I'd been looking forward to my Local Cave Leader course in South Wales for a few months and it lived up to my expectations, right down to the frozen feet and aches and pains across my shoulders. I got into caving a couple of years ago and had long thought about doing cave leader training, but now on a chilly couple of winter days, the course finally came around at Trewern Outdoor Education Centre.
Floods of Information
The first morning consisted of a lot of discussion around personal and group equipment, as well as some close study of ordnance survey mapping to determine the catchment area of different caves. This information, along with knowledge of the rock type, vegetation cover and steepness of the ground helped us to gain a better understanding of the likelihood of flooding in different caves. More discussion followed on risk assessment and the responsibilities of a leader before it was time to hit the cave.
Leaving Trewern we started out on the 'hour long' drive (more like 2 hours) to Llygad Llywchwr cave on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons, not far from where I recently paddled the River Towy. The cave has some beautiful calcite formations, including some amazing curtains high above the underground river that flows through it. We worked on underground navigation and a little technical ropework before emerging from the dark into, er... more dark at 7PM. Heading for home I was shattered, but had enjoyed a fun and informative day.
The second day of the course began with some sobering presentations on the dangers of cave flooding including real life scenarios, one of which ended with a fatality. Although many of the caves in South Wales are dry, or do not flood to a significant extent, there are several extremely serious caves where a fanatical level of attention to detail is required in order to stay safe.
We headed out to Bridge Cave, so called because of the bizarre Indiana-Jones style 'bridges' formed by wedged boulders at high level above the Nedd Fechan river within the cave. The far side of the 'bridges' contains some very vulnerable areas of the cave, and given the hazardous approach required to reach the far side, it would be surprising if many people took the risk. We were happy to admire the cave without needing to take undue risks in an already hazardous environment.
More ropework was followed by a couple of emergency scenarios, which served to highlight the extreme difficulties that would be involved in evacuating a casualty from a cave, even if they were relatively close to the entrance. The main lesson I will be taking away from this is the need for high levels of preparation and vigilance in any cave trip.
A Year of Caving?
With an awful lot of further experience needed before my assessment, it seems as though much of the year will be spent underground, just as the paddling season begins to wind down! A great way to keep busy if nothing else.