Jun 242014

Empty reel successI’ve been a little busy recently, as you might have gathered from the sporadic updates to the site. I’ve been bouncing from Victoria to Tasmania to South Australia and back again caving and diving. So instead of posting things in the order in which they happened, I’m going to start with the most recent and fill in the gaps over the next few weeks. This photo above is my favourite from this weekend just gone – the moment of triumphant return with empty reel in hand.

Elk River waterfall

The photo was taken (and the line was laid) in Elk River cave in eastern Victoria. As per previous posts here, here and here, we’ve been putting a bit of work into this cave over the last 18 months. Some of these trips have been with camera, some without, some for staging tanks, some for testing new things, and some for pushing the end. This one was for exploration and our previous work paid off.

We arrived at the streamway to discover the water level higher than usual, although not nearly as high as the trip last July where we were flooded out. The water helped us out by making it much easier to float the caving packs down the streamway including over several places where you previously had to lift the pack, wait for the water to drain out, hump over the dry spot and continue on the other side. Being able to float past made for a very quick trip to sump 5. The high water level also created sporting conditions in the waterfalls on the lead up to sump 5, as you can see in the second shot.

At the start of the sump Steve and I geared up with a pair of 7L tanks and an ally 40 on the side. We used our 3L tanks on the way through sump 5 although I dumped mine before sump 6 in the interest of streamlining. With sump 6 behind us it was time for sump 7, and the open cave ahead. On the previous Andreas and I had struggled to get enough lift from the buoyancy available in a sump diving set up. So Steve and I took our “real” cave diving harnesses which turned out to be a good move.

After powering through the two air bells I discovered the last 50m of line was buried about a foot deep under fine, light silt. I pulled it out as we swam until I finally unearthed the previous reel at the end. At one stage I pushed my hand into the silt to find out how deep it was, and got up to the shoulder before giving up with no floor in arm’s reach.

From the end of the previous line I reeled out along, and then up through a smallish restriction. We emerged in a tall rift passage and I looked up from a depth of 14m to see the lines of the rift receding into the shallows. Feeling optimistic I took the line and headed up. The rift narrowed from 3m wide to 2m, then 1m…I checked my computer at 4m depth before looking up to see an explosion of mud coming down towards me. At the same time I hit the end of the line on the reel. The mud suggested a  ceiling rather than an airbell, and I abandoned my quest and reeled back down. Running into Steve I discovered he was at his air turn. Back down at 8m I reeled out of the dirt cloud we had created and found a nice rocky wall outcropping to tie off to. The rift continues straight ahead and I have no doubt the passage continues at the 10m – 14m level.

With the line safely tied off and the empty reel cut off and clipped away, I turned and headed back into the silt-out. Back through sumps 7, 6 and 5 to pose for the photo you see above. Mission success with thanks to Dave and Sandy for waiting patiently for our return, Sandy for taking the photo and Peter Freeman and David Rueda Roca for their excellent dry caving support. And here’s to the next Elk River push, with more gas.


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