Attendees: Andy Lewington, Dan Thorne, Lisa Boore, Simon Neenan and Emyr Rees
Starting from the CSS hut we made our way to the entrance. It was a cold morning but the weather was brightening as we approached the cave and my thoughts quickly went to climbing and wondering why I was going underground for the next 6 hours.
We signed into the book at 09:50 and headed for the first choke. The entrance series was a mix of rifts, low crawls and trying to decided whether or not to stay low or climb over the top of things. The first choke is quite long and I was happy to be out of it although it as we ascended the last boulders into Barons Chamber. Our first break was well earned as we were all sweating hard by this point. We took a mental note of how to find the choke entrance and then moved on.
The whole cave was incredibly slippery and everyone had a few slips and slides throughout the trip, this made the walk to the second choke interesting. Finding the Second Choke was relatively easy and progress was still swift. The hardest part of the trip so far was the hand line descent and traverse just after the choke which added some much need excitement to the trip as there isn't much to see up to this point.
Keyhole Chamber was the next section of cave to tackle, this was slipper under foot also although falling here would lead to a quick slide down a slopping ledge and then a 20 foot fall into a rift where the stream way flows below.
This passage leads to North West Junction which is marked by a big boulder in the path at a meeting of three passages. We took the passage straight ahead and headed up the Turkey Stream Way, extra care was needed here as the stream bed as full of holes which could easily catch the unsuspecting caver unawares. This lead past the dreaded Coal Cellar Passage as we headed for Turkey Pool. We reached what appeared to be the end of the passage, were a pool gathered. Striking of to the left and hidden behind a flake was the way on, which meant passing through the Turkey Pool. Pushing the pace I foolishly went first. The water was freezing, and I voiced that for everyone to hear. With the others looking on as I waded through nipple deep water they all decide to try and bridge the gap and shuffle along the passage. Which, annoyingly, worked and they all got through relatively dry.
From here we continued up the Turkey Stream way to reach Hawkins Horror, this was just a short passage that led in Selenite Needle Passage and was an anti climax as it sounds like something interesting is coming but then nothing.
Selenite Needle Passage is where the trip really gets exciting and everything becomes much more pretty. The passage is a stoop at best and is at least 200m long, it is quite uncomfortable if like me you like to stretch your neck but isn't arduous at all. The passage, from about 50m in is covered in Selenite crystals and gets very sparkly. It is a lovely sight and really brightens the mood. This delightful crawl ends in a junction marked by a slightly raised passage appearing on the left, this lead to the Eastern Avenue which is the beginning of the Inner Circle.
We took the left hand route and did the loop of the Inner Circle back to Eastern Avenue, on route we multiple chambers and some great decoration. In Inner Circle Chamber we saw loads of stals and were met with a big slippery boulder climb. We ascended this all ready to see the amazing Dome of St. Pauls. The ascent is worth it, the dome is breath taking and it is just shocking how something like that can possibly be underneath our feet when above ground. The natural decoration of it was phenomenal as cracks in the flat bedding plane ceiling were coloured by iron ore giving them a magical orange colour, which made it look like it had been hand painted. We had a bite to eat here before moving on to the Scree Passage. Scree Passage is actually a slippery boulder slope that you get to descend and it is much more fun to sit and slide down than to try and negotiate the mud. Here the bottom of the slope meets Swiss Passage which leads to Swiss Village. Due to timing issues, callouts getting close and not know what was in between there and the village we turned around and went back down Eastern Avenue. This was a real shame but also gives me a reason to go back.
Back at Eastern Avenue junction, it was just a case of retracing our steps, for two and a half hours, back to the cave entrance. Which meant enjoying Selenite Needle Passage again, and of course negotiating Turkey Pool, and both chokes again. We got out with few issues, although I would suggest that anyone taking on this trip constantly looks behind themselves and leaves some cairns to mark your way out as it is very easy to get lost or forget to come off a passage at the right point. We went wrong three times on the way out but quickly realised we were wrong and then went back the right direction.
This was a great trip and certainly one that I will be doing again. I would recommend it to people who have done caving before an dare about ready to do a first longer trip underground, or someone who doesn't want to crawl around all day.
Thanks to all above who made the day what it was.