About the trip
Apologies for today’s slightly delayed post…I’ve been underground. Elk River, accessed through Baby Berger cave in the Buchan Potholes Reserve, is also known as the “Murrindal Potholes Eastern Master Cave” and is the deepest cave in Victoria at 105m. The streamway was discovered in 2006 by the local Victorian Limestone Caving Team, and between 2008 and 2010 Jim Arundale and Agnes Milowka made several pushes through the first sump to put more cave on the map. Agnes wrote up a great history of the cave’s discovery on her website here. In summary, 2 hours of carrying, passing and dragging gear through tiny squeezes, around precarious drops and under very narrow roof sniffs puts the eager cave diver at the start of sump one. The known streamway continues for over a kilometre from this point, with 6 shortish sumps and some very pretty passage.
As far as I know, the last dives into the cave were done over two years ago. Some time back we approached Parks Victoria, land managers for the Potholes Reserve, about resuming cave diving activities in Elk. In addition to seeing what happens at the end of the cave, I was keen to photograph the streamway and there is more survey work to be done. With PV on board and paperwork all in order we headed off for this Australia Day long weekend.
About the dive
With rigging completed by the fantastic dry caving team on Friday, by Saturday morning we were sitting up top looking at a pile of gear and a hole in a cow paddock. The length and depth of the sumps called for tiny tanks, but the camera gear more than compensated for the weight we saved on the tanks and it took a bit over two hours to make it down to the water. After a quick lunch break we changed from dry caving to wet caving gear and crawled up the streamway to the first sump.
The water could best be described as chilly, and I was very glad of my Otter drysuit (and moreso when I got through five hours of crawling and wriggling over sharp rocks without a single leak). Dave and Sandy wore thinner wetsuits, something that’s going to change next trip. After sending Sandy through to check the line, I gripped my reg between my teeth, put the camera in one hand, and duck dived under the roof. The sump now has a very solid floor which gets progressively closer to the ceiling. Just as I became convinced I was trying to fit the camera through the wrong bit, it all got easier and I popped up into “Elk 1”, the passage between the first and second sumps.
About the shot
The photo up above was taken in the first sump, although by this point we were on the way home having bypassed these decorations in our excitement on the way in. During the five hours we spent in dive gear we surveyed a small passage leading in near the second sump, dived through the second and third sump, and took a series of photos on the 300m trip up to the fourth sump. I’m now told that the great decorations are in the next section, halfway to the fifth sump….next time! I got some lovely photos of the tall streamway passage leading the fourth sump, and some increasingly expressive faces from Dave and Sandy in relation to the temperature of the water and the reasonableness of my request to stop for photographs.
The streamway has some lovely easy walking passage, as well as some sinking-into-the-mud passage, some scrambles and crawls, and some places that look almost like sumps but not quite (see second photo). The knowledge that less than a dozen people have been through this part of the cave adds to the excitement and I’m looking forward to doing some more trips this year.
The trip wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic cave rigging, pack carrying and enthusiasm from Peter Freeman, Ken Murray, David Rueda and Rowan Bulpit – thank you!