ABERCROMBIE CAVES – 10 – 12 January 2020
This trip had been set up months ago, to try to finish off some of the outstanding cave surveying for the upcoming publication of the definitive book on Abercrombie Caves. I knew it would be hot, after all, we usually go during winter, but I didn’t think we’d have a 40ºC day – and I was sleeping in my car, I swear the temperature was still 30 inside the car when I went to bed!
So, why was Abers the only act in town … well, the fires were still raging, all canyon areas closed due to the predicted heat, all national parks closed and three of our usual caving venues, on the front lines of the fires. In the week before this trip …
The historic Caves House at Jenolan was under threat, with fires on the ridge line behind the tourist precinct (which had been evacuated). The main building was spared but I’m told there was a little damage way in the back.
Less than a kilometre away, the fire swept through where the Jenolan Cavers Hut was located, we had used this cottage for years, it was old, run down, but felt like home, all that remains standing is the chimney, and beside it what’s left of the shed where large groups slept. Another 2 houses just down the hill were also destroyed along with the RFS fire shed. Not many places to set up camp at Jenolan and very, very cold in the winter, so I’m not sure what we cavers will do.
At the same time that the Jenolan area was burning, 500k away, six firefighters fought the fire at the Yarrangobilly Precinct. This is part of a video shot just at the back door of the historic Caves House.
And this is a shot of the guides office about 75m away from Caves House. In the video, you could hear the RFS guys saying “well we’ve done what we can, let’s hope for a good outcome”, they’d turned on the sprinklers on the roof of Caves House and then they retreated to the safety of South Glory Cave while the fire front passed through. Thankfully both buildings were spared.
Wombeyan Caves, about 200k as the crow flies from Jenolan, was also under attack, the fire swept through the whole precinct, but the buildings were defended well, so no assets lost.
It will be many months before the Wombeyan precinct is open to the public as there’s a lot of clean up. The roads to Jenolan have to be assessed, then Jenolan will open to the tourists, but we cavers wont be able to get in for many months. Yarrangobilly fared a little better, I think that it should be open by the time we are going down in May, fingers crossed anyway.
As I was the nominal leader for the Abercrombie trip, I had to keep my eye on a couple of small grass fires in the area (well away from the caves), to make sure that it was still safe for us to go in, I was pretty confident though, the least sign of fires heading our way and NPWS would have evacuated the area.
So, David and I arrived at Abers on Friday at 11am, meeting up with Lachlan (from NUCC), we picked up the keys to the caves and then debated what we should do, particularly as it was so hot. I’m usually the one that is full on “let’s go” but on this occasion David was the one who said let’s go do what we have to do then we can cool off this afternoon … what were we thinking?
We were looking for some missing cave tags in an area called Spring Bluff. We drove the car down to a bridge on Grove Creek to cut out a bit of walking.
Then walked up the creek. What a difference four months can make, last September, this creek had water in it, not a huge flow, but still good pools of water. It was dry as today and as you can see the grass totally dead.
When we got to a likely spot, we went up hill.
We found one cave fairly quickly so knew we were in the right spot, Lachlan sussing it out. We then found 2 more, took the GPS locations, photographed them and then decided that after an hour we’d had enough, and we’d gone through a good part of our water.
So we headed down, was really steep and not easy going!
Spring Bluff, wasn’t very far up hill, but you try climbing it in 40 degree temps. Again, what were we thinking?
We sat in the creek in the shade to cool off a little then headed back to the car, and then the hut for a cold shower … well that was the plan, I was first in and I don’t know where the hut gets its cold water from but after 2 minutes the water was coming out at the same temperature as the hot water, not at all refreshing.
Marcia and Garry arrived around 4pm and then Lachlan, David and I headed into Trunkey Creek to the pub for dinner (very civilised). At 10pm Phil and Alan arrived and I headed out to the car to (not) sleep, far too hot and the mossies were vicious so I didn’t want to try sleeping with the windows down (lol).
The weekend didn’t start that well did it? But it got better! I was spending Saturday surveying with two cave surveying legends, Phil M and Alan P, it was so much fun, I didn’t do much except put my hand on top of stuff for the lazer point but they were so good to work with, and so efficient. Our aim was to finish the balcony area in the Main Arch.
One of the areas we surveyed, each post of the railing needs to be surveyed, the steps, every little hole measured and drawn onto the map, it was fascinating.
Alan about to come up the steps to me, if’s very difficult surveying in a tourist cave as you can’t be too near metal work and the whole area is full of railings and steps, so, you need to chose a survey station away from metal, or do back bearings to the metal.
Phil going up to the back of this section (the other side of the tourist barrier), neither Alan or I liked the thought of going up this slope with a gaping chasm to his left and whilst you wouldn’t fall to almost certain death, it wouldn’t be pretty.
Alan went around to the left of the chasm and behind a stal, still didn’t look inviting so I stayed behind while they measured the top end.
Another hole to figure out whether it needed to be surveyed, was difficult to get up to it, Alan and I let Phil do all the hard work. After we finished that area, we met up with Lachlan and went down to a couple of caves off the Main Arch that you ordinarily couldn’t get to when there was water in the stream bed.
Looking out from the bottom of the cave, ordinarily the water would be half way up this opening, I doubt anyone’s been in the cave, it hasn’t been tagged and in the winter no-one wants to get wet feet.
The entry wasn’t that bad (after a lot of flood debris had been moved away), then you went up this rock pile and though some dodgy rocks to another small chamber. Phil, Alan and Lachlan went ahead and explored and I cleaned up the ramp to get out so that it wasn’t as slippery.
Lachlan went down a small chute whereas the rest of us went down the ramp.
We’d had enough by now and besides, we had to save our strength for 10pm at which time the four of us (with Rod) would go into Long Tunnel Cave, after all the bats had exited looking for food so that we could survey the cave. You can only get a permit to go in this cave during the summer months – months when we usually don’t go caving.
So, the five of us headed down to Long Tunnel after dinner, Lachlan and I drew the short straw and got the far end of the cave to survey, the squeezy end. Alan, Phil and Rod would survey the first section, it’s rather long to the main bat chamber, but at least they could do all their surveying standing up, unlike me! The following photos from Cathi H-H show Long Tunnel cave, we didn’t take cameras with us.
The entry to Long Tunnel has a notice to “keep out”, there’s no gate (would be impossible to build one, due to the size of the opening, the need for bats to come and go, and the potential for flood debris to build up). You can’t access the cave during hibernation period (winter).
The rift at the entrance, it’s a good size, easy to walk without bending down.
The photographic group in the main chamber, the floor must have metres of bat guano on it, it smells awful. I bought masks for everyone to wear as it’s rally dusty. I found the masks annoying though, very sweaty.
Looking up at the top of the chamber, the spots show where bats would be roosting.
Bailey climbing up (a dodgy climb), and the bat guano on the floor.
One of the passages (and guano on the floor).
Lachlan and I didn’t finish surveying our section of cave until around 1pm. Rod very kindly waited for us to come out, the others had finished maybe an hour earlier.
On Sunday we did more surveying, this time in King Solomon’s Chamber, finishing around 2.30pm.
A very productive weekend surveying and I learned heaps from Phil and Alan, hopefully I wont forget it by the time I head up to Bullita with them next July!
Thanks Cathi for the photos, and to everyone else for a great social weekend.
There’s nothing glamorous about bushwalking, caving or canyoning, but it sure is fun! If you’re an armchair bushwalker, someone looking for new adventures, or one of my friends who just wants to see what I’ve been up to, this site is for you, sign up to get email alerts now!