Mark Richardson, Chris Haigh, Simon Blaen, Tom Hughes, Chris Adams
10-13th November 2011
The trip started like the previous 6 or so visits to Daren, with the packing of the tackle bags to go underground with us. Having said on the last trip that I wouldn't do it again I found myself back at Whitewalls with bags of food, stoves, a sleeping bag, a tripod, my SLR and a couple of flash guns. I'd been persuaded, had my arm twisted, talked into it but certainly not bullied. Something inside was making me want to go back despite the thought of bashed knees, chipped elbows and bruised shoulders and the Monday morning malaise and fatigue.
Mark and I decided on a photo trip to justify our visit. We came up with a hit list of places where we'd like to get some shots. The list was long and a lot of shots would not be possible without some high power headlamps or some flash bulbs. We had 4 flash guns and receivers/transmitter, an SLR, a bridge compact camera and enough spare batteries to keep any child happy at Christmas.
Thursday: We'd arranged for a Prices key so we could drag in the 2 tackle bags of kit each without trashing everything in them on the crawl; though as our memories of Prices came back to us its by no means an easy option. We reached the antlers and set up for our first shot. One down many to go. Dumping bags we made a detour into urchin oxbow to try to capture some of the amazing formations that grow in the ceilings and on the floor. We also came across a bat hanging from the wall. One of the furthest in that we've seen bats in the cave and along way from the Prices chambers where they are usually seen. We continued on without any route finding problems and once at the top of the ladder climb stopped to add a BBPC presence to the mud sculptures that have steadily grown in number.
Again continuing on we eyed shots in the Time Machine but couldn't think how we would do the size of it justice with our lamps. Maybe a long exposure and us running around like demented chimps letting off flash guns might work but more likely would be a complete mess. We decided we'd need to have some flash bulbs for this job. We took shots around Crystal Inlet whilst collecting some water. Mark had a silky water look in mind but I suggested he try a fast exposure to get some large blobs of water flying out of the pipe. The results of which I much preferred. Once at camp we settled for the night and chatted about our plans for the following day.
Friday: Waking early, the just 1 more hour call was made. Three hours later we woke again. Bugger. Once warmed by porridge and copious quantities of tea we set off in search of pretties. We had a target in mind: Frog Street. And as before we weren't disappointed. The biggest challenge was where to point the camera; with so many formations in the field of view even the ultra wide angle lens was overwhelmed. We took a few from different positions changing lighting but all the while watching not to touch anything. After a couple of hours our necks were feeling distinctly achy so with much care we scraped our bodies along the flat out crawling tubes back to Bonsai streamway. Whilst munching and drinking to refuel our bodies we suddenly heard noises coming from upstream. Reverend T'dawg came around the corner bare chested, closely followed by Chris and Simon. After manffection had been exchanged we chatted briefly. They were to head to HRC to put a brew on. We were to continue to our next photo destination: the large sand tubes in the Eastern Flyover. Having spent some time exploring in here before we were quite excited to get some decent shots. After a couple of climbs and a jagged crawl/squeeze we hit the tubes. Wandering around we found a couple of locations suitable. After a couple of hours of camera faff we headed back to camp. Our plan for Saturday was to head to REU for some blue greenie action and to explore one of the few places we hadn't been before: icing on the cake and painkiller passage.
I woke Saturday morning feeling the usual Daren Cilau ache. Saturday was to be our big day out- Chris and I set off just before the other three and started making our way to REU. Traditionally, this has been my least favourite part of the cave but for some reason, this time round it really didn’t seem too bad at all, despite my apparent lack of fitness.
We trundled up Ankle Grinder and arrived all too suddenly at the murky duck…… smashing, time to get wet! A few minutes later we were squirming along the jagged rift which led to the spectacular Blue Greenies! We unpacked all the camera kit in what was becoming a well-practiced routine and set about trying to work out how on earth to photograph the place. Chris started taking a few pictures when all of a sudden his camera started to only take half a picture, leaving the other half black…. Not good. We switched to my camera for a bit and carried on taking some shots of the Blue Greenies before packing up and heading off to try and find Painkiller Passage- one of the last pieces of Daren we have yet to see.
The passageway after the blue greenies was, mercifully walking height and we stomped down it at a fair pace. After a few minutes we emerged at a junction in the passage and turning left came face to face with what we quickly realised must be The Icing on the Cake! Neither of us had read a description of this part of the cave nor had we seen photos of it so we were very pleasantly surprised to find ourselves looking at a superbly decorated piece of passageway…. win! We left the icing and carried on to find painkiller passage, a quick furtle to the end of Painkiller East and we were headed back to the cake for some more photos. We sat and ate some sausage, nuts and cheese and started our long trip back to Where the Sun Don’t Shine for our last photo of the day. As we passed back through REU we met up with a couple of the Fat Belly Boys (The regular diggers) and were treated to a well needed cup of tea. We chatted with Mad Phil for a while and found out quite a bit about the history of digging in Daren then headed back down Ankle Grinder again. It was half way down this bit of passage that I realised that the charm of Daren was beginning to wear off and I had a little “oh f**k it” moment half way back whilst I moaned about spending 90% of the day either stooping or crawling!
Eventually we arrived at the truly stunning set of formations known as Where the Sun Don’t Shine and set about taking some photos of the exquisite helictite bushes in the silted bedding plane. The air in there felt pretty bad to both of us and I remember speaking to someone who was there on the day that it was dug telling me that they had to have people stationed along the passageway wafting air down with bits of carry mat to keep the air fresh- I guessed the others must have spent a fair bit of time in there and with us sat around panting for a while too the air was getting a little stale. It wasn’t until we had packed up and made our way all the way back to Acupuncture Passage that we really started to feel much better. That night we had our last Daren meal of couscous and sausage and settled down for our last night’s sleep, reflecting on the days and days we have spent in there since our first visit 7 or so years ago.
Sunday was a pretty uneventful day but a great one! All 5 of us had decided to go out of Prices entrance. We made very good time all the way out but remembered that it really isn’t an easy alternative to the entrance crawl, there is a huge amount of up and down which never seems to end.. ropes up, ladders down, ladders up, squeezes down… on and on it goes, made harder by the fact that Chris and I had 2 tackle bags each. As we drew neared the entrance the air got fresher and fresher until we finally arrived at the last bit of the dig. The entrance crawls were far wetter on the way out than on the way in leading us to believe that we must have had a fair bit of rain the night before when the river came up at the camp. The wet and cold didn’t matter though as we were nearing the end of our 80 hour trip and the thought of catching the last few rays of daylight spurred us on.
Needless to say the shower I had back at the hut ranks amongst my top 5 and before you could say “thank you Daren Cilau for sharing your secrets with us over the years”.. the team had said their goodbyes and were heading back to their respective corners of the UK aching but satisfied....