OFD fixed aids updates

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Current issues with fixed aids in OFD (including 'unofficial' fixed aids):

The Maypole Chain in OFD 1 (nothing to do with Maypole Inlet in OFD 2) has been reported as heavily worn. A replacement stainless chain has been purchased and will be installed in the next few weeks (probably early December).

There was a fixed rope on the Skyhook pitch rather than the previous pull-up system; this was reported to have a cored section which was isolated out by a knot. This is not an 'official SWCC fixed aid'. This is on a list of jobs to consider re-anchoring but nothing is likely to happen imminently, and SWCC do not generally install fixed SRT ropes.

The fixed deviation carabiner on the third Nave pitch deviation is apparently stuck open, but I hope everyone brings spare slings/deviation carabiners for deviations anyway (and there's no fixed carabiner on the topo)... Top tip, if you have a nasty jammed up fixed deviation carabiner you can't open, just clip your carabiner into it (if the deviation is not critical, which generally they aren't or they wouldn't be a singly-anchored snapgate deviation).

There are a number of fixed aids which were previously 'official fixed aids' but have been delisted; however, I have not yet taken the tags off them. These are the Midnight Passage P30 bolt (rawlbolt, I think); Maypole Inlet bolt (rawlbolt on a ledge); Arete climb bolts (rawlbolts - the ones on the scary-looking climb above the Corkscrew).

Finally, there are 'official fixed aids' which are now very old e.g. rawlbolts and due for replacement. As with anything in caving, you are responsible for your own decisions.

"Fixed Aids should always be carefully inspected before use. The user is entirely responsible for assessing whether they are happy to use any fixed aid in the caves, whether official or otherwise. The use of additional safety measures such as lifelines or cow’s tails is strongly recommended wherever possible."

For more info (at least on the 'official' fixed aids):
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
I like rusted chains (but not worn ones). The grip is far better than shiny stainless steel ones.
Very true :p

unfortunately in this case I strongly suspect rusting is accelerating erosion of the chain, and it's also rusting all over the cave wall...
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Fixed Aids Update

There are a few updates to the Fixed Aids information for Ogof Ffynnon Ddu 1 following some fixed aids work over last weekend and this week by myself (SWCC Fixed Aids Officer), Vince Allkins (SWCC Caving Manager) and Jo White.
  • The various official cable traverses in OFD1 (Airy Fairy, Maypole Traverse and Bolt Traverse) were inspected. A missing locking pin on the Airy Fairy traverse was replaced.
  • The Maypole Chain (a flood escape route) was replaced with a new stainless chain, following reports that it was badly worn. The old chain was also spreading rust over the cave wall.
  • Steps have been installed on the climb into Low's Passage ('Low's Chain' climb), together with a pair of resin anchors on the back wall to allow belaying on the climb. The resin anchors were installed by Cambrian Caving Council as part of the BCA Anchor Scheme. The old ring bolt has been removed, and the short etrier ladder and fat handline will be removed in due course. The steps are secured using the same resin as used for the resin anchors (the steps are also rated as anchors), and should not be used for 24 hours after installation (hence the old aids had to be left in position).
We are planning a programme of anchor replacement in OFD, with a number of locations with existing anchors (and one without) approved for installation of resin anchors by Cambrian Caving Council. Many of the existing anchors in OFD are either old or inadequate, and in need of replacement. If you would like to suggest a location for installation of new anchors in OFD, please contact me as Fixed Aids Officer.

A reminder - cavers are not permitted to install their own anchors in OFD without explicit permission. A number of anchors (typically 8mm throughbolts or spits) have appeared in the cave in recent years. We intend that wherever possible all new anchors installed in OFD are resin anchors installed through the BCA scheme as these are likely the longest-lasting anchors, and will be placed by trained installers in accordance with a national scheme.

Further information regarding the steps
What has been installed?
Nine double-step stainless steel steps, supplied by Bolt Products (who also supply the resin anchors used by Cambrian) and secured with resin. Two resin anchors have also been installed by Cambrian on the wall to allow belaying on this climb.

