Belly sliding through a streamway – what’s not to love?

DEUA NP – 27 January 2024
I first visited Wyanbene in May 2015, with Natalie, we were underground for a long time, probably started around 9 and didn’t get out until it was dark (admittedly, it was May, much earlier sunset!).  I wasn’t keen to go back, there was that ladder climb, and I recall crawling for hours in a streamway, groveling in water and mud. And yet, here I was again.

Due to the amount of water (and mud), I didn’t take my iPhone, so my photos are crap (apologies in advance).

CSS had arranged the trip and had invited two MSS members, the permit was for six people, and was at one point so popular that two trips were organised.  Then two MSS members pulled out, and then two or three CSS members pulled out and there was just John B, Alan S, and me.  We needed one more person for the (now one) trip to be viable, so I asked Liz if she’d like to go.  The trip needed to go ahead as Dirk (and Lily), were planning to set up some sort of ground penetrating “thing” up above Gunbarrel Aven, and we were to set up the underground equipment.  If Liz and I hadn’t gone, they’d have had to set it up some other time, and Dirk really needed to see if it worked before a Nullarbor trip in May.  So, I sucked it up, and put the ladder ascent and groveling in the streamway out of my mind.

We drove over t the Wyanbene camp ground after the Marble Arch walk, and then set up camp.  We had a leisurely evening, was quite cold and then a misty fog rolled in and we all called it a night.


Next morning, we set off at 8am, John (pictured) carried 2 backpacks, his gear, probably a ladder, a couple of ropes and some of Dirk’s equipment. Lily decided not to go up onto the mountain, the leeches that Dirk got the previous day turned her off.

The entrance to the cave. it does have a gate across it, but it’s not locked, and in fact tourists can go into the cave for about 50m (give or take), before they come to the actual locked gate. John is standing on the top rung of a 3m fixed ladder (thankfully not a caving ladder) that you have to climb down.

Strangely, I don’t remember this part, looks like there’s a rope, and Alan’s giving Liz a hand, but for the life of me can’t remember where it was, and it must be at the beginning of the trip.

After the ladder, there’s a stream passage that you walk along. Track markers have been put in place so people don’t walk on the muddy bank.

The streamway becomes deeper, about knee/thigh height, but the water isn’t that cold so it’s not an issue.

Once through the locked gate, which is a little tricky to get to scrambling up very slippery flow stone and then maneuvering your body through a key-hole opening (where the gate is), then negotiating past a big gaping hole to where the ladder has been set up. This image is of John either getting onto the ladder to ascend at the end of the trip, or getting off the ladder at the beginning, he was belaying us all down the ladder. Have I mentioned how much I hate using a ladder, I have bruises all over my thighs. (Photo from the “Alan Silva Collection”)

Once past the ladder experience it’s more streamway and then a crawl  through these formations to get to more streamway.  I found that the streamway crawling wasn’t as bad this time, because of my height I was able to crawl rather than belly slide through (it’s all about the length of your thigh (femur??) bones.

After an hour or so we were at the point where we had to go up this muddy, slippery slope to get to the Gunbarrel turnoff. Thankfully John rigged a tube tape so that Liz and I had something to drag ourselves up with. Of course John and Alan just romped up the slope (bloody long legs).

There was abit of scramble up into the Aven (which is truly awesome but no photo does it justice), a 30m across chamber shaped like a cone that is 100m high, Dirk had walked to the area above ground where he thought the aven was. John and Alan assembled the device.

After the “wheel” was assembled and stones were placed under the legs to make sure it was absolutely flat (Dirk had built a small spirit level into the device to assist with absolute flatness LOL), then a piece of equipment (lots of wire made into a loop), was attached to the wheel, and that was attached to a battery. Once turned on, the device would emit electronic waves which (hopefully) Dirk would pick up above ground. After assembling and seeing that a signal was being emitted, we left the device in place and did some more caving. An hour and a half later, John and Alan returned to dismantle the device … once back at camp, Dirk confirmed that yes, the device did work. What he’s going to do with it on the Nullarbor I don’t know (I was in the company of four engineers so pretty much all discussion of the device was way over my head).

After retracing our steps to the main passage, we took a side trip to a canyon-like passageway, had to do a crawl through water to get to it! Thankfully the water wasn’t too deep.

