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Camping at Hard Rock Cafe, EUSS, CHECC Grand Prize Entry


Posted on behalf of a very busy Andrew McLeod, thanks Andrew! He want's me to point out that, whilst he isn't currently a student at Exeter, he was when this trip report was written :halo:

Disappearing off the face of the Earth
Camping at Hard Rock Cafe, Daren Cilau

With Whitewalls fully booked, a relaxing Friday evening in a hut was out of the question and instead the trek up the M5 from Exeter would have to be made on the Saturday morning. Following a bit of packing on the Friday night, the usual arguments about departure time began. I made a reasonable suggestion of 9am before certain others veered to a wildly unrealistic 6am; we compromised at 8:30am. Eventually three cars headed up the M5 on a bank holiday weekend Saturday, flowing against the tide: endless queues of sunseekers filled the other side of the central reservation.

The usual faff ensued, but after kitting up we began our plan to disappear off the face of the Earth entirely for two nights ? for our destination was Hard Rock Cafe, deep inside Daren Cilau. We turned on our lamps and grovelled into the low, uninviting fly-ridden entrance at the base of a flowstone-covered quarried wall.


Daren begins with its most famous feature ? the 500m ?entrance crawl?. This isn?t an entirely fair name since in some parts you can run along the narrow rift, but plenty of bits force you to wallow in four inches of water while crawling along your side, wriggling through wet, tight squeezes.

Although none of us were novices, it was an ambitious trip for our group of six cavers. The most experienced caver of us had been to HRC and back in eleven hours, in addition to other Daren trips, while myself and another had done the through trip to Ogof Cnwc. For the rest, this would be the most challenging trip they had attempted. Would we succeed? More importantly, would we survive three days of enforced company?

The trip began? slowly. A good time through the entrance is under an hour. After two hours of cursing and swearing at tackle sacks, we were still crawling, and morale was disappearing faster than beer at a cavers? stomp. I had, in a fit of hubris, declared that I was going to take a tent into Daren, despite it being gloriously unnecessary at the pleasant and dry HRC. Consequently, my 45l tackle sack was stuffed full.

It turns out that there is very much an optimum size for a tackle sack in Daren and that size is, unsurprisingly, about the diameter of the Daren drums named after the cave itself. It is possible to get larger sacks in but the difficulty increases exponentially as every squeeze, every rock and every corner becomes an obstacle. At more than one point I was reduced to lying on my back with my bag on top of me to stop it catching on rocks or dropping into a too-tight gap and wedging in, and I spent a considerable part of the entrance crawl reversing feet-first so I could carefully negotiate with the bag.

Such negotiation was, of course, carried out through rather colourful language, and made the Brexit negotiations seem trivial.

The entrance crawl has a fixed telephone wire with boxes at regular intervals; Box 1 is just after the Vice, the first major squeeze of the crawl, and Box 8 is just on the other side of the crawl. Time can pass very slowly in that crawl, and the slow judgement of the boxes prevents any illusions about how far remains.

After about two and a half hours, we emerged into the main cave, broken and battered. We regrouped our shattered and destroyed spirits, and began the trek down Jigsaw passage. We were already tired and moving slowly at this point, and my bag once again required considerable effort to get through The Wriggle, a tight tube. It was necessary to slot it into the widest part of the tube some feet ahead of where you normally enter, crawl underneath it and push it along from below.

Never have a tackle sack that is fatter than you are.

The chamber with the crystal pool provided brief respite, and then we dived down the boulder choke at the rear of the chamber ? this begins as a smooth and polished flat wriggle before dropping through the polished boulders.

Big Chamber Nowhere Near The Entrance was finally reached, the logbook completed and the sex dolls rearranged. My knowledge of the system ended here, as this is where the through trip departs to the left; our route climbs the boulder slope before curving around to the right. BCNNTE is a surprisingly large and impressive chamber which I had mostly missed last time in, but our route rapidly descended into further crawling. My preconceptions of Daren as ?horrific entrance crawl then easy pleasant walking to HRC? sadly turned out to be not quite accurate.

It isn?t actually that much crawling, rather I was not at all mentally prepared for it. The bag continued to get stuck at any slightly tight wriggle; at the worst point I was forced to remove items from the bag to get it through. Faster cavers would already be at HRC enjoying a well-deserved drink but, tired from the extended entrance crawl our speeds were low. If we had emerged at that point to find that centuries of time had passed at the surface, none of us would have been surprised?

