OFD Great Oxbow Series 1st April 2006
Andy & Mel, Neil & Judi, Dani (gooseberry)
To get into the Great Oxbow Series from Top Entrance you have two options â€“ either by the exposed traverses at the end of Midnight Passage or by scaling the aven annotated as â€˜skyhook' on the survey. The skyhook system involves hauling up a self-locking device which is kept in the SWCC key cupboard. The gentleman of SWCC checked the fixed-aids list to confirm that the pitch was still rigged for this type of ascent, confirmed that it was, and showed us how to use the gadget on their practice bolts. Neil and Judi arrived but, meanwhile, Dani, by her admission, did nor have her caving or navigation head on and had gone to Agen Allwedd by mistake. Eventually, at about 12.30ish, we entered the cave. I say â€˜ish' because it was then we realised that none of us had a watch. We ambled along, down Edward's Shortcut, into Midnight Passage.
Neil in Midnight Passage
Eventually we found ourselves looking upwards, to where two lengths of orange string vanished into darkness â€“ it was skyhook time. I attached a ladder and lifeline to the gadget, connected it to the string, and hauled the assembly upwards. The aven is 11 metres and even our combined lights could not really illuminate what was happening above. There was some resistance on the line so I pulled a bit harderâ€¦ and the string brokeâ€¦ a tangle of ladder, lifeline and string landed at my feet.
The ladder goes up!
We were not getting into Great Oxbow Series by that route. This left the dodgy traverses option. Well, there was no harm in going down and having a look, so we continued down Midnight Passage towards the ominous sound of the rumbling main stream. The passage ends at a ninety foot pitch with the route onwards following a sloping ledge over the huge stream canyon. We rigged a rope and I led over, past a straddling section, to a sandy floored section of passage. The girls came over without any problems, and then finally, Neil who de-rigged as he came.
Dani looking very cool with a 90 foot drop below
The next traverse is short but my least favourite as it relies entirely on traction on a narrow ledge. We reached a platform of boulders and I led on down the last traverse which presented us with a problem. The traverse is easy enough, if quite exposed, but then opens out and requires a 5-6 metre chimney descent between the walls to another boulder platform. There are no belays above the chimney and no obvious way to rig the traverse and descent. Neil suggested traversing towards him at a lower level, which I did, finding it easy. This was the solution but it meant lowering the girls down a 6 metre pitch from their boulder stance, which we did without any problems.
Belaying Judi up the rope ladder
The way on was a climb up a rope ladder into Great Oxbow Series and we were finally romping off again down walking passage passing superb formations.
The survey led us into a small tube that doubled-back from the main route that leads towards Marble Showers. I had been this way before but had forgotten about the 10 metre calcite chimney en route, which delayed us a bit. Eventually we were all up and passing excellent delicate formations.
Up the calcite chimney
This part of the cave has a much more virgin feel that the thoroughfares around Top Entrance. The main passage ends at a horrible traverse over a deep pitch but this can be bypassed easily and we were soon marching down the most wonderful railway tunnel with outstanding formations including a truly classic set of orange stalactites and stalagmites surrounded by a floor of calcite crystals.
Thus it was we arrived back at the skyhook pitch, but this time at the top. And there was a disturbing surprise. The pitch was NOT rigged for a skyhook ascent. The string had been threaded through a delta maillon attached to a ring-bolt. Just as well the string broke â€“ if the skyhook had partially engaged with the maillon it could have failed in use â€“ and the consequences of that don't bear thinking about. We abseiled down and headed out trying to guess what the time was and whether we were going to meet our 7.00 pm ETA. We went back along Cross Rift which was very pleasant and made good time back to the entrance, and then SWCC, to discover the time was 7.15 pm and we had had a 6.5 hour trip. A very pleasant Chinese meal followed before we headed back to Swansea. â€˜I think', said Mel as we drove back, â€˜that when we get our house we should wallpaper one room with the OFD survey and mark off all the bits we've done, until we've done it all!' Sounds like a plan to me.