminded me of when my brother and I used to rock climb at the beach on holiday, it was great fun.

Balancing on scaff bars across the potholes in the streamway
More streamway fun

OFD1 streamway
I was very impressed with James' caving skills, being so young I thought he might struggle, but struggle he did not, he was very confident and did an amazing job at leading us through, he made me realise that people of all ages could cave and that maybe one day I could bring my son along to try it out. 
We spent four hours in OFD II, the time flew by and I enjoyed every minute, again we had a great team and enjoyed each others company.

On both days the group leaders, members and provisional members were all great, I got on with everyone in both groups. Everyone at the club that I had chance to speak to made me feel welcome, it's like a big caving family :) I cant wait to go back and see more parts of the cave! 
The weekend was definitely an experience that I will never forget and I look forward to joining you again soon,
Thank you so much SWCC!!

Chris, Pete, Matt and Peter

Phil, Barbara and Jem

Ash, Phil and Catherine

Claire, Malcolm, James, Jenny, Jamie and Allan
We all met at the club on the Sunday and had a briefing on what to expect and a chat about safety. We then got kitted up into old clothes and wellies and split up into groups. Claire, with the help of Richard, Malcolm and James, were going to lead a group of five provisionals down OFD 1, a round trip. After a 20 minute walk we all assembled at the entrance. A 25 foot climb down ladders put us all into the cave system, where we all sat with our torches off to acclimatise to the dark. After a minute or two Claire switched on her torch and we all followed suit, and lit up the cave. My first real glimpse of what I can only describe as amazing. WOW I said out aloud. But this was just the beginning. We where soon walking in the most amazing passages covered in stalactite and stalagmites. Flowstone and straws ranging in colour from pure white to greens and browns. Suddenly we all stopped. It was time to do our first squeeze. I could feel my legs weaken and my heart race as it was my turn to get down on my hands and knees and stick my head into a hole just big enough to get through. With an encouraging tap on the back from Richard, I was in and crawling. What seemed like an impossible task actually turned out not to be that bad, and I actually enjoyed the experience and asked if there were going to be anymore? With a nod and a smile from Claire, the team leader, we were off again as a group onto our next challenge - a traverse with quite a drop into the stream way. We all clipped our safety lines on to a fixed wire drilled into the wall and one by one walked from left to right over a small slippery ledge. I went last but one, but everyone else before me made it look easy. I made it over without any mishap, but I was relieved to be across and safely inside the next tunnel and next challenge. This was a climb up through a tight passage and boulders but again we all seemed to rise to the challenge. Our reward was the most amazing massive chamber I could have ever imagined. As far as my torch could shine in every direction. Truly awesome. With boulders the size of houses and cars and buses strewn everywhere. My first thought was that it was time to turn around because there isn't any way to get through here. Then Claire asked 12-year old James to lead the way. To my surprise he rose to the challenge and we were all soon clambering and sliding on our bottoms down over boulders through the passage, with a small detour to see some outstanding formations. After another informative chat from Claire (believe it or not) we all played roly-poly under a huge slab of limestone bedding plane which came out at a 12 foot rope climb into a black limestone river passage. One of the finest of any British cave. With water over my wellies we made our way down stream to complete the round trip and back into daylight. I would like to say a big thank you to Claire for sharing her knowledge of the cave systems and how they were formed. And to Richard for his assistance on the climbs, and Malcolm for sharing his knowledge of where each passage goes, and James for leading us through a seemingly impassable part of the cave. 
James showing his cave leadership skills

Two groups of provisionals' pose outside the OFD1 entrance.
Crossing the impressive Bridge Chamber in OFD1
I thoroughly enjoyed my first weekend as a provisional member. I thought that the cave tours were pitched at the right level - I was able to see a lot of different techniques to tackle underground obstacles on an interesting route of reasonable length. The leaders paced the trip well with a good level of confidence so that no-one was too nervous tackling the obstacles. I felt that I got to see a wide range of different obstacles and appreciated advice on how to tackle each were many things to experiment with (such as how long you can commando crawl for!) In addition to the more challenging obstacles ( in my case the slippery helter skelter and Bolt Traverse) that I will look forward to mastering in the future.

I found the facility to borrow a helmet, headtorch and cowtails really helpful as a beginner and thought the routes were well selected for me. It is great that there are so many fantastic cave routes to explore in close proximity to the club premises. I found the atmosphere at the club very friendly - I was made to feel very welcome. The facilities are comfortable and very reasonably priced and the social gathering for singing in the evening with a few beers was great! It was great to meet other cavers from different regions of the country and there were plenty of people with interesting professions! I look forward to returning for some more caving in the near future!

Alan with Chris, Sam and Jamie
Jaime and James reach Timo's Table
Jamie and Jenny visit the Mini Columns for the first time
Jem, Phil and Barbara on a photographic trip in Gnome Passage 

Here are some of Barbara and Phil's photos from the photo trip with Jem:

Phil in Gnome Passage. (Barbara)
Just inside Top Entrance (Barbara)

Formations in Chasm Passage (Phil)

Formation in Chasm Passage (Phil)

Thank you for an excellent weekend everyone!

Provisional members: Andrew Baldwin, Jenny Cooke, Phil Cullen, Jamie Gordon, Colin Hoare, Jamie Huish, Chris Jones, Nigel Jones, Aaron Judd, Barbara Lane, Kirstie Orpen, Chloe Partridge, Angie Peacock, Matt Roberts, Kate Tinklin, Sarah Tinklin, Alan Walsh.

SWCC helpers:
Adrian Brown, Peter Dennis, Andy Freem, Antonia Freem, Chris Grimmett, James Hallihan, Pete Hobson, Phil Knight, Malcolm Lloyd, Sam Moore, Ash Pursglove, Allan Richardson, Jem Rowland, Richard Sore, John Wellbelove, Jo White.