Monday 5 May 2014

Apocalypse Cave

by Rick Hunter 5 May 2014

Just like many others after our regular caving trips, I always look forward to the braai. There you see muddy and exhausted cavers enjoying a good drink savouring a delicious meal and often reminiscing of trips gone by. After spending a lot of time in these moments you often hear
the same stories repeated or the names of certain great caves keep popping up. These stories drive your imagination of amazing caverns, perilous journeys and sights never seen.

I've recently had the pleasure of visiting two of these great places, and now understand why so little gets told. Chaos and Apocalypse both captured my imagination from when I first heard those names. After being down quite a few caves, I have learnt that no two are the same. They might have similar features but each adventure leaves a lasting impression, even if it is incredibly traumatic.

This past public holiday 4 of us ventured deep into the earth. And Apocalypse does live up to its name. We arrived at a clump of trees which is a familiar sight to any caver. While we were kitting up I was told to go take a look at the entrance. I headed into the trees and peered over the ledge. I couldn't see the bottom. The view down was blocked by walls of algae green rock disappearing into the blackness.

We rigged the ropes and started to descend one by one. It is quite intimidating staring down a fifty meter chasm and not being able to see the bottom. A beautiful sight is to see the surface light vanishing and green walls fade to black as you reach the bottom next to a three or four story high collapsed boulder. There we waited for all to descend before our exodus.

We went down with the intent of breaching the furthest section of the cave, but in what is know as the longest cave in South Africa, that is no easy feat. We journeyed the old world and the new world, heard mention of the underworld and laughed. Climbed over sex change rock with a lot of respect and walked down stromatalite passage, walking on the remaining evidence of time long passed, then up to an unnamed slope. I have no idea how it was or at exactly what angle, but the climb up was certainly something I'll never forget. My back was pressed to the slope of the most slippery mud I've come across as my feet were fixed to the ceiling in front of me. Each step double checked the slide inches up at a time. After completing this climb only deeper into the maze we went.

Finally we reached the place we had intended on exploring and continued to crawl inside. This passage to fairyland was tight. I crawled sideways one arm ahead one behind. Feeling the rock open in front of me I thought the tales were exaggerated, a voice behind me said to crawl up to get out. I proceeded to wedge my body through one breath at a time. The walls of rock hugging tighter as I climbed by exhaling and forcing, then inhaling and resting. Finally after contorting in ways the body was never meant to bend I escaped the clutch of cold stone. A fellow explorer did the same with success but we had to turn back after unsuccessfully trying to yank our fellow cavers through. I still have the impression that it was named fairyland as a trap to lure cavers in.

We headed for the exit and travelled through more of the cave. Only to be greeted by a fifty meter rope to lead us to the surface. With what was the toughest ascent I was in awe to see the stars so bright overhead as I climbed to freedom. Ten hours underground which passed like the blink of an eye. Tattooed with mud and curiosity still bubbling, cannot wait to return and see what else Apocalypse has in store.

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