Sunday 29 May 2016

Serunecjar - 26 & 27 March 2016 by Karin Human

A long and winding gravel road became a wrong turn and finally we managed to get on the right track. The start basically set the trend for our early morning scouting to find Serunecjar. After paying the Queen for the privilege, we set off on our endeavour which eventually had the thick, thorny bushes echoing our laughter and high spirits. 

Climbing towards an idea of a destination became a real eventful adventure. Irene had a stare-off with a few of the cows we regularly encountered. We were in their world and the thought did arise that they were not used to seeing creatures like us. A cow came across Irene and after a few seconds of staring, Irene told this cow Stop staring at me... I’m human!  Belly laughs could be heard from all over the side of the mountain. Selena just moved on. Cows or no cows. One was bobbing its head in an attempt to scare her away, but she met the beast head on. He scurried away. 

Selena and I eventually decided to sit on a rock and do a deep meditation which will float her over the side of the mountain in order for us to find the cave entrance. It was round about this point where a local eventually came up the mountain to show the way. He must have watched the spectacle of brightly clothed cavers scrambling about on narrow cattle tracks. 

Triumphantly, Selena and I were the first at the cave. The group soon after were all gathered on the rocky slopes and one final orientation was given. Steven and Irene were on a mission. There are no known surveys of this cave and they would be spending the day getting vital information in order for a map to be produced. The rest of the group found their way down to the basin of this really magnificent first chamber. 

A steep slope awaited us and loose rocks made for careful stepping. It was evident not much caving is done in this section and it soon became apparent as to why. Every crawl through or climb down were dead ends or ended in sheer drop offs with little hope of getting down without some rigging. John went ahead and after a very slow climb down we found a really slippery chamber. To the left it steeply sloped down. John made it up a mud wall which were shimmering a glow of an almost impossible gradient at which we were to ascent. He had a hand line down and Pedro decided to go first. Three steps up; he slipped and met the muddy floor with little grace. We decided to find another way. 

There were no definite route and it stirred a lot of excitement. John disappeared a lot and we kind of followed suit. We got to a small chamber with lots of tree roots dangling from the roof. Pedro was really excited about the formations in this particular room. There was evidence of huge volcanic eruptions followed by a river time. In other parts we visited huge Stromatolites decorated the ceiling in all its splendour. What makes this finding so significant is that a river time did exist. Shallow seas became rivers as volcanoes erupted forming land. After the river band in the rock, more volcanic ash was noted in the next band. 

Pedro is an encyclopaedia of knowledge and although I can’t remember the names of everything, the process of the evolution we witnessed within the library of layers was humbling and mind blowing. You can’t look at Geology and not feel a tug somewhere in your being. I think this is what is meant by looking, but not seeing. 

We made it up a smooth rock to where we found Irene and Steven getting on with the survey. We decided to get back to the entrance and see if there was not another way in. Regrouped, we found corridor on the left side. This corridor led to a magnificent chamber. A huge snow white speleothem in the middle imitated the image of a dragon holding his head high. The floor was covered in soft mud, but not as slippery as the ones found in the other chambers. The chamber stretched out as far as your light allowed you to see. Enormous stomatolites decorated the roof. I’ve never seen them that big. We found a few crawls, but way too small and seemingly going nowhere. A few promising climbs ended in places we were before. It felt like we were going in circles. The right hand side of this chamber had a very slippery mud slide going down and after inspecting and considering options it was decided that we will have to bring some gear down. 

We returned after a refreshing lunch break, armed with rope, ladders and a few other necessities. John was down first. Irene and Steven were down below the mud slide and it turned out to be the chamber where Pedro slid off the mud wall. John rigged a ladder for Steven and Irene. Selena and I turned left to see if we could find something indicating a route leading somewhere. We found a drop off. John climbed down and while trying to figure how to unroll the ladder, not without some humour, Pedro gave us a hand and the pitch was rigged. While going down, it actually seemed like the ladder was more in the way than anything else, but so we learn.  Soon we were all down on the slippery down slide and moving down on your bum, we made it to yet another 2 metre drop. It does not sound like much, but we don’t have Wolverine claws and the mud covered floor was slippery as hell... not just when wet. 

I sat on the edge and got more rope down to John who was busy rigging a pitch around the corner. Looking down I could see holes in the floor to the right side of the narrow, muddy route we have to negotiate. Bright white stalactites can be seen from here. Instinctively, you just know there is something down there that will blow your mind. Being late, we decided we would only rig the route and then return the next day. Steven needs time for the survey and we will be taking advantage of the opportunity to explore this cave.

