Sep 172012

Ropes in Great Nowranie

About the area

Last week I started showing off my pictures from the Camooweal trip with the images of the ultimate goal – laying line past the end of the known underwater tunnel. Starting with success is compelling, but it’s not even close to the whole story of the trip. These two photos help illustrate why there’s been so little diving done up at Camooweal, compared to the easily accessible Mt Gambier caves, or even the well-known Nullarbor and neighbouring Roe Plains areas.

The surface layer of black clay in the Camooweal area prevents the rain that falls during the annual wet season from filtering into the ground. Instead the water runs across the surface until it finds a weak point, descends, then runs horizontally again. These fissures and joints are widened by the water flowing through to form the cave. The caves in the area that we accessed all involved a big pitch or two near the surface, then descended into low crawlways before terminating in the sumps we were seeking.

Exiting Great Nowranie

About the cave

Great Nowranie starts with a large doline at the intersection of two faults (I advice checking climbing shoe reviews very thoroughly and get the best ones to stay safe and climb confident). Once the pitch was rigged and the ropes ready to go, we lowered three sets of dive gear and abseiled over the edge. In the second shot here you can see JDZ climbing up to the surface at the end of the day. We’re in the daylight zone at this point, but after 13 hours underground the sun has set and daylight is a bit of a distant memory. Earlier that day, we began the lump in of gear from the bottom of this pitch and through the cave to the second pitch. The roof in this section is at least 20m over our heads, and tree branches wedged between in the ceiling are a reminder of the floodwaters that must come through here in wet season.

After the short and easy walk across rubble in the dark we arrived at the top of the second pitch. Behind this giant hole in the floor there were several windows and pillars into the area behind. Most of the water clearly travels straight down the hole, and we rigged a line from the top of one side to the bottom of the other. Sending the gear down this flying fox meant not having to stand in the drop zone to load and unload.

About the photo

The top photo here was taken of a tank, in a caving bag, coming down the flying fox of the second pitch towards me. The amount of work required to get gear to the water, dive and get out again with enough time to eat and sleep reduced the time and energy available for photos. On the other hand, sending gear up and down pitches was a bottleneck – only being able to send one piece of gear or one person down a rope at a time left the rest of the team waiting and gave me time to put the camera and strobes together.

After unhooking the previous load I used the empty pulley to send a spare strobe up to the top, and you can see it lighting the wall behind Ryan. Down the bottom of the hole I’ve placed a strobe to the left and another to the right to highlight the shape and colour in the rocks. Best of all, the tiny caving lights and the rope twisting up into the dark reveal the size of this hole…would-be cave divers need to be confident of their roping skills to even get close to the water level here.

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