Great weekend of caving in Bucahn
Doug, Sil, Shane, Kyle, Abhi
This photo was taken by Gary Smith from NHVSS in December. We are facing east looking over Slocombe’s cave from the farmhouse on the hill. On previous visits to this place the ground was covered by pasture grass and other weeds so that the bedding plane of the limestone was obscured. Cattle had grazed most of it and exposed the rock to show the underlying formation extending back towards the other cave. (BA2)
The Nullarbor expedition members have returned after 3 weeks on the plain. A party of 13 were joined by the park ranger to explore and map the caves and blowholes in the limestone of South Australia.
This was our home for 3 weeks , , , , , , Our pilot prepares for take off.
VSA member underground. . Some holes are a bit tight.
One member came from Kempsey, NSW, two from Orange, NSW, seven from Victoria, one from Tasmania and two from South Aus. Ken flew search patterns in the ultra light aircraft and recorded the location of any likely geographic features. These included dolines, blowholes, waterholes and anything else of interest. Six motorbikes were used at the request of the park rangers to reduce the impact of 4WD vehicles on the scrub. The bikes provided access to remote areas in minimum time and while they do occasionally suffer punctures, they do not cause as much trouble as 4WD vehicles. Other search parties were done on foot by driving to the nearest point on the defined track and walking up to 20 Km per day.
Results of our expedition show 238 total features sighted, 198 features located and numbered and total distance flown was 975 Km.
VSA has been running one trip per year into this great cave since about 2009. The cave is highly protected due to its excellent state of preservation, so the trips are rare, carefully managed, and always have a genuine working objective. So far the main objective has been to check and improve the mapping of the system, with the result being the publication last year of The Exponential Atlas. Photo-documentation of the cave is also undertaken, with the results supplied to PV. The main objective for the next trip will be to enter the more remote southern area and check the surveying and mapping. This part of the cave is the least documented, and mapping improvement is almost certain to result. Some surveying might be undertaken.
A cavers holiday diary
By Andrew Smith
Greg came running from the car to my front door, close on his heals was Seb running to dodge the down pour. “Got the jug on” It was obvious that the mid day start was not going to happen.
This was the setting for the first chapter in my Christmas / New years caving diary.
The date was the 30th of December; we were due to walk into the Mt Arthur table lands and Te Mananui cave.
The goal was to open up a tight but drafting hole.
The rain eased a little and so started our journey.
As boots trod the track and the mud flicked up the back of our legs the rain turned to mist and so did the temperature drop. We were now in the alpine snow grass and a cool breeze burnished our faces. The Southerly was to last for all of the three days of our trip.
The evening was spent fighting off the Weka and battening down the hatches for the rough night ahead.
The morning was fine with an overcast hue.
From camp we headed seemingly out into the nothing until the familiar Karst landscape emerged. Dolines and shafts left and right but we had to be strong and not forget our goal for the trip.
Soon we arrived at a clearing with several depressions dotted around, Greg headed for a steep nondescript area of tussock and there it was.
The draft was blowing the vegetation and it was obvious to a caver that something big was below.
We settled in for the day, Seb and I prepared for descending as Greg got a fire going.
The hole that needed work was about ten metres below the surface. So down the muddy slot we went. Just getting to the restriction was an energetic process and of course getting out was even more.
We toiled for most of the day, and finally there it was, a hole just big enough to squeeze through.
Time was getting on as we each wormed our way through. The now open slot was the head of a small five metre pitch and very conveniently for us was a ledge, so abseil gear could be put on. The chamber below was high and must have almost broken the surface; it was about ten metres long by five metres wide with a rift heading off. We descended the rift until our twenty metres of rope ran out. Prospects remain good with large passage beyond.
Not being able to carry on we packed up and headed for macaroni cheese and sleeping bags. A small dram of Seb’s finest was tasted to celebrate the year gone and the year to come, albeit a bit early as we were all asleep by 10.30.
The rain returned over night with the water finding its way under the fly, much to the discomfort of the three of us.
The first day of the year saw us heading back to the car and home.
The second chapter began 3rd January searching the weather forecasts for a glimmer of hope.
Much to the disappointment of Greg, Steven and I, the call to postpone the Arthur’s arch cave trip was inevitable.
This meant that a plan “B” must be hatched.
So off we went to the caving club hut.
With much talk liquid refreshment and the arrival of Luke, it was decided to push one of Greg’s Canaan Down’s projects.
The entrance was a climb down with the wet blue marble providing good grip.
A good fun climb down took us to a squeeze and then a chamber, I call this chamber the Chamber of secrets as this must be the key to the continuation. The cave however does continue down a watery hole and then to a tight restriction.