Day two started with a huge anticipation of what we might find around the corner after John’s comment You ain’t seen nothing yet the previous day. John and Selena had to turn back to camp to fetch some much needed gear forgotten. The rest of the group, with Steven leading, headed out to attempt the arduous task of finding the cave entrance again. Luckily it did not take too long and did not require any leopard crawling through thorny bushes this time around. Don’t ask… That’s a story that will require a few pages. Just let it be known that some members of this group had absolutely no navigation skills when out in the land of sun and wind. 

Steven wanted to get on with the survey and I decided to join him. Sharron, Leon and Pedro decided to wait at the cave entrance for John and Selena. The spacious corridor leading to the Dragon Chamber makes you feel right at home. It’s like an instant switch that floods your body with tranquillity and a sense of belonging. Steven was asking where the Dragon was that was the epicentre of this chamber, but his words faded into an acknowledgement when his light fell on the enormous speleothem. He found his last marker quickly and the work started. 

While surveying the wall slightly to our back, he found a gaping hole above a boulder approximately one and a half metres high. I decided to climb up. A pile of wood was bunched together on the left side of the opening. Not far from the pile a few rocks were arranged in a circle holding the ashes of a recent fire. Dark burn scars on the roof was evident that this must be a regular spot for prayers or something in that direction. To the right a few small carpets were left on a big boulder. The walls and roof had the texture of elephant skin and seem lighter in color than the chamber just below us. Steven joined me to survey this section as well. Keeping to the left a small and narrow crawl led to sunlight. We found another entrance to the cave. Steven was sure it was the entrance noted in a previous exploration. Snakes were found at this entrance, but we decided that this fact doesn’t need confirmation. We headed back to the Dragon Chamber. 

A small gap on the far left stirred Steven’s curiosity. We headed over and I told him that Selena and I tried the two crawls yesterday. The one to the left was just too small and the one on the right was a dead end about 3 metres in. He tried the first one, but even without a helmet it was impossible. He disappeared into the one on the right while I was building a marker. Steven was heading back out of the crawl after he also came to the dead end. I knew he could move fast, but he cleared that crawl in no time. He basically came running out of there on anything that would touch the floor. Hands, knees, feet, head… Apparently there was a spider in there the size of the cows outside that were lazily grazing in the early morning sun. Obviously I kind of giggled. Truth be told, I cried with laughter. He was long gone, up the hill of guano and just kept running, knees up, mumbling something about the spider while wiping some imaginary stuff from his overall. 

At this point the group from outside came strolling into the Dragon Chamber. Leon went to see what the fuss was about and identified the spider as a Sac Spider. John and Selena also joined and we decided to get a move on to the part that was around the corner. That part we were all waiting for. The ropes were muddy from being there overnight and required some careful handling and footing while climbing down the slippery slopes. The group moved slowly. The first ladder followed, then the bum slide to the next slope. John rigged a ladder on this one as well on his way down. We were finally around the corner. 

Sugar Balls Slide demands respect. The rope down had white patches and John warned that those spots were very slippery. With a few rope twists around my arm for extra friction, I carefully started walking backwards. Fine, greyish clay accumulated in my hand as I went down. Indeed a slippery affair. We all made it down safely. The chamber was impressive. Rimmed pools stretched out in front of us and huge speleothems reaching from the floor to the roof. Moments like this leaves you wordless and makes the journey to this point seem trivial. 

The cave built a wall stretching all the way to the other side with small gaps in between. The greatest surprise of this section was the bats. I have never seen so many bats in one place. Attempts not to bother them with our lights seemed futile because wherever you looked they fluttered around. The strong smell of guano was overwhelming. We decided to walk on the left side of the wall because of all the rim pools on the other side. There was another section further left and water could be seen through the gaps. We ventured closer. The pool on this side was about five by three metres and very shallow. The water was very dirty because of bat activity. 

We moved towards the back of the chamber. A narrow corridor with a few boulders and slight down curve took us to another chamber where some of the group already gathered. I found a crawl and Steven joined me in exploring some more. A rather big, flat section with a very low roof followed. We crawled to the other side and found some more places to squeeze through, but mostly it ended abruptly. One section seemed like someone pushed a few boulders into a corridor. Even the roof looked warped. I climbed to the other side hoping to find something. This cave is slowly earning the reputation of inviting you in, more like enticing you, and then just closes the door on you. A narrow slit on the right gave way to another crawl and we decided to see where that went to. We ended up in the chamber where the group were gathered. There are lots of circle routes in here as well. 

