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Daren Cilau - South Wales
Route: Daren Cilau, with Camping at The Hard Rock Cafe Including: the Vice, the Loop (3 times), the 20m Pitch, the Time Machine, Bonzai Streamway Dates: 15/02/2020 - 16/02/2020 Cavers: Natasha Wilson, Tom Crossley, Chloe Crossley, Harry Kettle, Wassil Janssen Natasha has very kindly written a trip report of our weekend in Daren Cilau. It should be noted that this was her first trip with CUCC and her second trip overall. This was my second ever caving trip, and first trip with the Cambridge University Caving Club. Some may say that committing myself to an overnight camp on my second ever trip was crazy, but I was excited by the challenge and was determined I would overcome any discomfort. In hindsight, I’d really done very little research and had no idea what I was getting myself into… Our trip began embarrassingly late on the Saturday afternoon, only getting up at midday to start the obligatory big caving breakfast. (3 of us were recovering from big nights back in Cambridge on the Thursday, and Wassil was up til 5am with the Kent University Caving Club!) After much faff, we donned our caving gear, packed our tackle bags with sleeping bags, a change of clothes, food for the night and snacks, and each took one tablet of imodium to avoid any awkward toilet situations over the next day. We made our way to the caves for 2.45pm, only an hour behind the Kent University Caving Club. Our callout was set for 9pm the next day, giving us plenty of time to get back after our underground camp at the Hard Rock Café. The inexperienced caver that I am, I had no idea how long the 517m entrance crawl would take, or how tiring it would be. For two, long, painful and cold hours we crawled, squeezed, and commando shuffled along a tight passageway, elbow deep in freezing water. At some points, the tunnel roof was so low that I had to turn my head sideways to keep it out of the water to breathe, which was slightly terrifying as I knew we’d have to come back the same way and that the weekend weather forecast included the worst storm in 20 years…what would happen if the water rose?! To make the journey even more challenging, our tackle bags were constantly working against us to catch on every turn, small rock, or tight squeeze. With much kicking, shoving, pushing and pulling, we worked together to unstick ourselves (it felt as though 70% of the time was spent fighting our tackle bags, and 30% was spent actually moving!). I was incredibly grateful that the tackle bag I’d been given was long and thin: poor Harry had chosen to take a bag which he aptly named ‘big fatty’ after it became clear it would barely fit through many of the tight squeezes. Needless to say, his progress through the entrance crawl was significantly more painful and accompanied by much more cursing than mine! Eventually, we emerged, freezing and exhausted from the entrance crawl. I was promised by Tom that from this point on it was ‘easy’. I must confess I completely disagree. Yes, there were some slightly more open caves but the squeezing and wriggling was far from over, and we kept having to take off our tackle bags and drag them crouched over through low ceiling passages. I found the open spaces the hardest to keep up with the others, as they clambered quickly over the wet boulders. I was terrified I would slip and twist my ankle or hurt myself and be unable to get back out of the cave, which made trying to move quickly pretty scary. I can’t remember the route exactly, but know that there was lots of clambering over boulders in massive caves, walking down streams where you can’t see how uneven the ground is until you’re suddenly caught off balance by a rock, or dropping down thigh deep into water, yet more crawling and pulling at tackle bags, and a rather unfortunate loop circuit which we managed to do twice before realising that it wasn’t the right way! A welcome break from the exhausting journey came in the form of a 20 metre ladder into Higher Things, which we reached just as the Kent Caving club were finishing their climb. I was amazed to see this incredible metal ladder in the middle of the cave! We hauled our tackle bags up and took turns making the climb with belays. Then there was more crawling, clambering over boulders, some exciting roped climbs and a roped traverse with a massive drop, before we reached the Time Machine. Apparently, the Time Machine is the largest cave passage in Britain. And yes, it was massive, but I have to admit that by this point we’d been caving for hours and everyone was starting to get hungry, and I was even more aware than ever that I was holding people up by being slow as I clambered over boulders, so I didn’t get to appreciate it in all its glory as I was too busy concentrating on the uneven ground below my feet, but trust me, it is BIG! The roof is just sooooo far away. Other cool things before reaching camp included the Bonsai Streamway, where beautiful mini trees seemed to be growing out of the walls from stalagmites, and a stream that just got deeper and deeper until I was neck deep and desperate to reach camp. At 11pm, we finally arrived tired, hungry and soaking wet at the Hard Rock Café! Party balloons were hanging from the ceiling, a mini disco