Kubla Khan – I might hold a record for this cave

CAVING in TASMANIA – Part 2 – MOLE CREEK – 9 March 2020
So, we’re up to our 6th day at Mole Creek, and the plan is to do Kubla Khan.  Now, Kubla and I have a history … I did it 2 years ago, and had a few issues, first I fell into the pool at Sally’s Folly and then I got temporarily stuck in a squeeze.  And that’s pretty much all I remember of the trip, which let me tell you took us 12 hours (underground), but it was a photography trip and so slower than normal.

I’m not sure why I said I’d do it again, I’d always said the first trip was a “once off”.  Initially I thought there’d be too many people and the permit only allowed five (plus a caver accredited by TasParks). Then closer to the date, it seemed that there would only be five of us including me, so I somehow got talked into it (still not sure how!).  I have to say that I had some anxiety, after all it’s a BIG trip … I hardly slept the night before, but I didn’t back out.  We got to the car park around 8.45 and David W-C, Heather and Beth went up to the exit to set up the SRT rope that we would use to get out.  We were on the track up to the cave by around 9.15, getting to the entry by around 9.30.

So, a little bit of information about Kubla Khan, it’s a 2.2km cave with incredibly rich formations, the most impressive of which is the 18m high stalagmite known as The Khan. The cave also has The Pleasure Dome, a flow stone terraced floor which is 40m long and terraced up to a height of 15m.  The photos taken just don’t do the cave justice!

Just inside the locked gate, Beth unravelling the rope for our first abseil, 14m; David W-C accompanied us to protect the cave from us (to make sure we didn’t damage it), all trips to Kubla must be accompanied by someone accredited by TasParks, both David and his daughter Jessica are accredited.

Marcia on the second abseil which closely follows the first.

A little further on, after some downclimbs, there is this big section of flow stone which you must cross, there’s a gaping chasm below it, and you have to put your toes in the crack to get across.

David in a section of the cave called The Ridgeway.

A better shot by David of the Ridgeway.

After the Ridgeway there was a bit of a crawl and then a small climb down.

We then went to the Silk Shop, lovely shawls, these photos are from my last trip, my camera just couldn’t do them justice.

More beautiful shawls

David then took us to our first “bonus” trip, The Jade Pool.  Up until a year ago, this Jade Pool was off limits, i.e. NO-ONE was supposed to go to see it, and as groups were accompanied by someone such as David W-C, this rule was strictly adhered to.  Just recently the ban was lifted, there was a climb to get to a small opening that you could poke your head in to see the pool along with the floating rafts on the top of the pool.  Only one person at a time could go up to the pool, David S took this photo, my camera just couldn’t do it justice.

Our next bonus trip was to the far end of Outer Xanadu, this involved a l-o-n-g walk across a ridge of broken stone to get to the end where there were many large stals.  Lots of boot washing stations along the way to keep mud off this area.  This side trip took about an hour for us to do the round trip.

The next minor challenge was a 5m abseil down the Sally’s Folly pitch, the abseil was quite squeezy so we had to dangle our packs below us.  Marcia on the abseil.

And here we are at Sally’s Folly, where last time I fell backwards into the pool (over my head), my pack was too heavy for me to do the traverse, so this time, Beth very kindly set up a bit of tape so we could get my pack across (and Beth’s with 60m of rope in it), and I was able to do the traverse without falling in.

Marcia traversing Sally’s Folly, not many foot holds.  After Sally’s Folly, there’s a long walk through a narrow passageway to The Forest (stals that you have to weave your way through).

Marcia at the 28m abseil at Cairn Hall – there was one re-direction about 2/3 of the way down. This pitch is followed by about 100m of passageway to get to the Pleasure Dome.

The Pleasure Dome. It’s now dry but in years gone by, there was water flowing over these pools, it would have looked absolutely amazing with water flowing over it.

This shot gives you an idea of how far back it goes (40m). This is a “clean” area, so we had to take our muddy overalls and shoes off and wear clean clothing up to the flowstone.

