Monday 14 March 2016

NH3 – 13 March 2016

A chatty group met at an intersection between somewhere and nowhere to do some worthwhile exploring of a nearby cave. Or so we thought. The friendly and accommodating owner welcomed us at the big, sliding wooden gate and a long dirt road awaited us. Driving to this cave was just as challenging as the cave itself turned out to be. As we progressed, the dirt road became a two spore road and eventually diminished to no road at all. We followed the owner though stretched out grass lands hoping that nothing hides in the grass that could cause damage to our vehicles.
We finally made it to a large patch of trees and the fleet of explorers came to a grinding halt, ecstatic that the trek through the grasslands had finished. In good spirit everyone got geared up and we ventured to a place of dark mystery.
The first few pitches were relatively easy and we progressed quite quickly. Doused in darkness and looking down from a small ledge, it looked like a Himalayan footpath snaking down. Headlights shone from all directions, some seemed to be from holes carved into the cave walls. Voices echoed from all over as instructions were given by the more experienced cavers. Indeed a very technical climb, but a lot of fun. You finish a pitch, slide around the corner and start the next one. Finally everyone gathered at the bottom after a descent totalling 42m.
The soft swirl of what felt like a breath next to my face and an audible flapping of wings was evidence of bat activity. We were in their space and whether out of curiosity of fear, they popped in and out of our space at random times. Again, as many times before, it was such a privilege to be there. The first corridor meticulously moved you to your knees and ended in crawling over rocks. Moving them aside made it easier as the cave floor is covered in soft soil.
The first chamber was spacious. On the right side there was a slope stretching a bit back with a small crevice to the right bottom. We climbed to the top to see if there were any suggestive little crawl through to entice the explorer within. Indeed there was and John needed no invite. His light disappeared. In the mean time, our musician got himself through the crevice at the bottom of the slope and soon the happy voices of John and him merged into a choir of where to now? It turned out to be some kind of dead end.
Towards the left wall of the chamber a huge pile of guano lurked a greyish coat of growing fungus. Pedro decided to dive into it and we all instantaneously understood where the name NH3 came from when a cloud of strong ammonia filled our nostrils. The group went on exploring. Although the corridor is mapped as straight, it felt like a maze of crawls, squeezes and very seldom, places where you could stand upright.
Evidence of water flow quite recently begged the question of why. Steven and Dirk were very informative. In heavy rains the sinkholes gather a lot of water very quickly. It floods the caves. Although it happens rapidly, it eases just as quickly. Lesson for the day: If it does happen, find a higher spot and wait it out.
Bones were abundant in this section and it was obvious that it got washed in, but it did encourage Selena to play with the idea of us needing to find the creature that left the bone trail. Needless to say, a few nervous giggles rising from all over resulted in a good chuckle as everyone pitched ideas of how they got there. We pushed onwards. Some of the squeezes were relentlessly scraping off skin, leaving little cave kisses all over cavers in pursuit of that one significant moment. Whether victoriously getting on the other side of a squeeze or finding something extraordinary, we all were one in our idea of what we’re there for.
After some gruelling work involving crawling, squeezing and contemplating footing, we found ourselves in the sky chamber. A steep slope was our final ascent to a few scattered boulders which became a perfect resting place to refresh. The group decided to push forward to Karin’s Rolling Mill. The squeezes were really mean in this section. Sometimes you could only worm yourself through and other times you could grab some nice hand holds and pull yourself forward. The angles were just wrong inside these squeezes and space was almost nonexistent. Getting to the small chamber giving access to Karin’s Rolling Mill left us all breathless. Except for Dirk and Steven who decided they will attempt getting their bodies through the two solid rock plates which seems to be angling up and down. It looked like rolling hills.
The rest of the group decided to find their way back to the Sky Chamber where some members were waiting. Reunited, we started the painful journey back to the entrance. I think everyone lost track of the amount of crawls and squeezes we did, but the evidence of a serious cave was mapped on all the bodies that encountered NH3.
The final climb was an epilogue of an amazing caving experience and the first light rays had everybody smiling. As the tired, but satisfied cavers emerged one by one, it was totally apparent that each of us took something home with us. We are better versions of ourselves today than yesterday.
We were finally on our way back home. The grassland drive felt really long (maybe just for some of us... like only 2 of us) but we all made it safely home.
Karin Human



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