Abercrombie with MSS

Jan 10 -12, 2020 Lachie Bailey

With seemingly every other caving area in the state on fire or already burnt, I headed up to Abercrombie Caves for a weekend caving. This was an MSS trip to work on their book, but they kindly let me come along, as they needed a keen, thin and flexible caver to survey Rabbit Trap cave. Met up with Marilyn Scott and Dave Stuckey from MSS on Friday morning, and we headed down to one of the outlying bluffs to look for some missing caves. About 5 caves were missing, and we found two of them, climbing over the bluffs in grueling 40+ degree heat.

The tagging at Abers is a little haphazard- the original taggers were determined to reach 100 tags, so happily tagged wombat holes and anything else that looked remotely like a tag. However once they reached 100, enthusiasm obviously waned, because there are still many wombat holes that they didn’t grace with tags. Even David, who was responsible for placing some of the tags, was looking at them and asking himself “What were we thinking?”

We couldn’t survive very much of this, so after maybe an hour on the bluffs and finding two tags, we beat a very brave retreat back to the cottage to sit in the shade and have cool showers. Well, not so much the cool shower bit- the pipes to the cottage are in full sun and the water was hot enough to make tea with by the time it came out of the tap. Garry Smith and Marcia from NHVSS showed up, and the afternoon was spent inside with the fan on. Real hardcore caving this… As the youngest person on the trip, I soon started collecting advice from the old fogeys cough experienced cavers. Apparently I need to get superannuation ASAP, and the fact that I don’t have any is horrific (the fact that I have no income to put into it evidently doesn’t matter). David, Marilyn and I went up to the Trunkey Pub for dinner, and it still does excellent pub grub. I was on the receiving end of more unsolicited advice there too, with instructions to never buy a farm, and never take up shearing.

That evening, we visited Long Tunnel (A4), a passageway off the side of the Arch. Special access was granted for the Abers book, and we could only enter the cave after 10pm, as it is the site of a major bat roost. The passageway was both extremely batty and dusty, causing several jokes about histoplasmosis that had me just coughing my lungs up with laughter (yeah, sorry, not sorry). I still had fun with several sketchy climbs, one of which was totally rotten from bat piss, and the other of which had no handholds about 4m in the air. Fun.

Saturday was the big project work day, and groups went everywhere: photos in the Arch, surveying in the Arch, surface surveying near the Arch, and geology on top of the Arch. I headed up to Rabbit Trap (A42) a tight cave that MSS agreed to let me survey suspiciously quickly. Arriving there, it became abundantly clear why- the entrance was comfortably body sized, but inside I had a wonderful selection of bedrock flatteners to choose from. There was only one ‘chamber’ where it was just possible to sit and sketch. This meant that it was exceedingly slow, as the sketchbook and the survey were usually on opposite sides of a squeeze or flattener. Eventually I got jammed, gave up, and headed down to the Arch to see what everyone else was up to. Typically, the cave goes on the other side of a squeeze, so I guess I’ll be back with a microbod.

Down at the Arch, Phil Maynard, Alan Pryke and Marilyn had gotten distracted from their survey by a potential lead that would ordinarily have been obscured by water. This was more interesting than my plans to survey a possible extension in Stable Cave (A26), so I crashed their lead. More fun sketchy scrambling and we got to a seeming dead end with a breeze. Alan investigated this, proclaimed that he was going to die if he tried getting through it, and went through it anyway (complaining all the while). This revealed a nasty muddy pit, which sadly dead ended (guess which idiot got sent down to investigate). The breeze vanished, and we thought it was coming down through the mud and rock roof.

The afternoon was getting on, so we called it quits after that, and everyone trooped up to the cottage for happy hour. Alas, we had another date with Long Tunnel that evening, this time to survey it. So once again, we trogged up and were heading underground at 10pm. Marilyn and I drew the short straw, and were dispatched to survey from the far end of Long Tunnel, meeting up with the others at the batty chamber. This took us until well the other side of 1am, as it was quite tight.

The midnight caving session meant a slow start for Sunday morning. Eventually everyone was moving, and we all congregated in the Arch. Some useful bunnies sped along with the survey, but others of us were content to just sit and watch the show. Lassitude eventually overtook the trip, and we all finished up our tasks just after midday to head home.