Wednesday 17 December 2014

West Driefontein Cave by Gerrie Pretorius

A few years have gone by since SEC last visited West Driefontein Cave.
This wasn’t because we didn’t want to go, but organising access to a cave next to a gold mine can be long process, especially when there are strikes and changes in ownership and personnel, but at last we managed to get access thanks to Pete Kenyon.

On the 9th of November 2014 we set off to visit this beast of a cave.
Unfortunately the action started even before we even reached the cave, as Irene’s car’s exhaust hooked on a railway track that we crossed, and was ripped right off.
Within no time the car was drifting on a giant cushion of air, that we pumped up with John’s Landy’s exhaust and we were took turns with a hacksaw blade to cut the exhaust in half to remove it.

Image: Terence Stewart

With the exhaust tucked away in Pete’s car, we did the last stretch to the cave with Irene’s Westrand Freeflow conversion.
The cave entrance greeted us with the ripe smell of dead dog, and our descent stared.

West Driefontein is a cave with a reputation, and until the start of 2013 it was still the deepest dry cave in South Africa. This cave is not forgiving to anyone with a fear of heights and the climbing starts right at the entrance.

After the first few climbs, we had another pitch where John rigged a ladder.

Image of the ladder pitch by Terence Stewart

I did not trust this ladder so Steven Tucker and I took the alternative route, which turned out to be slightly scary, not because of the climb down, but because of the climb around the ladder pitch.

We took a lunch break in the dining room, a massive chamber with a giant big flat slab that looks like a dining room table in the middle of room. The first glimpse of the size of this cave. This was also where I realised that my lunch was still in the car.

After a dozen more climbs, and a brief visit to the Orange Grove, we made it to our destination: Texas! The biggest cave chamber in South Africa. Texas is absolutely massive and only with cavers positioned on all the furthest corners of this cavity, do you truly get perspective of how big it really is. This was also the perfect place for John to test the worth of his 3500 lumen headlight.

After thrashing around a bit, we decided to go check out what was marked on the survey as “Alabaster fish” and  “the grave”. Alabaster fish must have been a joke or something as Steven returned from a dusty long crawl with nothing to show for it.

Image of "the grave" by Terence Stewart

But “the grave” payed off.  Although this is probably only the product of a bored caver, sitting around while the rest of the team surveyed Texas?

We also found an ancient “Groovy Orange” soda can, probably dating back to the 60’s or 70’s that had a stalagmites starting to form on it.

On the way out we were reminded again, why Dirk van Rooyen is not human. While the rest of us carefully climbed up the pitches, with the reassurance of the handline, Dirk looked like he was flying up the climbs.

Back on the surface a welcoming committee was waiting for us in the form of mine security armed with an R4 Rifle. He obviously didn't get the memo that we were caving there. Luckily this misunderstanding was cleared out without problem.

Thanks to Pete Kenyon for organising the trip.

And the cavers for the the day:
John and Selena Dickie
Steven Tucker
Terence Stewart
Gerrie Pretorius
Irene Kruger
Dirk van Rooyen
and mohawk Yoda, the cave formation.

An unforgettable trip!
Image of the cavers by Terence Stewart

Image of mohawk Yoda: Terence Stewart

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