Western Union to 12 O’Clock High (Optional Detour)
A scramble up through boulders to the left (west) side of Western Union brings you to a low arch beyond which an agreeable romp along the sand floored rift of Oregano Trail is reached. Part way along is Sand Chamber, with an abandoned dig in the floor. A tape nearby on the right-hand wall marks a short climb up into Terrapin North, a high-level sand swim that heads back eastwards to an aural connection above Western Union. Part way along TN, on the left, a dug squeeze enters Flight of the Bumble Bee a small passage heading north and ending in a compacted choke. Terrapin South, a crawl to the right (south) of TN, can be followed for a few metres.
Back in Oregano Trail the obvious westerly route continues as easy caving to a section where the rift narrows and drops down steeply. At the bottom of this a low arch on the right The Gusset marks the dug-out approach to Where the Sun Don’t Shine, a flat-out crawl where great care is needed to avoid damaging the stunning formations. A way on can be seen at the end beyond a superb cluster of helictites, The Bush, but please don’t be tempted to dig this as it is only a few metres away from known passage at New Boots and Panties and the loss of these fine formations and the vilification of one’s peers is too big a price to pay for a few meagre metres of dull, flat-out crawling passage and would only result in the most boring and unwanted round trip in history.
Returning to the main passage continue on for a few metres and up a bouldery slope to enter the impressive chamber of 12 O’ Clock High. At the far end a bouldery slope upwards leads to a compacted boulder-and-clay choke. At the base of the slope a wriggle down through boulders brings you into the smaller, westerly-headed passage of Chokes Away, which heads past an unpromising cross rift to a loose boulder choke which has been passed on the right hand side for a few metres to a point where the strong draught is sucked down through loose boulders which appear to be above, and close to the end of, the divers’ extension San Agustin Streamway.
The Micron to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
At The Micron a fixed rope of uncertain age drops 7 metres through perched boulders (care) into a clean-washed rift. Ignore the siren call of running water from Borrowed Boots Streamway downstream (this is the route to Psychatronic Strangeways) and head north (right), away from the noise, along the tortuous, welly-grabbing-pooled, tacklebag-snagging rift of Ankle Grinder Bypass. CAUTION: This is a flood overflow to the main stream which disappears further up. It has been known to flood extensively in wet weather. There are a couple of uninspiring, partially choked, high-level tubes along the way but nothing of great interest to the tourist caver. Eventually, after several hundred metres, you will arrive at a 5 metre long duck beyond which the passage enlarges. CAUTION: This duck becomes a sump in wet weather and can remain so for several days. Above the duck, a 4 metre climb enters the high-level, dry, Prawn Cracker Passage which heads south for 100m before finishing in a choke. Continuing from the duck the passage continues up a bouldery slope with a fossil side passage on the right, Icing on the Cake, sporting some photogenic columns and stalactites on a pristine mud floor beyond which it continues southwards, beyond conservation tape, with the airspace slowly diminishing. Continue up the main route, negotiating large boulders in big passage until you reach a short, airy traverse and climb down on the right hand side, where you can decide for yourself whether to avail yourself of the antiquated handline and fossilized bolts, then drop down to the streamway to approach the 6 metre fixed Jacob’s Ladder (lifeline in situ) and a short handline up to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Before climbing up note that this stream, originating from Llangattock Swallet and emerging from Seventh Hour Sump, is your ONLY source of fresh drinking water before the current end of the cave, a hot, dry, sweaty, energetic 2 miles away. The spot downstream where the stream disappears is also the camp toilet, a suitable spot to avoid polluting the cave ahead if continuing on to the further reaches. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is in a large, dry, boulder-floored chamber perched above Seventh Hour Sump and was originally set up to facilitate digging in the more remote reaches of the cave. Please note that the sleeping bags, supplies and equipment stored there belong to the current diggers and, like those at Hard Rock, are not for general use. At the time of writing there is a First Aid supply and a drag sheet at the camp, for emergency use only. Please ensure that this is kept clean and airtight.
The Blue Greenies and Pain Killer Passage
An obvious climb up on the east wall of the main camp area (just above the drop towards Jacob’s Ladder) traverses to the right and turns into a spacious rift over Jacob’s Ladder. Above the rift is the roomy, and uncharacteristically damp, diggers’ old sleeping area, unnoteworthy except for one pathetically small but richly deep blue stal hiding itself in a nondescript crack in the ceiling. Continuing along the rift below this chamber, easy clambering, with one uncomfortable crawl through boulders, brings you into passage of more spacious dimensions. Double back to the left in this passage, passing through fine formations and you arrive at the startlingly peppermint-hued Blue Greenies, a mesmerizing, and thankfully still pristine, array of flows, stalactites, helictites and crystals in Leonie-Jayne’s Playpen.
Back in the main passage a rubble-strewn crawl becomes walking passage with oxbows continuing to a T Junction after 300m. Little Gem, 200m of southerly meandering passage, finishes in a choke which lines up enticingly with Flight of the Bumble Bee. A second, decorated passage chokes after 40m while the way ahead, beyond a 2m climb down, enters a small chamber beyond which is the large, sandy Pain Killer Passage. This impressive passage continues to the left for 100m before ascending to an enthusiastically-dug, but stubborn, calcited choke that bears all the signs of being a vestigial main thoroughfare and which trends towards an alluringly blank square kilometre between the Time Machine and the REU extensions. Just to the right of the Pain Killer Passage junction are a number of sandy interconnecting crawls which end in unpromising digs. To the right it continues, passing through a couple of constrictions before ending in a boulder choke where the tapping of a hammer can be heard from Beyond Time. It is also close to the northern end of Western Flyover, another connection perhaps best left un-concluded to help preserve the Blue Greenies.