CAVING in TASMANIA – Part 4 – IDA BAY 12 – 16 March 2020
And the answer to the question above … probably not! The idea for my trip to Tassie came out of a trip to Mystery Creek Cave back in January 2019. We made our way all the way to the bottom of Midnight Hole and I looked up into the black void and decided then and there I really wanted to do the Midnight Hole/Mystery Creek trip (while I still could). So, here we are on our way to Ida Bay to do Midnight Hole … I had tacked on a few other caves to flesh out the experience.
Day 9 – Mole creek to Dover (closest to Ida Bay) – In my defence, you could call this day a “Rest Day”, well, for everyone except David who did all the driving (thanks David and big thanks for your foresight in changing from our little car to a bigger SUV). We packed ourselves and all our luggage into the SUV and headed to Launceston, to drop Marcia off and pick up Sil. From there it was down to Huonville to pick up groceries, and then on to Dover to the Smugglers Rest Apartments and our 2 bedroom apartment, this would be our base for the next five days. COVID-19 was minor news, one case in Launceston plus one case in Hobart, and no panic buying in the supermarkets, was easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Day 10 – Bradley Chesterman Cave – we picked up the keys at Hastings Parks & Wildlife Office and then headed off to the Ida Bay area with our track notes for Bradley Chesterman. None of us were super keen because it was drizzling, but we soldiered on.
The notes were pretty good, and we had no trouble whatsoever finding the entry.
The obligatory selfie before we head into the void.
The cave is a streamway and the vast majority of it was like an underground bushwalk.
There were a lot of areas that had roots coming through the roof of the cave, some were really pretty with droplets of water on them, sparkling when let up with our lights.
A close-up of the streamway, see the rock on the right, this indicates where (eons ago) the riverbed flowed at this level, dissolving the limestone, then the river dropped, to its current level.
According to the cave map that we had, there were a few small passages off to the right and left, this one had a really large, thick root coming down from whatever tree was above.
Sil admiring a few nice formations.
Great photo by David S, Sil walking along the streamway, looking down to see where she’s treading.
So, eventually we got to the boulder field shown on the map. Heather, Sil and I all explored to find the way through, very tight and muddy. We were about to give up after about 20 minutes of searching when Sil eventually found the way through. So, I followed her and she and I eventually made our way to the end of the cave. Rejoicing all round, I really wouldn’t have been happy if the route through the boulder pile had gotten the better of us.
Not a long cave, but definitely worthwhile doing (I’d do it again!), we retraced our steps and returned to Dover to find that John O (Jox) had arrived. Jox lives in Hobart and is a long standing member of MSS so was good to have him join us for the rest of the trip.
Day 11 – Wolf Hole – I had approached Southern Tasmania Caverneers in the early days of my planning. Everyone had told me what a great trip Exit Cave was and one of the STC members had offered to guide is on a through trip of Exit. the through trip of Exit (using Valley entrance), is a BIG trip and right up until a few days ago I was still keen, but the more days we did the more it became evident that the Exit trip would have to be done much earlier than my plans (like a day or two after we’d arrived in Tassie when we were fresh). So, when our guide (Chris S) suggested that he’d be happy to guide us through Wolf Hole, I decided that it would be smart to take him up on his offer. Wolf Hole was on the itinerary anyway, it would be nice to have someone familiar with the cave to guide us through.
So, we met up with Chris at Hastings Visitor Information Centre, and we headed to a spot on a side street where we parked our vehicles and headed off on an old timber track. You’d hardly know the track was there but it was obvious if you knew what to look for. After a while you just headed off uphill.
Hard taking a selfie of six, particularly when Jox is missing (have no idea where he was). Chris, our guide is on the left. (L – R Chris, me, David, Sil and Heather)
The “hole” was probably found by timber getters (lots of logging in the old days), and passed on to locals, who passed the information onto recreational cavers. Chris, Jox and David setting up the abseil off the big tree, precariously growing on the edge of the hole, plus a back up anchor on another tree. The back up anchor is in case the red tape fails, nothing would save us if the tree toppled over the edge, I’m assuming it’s got a good root system though!
