COOLEMAN PLAINS – 17 March 2018
It was a long way to go for a day’s caving, but a weekend with MSS and CSS members was too good to pass up. In the end Rod S and I drove down together (thanks for all the driving Rod!). Plus, I got to go on an adventure with the amazing Regina looking for A-tents.
Rod and I arrived late Friday afternoon after stopping at Cooleman Homestead to fix a flat tire. Beth, Anna and Michael had been down to Barbers Cave in the afternoon and when they got back we sat around the campfire enjoying dinner. A few other CSS members arrived during the night and then a herd of feral horses (known to some as Brumbies) visited our campsite, scaring the daylights out of Beth (I don’t think she went back to sleep after they arrived), and licking raindrops off my tent with their muddy tongues. I think it was a couple of adults plus a foal, at least that’s what they looked like when I got up mid-way through their visit. They knocked around the stones around the campfire, licked rain drops off the front of Rod’s car but didn’t do any real damage.
A few more CSS members turned up on Saturday morning and we were a group of 14, almost unheard of for a caving weekend, mind you, there were four MSS members and the rest were CSS members and as they only had to drive from Canberra it wasn’t an epic trip like it was for those of us from Greater Sydney.
The trip started with Regina telling us how A-tents were formed, millions of years ago, there was a volcano in the area of Cooleman, then Australia moved around up closer to the equator, and coral reefs forming, then the continent moved back down this way and 5 km of earth and sediment was deposited on top of the coral reef, and the limestone formed. The full story of how the karst area was formed can be found here but Regina’s story was much more entertaining.
The limestone was packed down with that 5 km of sediment on top, and eventually a few million years later, the sediment washed away and the limestone was closer to the surface. No longer with the weight of 5km of earth on it, parts of the rock popped up forming what is like an A-tent. Regina was on a mission to photograph these A-tents which are very rare and in danger of being destroyed by the feral horses. Hopefully evidence of the horses destroying the rare A-tents will give weight to the plan for NPWS to get the Plan of Management off the Minister’s desk and have the feral horse problem addressed.
You can see a few horses in the distance. So, what’s the problem? 10 years ago there were 60 feral horses (affectionately known by us all as Brumbies), in the National Park. Today they number >6,000. NPWS would like the numbers culled down to a manageable number, unfortunately, this is not popular with the general public (everyone gets warm and fuzzy about brumbies). The horses have formed tracks all over the Park, they were introduced and don’t belong there, particularly in the numbers that are there currently (along with the feral goats and pigs!).
Anyway, back to our adventure. We eventually came to one of the few waterholes on the plain.
Regina and I left the others who went into Cliff cave, and we went off hunting A-tents, both intact and those that have been broken by the horses.
Here’s a perfect example of one, in the middle of the extinct volcano (there are hills all around this spot only evidence of the volcano that was once there).
Here’s another one
And another brilliant example with part of it that’s been broken off. Nearby there was a horse track and on the rock near this were a number of scratches made by the horse hooves. Yes, just rocks you say but Regina was ecstatic!
Once everyone had re-joined us – and told me about the great cave that I’d missed out on, we headed over to River Cave, one I hadn’t done before.
Quite a bit of walking across plains, and up and down a few creeks, here’s part of the group dropping down into a gully (fabulous weather, although a bit hot!)
More of the group dropping down into a creek. We’d split into two groups here, one going across the top and the group I was in going down into the creek. Going across the top was the better option.
We regrouped and then headed into the cave, about 30m of walking upright and then a small crawl. I didn’t have my chin pads on so felt every stone and rock.
A small climb down, Dirk put a handline in for us.
More passageway which led to a T intersection and the underground creek.
Everyone headed upstream, but after this point, the water got progressively deeper and eventually ended in a “sump” which meant that you’d have to dive under to go further. None of us were into that, plus the water was freezing.
Caitlin thought she’d keep her overalls dry in this cave.
Rod and I then headed downstream and came to another sump. Apparently there’s a permanent rope rigged her for those who want to do the “duck-under” which involves holding your breath for 30 seconds. Anna has done this before and said there was good decoration on the other side of the sump.
