CAVING in TASMANIA – Part 4 … 17 – 18 March 2020
I managed to fit a whole season of caving into 12 days … the world is in chaos, we sure wont be caving again in Australia any day soon! For those who aren’t Australian, “arsey” is the equivalent of being lucky. As I said at the start of this holiday, the whole point of it was to do the Midnight Hole / Mystery Creek trip – the pièce de résistance – and WOW was it ever worth it! This has to be a “must do” trip on every caver’s radar. Hope you enjoy reading the story in your spare time and living vicariously!
Day 13 – Midnight Hole / Mystery Creek – Don’t think that I didn’t have a small amount of anxiety with regards to this trip … 6 abseils covering a drop of roughly 160m; would there be some dodgy anchors with steep sloping mud that I could accidentally slide down; do I use my Stop or my Rack?; how hard will it be to get through the Matchbox Squeeze with 120m of rope; and will I be able to get down the Castle in the Sky without freaking out. I didn’t sleep all that well the night before (lol). It didn’t help that on Saturday Chris had given us the background to a few “incidents” at Midnight Hole …
Two years ago, a visiting Swiss caver, part of a pre UIS conference trip accidentally attached her descender to the wrong rope on an 8m abseil (the ropes aren’t isolated on some trips), being on the wrong rope, she fell 8m down and broke her femur. A big rescue operation was undertaken, expertly headed by Southern Caverneers.
On another trip, a group of three got to the Matchbox Squeeze when one of the group decided he wasn’t going to go through it. They had 2 x 50m ropes, his companions went out Mystery Creek Cave, came back in Midnight Hole and descended to the 6th pitch, the “victim” then prussiked up to the bottom of pitch 5 and waited whilst the “rescuers” descended and again exited Mystery Creek. Back up to Midnight Hole, they descended to pitch 4 & 5, the “victim” prussiked to the bottom of pitch 3 and waited whilst the “rescuers” descended and went out via Mystery Creek. Then back up the hill and into Midnight Hole again, descending to pitch 3 where the “victim” prussiked to the bottom of pitch 2 and waited. The “rescuers” again descended all the way and out through Mystery Creek, then back into Midnight Hole, this time, they could rig pitches 1 and 2 and the “victim” could prussik all the way out and make their escape. Which means they did 4 through trips, walked up the mountain 5 times and down it once! Great effort at getting themselves out of trouble without having to call in the authorities!
Another tragic story was about a school group that, against all warnings and in terrible weather conditions, entered Mystery Creek to look at the glow-worms. The stream came up and the party were split. They panicked at being separated, so the teachers tried to get the stragglers across the stream to join the main party. In the process, one teacher and two kids were swept away and drowned.
There was another minor incident when a former MSS member his girlfriend at the time attempted a through trip and could not find their way out of “Confusing Chamber”, (we actually had lunch where they stopped). So they sat and waited, and waited. The local cavers realised they were overdue and came looking for them. I think they were “lost” for nearly 24 hours – and perhaps not surprising that the woman is an ex-girlfriend (lol).
Not surprising that I was a little anxious!
Anyway, anxiety aside, Heather, Jox, David and I set off on this adventure, driving out to Ida Bay for the second day in a row. We mitigated the risk somewhat by deciding to isolate the ropes (so that we could abseil safely on one or two ropes – last person down always on a rack with 2 ropes), and I took along some tube tape with a plan in mind for me to get down the Castle in the Sky, more on that later!
So, a bit of history … according to the awesome Janine, “Mystery Creek Cave was first discovered in the late 1880s. The entrance was on a survey map of the area in 1891”. They knew of the Matchbox Squeeze, which took cavers all the way to the vertical pitch, but they didn’t know where it started. It wasn’t until 1968 that they found the Midnight Hole entrance, and, the story as told by David S was that the cavers abseiled into Midnight Hole (the six pitches), they got to the bottom and looked at the squeeze, not sure where it went so they prussiked back up to the top (going up the ropes that they’d abseiled down). At some point, not sure when, someone went through the Mystery Creek section and put a matchbox somewhere at the Midnight Hole end of the squeeze and when they next went into Midnight Hole again and got to the bottom, they found the matchbox and then knew that they could exit via Mystery Creek. As I said, it’s as I was told, might not be right, but makes a good story!
After the Matchbox Squeeze, you walk along the Railway Tunnel to the gaping chasm which is called Chasm of Fear – and yes, it’s wide enough to fall down (to almost certain death), and you have one foot either side of it, trying not to slip and then you step across a hole – Jox grabbed my arm to give me confidence. You then downclimb onto the Castle in the Sky.
Once we were all down, we went up a boulder pile and down the other side to have lunch in the “Confusing Chamber”, this is where the MSS member couldn’t find his way out!
From there we climbed up to “The Cone of Silence” which was a curious domed shaped chamber. then traversed huge boulders high in the air known as the “Skyline”. When we got back to river level, we were in the “Shipwreck Chamber”.
It was here that we took a side trip into “Cephalopod Creek” and went upstream to view the waterfall in the “Boiler Room” which pours into the “Cephalopod Plunge Pool”. We then went downstream and across the “Bum Traverse” to look at the lower section of the stream way before coming back up to the “Shipwreck Chamber”.
I’d definitely come back to this Pool again, and continue down the stream to see where it goes.
Back in the main passage, where the walls closed in, it is known as the “Walls of Sorrow”, a little further upstream it widened out and we stopped in “Glowworm Chamber 2” with our lights off for about 10 minutes, then headed out.
So, our caving in Tassie was over – and what a way to finish.
We headed back to the apartment, cleaned up all our gear and started packing to leave the next day when we headed up to Hobart. We booked into our preferred accommodation at the Astor Hotel in Hobart managed by the incredible Tildy, we headed down to Salamanca for dinner and then walked over towards Sandy Bay … life in Hobart was on the surface of it, untouched by COVID-19 – that would change in a matter of days when Tasmania went into full lockdown and closed themselves off from anyone wanting to enter Tassie.
We had a great two weeks, and I’d definitely return to Tassie again, maybe in 2 years time! Hope you enjoyed the ride that we took … note to self though, put a few rest days into the next itinerary!
OUT-TAKES – It wasn’t all caving, caving, caving! Here are some shots from our downtime – lots of laughs!