14 Caves in 12 days – talk about “arsey”

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!

We headed off on the tourist track (as an ungated cave Mystery Creek is a tourist attraction). The tourist track was once a railway track for the limestone quarry that we would pass.

Once we took off into the bush from the tourist track, it was all up hill, with a few tapes to keep us on the right route.

One of the many trees that had been felled by loggers over the years, I suspect that it was loggers that originally found the “hole in the ground” that is Midnight Hole.

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!

Abseil #1 – John deploying the rope(s), for this abseil, you had to put your pack on a cows tail to hang it below you because the squeeze was quite narrow.

David who came down last, after un-isolating the ropes and ensuring that the ropes didn’t twist through his descender.

A bit of a climb down and squeeze to get to the next abseil.

Abseil #2 (I think) These abseils were sooooo cool!  A real buzz, like abseiling down a tunnel, black as when you looked up or down.

Another tunnel from one abseil to the next, at no time was there a nasty muddy slope that we landed on or had to walk down to get to the next anchor (yet another anxiety relieved).

David rigging the 3rd Pitch (39m) (Photo: John O)

Abseil #5 I think by this time I’m not sure how many we’d done!

Hard to get into place for this one, Jox made it look harder than it was.

Heather abseiling the 5th pitch (Photo: David S)

Tried photographing the abseils but could really capture what it was like.

At the bottom of the last pitch, pulling the ropes down.  There was a video on FB which shows what it’s like when 60m of rope falls down when it goes through the chain, the sound is incredible, way louder than what you hear out on, say, a canyon.

Good shot of David on the final abseil.  It was a short walk (maybe 3m) around to the Matchbox Squeeze

Jox, Heather and I were first through, pushing packs through the squeeze, about 20m of tunnel which was probably around 50cm high and in places only as wide as your chest, if you were on your side PLUS there was water on the floor!

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.

Heather lowering herself over to the Castle in the Sky.  I used the tube tape and a carabiner and sort of abseiled down this with Jox lowering me, I had an awful time getting down this the last time and didn’t want a repeat performance.

David assisting Heather to land on the Castle in the Sky, Heather’s taller than me, so you can imagine how much more difficult it was, what with no hand holds and not being able to see where your feet were going.

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”.

Photo Shoot of Heather at the Boiler Room and the Cephalopod Plunge Pool – water was a bit cold didn’t want to do any plunging, it was quite deep, although only knee deep below Heather (Photo:  David S).

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.

On the way out, once again in daylight.

This is what tourists see as they walk down into the cave, some of them with no more light than a mobile phone.

The climb up to the tourist track.

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!

A rainbow of hay bales – I’ve never seen such colourful plastic on hay bales before.

This was interesting, usually BLAZEAID builds fences after bushfires or floods, not sure what happened here, high ground and well away from fires, they do a great job across Australia.

Heather brought her Jenga and many evenings were spent trying to break records.  Heather and David were addicted – this might have been on a night when much wine was drunk!

It was not long after this that it collapsed.

David did actually take some days off (his knee was misbehaving) and published this on FB.

Packing up to leave Dover, David posted this on FB – the trip that The North Face DIDN’T sponsor!

The last night in Hobart, a jug of Sangria, a bottle of wine and a walk through a park … we came across a great slide in a children’s park, Heather and I had a ball here, this was the result of us doubling up, I have never laughed so much in my life, plus I hit my head on the cover at the top of the slide … 12 days caving and the only real injury was on a children’s slide!


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8 Responses to 14 Caves in 12 days – talk about “arsey”

  1. David says:

    What an excellent cave. Fantastic pitches, amazing river passages, huge architecture and millions of glow worms! We were very fortunate to visit this system. I never tire of it.

    Excellent report Marilyn and great organising of the entire trip.

    Maybe now I can have that rest day… 🙂

  2. Jenny Hughes says:

    Just reading that trip got my heart racing! While it looked beautiful, it sounds terrifying! i am so pleased to hear you all made it out with no injuries!

  3. Trish says:

    I was loving reading it until I got to the Chasm of Fear……………

    • marilyn says:

      Yes, wasn’t all happy with traversing this, I hadn’t thought too much about it until someone said, yes if you slip, you’d be down in the Chasm and it would be hard to get you out (lol).

  4. Kathy Leslie says:

    You are certifiably insane!! The Chasm of Fear? What possesses you?!!!!
    Made me nervous just reading about this adventure!!!!!
    Kudos to you!!,

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