by Jane Bradbury
Saturday – After worrying all week about whether our trip into Ogof Craig-a-Ffynnon (CAF; grade 4) might be scuppered by bad weather (a section near the start floods to the roof in heavy rain), it was reassuringly sunny on Saturday morning. So, at about 10am, our group of eight intrepid CAF virgins set out for the short drive to the cave. Unusually, we reached the cave without any faffing. Here, the first challenge of the day awaited us: figuring out just how the lock worked!
In the cave, we were soon into a series of pretty chambers with impressive straws, a taster of things to come. A short section of stream passage came next and then the scaffolded and easy first boulder choke. After a muddy chamber, we reached the low crawl along Gasoline Alley, which had a fair amount of cold water in it, and so to the foot of the second choke. A short fixed ladder was followed immediately by a tricky free climb, which Neil manfully scaled to rig a ladder from the top for the rest of us. And then the hard work began. The way through Choke Two is a small wet winding crawl that works its way upwards to emerge at the top of a calcited slope in a large passage.
The next section of cave is both easy going and increasingly interesting with numerous travertine dams, stalactites and stalagmites, and straws. The passage ends at the massive Hall of the Mountain Kings with its awesome collection of formations. Here, we took a detour from the main route into a dry, sandy area of numerous small intersecting passageways. Reynard, as usual, disappeared off into the distance like a ferret down a drain pipe.
Back in the Hall of the Mountain Kings, we braved the third choke, a short but tight flat-out crawl that is followed by what the guide books describe as a 250m hands and knees crawl (Hurricane Highway). It seemed a long 250 meters and some of it was more flat-out crawl than hands and knees crawl. Still, all the pain and grief was forgotten when we popped out into Severn Tunnel, a long straight phreatic canyon. Easy walking at last. The tunnel led into some more large chambers and the fourth choke. Here, we had our first and only navigational problem halted our progress. Three of us (me, Mike and Bill) decided to start making our way back here but the rest of the team (Reynard, Gordon, Jon, Mark and Neil) persevered and were rewarded by Helictite passage, one of the best decorated bits cave they had ever seen.
The route out was a simple reversal of the in route, only longer somehow! Hurricane Highway went on for ever and I am sure the flat-out crawl was tighter on the way out! Mercifully, the second choke was great fun in reverse. Just push off at the top and rattle down, making sure not to overshoot and plummet down the pitch! The advance team finally left the cave at 6.30 after more than 7 hours underground; the rest of the team exited at 7.30. A fine cave that we will definitely be revisiting.