About the cave
By the looks of things, Elk River is going to be taking up a lot of my time this year. Elk (aka the Murrindal Potholes Eastern Master Cave) is the streamway system underlying the Buchan Potholes Reserve. The streamway was first discovered in 2006 by the VCLT and the sump first passed by Jim Arundale, later joined in exploration by Agnes Milowka. This weekend just gone the cave has been extended to nearly 1.7kms with a fantastic dive through sump 7 and beyond by Steve Fordyce to add 115m of line, assisted by Ken Murrey. As the end gets further and further from home, the effort required to put new cave on the map is going to increase exponentially.
About the trip
Four divers traversed Elk this weekend, split into teams of two. While Steve and Ken took “larger” tanks and headed for the end, Andreas and I lumped the camera and a bunch of strobes and dropped our tanks after sump 4. On the initial trip back in January I had left my tanks after sump 3 and taken photos up to sump 4, so I was keen to get the camera into the longer and tricker section of streamway between sumps 4 and 5.
Once we’d ditched our tanks walking, wading and climbing got a lot easier and I was on the lookout for nice photo spots. Dry caving photography is a new hobby for me and I was keen to try out some different lighting. Being able to talk to your model makes a huge difference, but the camera in its housing weighs more than my pair of 3L tanks and holding it straight and level took some effort by the end of the trip.
I wore my older orange Otter drysuit again for the trip, on the basis that we could leave relatively quickly if I put a hole in it. This cave is destroying wetsuits every trip with big gashes in the backs and the knees and yet my drysuit came out mostly unscathed and certainly dry. I wore thin thermals underneath which meant dipping into the water every so often to cool down was very effective. I’ve been lucky and careful with the drysuit three times now – it might be time for a wetsuit trip!
About the photos
A little while back I talked about soft foreground lighting in my underwater shots. I think this becomes doubly important for dry caving where a well lit foreground is likely to be distracting. So the two shots I’ve chosen here both show me trying to be very careful with the on camera lighting, and let the off camera strobes show the cave heading off into the distance. The first image I went for the classic silhouette of Andreas sitting in the water to cool down. You can see the steam coming off him, backlit by the strobe pointing back towards the camera. The second shot here we set the lighting up to light Andreas as well as the cave, and I used just a touch of on camera light to bring out the decorations above me. I really like the shape of the cave and the sense of distance here – we are about 1km into the system at this stage, with another 700m of known (and being discovered as we took this) cave in front of us.
The photo album from the weekend is now up: