Participants: Andy Waddell, Lauren Schenk, Claud Tomkins, Bradley Hearn, Oliver Andrews + SUSS and MSS
This trip was one of the first trips back out of Canberra after the COVID-19 pandemic cooled down in NSW and things started opening back up again, and as such there was quite some excitement to get back out into the outdoors! Upon learning that MSS and SUSS were planning to head to Wee Jasper for some surface exploration and abseiling, NUCC decided to pitch in a team of its own to help trawl the surface for new caves – but no caving, as the caves at the reserve were temporarily closed for COVID-19. Some exploration of the privately-owned thermal paddock nearby was intended, but the rain and mud excluded us from doing any of that.
Upon arriving at Fitzpatrick Trackhead campground, we ran into the Sydney crews coming back from a wander up to Devil’s Punchbowl and set up camp. After a relaxed lunch at the SUSS/MSS campground and a run- in with the local cave-dog, we decided to again head up towards Devil’s Punchbowl to do some abseiling. Having completed some slippery and muddy 4WDing up to the top, we started setting up for the abseil. The cave-dog accompanied us the whole way up, scaring most of us half to death with some acrobatics on the high edge of the punchbowl.
Andy Waddell led us through setting up an anchor on some boulders above the high edge, and we took turns abseiling down and poking noses into the small cave sections at the bottom of the abseil. One of the Sydney members had brought a drone, and got some pretty impressive footage of both the abseiling crews and the doline.
This dronery was followed by some more surface trogging and some poking of our heads into the bigger caves on our way down to the campsite, but nothing new was found, and we arrived back at camp and started an early campfire while two of the Sydney members drove off to go doorknocking. The hope was that some local landowners would let us go surface trogging on their land, as the majority of caves in the Wee Jasper region are on private property – however in this instance we had no luck finding locals willing to let us run amok on their property.
We didn’t let this deter us, however, and sat down to an A-grade campfire. Us NUCCers being poor uni students, were not expecting to have any sort of lavish meal beyond our two- minute noodles and pesto penne that night, but fortunately for us one of our Sydney friends surprised us with an absolutely incredible open-fire roast!
This surprise meal was accompanied by storytelling and getting to know members from the other clubs – a really great example of inter-club bonding and making new connections, as well as perpetuating some amazing oral histories from all clubs.
The morning after, we again enjoyed a stellar breakfast of bacon and eggs, courtesy of the Sydney clubs. We then ambled up the hill to find more caves – Alan brought his drone out again to search from the air, while the rest of us slogged through rock and blackberry. This time, unlike last afternoon, we did manage to find some entrances! They all looked as if they linked down to Dogleg cave which ran below us, and they were all tagged, but exciting and interesting nonetheless.
While this surface slog was occurring, a hopeful crew was sent out to doorknock, but unfortunately they returned a few hours later with the same result as the previous evening. We packed up camp and returned to ANU at about midday.