Mt Arthur Christmas

I am not a curry eater, ask anyone I cave with and they will tell you “if you want to get enough to eat, make the meal nice and spicy and Kieran won’t eat his share.” However Sunday evening sitting in Nettlebed’s Soft Rock café camp deep inside Mount Arthur feeling cold and hungry I didn’t have any choice over what to eat.  Absolute Wilderness had given Chris Whitehouse and I a whole bunch of freeze dried meals for our big Christmas caving mission and nearly all the dinners were Red Thai curry.

The day itself had been a lot longer than expected starting as daylight arrived at the flora car park and the week – long rains on Mt Arthur, receding to the northeast were being replaced with nice hot sunshine. Knowing we didn’t have too far to go to get to our cave entrance, Blizzard Pot (the old top entrance of Nettlebed) we were pretty relaxed, also we hoped that the longer we took the drier the cave would be. It took about an hour to stroll up to the Mt Arthur hut and an extra hour along the ridge and down a steep valley to the east to get to the Blizzard entrance. Blizzard had been rigged a year previously and our plan was to derig the cave downhill. That is; change the rigging so we could pull the ropes off each pitch like going on a canyoning trip. The only problem with this technique is that there is no way back home again if something blocks the way forward and in this part of the cave there are plenty of places this can happen. All it would take would be for one loose rock to move a few inches and we would be trapped. Debbie Cade in Nelson had volunteered to be our call out person however we not due to get back to the daylight for 4 days…the wait could be potentially very long and cold.

The trip down Blizzard was good fun even though its very wet. By the time we had got to the bottom of the entrance series about 250 metres below the surface our packs, full of wet rope, were very heavy. Following a short squiggle up through some large boulders we entered the huge Goodbye Yellow Brick Road chamber, this is quite a contrast to the tight confines of what we had just left. The roof and walls are almost out of sight and a shout returns as an echo several seconds later, its hard to believe such spaces exist underground. At the bottom of the chamber is the infamous Funk Hole. The Funk Hole is not actually one hole, it is in fact a series of tiny holes amongst a massive vertical pile of boulders stacked up on top of each other and we had to find our way down through it all for 100 metres. Sporty is what comes to mind and it is definitely not a place to feel claustrophobic as you force your way through impossible looking holes. In one spot there is a note left by a group of cavers who had to dig their way through a collapse that almost trapped them. On the paper is written, “Caution very unstable rocks!” We thought this was the understatement of the day considering we had negotiated nearly 80 metres of very unstable rock. With some relief we were soon out of the funk hole and in the huge space of the Upper Knee Trembler 400 metres beneath the surface, the hard work over. Now we negotiated the beautiful Diamond Alley, abseiled down the large Ant lion pitch, wriggled and squeezed up through two more short piles of rock then tramped up the huge steep boulder strewn hall called Hammer Heights climbing over 200 metres to our destination Soft Rock Café.

 

Kieran McKay


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