By Kieran McKay
Coming out of Bulmer after 12 days underground the senses are reeling…there are the birds, the green trees, blue sky, the wind in the trees, the smells of earthand life. It’s almost too much for the brain to take in and all I want to do is head back into the quiet simple life deep underground.
Our expedition to the southern side of Mt Owen to explore the Bulmer system took a different turn this year. With a huge storm forecasted to beat the area a very large contingent of the expedition team headed underground for a few days, some on their first overnight in a cave. There was a catch to this trip though, 580 kgs of personal kit, food, climbing kit and dive gear had to get to the end of the cave 7 kilometres from the entrance. It took 15 of us 2 ½ days to get the kit to a campsite near the end of the cave 600 metres deep inside Mt Owen. For hours and hours we hauled heavy packs up and down climbs, abseils, through squeezes and crawls. What an incredible effort made by an awesome team and when we got to our final camp even though everyone was exhausted the camaraderie was fun and lively.
Our base camp was located near to several good places to explore and one of those places was a place called the grimace sump. By the second day the dive kit was in place ready for the dive and an underground communication system was set up which enabled us to communicate with the rest of the world via text messages sent through hundreds of metres of rock.
Gary and I dived grimace, unfortunately it did not do what we hoped. After a 120 metre dive down a small tunnel where we got to a depth of 18 metres we surfaced in a small air bell. Sump 2 turned out to be much tighter. I managed to get in 10 metres where I was having difficulty fitting. Ahead I could see a gravel slope heading up to no doubt another airspace. The way on needed digging to progress further and in a wetsuit I was started to shiver violently in the 3 degree water.
In other places an Aussie team climbed up a shaft for 30 metres before giving up and moving on to a new area where after some serious climbing they discovered a couple of hundred metres of large canyon passage.
As the week progressed numbers in camp decreased as team members headed for the sunshine. Towards the end of our stay Marcus Thomas, Mike Allen, a pom called Nick and I climbed up a shaft called South Park. The ropes ended 70 metres off the deck and above the shaft continued out of range of our most powerful lights. At this point Nick and I explored a tight canyon for 150 metres. Marcus and Mike climbed another 20 metres into the blackness.
Eventually it was time to leave. We had learned through our coms system that the weather was excellent on the surface. At 2:30 am on Sunday morning we packed up camp and headed for the daylight and a promised breakfast of bacon and eggs. 5 hours of wandering, crawling, squeezing and climbing pitches we eventually crawled out of the panorama entrance into the bright sunshine blazing out of a brilliant blue sky. The 30 minute walk back to camp through the bush and along the grey marble slabs high above the Bulmer creek was barely enough time to adjust from the quiet, peaceful life underground to the busy surface that was so full of things before getting into the surface camp and being surrounded once again by an awesome team of great people and lots of yummy food.
Thanks to those awesome people....Off to dive colonial streamway on Tuesday before the next big storm.
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