Setting up the rope, lots of branches for the rope to get caught up in. We probably didn’t need to but John set up a “re-belay” about 10m down from the top, this took the rope in a different direction to avoid a rock – plus it gave us the opportunity to practise our SRT skills (have to say I love my Stop descender).
Looking up at the abseil and at the rim, that’s where the re-belay is set up, Jox helpfully put in a tape that you could step into, unfortunately it was just a little to long for me (Jox is over 6 foot so can’t really blame him!). (Photo: John O)
Looking at the abseil from down below, the rope goes behind that big log, but see the log beside it, imagine that tree falling into the sink hole!
Heather at the other side of the sink hole (Photo: John O).
We made our way down a streamway, some crawling, scrambling involved and then we came to Pluto Lake … WOW.
Looking down the Lake, there is another lake beyond this, but to get it you need to walk through chest deep cold water … next time I visit this cave I’m taking a wetsuit to go belong Pluto Lake. (Photo: John O – lovely reflection photo)
Lovely photo of Sil looking back up the lake to where we came in (a passage in the top right hand side of the cave). (Photo: John O)
From another angle – and a nice stalagmite/column behind David. (Photo: John O)
Dodgy photo from me of some of the straws on the ceiling.
Action snap of David exiting from Lake Pluto through the crawly space.
Heather prussiking out. I was the first one to prussik up, took my time, am sure I was slower than most, but’s let’s face it, I’ve been caving without stop for almost 2 weeks! The re-belay was a bit of a pain, got my cows tail mixed up in the wrong place, so had to go back to square one, and then when I got up to the top, got it in the wrong place again … will have to practice this over the coming months.
Lovely photo of Sil.
We were pulling up the ropes by about 2.45pm and then it was a quick trip down to the cars and then back to Smugglers for tea/coffee and Tim Tams (so many flavours now). Took a long time to clean up our gear and clean the rope (was sooooo muddy) – we’re ready for the next day’s caving now!
Day 12 – Exit Cave – So, we decided that we’d do a “bounce” trip in via the efflux of Exit Cave (the part of the cave where the river exits the cave) go as far as we could and then retrace our steps. At this stage I’m saying to myself “was I dreaming” thinking I could do a full through trip of Exit, I’m officially stuffed!
We rocked up to the car park at Ida Bay at around 9am, probably could have started earlier but we didn’t.
We followed an old fire trail to Bender’s Quarry. This limestone quarry was operational until it was controversially closed in the 1980s due to its close proximity to a major cave system (Exit), but before it was closed, they actually broke through to a small cave (where the arrow is), this probably was the catalyst for the closure. There is actually a cave tag on a rock at the locked gate that you walk through to get to the quarry, we suspect it’s a tag for the cave that was destroyed. Thanks Jox for running back to the car to get the gate key for Exit that I’d forgotten to pick up!
The walk in to Exit efflux is completed in 1 hr 15 minutes by Southern Tasmania Caverneers, it’s not a difficult walk and when you aren’t on a benched track, there is pink tape along the route as directions, mind you there are heaps of other tapes going to other caves in the area too. We took 2 hours 30 minutes to get to the efflux, not sure how we could have done the walk any quicker, we didn’t take many breaks and if we did they were short.
Sil crossing on a big log.
We’re at the river that comes out of the cave now, and there’s a log to cross, the water was flowing very fast, wouldn’t have liked to fall in. I washed my muddy cave suite when we got out of the cave, was great to get back to the unit with a clean pair of overalls.
There was a good spot to change into overalls and then we made our way over to the cave opening. Quite a big boulder field that crosses the river and then you come to the gate.
It’s a small awkward climb to get up to the gate, wasn’t so bad going up but coming down was a bit of a pain.
There’s a small narrow streamway (dry) that you can walk through to avoid the actual river (and getting wet), and then there is a walkway at the side of the river, there’s a rope in place to make sure if the water is high that you aren’t swept away by the flow.