Rod at the end of the sump checking it out.
Rod exiting River Cave
We then walked across the plain to Murray’s cave. There were loads of everlasting daisies along the way, just begging to be photographed.
Above Murray’s cave, this is open to the public so there are signposts to the cave that you can just see near the walking track.
Murray’s cave, we had walked down the hill to the left of it. This is my favourite cave in Cooleman (at least amongst the ones I’ve seen). Easy to get into and no crawling.
Beth at the entrance of the cave, there’s a big dome just inside the opening. In actual fact, the passageway for Murray (which ends in a small pool), is a continuation of River Cave (700m across the plain), other cavers have gone through the sump (diving) and have made voice contact through a boulder field with other cavers in River cave.
There’s no crawling in Murray Cave and it is highly decorated, with little or no vandalism which is amazing for a cave that’s open to the public.
Lots of straws on the ceiling.
and lots of active formation
A lovely shawl amongst the straws.
After exiting Murray’s, we then walked down the valley to Cooleman Cave, another one that I hadn’t done.
By this time, the party had well and truly split up, with just 8 of us arriving at Cooleman Cave. Dirk (and Anna) said there was a “through trip” so Anna, Giles and Caitlin decided that we’d do the longer trip. Rod (the smart one) stayed outside waiting for us. Caitlin and Anna had both done it before (but years ago), Dirk told us that there was a bit of a puddle that we’d have to crawl through and a “wombat hole”, but we didn’t think twice about forging ahead – possibly our first “mistake”.
The cave has 2 sections, one to the left which is quite large but not very long, then one to the right which is longer but definitely not as large.
We came to a section that we had to crawl through and I was thinking, “well that wasn’t too bad”.
And then it was bad.
What I assumed was the “puddle” whilst Giles managed to stay relatively dry, I had to walk through the shin deep water.
The next hole wasn’t that great, you were sliding through the mud.
The passage then opened up and we were able to walk – by now I’m thinking that the end should be close by and that crawling part wasn’t that bad … but I didn’t want to go back that way.
Then it got worse! It felt like 50m of crawling on your belly, with no idea where we were going. I was now sorry that we didn’t turn around and reverse the section we’d already crawled through. Anna and Caitlin kept looking at side passages and about now I’m thinking that we’ll never get out of here as none of us had any idea where we should be going. Finally Anna said that she saw some light and at least I knew that we’d be out soon, it was very, very tight though, and remember, I didn’t have knee pads on!
Finally we’re out and I’ve never been so happy to leave a cave (well not in recent memory anyway!). We walked downstream for maybe 100m and there was a fire trail that would take us back to Blue Water Hole. Anna wanted a swim and Rod and I got a case of FOMO so joined her, although she was the only one who swam.
Blue Water Hole and Anna – the water was freezing.
Back at camp and happy hour before the fire was lit.
Anna wanted to do some SRT practice, so Beth got the rope out. Beth and Rod both tried with a branch on this tree without success.
So they headed over to a tree with a branch closer to the ground – and Anna got to try her SRT rig (in preparation for going to Tassie in January).
It cooled down enough once the sun set so that the fire could be lit. Great company and lots of jokes then Neil got out his guitar and entertained us with some bush songs (really, really good entertainer).
No horses visited us on Saturday night. Rod and I decided that we’d head home on Sunday morning and left the others to continue down to do Whitefish cave, which has a swim in it. Rod and I decided we’d come back another day (with wetsuits) to do that cave.
The road out to Blue Water Hole is only opened in the summer, it is closed to the public during winter, so you really have to go during summer (or the shoulder seasons), which is prime canyoning season. Plus it’s very, very hot there so you have to be pretty keen to go and cave there.
It was a long way to drive (6.5 hours) for 3 caves, but the company was excellent and it was good to catch up with CSS members who I met at Yarrangobilly back in July. Rod and I are thinking about going back again, but maybe for a longer period to justify the long drive, it is really beautiful down there and great place to bushwalk and just chill out.