A return to Draenen

Two years after our last trip into Ogof Draenen, the memories of the long journey had faded sufficiently for us to consider returning to the far reaches of the cave. Previously we had reached Medusa’s Children before turning around, this time we wanted to go further, to the Geryon!

On arrival at Whitewalls Caving Hut near Llangattock on Friday night, Brendan treated us to his delicious almondy, apricotty tart. Quite soon after we retired for an early start in the morning.

Brendan's tasty tart

Breakfast was served (by me) at 7.00 and soon enough we were trudging through the snow towards the entrance of Ogof Draenen. After a few frantic minutes trying to unlock the cave, we were in. This was a relief given the temperature outside.

I really like Ogof Draenen. It has a great variety of passage and provides a good physical challenge. Sections of boulder hopping, traverses, walking passage, flat-out crawl, climbs and squeezes are interspersed with interesting rock formations and pretty decorations. Unfortunately the latter are most frequent in the far far reaches of the cave…. through the Last Sandwich! The Last Sandwich takes about 60 minutes to pass through and is largely flat-out crawl – quite tough on the arms and elbows!

Keith emerging through the sandwich. A forced smile perhaps?

Keith was probably still smiling at this point because he was dreaming of all the goodies in his lunchbox!

Keith showing off his lunchbox

At the far side of the Last Sandwich the passage opens up and it is from here that you enter “Luck of the Draw”, which leads to Medusa’s Children and on to the Geryon. We made our way to Medusa’s Children and beyond, resisting the temptation to take pictures that would use precious time. Shortly after Medusa’s Children is the Light bulb formation. As you can see from the picture, this bulbous (not pun intended) calcite formation is held by an astonishingly thin stalk!

The light bulb

After another 20 minutes we finally got to the Geryon. This really is a remarkable formation. What the pictures cannot portray is the setting. The formations in Draenen are in discrete locations. You travel through sequential brown-grey passages and chambers and then suddenly you come across something truly remarkable. With regard to the Geryon, it is located up a gravelly slope. At the top of that slope is a beautiful circular chamber in which the horizontal rock strata stand out. The roof of this chamber is a circular dome and it is in this dome that the Geryon is positioned as if it had been naturally framed. Sitting opposite the Geryon was a nest of huge aragonite crystals. The Geryon was discovered in 1997. A visitors book which is located in the chamber charts the groups who pass through. Whilst I am certain that this is not a full account of all visits (I did not see the names of Pete, Tish and Clive), it is evident that about only one visit is made per year! In fact, our visit was only the 13th group visit (46-50th person visit) in the book! I therefore presume that less that 100 people have ever been there.

Rachel and the Geryon
The Geryon
Catherine wheel - a formation adjacent to the Geryon
Crystals opposite the Geryon in the circular chamber

After a quiche (which survived well in Keith’s lunchbox) and pork pies we headed on. We decided that we had 30 minutes left before we must turn around and so we journeyed on to find the needle formation. Thankfully we found this quite quickly and hence after further photos we turned back for the long journey home. We set off at 9.30 and now it was 16.30 … we still had a long long way to go.


Regardless, we couldn’t resist a few more pictures at Medusa’s Children as we passed – although this time the occasion was devoid of any significant proposals.

Medusa's Children

Mmmm ... icing

The journey out was slow. I really dislike Ogof Draenen. It has a great variety of passage, of which each type goes on far too long. Sections of boulder hopping, traverses, walking passage, flat-out crawl, climbs and squeezes go on forever which is a real physical challenge when you are tired, your clothes are soaking wet, your knee pads have worn through and you know that there is a still a long way to go. We eventually got back to the entrance at about 22.30. I was in front and couldn’t open the cave door as much as my tired arms tried. I let Richard go in front (which isn’t easy in a cave that has the cross-sectional dimensions of a pair of shoulders) …he tried to open the door for about 5 minutes, before he gave up using his arms, changed direction and used his feet to kick open the door. Amusingly he then retreated out of the uphill cave entrance feet first!

A fab trip. It is an amazing place. Maybe it’ll take another 2 years before the memories of the slog wear off sufficiently that we can consider making a return visit.

5 thoughts on “A return to Draenen”

  1. You start with a cake picture and then find a way to improve things, now that is impressive. Not sure what you did to Keef though? His face gives the impression that whatever happened was devoid of compassion 😯

    Good scoring post by the way 😆

  2. Mega caving adventure! A massive stamina test.

    Yeah, I remember those long long hours of boulder hoping in Draenen. I used to go to sleep the night after a trip and still be able to see the boulders beneath my feet clearly in the backs of my eyelids! A love-hate relationship.

    What was the earliest date in the visitor’s book? We were last there in ’98 with Clive and Steve Roberts (he helped discover MS&D and digging the Last Sandwich). There are some of Clive’s photos from the trip of the Geryon and Urchin on our staircase…

    PS. Keef seems to be looking younger while I just keep getting older – what’s going on?

    1. I think the first page was 1997 …. Brendan took pictures of all the pages, so we can find out if necessary. There was literally about 1 entry per year!
      I haven’t seen boulders this time, but I did notice the colours in the kitchen when I turned the light on this morning! I also really noticed how bright the sun was today, but that was perhaps because of my state of tiredness, rather than being in the dark for the whole of yesterday.

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