Back where we changed our boots, we put on wetsuits and prepared ourselves for the last bit of the trip.  By now it’s 5.10pm and we still had a ways to go.  We dropped back down into the streamway (The River Alph) and swam upstream for about 20m (the water was freezing), then went along to the Stalagmite Shuffle.  I had to climb up a vertical chute, step across a gaping chasm, squeeze through a small keyhole (and almost get stuck again), and then traverse along a really dodgy wall with another gaping chasm below.  At this point I decided that there was no way I could cross with my pack, and Heather (who can do pretty much everything), said she thought it was really dodgy too, so it wasn’t just me.  Anyway, I made it across and breathed a sigh of relief … it’s now 6pm, and I knew we were just below the locked gate at the exit.

This is another small climb, we used a tape as a handline and pack hauled all the packs up to the gate.  The last time I did this I went up the right hand side (following Cathi H-H) and made a dogs breakfast of the climb, this time it was way easier on the lh side.  Beth, Heather and Marcia doing the pack hauling.

Once you get to the top and climb through the locked gate, it’s just a matter of putting your SRT gear on and climbing a series of ladders (placed over mud and leaf litter) to get to the SRT pitch (40m including 1 re-belay).  Heather and Beth went first, followed by me.  Marcia very kindly held the rope tight for me and for her efforts a rock dislodged and crashed down on her helmet, good thing she was wearing one!

Beth and Heather welcomng me to the top, it’s now 7pm.  We waited until Marcia got up, followed by David W-C, then headed down to the vehicles.  David S was retrieving the ropes so he took a bit longer, particularly as one got stuck around a stick on the last section of rebelay.

We were in the cars by around 8pm and then we drove back to the cabin.  We’d cooked up dinner the night before, so we were ready to eat and get into the wine with David W-C to celebrate a successful trip through the cave.

Kubla Khan warranted a blog post by itself, it’s an epic trip with amazing formations to see.  David W-C’s track notes say it takes between 9 and 12 hours to do the trip, depending on whether or not you have photographers on the trip.  So, I think we did fairly well, particularly as we went to Outer Xanadu and the Jade Pool.

So, what’s the (possibly dubious) record … well, I asked David W-C what would be the age of the oldest person he’s taken through the cave, and he couldn’t think of anyone older than me, well certainly no women older than me! I can understand that, it’s a punishing trip at my age, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of everyone on the trip, getting me across gaping chasms and lending me their knees to step on to reach a handhold.  Thanks everyone for helping me to do the trip!

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11 Responses to Kubla Khan – I might hold a record for this cave

  1. Beth Little says:

    Was an amazing trip!

    Thank you for organising us all and coordinating it for us.

    Beth x

  2. Marcia Kaye says:

    Definitely an epic trip!!!

  3. Heather Da Silva says:

    I’m aiming to get back there when Im an older bag than you 🙂 great photos great trip thanks Team Marilyn

  4. Jenny Hughes says:

    You constantly amaze and inspire me! I can see why you did that trip for a second time. The photos are amazing!

  5. Des Robertson says:

    Great account. It is was l that found the high exit/ent’. Des R.

    • marilyn says:

      Hi Des, thank you, one of my all time favourite caves! What a great thing to find the high exit/entry and to know that the cave is being looked after so well, each ASF club can only apply to go in once a year (and there are only 12 trips allowed each year), and only 5 people, plus the authorised guide who’s there to protect the cave from us. Most groups do a little cave care on the trip too, whether it’s cleaning a boot washing station of walking in water. Very well managed.

  6. Des Robertson says:

    A big yes Marilyn. Great to know that the cave is so well protected and cared for
    We must be thankful to David W. ,and all of the carers for the countless hours that they have devoted to this. Thanks to you also for this well written and illustrated account of your trip. David’s accident was a great shock and l hope his recovery has progressed well and fully.

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