This was also the turnaround time. We slowly made our way back to Sugar Ball Slope taking in the beauty of this place with every step. We lingered at the bottom for a few endless moments. Another small gap was found and we made our way down. This small chamber slowly brings you to your knees and a short crawl brings you to the end. This was indeed a very interesting chamber with very unusual formations. It looked like huge cauliflowers hanged from the roof. Some of the curtain formations had teeth like edges and gave this section an eerie, but stunning vibe. As we crawled out, a single snow white formation looked like a little poodle tip toeing somewhere. This chamber is too small to have more than two people in and as one pair left, the next went in. 

Steven decided to continue the survey. Pedro and I stayed behind to give a hand. The rest of the group decided to go back to the upper chamber and explore a big drop that was found the previous day. I built markers and Steven answered a lot of questions regarding surveys and mapping while we meticulously moved towards the other end of the left side of the bat chamber. Near the end of the chamber Pedro and I got in the way of the laser and we moved to a big boulder towards the middle of the room. Surveys are the best way to explore a cave. You get time to really look around and find some amazing stuff. There was a slit next to the rock we waited on and after telling Steven about it, we decided to go down and look if it goes anywhere. 

Notoriously and almost anticipated, it went nowhere. The survey didn’t take too long. Technology is an amazing thing as long as you have battery power to drive it. Towards the end, or what we thought were the end, we found another drop into a chamber that seems just as amazing as the Bat Chamber. Sadly we were running out of all our resources. Time, batteries, water… Nevertheless, it was a job well done. Steven surveyed almost a kilometre of this cave with a depth of fifty two metres. 

Steven took the last few readings, downloaded it and we made our way to the entrance. While going up, we cleared the cave of all our gear, rolling up cave ladders and ropes. It went rather quickly and before we knew we were back in the Dragon Chamber. I daisy chained the rope after Pedro showed me how. Then Steven took it apart, all seventy metres of it and showed me how to do a mountaineer’s roll. We left the cave in high spirits and it would just not feel right if we did not take a few wrong turns on the cattle tracks. We eventually made it down where the rest of the explorers were waiting for us. 

Our laughter echoed endlessly in the final rays of a nearing sunset and a cool breeze ushered us to the camp.  

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Jock’s Cave - 25 March 2016 by Karin Human

Jock’s was the perfect start to a long weekend of caving. 

After a hellish drive in the back of John’s Landy, we found a really good parking spot next to the road. The black tar lazily snaked down between majestic mountains towards a small village not too far down. We were assumedly close to the entrance of Jock’s and after being geared up, John and Steven started to scout the area on the cliff face just above the road. Within a few minute the cave entrance were found and the rest of the caving party climbed to a small opening. 

Our journey started with a short 2m crawl over fine sand. A sharp right turn had us sliding on our bellies down a slope covered in more sand. Beyond the dusty descent a strong smell of wild animal lingered. There were many theories on what kind of animal it could be. John decided to take the Mickey out of the situation. While climbing over the scattered boulders and disappearing around corners, he made it very clear that he was looking for his pet leopard. We found a patch which was an obvious indication that this part was the animal’s toilet area. We moved away not wanting to disturb whatever was living down there. 

The walls and roof looked really tattered in this part of the cave. You get the distinct feeling that the soul of this cave was disintegrating here. The calcite formations were discoloured and it looked like it was skinning its outer layers. Upon close inspection you could see tree-like rings on the deteriorating speleothems. The history of this area’s climate and subtle changes over the years are written in those fine lines. 

We made it to the Pools, which were completely dried out. A calcite formation edged the dark brown muddy wall at the bottom and stretched to the opposite wall forming a small rim. When water is present in caves, it saturates itself on calcite and when the water evaporates, the calcite stays behind forming these rimmed pools. Sadly, all that remain of these stunning water features at this point is a greyish skeleton of former glory. With heavy hearts, we decided to find a way around this section in an attempt not to cause damage to this precious jewel. 

