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.