After the handline, there’s a rope that you can use to cross the river to the other side. Jox, who had done the trip the week before said that the river was “up quite a bit” and I know when I crossed the flow was quite fast. Here we’re watching to see how deep it will be (mind you Jox is so tall that up to his waist would be up to my chest!). When you got to the other side, you had to walk between the two rocks onto the bank which was really, really slippery.
There were quite a few climbs up and down, a lot of which were followed by slippery slopes down mud!
Eventually we came to a side trip to The Ballroom, known for these disco like balls throughout the chamber. (Photo: John O)
Another shot of The Ballroom (Photo: John O)
And another one, as you can see the chamber is highly decorated. What was interesting for me was that it was almost a 3 or 4m climb up to get to this level from the river bed, so you can imagine the level that the river would have been eons ago. (Photo: John O)
Out of the Ballroom and continuing along, this was tricky, you had to crawl along the ledge and then drop down a 1m drop to a rock in the creek, or risk falling in. I knew getting back on the return trip would be dicey.
So, eventually we came to the Rock Pile, and the promise that once through the rock pile, there would be “cool stuff”. So, we started making our way through … up small climbs, through squeezes, down small climbs, across gaping chasms. Unfortunately there wasn’t a marked route, although from time to time we saw “survey markers”, we were in that bloody rock pile for a good hour. Eventually David made is way forward (he was gone for about 15 minutes) but returned only to advise that he got into a “rift” and from his recollections (and Jox’s), there wasn’t a rift and we’d been in the rock pile too long. We later heard from Chris S (our guide through Wolf Hole), “that the rift tricks a lot of people … you don’t go into it, just turn right facing upstream, climb up to the right over some larger boulders for about 15 – 20m or so and then you’re at the Dawdle of Doom – cross that if you dare and that’s the end of the rock pile”.
A couple of things, I couldn’t see any way up to the right over some larger boulders, but when I heard the Dawdle of Doom and “cross that if you date”, I was sort of glad that we didn’t get to that point!
Anyway, we decided that we’d spent enough time in the rock pile and if we didn’t make our way out, we might be walking out in the dark!
Heather making her way up the small climb in the creek. It wasn’t pretty when I tried to make my way up, I think someone might have shoved me from behind.
There was one memorable moment on the way back out, when we got to a really nasty slope of mud with nothing to hold on to to make your way up, David very kindly sat at the top and I grabbed his boot, but when that didn’t work he literally dragged me up by my arm (felt like it was coming out of the socket), but have to say I was extremely thankful, if he hadn’t done that I’d still be on the mud slide.
David had one request on the way out, that we take a shot of the ledge traverse, great shot it is too (that’s me in the middle), you really can’t grasp the size of Exit cave and its chambers, but this photo goes close to doing so. The thumbnail I’ve used for this post is a close up of the formation on the walls to the right of us. (Photo: David S)
After this it was simply a matter of retracing our steps, oh yes, the muddy slope down to the river was now slippery as and some of us actually slid right into the river as we made our way down, have to say though that the walk across wasn’t as deep on our return.
One final photo shoot in the passage that we took to bypass where the river went out into the entry chamber (you would have had to swim in the river to get out), and this passageway led us to the locked gate. (Photo: John O)
The climb down from the locked gate was interesting, I felt like I’d slip right down to the bottom. We then scrambled over rocks to get back out into the rainforest. I washed off my overalls in the river so I wouldn’t have to wash them when we got back to the Unit.
It was another 2.5 hours before we got back to the car, and then a half hour drive back to the Unit where we ate Jox’s Chilli Con Carne for dinner. Thanks everyone for making such wonderful dinners to share.
Once back at the Unit, and after cleaning all our gear, we prepared ourselves for the next day’s activity, the piece de resistance, the Midnight Hole & Mystery Creek through trip … that deserves a blog post all by itself! Stay tuned!
Some nice fungus and lichen on the Exit Creek walk!
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