Greg in his enthusiasm started wiggling pebbles out of the way. Although this was a great gesture I felt that the English side of him had got the best of him, he realised the fruitlessness of the task only when two large rocks above him moved threatening to entomb him. (English cavers are known to be “diggers” since all open entrances are known)
We returned to the surface to find an overcast sky and time to kill.
Steven had come from McKay Australia with the goal of descending Legless cave.
Legless is one of our deepest caves (360m) on the Takaka hill and is vertical in nature.
We headed off to confirm the entrance and for an inspection of the entrance squeeze.
Yes the squeeze was definitely a squeeze and with a five metre hand line directly below this was the start of the many Legless pitches.
As a plan “B” I had suggested that Corkscrew cave would be a good shorter trip as long as the weather held. We headed off to Corkscrew to help Steven with the location then back to the hut for shelter from the approaching storm.
On the third day, after a heavy rain night, Steven and I headed to Legless to rig the first few pitches in anticipation of his up coming trip.
A large pile of rope was compiled but as we approached the entrance the sound of water was heard and it was with dismay that we found a good size stream flowing through the squeeze and plunging down into the cave.
We headed for the Hobbit hole and proceeded to enjoy ourselves in the Middle Earth system.
The next chapter started on the 7th January.
Ray had now arrived from McKay Australia and Steven and he had a day to spend before their “Legless” trip. After a convincing spiel they agreed that carting heavy tanks and other diving gear into Nettlebed cave was what they wanted to do. Nettlebed cave is found deep beneath M.t Arthur and is approximately 30Km long.
It was good to meet up with the “Wet Mules” (cave divers from Australia) once again. Harry, Craig, Dave, Sandy, Ken and with support divers Dave and Luke.
After 12 Helicopter loads of gear, they were at the Pearse resurgence once again to dive deeper in order to discover the secret that lies in the depths. Were does the water come from?
Dave, Sandy and the three of us headed in to the dry cave with diving gear for the next few days. Dave and Sandy wanted to dive a Sump in the dry cave.
As a familiarisation trip we tried enlarging the Hinkle Horn Honking Holes with our bodies then to return to camp via the Volcano tubes.
The “Hinkle Horn Honking Holes” are a series of three squeezes close to the entrance of the cave. The caver must twist and turn and in return must be squeezed to conform to the desires of the unrelenting blue marble in which a howling wind also travels.
The following day Dave, Sandy and I collected the gear and proceeded to beat the size out of the packs through the squeezes and on into the interior of the cave.
It was too much relief that we found the “ducks” completely dry and in fact the driest I had ever seen them. A duck is were the ceiling meets the water level and the caver must “duck” under the water and come up the other side.
On and on we battled until we were confronted with the slippery slopes of the Sewers canal. At the bottom of these slopes in the depths of the cave were the sumps in which we sort, but alas, the slopes were too steep and too greasy for us to continue.
On a resolve to return we retreated.
The next day we were back with the hand lines we needed and Sandy dived the sump.
It was a beautiful pool of pristine blue/green water disappearing into black depths.
Sandy emerged from the pool “Are we in trouble”
This meant only one thing, the passage under the water continued and more gear and more dives would be required.
Back at the camp excitement filled the air and much talk about a possible connection between this sump and the resurgence.
After a hearty meal Oz and Debs arrived and plans were developed over beers.
Dave and Sandy were going to need time to sort the rebreather (deep diving gear) so that we could get it through the HHHH.
The next day Debs, Oz and myself headed into the cave to remove rocks that were obstructing a drafting hole.
After some work shifting one rock after another and jiggling each stone in turn, the way was clear and down I went, 10 ~ 12 metres to a steep scree slope with water rushing below. Yes a very exciting lead. Not able to descend without more rope I ascended to the eagerly awaiting ears of Oz and Debs. We will be back.
Over the next two days Dave, Sandy and I got the rebreather into the cave and to the sump. Dave dived and after spending much time in the water his report was that passage was more a stream passage with sumps and no deep diving was to be had. The up side was that the underground stream was heading in the right direction and a connection was highly likely.
We packed up as much gear as we could and trudged our way back to the camp.
The slippery slopes of the Sewers Canal proved to be a challenge with the packs sliding out of control between our legs, it would have been much better if it was steeper and we could have pitched it. Eventually progress was made and back to camp around ten pm.
I was meant to walk out but the rain and the late night sky suggested that I stay.
Craig and Harry had dived to 215metres (World record, cold water dive) beating there own records set in previous years.
Dave and Sandy travelled through the HHHH 14 times in 5 days, quite a feet with the heavy diving gear.
New passages were found by the divers in the resurgence and in the cave sumps.
And a good time was had by all.