A not very good shot of the end of the passage, walls of flow stone which had water running down them and into rim pools at the bottom. The passageway was like a canyon, turning this way and that way, I hadn’t visited it before so this was a real treat.

Looking back at the start of the passage way, Liz is off to the left (out of shot), but I thought this shot gave an indication of what the passage was like.

We headed over to Ceasars Hall which would be our turnaround point, we stopped in this massive chamber for lunch.  This is as far as I’d gone in the past.  Apparently, 100m from the chamber is Frustration Lake, however, it’s a very difficult section to negotiate and those that I know who have done the Frustration Lake trip usually say “never again”.

Once we finished lunch we made our way back to Gunbarrel Aven and Alan & John retrieved Dirk’s equipment and then we headed back towards the exit.

Along the way, we visited another chamber that I hadn’t been to before, lots of very big, chunky helictites. Considering the whole cave was a stream passage that would have flooded from time to time, it was interesting that these formations were high enough that they weren’t damaged by flooding.

John exiting one of the chambers.

And before we knew it, we were back at the ladder, Alan and John said they’d haul me up if necessary, but I managed the climb (apart from one section at the bottom where I couldn’t reach the first rung).  No-one can imagine the relief I feel once I’ve gotten to the top of a ladder or an SRT ascent – and I can go and sit out of the way regaining my composure!

We were back at the entrance around 3.30pm, way earlier than I expected.

Liz had made the group Chicken Korma for dinner, so after a solid hour of nibbles we had dinner (big thanks to Liz so we didn’t have to cook after 7 hours caving). It started sprinkling round 9pm and we were all pretty tired after our efforts so were in bed early. (Photo:  “Alan Silva Collection”)

But, before going to bed, I had to dismantle the shower tent that I’d brought along for anyone who wanted to wash off the mud from the cave. I heated up some water so we could enjoy a hot shower. BUT, then we had to dismantle the tent and get it in its bag. I rarely use this shower tent because it’s a pain to dismantle, we had a good half hour of laughs watching first Liz and then John trying to get the damned thing folded.

Next morning, Liz and I were on the road again, trying to get a jump on the long weekend traffic up the Hume Highway.  We were lucky, hardly any traffic into Sydney, thanks Liz for doing half the driving for me!  We were both home in time to hose down our muddy caving gear.  I had to run the overalls and knee pads through the washing machine twice to get the mud out of them – and that was after I’d hosed them down for 15 minutes.

Thank you John and Alan for leading this trip and Liz for coming along at the last minute, trip couldn’t have gone ahead without you.  It was a great day’s caving and I saw parts of Wyanbene that I hadn’t seen before.  And, the pace was perfect not rushed and plenty of time to look around and opportunities to sit a chat and hear of Alan Silva’s amazing exploits and adventures – what a great life he’s led.

Finally, special thanks to John, who stopped me not once but twice from sliding down a slippery slope.  I thought I was being cautious, moving down the slope on my butt nice and slowly, and then swoosh I lost traction and I’m sliding down a muddy slope – not to almost certain death, but quite possibly a broken bone.  And quick as a flash, John, legend that he is, stops me in my tracks!

It’s a pity CSS (one of the three clubs of which I’m a member) is so far from Sydney (they’re located at Canberra), otherwise I’d cave with them more often.

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2 Responses to Belly sliding through a streamway – what’s not to love?

  1. James Crockett says:

    Yes Dirks RDF device looks very similar to one that MSS had when I first joined back in 1984. At that time to become a full member you had to complete a project. My project was to rebuild the RDF (Radio Direction Finding) which was in a bad state as all the electronics was missing or damaged. Both Tx (the one that you took in the cave) and Rx needed new electronics, first I had to figure out how it worked then find parts to assembly. The unit basically works using VLF Radio waves <50khz which is just outside human hearing Range. After completing and surface testing we took it to Abers for a real cave test and it worked. I don't think the range was that good though. I got the tick of approval from the committee and was made a full member. The MSS RDF was never used again and I think it was disposed of when the club gear changed hands. I am Dirks would be more sensitive with modern electronics installed.

    • marilyn says:

      WOW, thanks for that information Jim, I’m sure they told me at the time what the device was for, but as with most techie stuff, went in one ear and out the other!

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