Escape from crawling eventually came with the drop through boulders into Preliminary Passage, and the trudging began. We reached the 65 foot ladder into Higher Things; life-lining cavers and hauling the six tackle sacks provided a break in proceedings for a while, but soon we were underway over the roped traverse and down the roped climbs into the Time Machine.

The Time Machine is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to the Time Machine. Well, actually it might be a pretty similar distance to a large street, but that?s pretty big for a cave passage and the roof soars high above you.

Stumbling forwards, we continued our endless march through the boulders from reflective marker to reflective marker. Some of it is taped, following a ?no trespassing on the railway sign?, and after some time we reached the descent to Bonsai Streamway, where the boulder-hopping continued but now in much smaller stream passage. A range of chain ladders and roped climbs led up out of this streamway, but the only destination any of us were thinking about lay ahead as we passed the ?Daren Cilau Services ? Hard Rock 2/3, Restaurant 2? sign.

We collected some water containers and water from the pipe in Crystal Inlet; this source of water is an irritatingly long way from the camp but only one resupply trip was needed. Finally we reached the end of the streamway at the sump and toileting facilities. Hard Rock Cafe, adorned with balloons and signs from a birthday party, was just ahead, but our ten hour trip had drained us mentally and physically.


I had not eaten enough earlier as I had anticipated an earlier arrival to camp and I devoured my freeze-dried cheese and mushroom pasta meal like a starving man finding an unexpected Happy Meal in the desert. Thoughts turned rapidly to bed, dry clothes were donned and cavers retired to their sleeping bags. I erected my tent and inflated my airbed; I had suffered enough getting it in so I might as well enjoy it! The thought of leaving it behind at HRC did cross my mind, but the diggers have spent a lot of time and effort getting stuff out of HRC over the last few years and I did not want to leave unwanted junk behind.

We slept.

Morning came, and very nearly went as no-one rose before 11am. Finally we stirred, cooking breakfast (I had an excellent ?Expedition Breakfast? which was some kind of porridge). Motivation was at historically low levels; if caving was like voting then we had the turnout of the under-25 demographic. Several calls were made to not cave at all as cavers nursed their bruised and battered bodies, but finally agreement was reached to have a short trip.

As we slowly headed up the streamway, our joints loosened up and we agreed that caving was a good idea after all. Unfortunately our destination was some of the pretties in Frog Street which, unknown to me, is low crawling for its entire length. I have the greatest of respect for the diggers who go far further than we did, and it is a testament to the skill and effort of the diggers that they have been able to pass the formations there without much damage.


The return to camp took far less time than the outwards trip ? this boded well for our exit from the cave, as the thought of another ten hour slog was somewhat soul-destroying. Back at camp we cooked; I had another excellent freeze-dried walnut pasta meal and vanilla mousse dessert, while others consumed Camembert, Soreen and red and white wine.

In some senses this is what we had really come for ? the underground camping experience. I had brought a small speaker on which we enjoyed Disney tunes for a while before we sang speleological songs from Rostram?s excellent collection of Lamentable Laminates. Underground there is no sense of night and day, no sunrise or sunset and no apparent temperature changes. It can be therefore quite disorientating to the body clock, which unfortunately we were about to abuse further.

Given our somewhat sluggish entry, a 9pm callout and a great desire to be out of the cave and into the sunshine long before then meant we agreed on a 4am wakeup call and a 5am departure. The siren bursting out of my phone at 4am scared the crap out of both me and nearby sleepers, but we slowly roused and began packing up. Cavers being cavers, there was much faff, and following breakfast and packing it was gone 6am before we left camp and we began the long march back to the outside world.

Distance passed much more quickly than it did on the way in ? we were doing the easy parts first and we were soon at Crystal Inlet returning our water containers. We were soon at the climb into the Time Machine, following the reflectors and hopping from boulder to boulder across the vast passage. This came to a halt at an imposing wall of boulders and a small yellow Gameboy-like device (but without the buttons) which we assumed was the Source of Time: we had missed the way out. Fortunately, it is not far back to the rope climbs towards Higher Things, and we were soon on our way again, cowstails on for the roped traverse that leads to the ladder down to Preliminary Passage. It is also a lot easier lowering six bags than hauling them up!

After reaching the bottom of the ladder, and basking in our much improved if hardly record-setting progress, we reached the crawls that had taken us so long on the way in. Unexpectedly, they were much less of an obstacle on the way out and a better-packed bag meant that my tackle sack slid through with only mild to moderate swearing; we were soon looking down on the cavernous Big Chamber Near The Entrance and knew that only one major obstacle remained.