A few minor crawls on a very muddy floor had us entering an upbeat part of the cave. It was like driving into a city with abundant neon lights and lots of evidence of new life. Calcite formations were opulent here and they were growing in random directions. Drops of crystal clear water were hanging at the end of pure white formations. The anticipation of falling and becoming something that mattered to the evolution of this cave stirred excitement in all of us. Caves do restore themselves and although it takes a tremendous amount of time, this knowledge gives us hope that our conservation efforts are not in vain.

The Flag chamber became our next adventure. As we progressed towards this section, formations were more extravagant. The Flag chamber had some very interesting speleothems. They grew forming loops and circles and enticed the photographer in all of us. Sections of the walls were liberally decorated in Argonite. Glittering in our lights, these charming little formations resemble a pincushion. There was also abundant crystal growth in this section. This was truly an amazingly beautiful chamber. 

With John in the front we entered The Minch. A collection of narrow squeezes followed, never allowing you to move from your knees. I remember at some point Selena just wanted to stand upright for a moment, but The Minch would not allow that. It felt like the walls slowly crept closer to your skin, gently hugging the little vacuum left to breathe to almost nothing. Panting and sweating profusely, our tired and oxygen deprived bodies decorated the cave floor of Hebrides. A short slightly downward slide on a smooth rock gave way to a pool of water. The reaction between dolomite and water excretes CO2 and the reality of this was felt on cellular level. The slightest movement had you struggling to breathe. We did not stay too long in this chamber as it was very uncomfortable to say the least. 

Getting back to The Flag chamber felt much quicker than going down. As we moved towards this chamber the higher levels of oxygen dissipated the effects of CO2 and breathing freely became a grateful response. We decided to take an alternative route back to the entrance. Squeezes and crawls were our way of negotiating the route back, but in spectacular fashion. Crystals, Argonite and strangely shaped speleothems decorated the walls, roof and at some points, even the floor. We got to a big chamber and after a bit of careful treading found the adjourning corridor which was our semi-final to the entrance chamber and John’s pet leopard.

I was just about to turn a corner when Sharron called the group back. Selena and I responded, but after a crawl over knife sharp edged rocks and already tender knees and shins, John and Irene decided to wait at the end of this corridor. I would make that crawl a thousand times over after I experienced this almost hidden chamber. 

Just around the corner of the entrance to the corridor, a huge chamber quietly allowed enormous speleothems to embrace the opposite wall, imitating something in the direction of a pipe organ. There were a slight drop off between us and the spectacle and Steven sat on a narrow ledge completely awed by the view. It was a place of silence and amazement. Your eyes can’t translate the beauty that engulfs your senses on a much higher level. 

Steven asked me to come closer. I went and sat next to him, my view totally fixated on the brilliant white formations. The gap in front of us may have been 4m across and 3m deep. In the right hand corner at the bottom of this gap a small crevice revealed a pool of jade splendour. The crystal clear water allowed our lights to penetrate to the bottom where an invitation lurked a deep wish. A moment became lost in translation of who we eventually become. To me, this was the paramount experience of this cave. It was like we were allowed a few seconds gazing into the soul, the heart of millions of years of preparation just for us to see. We were truly blessed to be here and I will always treasure that moment of self realisation.

We regrouped and made our way to the exit. The crawl out went quickly, but not without a few nervous giggles while spiders scurried around trying to avoid being squished by our bodies. Cars travelling past the rumbling strips outside echoed strangely through the usually quiet and serene space inside. The ledge at the entrance does not accommodate many bodies, but a few of us remained there for a few minutes, drinking the last few rays of the disappearing sun. 

Karin Human

Monday 2 May 2016

SEC SRT Training and Armageddon, 14, 15 May 2016

Hi SEC Members

We will be having a SRT training day. This is for new members and members who just want to practise their SRT. Then all those who are proficient at SRT have an opportunity to apply this at THE BIG ONE! We will go to Armegeddon on Sunday with the plan of doing the Bat Hole, which means a 50m SRT into and out of the sinkhole; and a further three SRT opportunities in the bat hole.

Saturday 14 May: SRT training 3pm onwards, at 64 Patton Place, Tedderfield, JHB. If you do not have your own caving harness, you can use club equipment. There will be an instruction to learn to make your own personal safety and foot loops. You can buy the rope from the club, about R160, or bring your own 1,5m 9mm dynamic and 2,5m 8mm static.
Sunday 15 May: meet at 9am; intersection of N12 and R28. This is a members only trip and you must be SRT proficient.

RSVP John 073 985 8068. Club harnesses are limited so please book your space.