This article was first published in SumpThink in December 2005
5/6/7 November 2004
Well this was more of a jaunt for me to show my friends some caves. Keren, Clayson and I headed to Waitomo on Friday night which just happened to be Guy Fawkes. So on pain of death for scorning the Wgtn Council's extravaganza, we got to experience glimpses of rural Guy Fawkes. Almost every farm appeared to have a good size bonfire going. In fact some were disturbingly large (read: house size with whole trees thrown on). Of course they all had the obligatory fireworks collection too.
We arrived at HTG about 11pm, which was where the implications of our choice of weekend became more obvious. It was the weekend for cavers from all round the country to join in the annual Waitomo raft race, it was also a celebration event for Pete Hobsons marriage to Lisa. I have NEVER seen HTG so busy, there were cars parked everywhere, right out the driveway and down the road. Many of my old HTG and Auckland caving buddies were there who I hadn't seen in 10 years so it was like nothing had changed since my VC days. Mike Coburn and Sue were also there for the Celebration event and Mike had not had his foot chopped off yet (ask Mike), so we agreed to cave together on Sat and Sun.
Kieran McKay now owns and commercially runs Luckie Strike (half owns with John Ash I think). He didn't seem to like the idea of a motley crew with an ex VC in front heading through his cave so he arranged with me on the phone to go along too. Kieran McKay met us just after 9am on a beautiful Saturday morning and as soon as he knew Mike C was going along he waved us on towards Luckie Strike. Must have been Mike's good looks! (I think Kieran recognises me now, so I should be able to leave Mike at home next time).
We headed in the top of Luckie staying high in the rift. Kieran now has numerous safety lines through here for his commercial trips. We used these as hand lines (no harnesses) to get the less experienced through this fairly exposed and psychologically challenging sequence. I had no trouble skipping through but there was a fairly good debate from others, "These walls have got further apart! Must be all the caver traffic since I was last here!". Keren on her 5th cave found it fairly harrowing but had a huge grin at the end. We then popped through the rock fall, after some good spotting from Sue, since my memory had definitely forgotten the route.
The bedding plane after the rock fall always astounds me, I think it's my favourite sight in Luckie. The separation of ceiling and floor seems to go on into the black and the numerous pillars look like a spooky graveyard. Some great formations around the crystal pool too. Next we dropped down at Frankton Junction and gazed at the flow formation there. Then we headed on down stream through to Grand Cavern. The stream way really is spectacular and I must come back and spend some serious time in the pretties, high up in the rift. We arrived at Grand Cavern with little more than knees wet. Kieran had an abseil rigged 15m up just above the entrance to Grand Cavern that I had never known about - must go back with full harness to have a look.
Grand Cavern goes on for a very long way and we had to split with Sue and Mike about two thirds of the way as they had "an afternoon engagement at the THC". On Kieran's advice we carried on along the top of Grand Cavern. It gets far higher than I expected with some great formation including a huge (5m wide) mouth of teeth (curtains). At the far end we were 15m above the stream and had to hunt around for a way down. We continued along the stream bed for a couple of hundred metres and stopped where a fairly solid waterfall descends from high up left in the roof and blocks the way on, at least to those who prefer their hair dry.
We turned back and followed the stream way through the lower level of Grand Cavern. It wasn't that wet until the last rock fall where a squeezy, must lie on your back in the cold stream made us go over the top again. Then comes the fun part of Luckie. I should say assuming you like water pouring on your head, swim pools, and tricky climbing up slippery smooth wet walls. Yes I know you can go back out over the top, but where's the fun in that?
The 100m next to the entrance of Luckie is quite steep and consists of numerous small waterfalls and plunge pools. Three of these waterfalls are fairly awkward to get up, and one is damn near impossible without a hand line. The 3 of us decided to use the cooperation method, step 1 Clayson gets to try his climbing skills, Step 2 Myself and Clayson throw Keren up the waterfall from one to the other, Step 3 Clayson pulls me up if needed. Luckily for me there is currently a hand line permanently down the last waterfall which is about 2m with a pool deeper than me at the bottom. Otherwise it would have been my head used as a stepping stone! All up we were out into the sun in 15 mins.
Amber (ex VC) and her partner Tony turned up at HTG that afternoon and we decided to all head into Waipuna about 4pm. Tony had never been real caving before, but being a city slicker wasn't that interested. A trip into a beautiful cave didn't change that. Waipuna is a stunning pebble bed stream way with formation everywhere you look. At the end of the main stream way section Amber, Tony and Keren decided to head back out. Myself and Clayson were determined to have a bit of fun, so we shot off to finish the other passages.
Our primary excuse was to find the Leaning Tower of Pisa formation. No such luck! I missed Abraham Lincoln, missed the leaning tower, got confused with Clayson hunting around the knee breaker crawl area, wimped out at a waste deep siphon connection, failed to catch the freshwater crayfish and had a great time of it :). Lots of excuses to go back, next time exiting at PP entrance for a through trip, so long as we take a map and compass to find the way through the bush (45 mins) from the far end. We exited as it got dark and found the others had driven off.
Sunday morning we (Sue, Mike, Myself, Keren, Amber, and Clayson) headed to Virginia. Clayson and Keren had never abseiled into a cave before nor had either ascended a rope before. After agreeing that we didn't like the tree dubiously clinging to the rock above the hole, Mike and I spent 10 minutes confusing each other with different rigging styles. We eventually picked a rig and Mike led the crowd to the bottom. I was last down to rig a redirection through the big hole in the rock that can be seen from above. Its a great abseil with the entrance belling out below and a straight 105 ft to the stream.
We headed off up stream for the pretties. Almost the whole of Virginia could be described as a pretty, it is a beautiful active stream way with formation all the way. We climbed up and over the gap into the parallel stream passage and dropped a hand line for the climb back up the crack. My old and crumbling memory meant that I hardly remembered this section of the cave at all. I thought several times we had found the flow stone at the end which indicates the Poached egg pools. Luckily Mike's memory being much younger and sharper than mine got us through to the right place without me having to make some dodgy exposed climbs.
We probably spent 45 minutes taking photos at the final cavern. The formation is absolutely spectacular and a must see for those into their calcium worship. Hopefully some good photos came from the time and we'll pass them around.
On the way out Mike and Sue shot ahead to get up the rope while we messed around. Keren decided while we did the climb over between stream ways that she would look up a side hole, but didn't mention this. This meant the last 3 of us walked off straight past her, thinking she had gone with Mike and Sue. Arriving at Mike and Sue ascending the rope we knew we were missing a Keren. A quick run back up the passage located a distressed pair of orange overalls (which make the wearer look like a Mario Brother) and happy we didn't have a rescue on our hands walked back to the rope.
At the rope we only had the 2 club SRT kits for 4 people. Talking of which, why is the break bar on one of them attached by a small snap gate crab!!! The redirection worked well to keep us off the rock and then we were really glad to have a spare rope at the top to lower the 2 SRT kits back down. In my eagerness to get out, I tied the cave pack on the bottom of the rope as Amber ascended. The added 10 kilos was not appreciated when trying to negotiate the redirection which was quite tight at 75 degrees.
Once out and happy in the sun we only had a herd of cows, a niggley bull, and the whole milking herd coming down the farm lane to contend with. Our lessons for the day were:
- Memories are not what they used to be :)
- Don't wander off without saying.
- Don't sit off the main passage with your light off (unless you want to empty your boots over someone).
- Added rope weight in redirections is not appreciated.
- Cows are stupid.
- Don't cross farms at milking time if you are in a hurry.
- If SRT is involved add a couple more hours to your estimated out time.
- BWR Cafe has gone down hill