Squeezy caving with Bailey

PILCHERS MOUNTAIN – 5 March 2017
Due to too much rain, the planned trip canyoning with Bailey and David was canned.  So, when a trip to Pilchers Mountain with Newcastle / Hunter Valley Speleos (NHVSS) came up, Bailey and I decided to take the opportunity to visit this unusual caving area.

We set out early on Sunday morning, stopping briefly 5 minutes up the freeway to pick up fellow MSS member, Cathi H-H.  It was a “short” hour and a quarter later that we arrived in Paterson to meet up with the rest of the group.  Usually we have to drive hours and hours to caving areas, so getting to know some caves which were relatively local was a bonus.  There were 11 in the group, Garry was our fearless leader.

Pilchers Mountain caves are located on a Crown Reserve formed to protect the caves and the unique rainforest area in the Reserve.  The Reserve is surrounded by farmland, so we had to drive through a couple of gates, making sure that the cattle didn’t escape onto someone else’s property.  Once we parked the cars, we had to walk up the mountain (more like a very steep hill).  The weather was overcast and misty, and would remain like that throughout the day with the occasional shower (true to the weather forecast).

A band of sandstone had formed over a band of shale and clay, then the mountain was formed putting this sandstone/shale/clay band on the side of the mountain.  The clay and shale became a slip bed allowing the sandstone over years to slide down the mountainside forming slots/gorges across the sandstone, these slots filled with boulders forming the caves within the gorges.  There are 14 known caves in the Reserve, they aren’t very large, some are just small tunnels but there are also some that are vertical, requiring a 6m and then a 27m abseil.

Members of SUSS, NHVSS and MSS packing ready for the walk up the mountain.

We walked by the old farmhouse.  Steve R told me that when he used to come here 30+ years ago, they stopped off to speak with the old lady who lived here to let her know they were going caving.

The farmhouse from up the hill with the Morten Bay Fig trees dwarfing the buildings.

Going up the mountain the terrain/vegetation changed from grasslands to open forest (like this) back to grasslands.

On top of the mountain now with the gorge to our right.

Our first look down into the rainforest filled gorges

We dropped down into the gorge via some convenient ledges and a big tree

The ledges, and tree in the top left hand corner of the image.  Rebel Cave (which the SUSS and NHVSS members did and involves abseiling) is on the right hand side and back where the tree is.

The first of the gorges, Bat cave is under the large rock in the middle of the image.

When we got through the first gorge, we dropped our packs and headed down into a section of the rainforest, there were bird’s nest ferns and stag/elk horns on trees all over the place, and moss everywhere.  The biggest challenge was avoiding the Stinging Trees, they have big leaves and if you touch them the area touched stings for the rest of the day, if not longer.

Garry took us to this large rock that had a strangler fig growing over it, you could climb the roots to get to the top of the rock, was very slippery

The entry into Bat cave

The Bat Pole was shortly after the entry

Bailey dropping down the Bat Pole, easy if you’re tall, harder for the vertically challenged!

After the Bat Pole you drop down into a squeeze and into the main chamber which isn’t very big at all!

Cathi H-H after the entry squeeze

This cave had a ledge and there were lots of “trap-door” spiders here, they build a small tunnel and then have a cup shaped door that they snap shut on unsuspecting insects

Bailey in the Bat cave (photo: Garry K. Smith)

Horseshoe Bats in Valentine cave there were bats in Bat cave too (obviously) but they may have been Bent Wing bats. (photo: Garry K. Smith)

Another section of the cave that you access via a “step-over”

A small drop down that you cross over to get to another chamber

Bailey negotiating the step over

Nice shot of four of us (you can just see Bailey’s white shirt behind me) in the large chamber (photo: Garry K. Smith)

Cathi H-H is not a fan of the tight spaces

Disappearing into Valentine cave

Bailey entering Valentine Cave, it was awkward as you dropped down and then had to twist around for another small drop

Cathi and her Big-A camera after dropping down into the cave

Bailey at the top of the slide sussing out how he was going to do it

A 2m slot that you slid down into and then made your way along to the top of the image, Bailey holding on to control the slide

This cave was full of spots where you were on your hands and knees

Another squeezy spot

We all baulked at this next section until our fearless leader led the way through.  There just didn’t seem to be a way forward.  Finally it was time for Bailey and I to attempt it, first of all a nasty squeeze followed by a climb.

Bailey gives me the thumbs up that I’ll be able to do the squeeze, you couldn’t tell whether the climb was good or not because of the potential of rocks falling from above.  The climb up was easier said than done, I think my words at the top were “I’m never doing that again” which are recorded on Bailey’s video!

In the passage after the climb up

Bailey on the climb out of Valentine cave (a different exit to our entry point)

Bailey coming out of Valentine cave (Photo: Garry K. Smith)

Me exiting Valentine cave (photo: Garry K. Smith)

After we exited Valentine cave, I set up a rope for Bailey to do a little abseil practice, really made it tough for him over a very slippery rock!

Bailey heading down for the first time

Bailey at the top of the pitch (photo: Garry K. Smith)

It started to rain so we put away the rope, packed up our gear and headed back to the cars.  Interestingly, I thought the trip would be down hill all the way, but somehow between setting out and returning someone had put a big hill on our route, I just don’t remember going down it.  We were back at the cars by about 4.30pm and on our way home.  NHVSS are a really nice club and the best part is they cave close to home, hopefully we’ll be doing more with them!  Thanks Cathi for your company on the drive to/from Pilcher’s Mountain.

Bailey and me at the end of the trip, either Bailey’s really tall, or I’m really short! (photo: Cathi H-H)

After the rain there were lots of interesting things to see … Diamond slug

Weird jelly-like fungus

Lots of cow pats in the fields we walked through, so plenty of toadstools

And these cute little fungi that turns into a cup-like shape

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12 Responses to Squeezy caving with Bailey

  1. Mary Kay Hokanson says:

    Great picture of you and Bailey, sounds like you had a great day.

    Always enjoy the stories.

    MK

  2. Shirley H says:

    Hi M
    As per usual I enjoyed my armchair adventure with you – & Bailey!

  3. Anne Bishop says:

    Hi M, A great had by all by the looks of it.!!!! It’s great see that Bailey looks like he had fun too.

    Cheers

  4. Jeff says:

    Nice Helmet Bailey and how did you keep that T shirt white

  5. Jenny Hughes says:

    What a lovely Boy Bailey is. How did he get to be so tall being your grand son??????

    • marilyn says:

      Yes, he is my favourite grandson! There are tall genes in the rest of the family, I’m the only short one! Funny though, I didn’t think I was that short!

  6. Wendy A says:

    Wow.. what a great trip, looked like you had a lot of fun, can’t believe how Bailey has grown or your just shrinking..? Loved the photos!

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