Why have these steps been installed?
This climb is a flood escape route. In the event of flooding in the OFD1 streamway and the Upper Flood Passage that this climb exits, water levels can rise rapidly and there are only a limited number of locations that can be used to safely the streamway. It is therefore important that it is easy for all cavers to leave the streamway at this point.

There have been fixed aids at this location for many years. The original chain was removed because it was damaging the cave wall and replaced by the previous large-diameter handline and etrier steps arrangement. Since the first step on this etrier is around head height, many shorter cavers found it very difficult to climb at this point (and would struggle even more if the streamway was in flood). There were also limited anchors to belay people on this climb; one throughbolt very close to the edge and an old eye-bolt off to the side.

Will steps be installed at any other locations?
There are no plans to install steps at any other locations in the cave. In general, it is not our policy to install fixed aids to make the cave easier; this climb is an exception due to its position as a flood escape route.

Was permission gained to install these steps and anchors?
This part of OFD is owned by SWCC. Installation of the steps was agreed by the Fixed Aids Working Group of SWCC, SWCC Committee, the OFD Cave Advisory Group, Cambrian Caving Council and NRW. Formal SSSI consent for the works was obtained from NRW. This process has taken some time...

Will further anchors be installed in OFD?
Yes, there are plans to install more resin anchors in OFD. These will primarily be to replace existing anchors, in some cases 'Official Fixed Aids', that are no longer considered adequate.

How long did the work take?
Inspection work was done on Saturday 2nd December. A first trip to install the steps on the following Monday had to be aborted due to high water levels at the Step, with gear left in the cave. Six of the steps and the resin anchors were installed on Tuesday before drill batteries (and enthusiasm) were running low. The remaining three steps were installed on Wednesday.

Do you have any photos?
There are some (poor quality) photos below.
 

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Babyhagrid

Well-known member
With new P hangers being installed. Will there also be rigging topos made? Similar to what the CNCC does.
Also, thank you for the inspection and replacement work!
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Honestly I forgot to measure how much rope you need to belay on the Low's Chain climb before we left (20m is probably enough to belay from the top of bottom I'd guess). It's just two resin anchors there for belaying (no good for SRT although probably fine to pull through if you really felt the need) so no topo needed for that.

For the future installations, yes - there will be a topo. Producing a set of topos for OFD was something I was tasked to do around two years ago
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
I failed to finish my last post :p

Producing a set of topos for OFD was something I was tasked to do around two years ago but was waiting until I had some installations to do topos of... just took a bit longer than expected to get started :p
 

Fulk

Well-known member
What is the policy on fixed aids in OFD? I've used the cable traverses in OFD I and Low's chain and some of the fixed aids in OFD II, but the place I really missed some sort of fixed aid was the start of the traverse that leads to OFD III. Mind you, at the time I'd just suffered a nasty accident to my right-hand eye, which was followed by radical surgery to save my sight, so I had – temporarily, fortunately – monocular vision, in effect, which made negotiating 3-D caves a more interesting and exciting experience than usual; nevertheless, I think that I would have found that traverse on the left-hand wall with no assistance intimidating even with full 3-D vision. Is there any intention to place some sort of fixed aid here (a nice chunky stainless-steel cable, like those in ODF I) – or at least some bolts so that one could place one's own rope?
 

Babyhagrid

Well-known member
I think because lows chain and the bolt traverse are on "flood escape routes" . The OFD people are more likely to put large fixed aids that damage the cave. But with the route to 3 , there are P hangers for the first traverse (top of the crevasse) and for the pitch. And the maypole bridge. But for the rest , of you're silly enough to go there , you know what you're in for.
 

cap n chris

Well-known member
The photos show (at top of climb) the 'rungs' to be on a particularly un-user-friendly 'jaunty' angle. And the depth into the rock means many of them are potential leg-breakers if someone slipped while climbing. But well done putting them in nonetheless. A significant improvement on reliance on emergency levitation in extremis.
 

Cantclimbtom

Well-known member
Not seen them myself but surprised about Chris's comment above. I'd trust Jim's judgement and experience without question even if it looked unintuitive.