After the squeeze into the chamber with the crystal pool, we headed down Jigsaw Passage. The Wriggle was dispatched more skilfully this time, and soon we were once again at the start of the entrance crawl.

Earlier in the journey I had carefully weighed the options and made an unpleasant decision. In order to exit the crawl in a reasonable time, I had to cut down my bag somewhat, so I removed and abandoned some gear at the start of the crawl. With my now-reduced size sack, I headed into the crawl ahead of the others.


I can't find out who made this amazing cartoon, so can't give credit - sorry!

It turns out that the design of my sack just makes it an absolute pig to haul even when it is only two thirds full, and the others caught up to me at the Vice. This was probably fortunate as my bag fell vertically into the sack-eating holes in the Vice and I was unable to lift it out on my own. Between us we freed it, and soon I was passing the signs near the entrance and crawling through the flies until daylight appeared for the first time in 48 hours! I emerged into a damp, but warm day with the sun filtering through the clouds about seven and a half hours after leaving HRC.

Of course, abandoning gear in a cave is not acceptable, and so there was only one thing to do? After most of the others emerged, I emptied my bag, put it on my back and headed back into the cave. A frantic race to the other end of the crawl then ensued wearing the bag on my bag throughout, even in the Vice. I passed the remaining members of our party at Box 1, and made it back through the crawl in probably a bit over half an hour ? motivated by the strong desire to get back out of the cave! With the tackle sack now lightly loaded enough to require dragging through many of the crawls, the exit was a little slower at something between 45 minutes and 50 minutes.

I made a mistake, and I paid for that mistake by having to do the entrance crawl three times in one day. But without a tackle sack the entrance crawl is actually quite fun, and with a small tackle sack it is still not a particularly unpleasant experience ? this may be because I am quite small though!

After a shower, we headed into Llangattock and raided a fish and chips shop, consuming our body weight in greasy foods. Some of our party have declared, quite vehemently, that they never intend to set foot in Daren again; others really enjoyed the trip. Some want to return, but not too soon. Personally, I actually enjoyed racing back into and out of the entrance crawl to retrieve my stuff, and I am quite keen to return for another long trip with a more sensible bag arrangement?

So what did we learn from the experience?
[list type=decimal]
[*]Don?t bring a tent into Daren.
[*]?Expedition Foods? freeze-dried meals are great, at least for freeze-dried meals.
[*]You don?t need a tent in Daren.
[*]Small things that add comfort or entertainment are worth bringing if you can ? like my air bed.
[*]Large items are not ? like a tent.
[*]Big tackle sacks are a PITA.
Daren ? I?ll be back.

Cracking read, cheers. The more I hear of this entrance crawl business the farther Daren slides down my list of "Caves I must Do"!


Active member
Great write up, and fair play to going straight  back in  :bow: . Once I'm out I just want a cuppa tea, a chunk of cake and a hot shower.

Welcome to join us on a Daren digging camp.

There are various knacks to taking a tackle bag in through various parts of Daren (or Darn Near Killed I) in particular the entrance crawl, and I'm sure there are as many tricks as there are Daren Entrance Crawlers.

My tackle sack is a Warmbac Daren sack which has a few specs specifically requested for Daren Camps (http://www.warmbac.com/listing_tacklebags.php scroll to bottom) and nicely houses 2 Daren Drums. A short length of carry mat or similar wrapped around the drums means there is no narrowing half way down the tacklebag (I use a piece of corrugated "For Sale" board with a snoopy loop to keep it tight). For the entrance crawl I undo the buckles on the shoulder straps and wrap the straps round the tacklebag before doing the buckles back up. This means there is always a grab handle/strap to get hold of no matter which way up the tacklebag lands and also reduces any bits that snag at every possible opportunity.

Further in, for the other crawls I drag the tacklebag on a cord attached to the back of my belt. Being at the back of the belt helps lift the front up over obstacles. The tacklebag attachment is through both top loops which puts a bit of a point to the profile of the bag (again reduces snagging). The right length of cord helps, not too long so you can't reach the tacklebag with your feet and not so short that it restricts your feet. When the tacklebag does need un-snagging a deft movement of the foot under the drag cord usually works and guiding the bag between the feet keeps it on track. As you might have guessed, lots of fine tuning over a number of camps.


Ps. Always on the look out for new Daren Diggers.
Get in touch if interested.


Well-known member
Maj said:
For the entrance crawl I undo the buckles on the shoulder straps and wrap the straps round the tacklebag before doing the buckles back up.

Clockwise or anticlockwise...? ;)