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Ogof Daren Cilau Camping at Hard Rock Cafe

Friday December 6th 2013

Members present: Andrew Gilmartin

Report by Andrew Gilmartin

For many years it had been my ambition to do an underground camp in Daren Cilau. The cave had captured my imagination as an eager undergraduate caver, full of enthusiasm and ambition. Having heard anecdotal descriptions of the entrance crawl and the time machine I was keen to experience the spirit of this cave right from the early days of my caving.

Until this point I have had tried Daren with varying success – one of which ended as a pigs ear with the agonising and prolongued slog out of the Prices / Cnwc entrance. Lesson learned there – never assume!!

I have been subscribed to the Daren announce yahoo group for the last five years and kept an eye in on the comings and goings of Adrian Fawcett and Mark Lumley. I thought it was about time to get on board one of their fabled Daren camps, so I got in touch by email. They were extremely welcoming and offered to accommodate me for a weekend of antics.

So it was arranged. Armed with some Double Decker bars and a set of warm clothes I met Charles Bailey at Whitewalls on Friday night. There were some other Chelsea members warming up for festivities at the hut, but we would have to miss out on that. We geared up and tootled on up the hill to the cave entrance at 8:20pm on Friday.
Anyone who has been acquainted with Daren Cilau will know the feeling of trepidation anticipating that entrance crawl. I was privately psyching myself up for the claustrophobia and coldness of the entrance assault. Gotta love that icy water sloshing up your collar. On top of that I was carrying the weight of knowing that I was about to undertake the longest caving trip of my life.

Encumbered by only one tackle sack each we completed the entrance crawl in one hour. I consider that fine but I think Charles was holding back on me out of politeness. Anyway, we stood up, donned tackle bags and got our stomp on as we negotiated Jigsaw passage. Progress from here to the Hard Rock Café was pretty steady punctuated only by the ladder climb. I found the time machine impressive. I thought it similar to many of the spectacular upper sections of the Gouffre Berger - vast passages in need of reflector based navigation assistance.
We seemed to arrive at the HRC without drama or hitch. This would be the first time I had met Mark Lumley and Andy Watson after having been in email contact for some while. So I clambered up the slope into the café proper to find the two of them had appeared to have started early on the cocktails and were taking some erm.. compromising photos ! This is going to be a jolly old weekend!

After a change into dry human clothing there was only one thing to do and get stuck amongst the cocktails. Very sophisticated I must say so chaps. Also dinner was very impressive – a seafood risotto. Merriment continued into the small hours and I was entertained with caving stories, Daren history, more cocktails and a touch of singing from Andy. Marvellous. Also Moby. Charles warned me that if not kept in check it is very possible on extended camps to get ‘out of synch’ with the normal day pattern due to the absence of any time reference. We set alarms for 8:30 start.

The aims for the camp were not to hang about the camp and sing songs but to clear out some spoil at a dig (The Inconvenient Truth) and to ferry out some unloved personal camp stash that was past its smell by date. So after only 15 cups of tea we put our soggy sandy caving gear back on and set about the days tasks. The four of us trotted off to The Inconvenient Truth – a dig located in Frog Street off the Bonsai Streamway. Frog Street held a spectacular treat called The Helibeds. This is a series of crawling passage festooned with beautiful white helictite formations seen up close in their full glory. Absoultely superb formations. Inching very carefully past these, we approached the dig face. The air held the distinctive smell of explosives. Charles got stuck in at the front, I was in the middle operating the skip and Andy was at the rear on spoil scattering duty. We spent a good hour shifting gravel and rocks out from the dig face to make way for future blasting. Looks like only one or two more bangs and they’d be through. There was speculation that the dig held bad air and I was breathing a lot, but this could’ve been down to all the lifting and shifting.
We headed back to Crystal inlet for a spot of lunch, then grabbed some tacklesacks for the carry up to white passage. Everything was going just swimmingly. After a photoshoot in some spacious chamber below the roped traverses we said fairwell to Andy as he had only planned to camp one night only.

The remaining three of us ambled on back down to the HRC for another evening of cave camping, but not before visiting the East & West flyovers. Back at camp I didn’t mind listening to Moby on the camp radio 7 times one bit! Dinner was once again very well appreciated. We had a chilli con TVP with pasta. Superb. I slept much better the second night. I didn’t have to get up to pee every hour and I was too hot the first night.
It is a strange feeling to wake up the next day in the cave. It really doesn’t feel like morning. Perhaps an mp3 of some birdsong would do the trick. On the Sunday morning we started at a very leisurely pace. It was a 20 cups of tea affair. Packing up was not too much of a faff and after screwing the last Daren drum shut we saddled up and started the journey out at around noonish. We deposited more gear at the rope climbs, donned oversuits and made our way through Eglwys Passage out to the log book. At this stage we went at our natural paces, Charles and Mark pushing ahead and myself tail end Charlie. I timed the exit crawl again to 1 hour, so top marks for consistency.

It was my intention to describe the feeling of surfacing after 44 hours underground to view a pink sky over the Black Mountains, but you’ll will just have to go in and do it yourself.

I returned to Whitewalls for a needed shower and felt pretty fine. I had certainly had plenty of sleep and was well fed in the cave. I can imagine that the only element holding you back from a very lengthy camping trip is your nerve and temperament.
I owe my gratitude to my hosts Mark, Charles and Andy. Thanks for sharing me the delights of a truly unique place on/in earth. Also thanks to Chris Seal for lending me the luggage. And to ‘Flasher’, whoever you are. In case you are still caving: I have your Daren Drum. The chocolate, however, has seen better days. BBE ’97. Pass.
Will I return to Daren Cilau? Absolutely. There’s no doubt I would love to explore some of the next sections toward the restaurant. It’d be great to experience it as less of a passenger and more as a leader. Perhaps at next the March Wales meet. Takers?!