Smith's Armoury at the Third Attempt or "Caving, Alpine Style"

Having tried unsuccessfully, twice, to reach deep into the bowels - or is it up into the neck - of OFD III, it was pure
luck that Adrian Clarke and myself were together on the morning of the May Bank Holiday with no particular cave in mind.  When OFD III was suggested, it was the perfect occasion.

Both Adrian and myself had been unsuccessful in the past; a combination of time against us, pure fear overcoming us, losing the way, or bad weather conditions. This time we knew that a lightweight  "Alpine style" trip was most likely to result in a positive outcome. No ladders and a decision to abseil the 30' pitch and free-climb and self-lifeline on the way
 back would minimise the equipment to be carried.

Up and out of Godre Pentre by 9.30am, not exactly a record,  but good going; a few of the regulars left still snoring in
 their bunks upstairs. A few minutes before we left, trying to pack and cook simultaneously, I burnt my toast. The fire
alarm going off for 5 minutes failed to bring down even one of the recumbent residents upstairs. This begs the question,
 "what if there had been a real fire?"

Arriving at SWCC, hey, we have the cave to ourselves! The Duty Warden didn't know Adrian or me and we didn't know him. Fortunately, others recognised us as being part of "The Croydon" so it's worth remembering your ID as you might be challenged.  We decided to try a short-cut, so the normal route heading towards "Poached Egg"  by going down corkscrew climb was not for us. We travelled fully down Chasm Passage to The Shakehole. A quick 20' abseil down and then the awkward climb up the fixed rope at the other end. Within minutes we had arrived at "Poached Egg". Yes the short-cut worked fine. Onwards, all the usual suspects covered, Bhowani Junction and onto the Crevasse. No messing about. Down, across (look for the tiny nib of rock for support half-way across) then abseil down the drop on the far side.

Next landmark, "The Shambles" and what a shambles of VDLB (very dangerous loose boulders) as the survey says.  Onto the Traverses, about a metre between the side walls, most of the time the footholds are okay as long as you concentrate.  A drop of 20 metres or so underneath does tend to concentrate the mind wonderfully and they go on for maybe 60 metres. At the third time over, they don't strike the fear that they did on the first attempt, but are still deserving of respect: there is no simple practical way of passing and a fall here would have such serious consequences.  Put that out of your mind,  you'll get over it!

The squeezes presented no real problems, and after that it was a quick traverse across the exposed Maypole Bridge, then into the refreshingly cool streamway. Long awaited, because I was wearing a full wetsuit for this trip. Now for any cavers reading this, if you have got this far in the cave, with decent weather conditions, it is just a bit of a slog for an hour and a quarter or so from here to get to the end of the cave. Superb stream passage, sandy oxbows and some great water cascades, quite enjoyable if you are suitably attired.  There are a few impressively high avens in some of the sections here.

As you get to the further reaches, towards the end of the cave, there are flood tide marks indicating that some of the p
assages here must become impassable at times.  Eventually Adrian and I reached the obvious end of the cave, Smiths Armoury itself.  Some huge boulders and a big chamber.  Where to dig for a potential way on? Nothing obvious.  The return trip after a suitable rest passed without incident. The Traverses, which seemed so intimidating to me a few months before, had been tamed.  They still deserve a lot of respect as they have to be passed without protection.  We climbed and self-lifelined the 30 foot pitch on the way out.  Then we took a different route out via Salubrious Streamway just for a diversion.

Steve Murray