I’m going to have to interrupt my recounting of our Indonesia adventures (Part 1 and Part 2 so far) to bring you up to date on this weekend in Elk River. We had an epic 17 hour trip underground to achieve the stated mission of extending the line in sump 9.
My last trip into Elk was back in June, when I extended invitations to a couple of interstate visitors only to be rained out by over 200mm of water the week before. The rising waters through the early parts of the cave caused us the rethink the trip at sump 1. Not wanting to repeat that disappointment I suggested postponing future push trips until the worst of winter was over.
In July Andreas, Steve and Ken did a maintenance trip into the cave. They portered four 7L tanks to the beginning of sump 5 and relaid the lines in the early sumps with thicker rope. Their excellent work set us up for the push trip this weekend. Steve and I were scheduled to push dive so I didn’t take the camera. I have to say that travelling through Elk with nothing in my hands was a novel experience and we definitely moved a lot faster without it. I apologise for the lack of images, but it’s safe to say that I couldn’t have achieved the push dive with camera in hand.
We entered the cave at 9am after an early start and got the first 8 bags of dive gear down to the water relatively quickly with some great help from VSA members Peter Freeman, Jason Goldstein, Michelle Doolan and David Rueda. Steve Fordyce, Dave and Sandy and I were the advance party heading to the end, followed up by Tim Muscat and Ken Murrey who were intending to improve a handline and then have a look at the upstream sumps.
After sump 4 Dave and Sandy dropped their dive gear and Steve and I left a pair of 3Ls behind. At sump 5 we reunited with the cache of 7L tanks and rearranged rigging and regs to suit. Steve and I both dived through the short-ish sumps 5 and 6 breathing off a 3L tank to save the contents of the 7Ls for sump 7. With Dave and Sandy waiting patiently back at the rift before sump 5 we descended through the silt into the clear water of sump 7.
Progressing along the line that Steve laid earlier in the year, there were clouds of silt from our upstream activities that had been carried along the floor by the flow. Swimming over the top of them mixed the silt into the narrow layer of clear water in the top of the tunnel and I’m not sure that Steve saw very much at the start of the dive. A bit further in the water was back to crystal clear except for a milky layer from 1.8m to the surface in each of the two air bells, probably caused by recent rain. From there we kept swimming to find Steve’s spool tied off on the wall of a large chamber.
Steve had previously tried to surface in the chamber only to find a tiny air space at the top. While he untied the spool I scouted the way on down on the floor and we set off again. Under the lip and into the relatively flat ongoing tunnel with a rocky bottom, we started ascending again into another large and tall chamber with a white silt mound of a floor. This set the tone for the dive as we alternated between lowish tunnels and large chambers. The white silt was pervasive, coming off the roof and very easily disturbed on the floor. The bits of rock that stuck out were crumbly and made for crappy tie-offs, causing a silt explosion with every attempt. Silt stakes were hard to get in in some places, and the up and down nature of the dive made buoyancy control in our modified sump rigs a bit challenging. The passage varies between 13m and 20m, with some of the big chambers looking to go up to 5m or shallower.
130m of line later and with increasing awareness of the giant silt storm behind us, we turned the dive and headed for home. The vis was less than zero and I wedged the compass against my mask to try and survey the line we had laid. When we got back to the previously laid line the vis improved slightly and I could read my compass and computer at a distance of about 10cm. By this point I was also starting to shiver in my semi-dry – a custom made combo 7mm body and 5mm arms and legs to allow for flexibility while dry caving was not cutting it for an hour in 16 degree water.
Back at the rift passage on the homeward side of sump 5 Steve cranked up his new stove and the four of us had a very nice hot drink. This put off the inevitable need to carry out four empty 7Ls when we had only carried in two. Steve put in an epic effort with a pair of 7s in his pack and we progressed slowly home with a caravan of gear. I was very glad to see Uncle’s Aven on the homeward side of sump 1, and even happier to see the Milky Way and a million stars when we surfaced onto the Potholes Reserve.
I had some new gear for this trip that I very much enjoyed using – the highlight was definitely my trog suit from DKG Drysuits. Changing out of my wetsuit and into dry thermals and dry trogsuit rather than wet cotton overalls to exit the cave was bliss. This was also the first trip into Elk for my Scurion headtorch and new helmet which worked brilliantly for the 17 hour duration underground. My Seatec semi-dry definitely passed the dry caving test…now I just need a wetsuit heating vest for the long dive at the end of the dry cave.
Thanks to the team for everyone’s efforts. It’s taking more and more time and energy to get to the end of Elk River. We’re going to have to think up some clever tricks to keep extending the line, especially as the cave is showing no signs of coming up into dry passage any time soon. I’m looking forward to figuring it out.
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