The weekend before last saw us back in Elk River. After an exciting push trip back in January and a subsequent epic tank extraction trip in March, it was time to start loading freshly tested and filled tanks back into the cave. Going downhill is easier than hauling tanks up to the surface. However the air inside each tank definitely adds weight and as we had a three day weekend on our hands we made good use of it. On both Saturday and Sunday Dave, Sandy and I humped a large tank from the surface to the beginning of sump 5.
There had been good rains in Gippsland in the preceding week. I was hoping for slightly higher water levels (to assist with floating the packs over the tricky bits) but not too high (so as to prevent us from diving). While the water was slightly milky which indicates a small flood surge might have been through, water levels were very normal. As a result, we rolled, lifted and heaved the caving packs over the usual shallow spots. I much prefer flowstone on the walls as I wade past, rather than on the floor under a low ceiling.
Our trips into Elk now easily exceed the outcomes that we had in the first year of doing this. Rather than complaining about two 7L tanks between the group, we’re each relaying 9s and 10s into the cave. Our equipment has improved drastically, with custom caving wetsuits, great headlights and better footwear and gloves. Small things like packing a foam sleeping mat around the large tanks means that the caving packs are lasting twice as many trips before holes start to appear. All in all, our trips in and out are both more efficient and more comfortable.
This expertise didn’t stop me from dropping my Lumix in sump 3 on this trip and being very lucky to find it again in the mud. Elk is still borrowing and breaking our gear on a regular basis. And of course, the end of the known cave is now a lot further away than it used to be. With enough large tanks in there at the moment to support another dive through the long sump 7, it will soon be time to start planning an attack on the end. Sump 9 awaits!