Bolt products kit is designed/made by Jim Titt and he's astonishingly knowledgeable about metals, resins, bolts (engineering in general), climbing and climbing kit, via ferrata, etc. Without doubt he'd very carefully designed (and refined with much experience!) both the 150mm distance the rung sticks out from rock (when installed to specs) and the 50mm dip of the rung to be the best compromise between reducing chances of people slipping versus the chance of them getting a foot stuck if they did slip. I'd be surprised if he hasn't installed and used hundreds of these steps himself to arrive at these dimensions. Nobody's infallible, but it'd be pretty hard to have sourced steps from a better place?
 

Huge

Active member
I'd have thought the top couple of rungs will only be used as handholds so the 'jaunty angle' shouldn't any kind of a problem. As for leg breakers, let's give the people who installed them some credit. Plus there must be tens of thousands of this kind of step used on via ferratas all over the world and a fall to the ground on this climb could also be a leg breaker.

I'm ambivalent about the fitting of the steps. Never found it a particularly difficult climb but then I've got long legs and can pull my body weight up on the rope.
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
The steps are specified to have a 100mm embedment depth and 150mm protruding. For this installation, all the steps are installed at a maximum of 150mm protruding; some are installed slightly deeper to try and make the initial overhang slightly easier and the top two steps (particularly the penultimate step) are installed quite a bit deeper as you will only use them as hand holds and being lower profile should mean they are in the way less.

Spacing between the steps is roughly 380mm/15" which is pretty easy (you can match feet each step if required) but a few steps are closer together due to rock features.

We had a spirit level out to get the steps (close to) level and some string to try and get them in line. The problem is that the rest of the cave isn't level :p There is a slight bend to the right in the upper half as the steps start on hopefully the easiest bit of wall at the bottom and then avoid a bulge on the top.
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
[...]Is there any intention to place some sort of fixed aid here (a nice chunky stainless-steel cable, like those in ODF I) – or at least some bolts so that one could place one's own rope?
I really don't want any more of those massive steel cables in OFD - there's already too many in OFD1 in my opinion. Bolt traverse wire, second part of bolt traverse and maypole traverse are flood escape routes so arguably necessary but the Airy Fairy wire, while fun, is entirely unnecessary and the Waterfall Series wire is not an official fixed aid and so unmaintained.

Resin anchors, on the other hand, are far more plausible. I've not been to OFD3 (at least partly due to the lack of a sensibly safe approach and there still being plenty of other OFD to do) and I'd probably want to focus on safer routes for newer cavers first, but we might get there one day :p
 

Jopo

Active member
"Resin anchors, on the other hand, are far more plausible. I've not been to OFD3 (at least partly due to the lack of a sensibly safe approach and there still being plenty of other OFD to do) and I'd probably want to focus on safer routes for newer cavers first, but we might get there one day"

The Traverses are a safe approach for a reasonably competent caver. There is an alternative - abseil down then arrange a pull through at the OFDlll end. The walk along the bottom is easy and now the preferred rescue route. All you have to be worried about then is the Maypole Bridge balancing act.

"and I'd probably want to focus on safer routes for newer cavers first, but we might get there one day"

I find this quite chilling. Is this the club that pioneered the route to Smiths Armory by having to first dive Dip Sump? Most of the cave was discovered by divers before Cwm Dwr or Top Entrance existed. There are kilometers of passage which is safe for novices. I am a armchair caver now but would be sad to see OFD become a "beginners" cave

A article about accessing the high level passage above Low's passage can be seen in NL No.5 - available on the SWCC website.

Jopo
 

Babyhagrid

Well-known member
(at least partly due to the lack of a sensibly safe approach and there still being plenty of other OFD to do
To echo Jopo. The route to three is not unsafe. You just need to cave sensibly and use ropes where you can.
I don't want caving to become a sanitized and handheld hobby
 

cap n chris

Well-known member
Aren't fixed aids in place to make something less lethal, rather than to facilitate beginners?

Perhaps the term "aid" is the villain; maybe Fixed Aids should be renamed Safety Installations.
 
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