ball and laser lights cast rotating funky patterns on the walls, a group of about 5 guys were sat chilling, and the sound of drum and bass. Loads of Darren drums lined the walls and there was a draining board full of plates/bowls and loads of cooking equipment. A really strange sight after 8 hours caving! In the adjoining passageways were survival bags and rollmats lying on flat patches of ground. We picked our beds, hung our wet kit in the drying area with washing lines, and changed into dry clothes for the evening. Unfortunately at this point me and Wassil discovered our dry bags had failed us, so we put on rather damp clothes, and sat shivering as we ate our couscous and curry for dinner, shared a few swigs of the port that Chloe had carefully carried all the way to camp, and went straight to bed in the hope our damp sleeping bags could help us keep a little warmer. I found it hard to fall asleep on the hard ground, feeling a little too cold to be comfortable, and could hear the sound of rushing water through the walls which was a bit concerning. At some point in the night, I heard people from the Kent Caving Club walking around and making lots of noise and shouting. I wanted to know what was going on but didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag for fear of the cold. It later became apparent that the area we’d been sat eating dinner in the camp had flooded, along with the area that we’d hung all our kit. The other experienced cavers said this was something that had never happened in the history of the camp, but that they were moving all things to higher ground and would let us know if we needed to worry. The water level was still rising, and as I was too cold and worried to sleep anyway, I ended up getting up to help with the moving process. After about 20 minutes, the area where I’d been sleeping also flooded and everyone had to get up. The team spirit throughout the event was incredible, with all 14 of us at the now rapidly flooding Hard Rock Cafe, busy working together to salvage any items we could from the camp and move them up to higher ground. We piled all the roll mats and sleeping bags together and huddled together to keep warm as we waited anxiously for the water to stop rising. Someone suggested making tea, and we decided the situation was severe enough to make breaking into the emergency Darren Drum for chocolates (expiry date 2013) justifiable. Spirits were at an all time high as we sang caving songs whilst warming ourselves with hot drinks. By 7.30am, the water level had stopped rising, and exhausted we all fell asleep. I woke as Wassil next to me started moving about. He was obviously anxious to get going but I didn't feel comfortable just leaving the camp without the more experienced cavers giving us the go ahead in case the way ahead was flooded. After he'd be moving about (evidently trying to wake everyone up without being too obvious), the others started to wake up, and we realised with shock that we had once again managed to sleep until midday! With our callout back at the caving hut set for 9pm, we really needed to get moving as the journey out had taken us 8 hours, and if we weren't careful cave rescue might come looking for us! We quickly gathered our things and set off. Luckily the water level had gone back down, and we were able to find all our kit. (The clothes I'd hung out to dry had instead been fully submerged in water overnight, so were significantly wetter than when I'd put them there to begin with...). As we bid farewell to our fellow cavers, they kindly offered to help set the camp back to how it should be, and told us to change their callout time to midnight to give them time to get back. And so it began, the long journey back through the cave. The water level was in fact lower than on our way in, coming up to my waist instead of my neck which was reassuring. The rest of the journey back was pretty uneventful. We were determined to make it back in good time, so travelled efficiently with only a few breaks (and thankfully no unnecessary loops from getting lost!). Our breakfast and lunch and dinner all consisted of cereal bars and chocolate bars, with one tablet of Imodium to start the day off safely. And we made it! The final 2 hour entrance crawl was made easier for myself by singing loudly with Harry (who was extremely happy having traded his tackle bag with Tom over the bribe of 3 beers), although I think that the singing may have made the journey a bit less enjoyable for the others! When we finally emerged from the cave, freezing cold from the final crawl through water, it was dark outside and snowing/sleeting. We speed walked back to the caving hut and made it for 8pm, took turns jumping in the shower, and scoffed ourselves with our breakfast leftovers from the day before. By 9pm we were on the road, and driving back to Cambridge, with great stories to tell all our friends about how we'd almost been trapped underground from flooding caves. At 11.30pm we got a call from the Kent Caving Society who had made it safely out of the cave, so it was a happy ending for all involved :). Don't forget to have a look at the picture album.
-- Natasha Wilson, Feb. 24, 2020. Category: Caving
Referenced in the following trips: Daren Cilau in South Wales (Whitewalls) [2020-02-14]