May 12 24
Forty years ago last weekend the Grand Circle in Agen Allwedd became a reality when an intrepid bunch of Derbyshire cavers, including our friend Clive, found a way (with a little chemical help) through the fourth boulder choke to connect Main Stream Passage to Biza Passage. To celebrate, Clive arranged a trip to do the Grand Circle on the Saturday, and was nice enough to invite us along.
We set off from Whitewalls with Clive, Duncan and Naomi, Steve and Claire. The plan was to reproduce as closely as possible the first successful trip, so we would be going anti-clockwise, saving Southern Stream Passage for the way out, and skipping the High Traverses that cut off the downstream fifth of Southern Stream. The start of the cave was done at a cracking pace and we were through the first boulder choke into main chamber after only 25 minutes. We pressed on, and were soon in Main Stream Passage and tackling the amusing rope climb at the end of the second boulder choke–since both Clive (of course) and Duncan were very familiar with the trip, we made quick progress.
From the second boulder choke we were pretty much in the stream for the next three kilometres or so as we staggered and slid along the slippery rocks that are a feature of the Agen Allwedd stream. Northwest Junction (as far as Rachel and I had been on previous trips) and the junction with Cascade Passage came and went, and Clive and Claire, who had opted for wetsuits and were clearly rather warm by this stage, finally saw the benefit of their choice as we reached Deep Water, 300m or so of wading that was usually waist-deep and occasionally over our heads. That led to the third boulder choke and then the short section of stream before the breakthrough point at fourth boulder choke.
Fourth boulder choke is a muddy and tight vertical climb between boulders–I really think the original diggers could have made more effort to improve it–with an awkward corner in the middle. Steve had a very tough time with this, simply because he’s a bit taller than the rest of us, and wasn’t sure he’d get around the bend, but in the end we all made it through to the crowbar that marks the final point of breakthrough. We all had a well-earned rest at the top of the choke in Biza Passage.
Biza Passage itself is quite entertaining, with a narrow slot in the middle of the floor, so a choice of crawling at roof level, or for the thinner caver, squeezing along the slot. After just a bit too long it meets the stream again via an awkward rope climb down that could really do with a few more holds. From there, we continued downstream to Second Cascade, where the wetsuited among us enjoyed a swim while the rest of us traversed around the pool, and then to the bottom of Southern Stream Passage. After a short detour to the sump, we headed up Southern Stream, which is no nicer now than it was on our previous
visit–it’s just that there’s 25% more of it if you go all the way to the end.
What felt like hours of crawling eventually led us back to Main Chamber and the way out. We met another party just before the boulder choke, who generously let us go ahead through it, and half an hour later we were back on the tram road on the way to Whitewalls and a well-earned beer.
Sunday we were rather achy, so chose not to cave again but instead went for a little run from Llanthony, between Abergavenny and Hay on Wye. Since we didn’t get any pictures of the caving (we’re hoping for a historic one from Clive), I’ve included a few pictures from Sunday’s run.
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