l’Etape du Tour Training Finally Starts…

Well, the l’Etape du Tour training started in earnest today…

I’m too not sure how to feel about my performance, but I guess it was the first time out on my bike for over a year so I shouldn’t feel too bad. I managed just over 37k, but was I totally knackered on the climbs! The route I took kicked off almost immediately by heading straight up the old Sedbergh Road out of Kendal. From there on every single little rise was an absolute killer. Nearing the end of the ride I didn’t think I was gonna get back up to Crook at all!!!

When I watch this video I’m left with two competing and equally massive feelings:

  • What the hell have I done entering such a mind numbingly massive event?
  • Riding a mountain stage of the Tour de France a few days before the Tour itself will be awesome!

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, Fault Aven Series

The Fault Aven area is a series of high level passages above the First River Chamber in the main streamway of Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. This area is unique in that Pom Pom Passage is the only part of the cave to be formed on the southern side of the OFD stream-way. Here’s a video report of the trip…

The rain in Spain…

After last years trip over to Spain which resulted in us diving a previously unexplored sump to find a chamber and several possible leads Jim and I felt that it would be a good idea to do a follow up trip. We may be correct, time will tell, the force 7 gale on the ferry crossing and the continuous rain for the two weeks prior to our visit do not bode well.

Our first day has been spent recovering from the ferry crossing, buying food and looking around to remember where we went last year. River levels are obviously up, in some places by as much as a couple of meters. The site we want to dive is called Cave of the Wild Mare which is thought to be the resurgence for the Torca la Vaca system which we dived in last time out. We are not sure if it will be passable. The weather forecast does not provide good reading at the moment but these things can change.

Or not; drips through the roof announced the overnight rain but neither that or the previous evenings 1 Euro bottle of wine prevented us from sorting the kit and loading the van at the start of our second day. After driving through small rivers on the roads we first tried walking to the cave entrance from above thus avoiding a questionable river crossing. We failed in the dense forest and drove down the hill to try our luck with the wet route. To our surprise the river was passable and we soon found the entrance which looked a little damp. Undeterred we climbed up the small waterfall before the entrance and got into the cave. The description tells of dry crawling and some canals to the sump of the wild eels but with the high water levels the whole passage was fast flowing water. (Pictures of the site in dryer conditions can be found here and here.) Despite the difficulty of crawling against the current we eventually reached the back end of the cave where the roof neared the water about 15 m before the normal start of the sump. We turned at this point and a made a rapid, assisted, exit. Diving in the sump of the wild eels may be possible. Extra line will be needed as the canal passage before the sump is almost up to the roof and it would not take much more water to turn it into a sump proper. We will have to see tomorrow when the weather is going to improve…

Or not; no overnight rain resulted in a good nights sleep until Jim heard a werewolf climbing the stairs. With better weather forecast for our third day we went about getting dive kit into the cave and trying to find the sump of the wild eels. Crossing the river was much easier as the water had dropped by about 30 cm. This was also true in the cave and we were able to go beyond the point reached yesterday. We found a convenient place to kit up and Jim headed off into a duck that was almost sumped. Once that had been lined we found the breakdown chamber before the sump proper. Tying onto a rope that had been left in place for aven climbing Jim then dived into the sump but ran out of line in a cross rift about 6 m before the end. Whilst Jim collected a full reel from the kitting up spot I had a dive in the murky, mud floored sump. The vis on the return was better than expected indicating that there is a good flow. After I surfaced Jim went through and finished the job, surfacing in the chamber that marks the limit of exploration. The small “uninspiring” sump found in the back left corner of the chamber by the original explorers looked very active and had covered the floor to a depth of about 0.5 m with fast flowing water. Jim then made an exit to where I was waiting at the start of the first sump, pausing on the way to tidy the line and find the original line running down the opposite side of the sump. Time pressure then ended the day, or was it the call of a 2 Euro bottle of wine? The next job will be to dive to the terminal chamber and have a go at the undived sump. No doubt the weather will improve as forecast…

Or maybe; despite no overnight rain the ground was still wet on the start of the fourth day but the river levels were down and the water was clearing. We quickly got to the start of the sump of the wild eels and passed it to the terminal chamber. Whilst I secured the dive line to a suitable rock Jim kitted up for the attempt on the undived sump. After he headed off I sat down and waited. After a while I heard Jim shouting. I was later to find out that he had surfaced in a rift and we had proved a vocal connection. After another wait Jim reappeared and I kitted up and followed him in to a second rift. I then dived the line through a bedding where he had excavated some boulders and to the end of the line. After a quick foray off the end of the line in a canal trench I saw a way on under a low arch. I returned for Jim and he went under the arch and layed out more line in a good sized round tube. After following this around a couple of bends the passage stopped in a blind chamber that was big enough to turn round in. Although there are other options in this area of the cave, which is made up of bedding planes, rifts and breakdown, we both think that the main flow has been lost. On the way out we split up and searched each wall of sump of the wild eels. Jim found a promising looking side passage guarded by a cute looking eel. We exited to hear reports of sunshine so we finished off the bottle of 2 Euro wine and had pizza as comfort food. We now know that the weather is improving…

Or it could be; the sixth day started out as another diving trip into Wild Mare, the aim being to look at the side passage that Jim found on the fourth day, the one with the cute eel. With much lower water levels we made good time on the way in the plan being to dive to the far end of the sump along our line and return the short distance along the original line to where Jim had clipped on the line reel. This would help us protect the viz on that side of the sump and improve our chances. After we had both dived to the far end of the sump I dived back to collect the reel, form a junction and swim off into the promising side passage. Presumably Jim thinks I look scary enough underwater to see off the eels. He may be right because I saw no eels but cannot say if any saw me. Once the junction had been formed a silt screw was used to make a belay next to the junction; the silt layer being more than 40 cm thick at this point. Unfortunately the cave has been playing tricks on us and the promising side passage turned out to be an alcove with more alcoves each side of it. After searching about 10 m of the far end of the passage wall at floor level on the left hand side facing out (downstream) the search was abandoned owing to the clouds of silt that had blown up from the floor. Surfacing back at the end of the line with Jim we discussed the problem. The main flow has clearly been lost and with high water levels limiting viz and at the same time giving us no clue at to where the flow comes from we decided to have a go from the other end – Torca la Vaca. We removed our kit from Wild Mare, had dinner (with no wine) and went out again to rig the ropes in Torca. Our plan now is to get back into eely mud eye chamber and look at the sump we found on our last visit but didn’t have time to dive. Having done that we are now enjoying some glasses of 1 euro wine and some bacon flavoured crisps – we know how to live it up we do.

On the last day in Wild Mare we also managed to shoot some video in the greatly improved conditions. About a minute of it came out and can be viewed here.

No pictures, sorry, they were lost when the site was hacked. :cry: