I remember the first time I was invited to go caving. I had no idea what it was. I was told to bring some shoes I wouldn’t mind getting muddy, and strongly advised to wear overalls.
For those, like me, completely unaware of what this is, I’ll try and enlighten you!
Caving essentially involves the exploration of a cave.
But it’s not the kind where it’s well set up, with a comfortable stroll through an organised caving system that’s been opened for public viewing.
It is climbing, squeezing and pushing yourself through holes, over rocks and between whatever gap you can find.
That first time was a trip to Labertouche (about an hour east of Melbourne). It’s a pretty good one to get you introduced to caving – and the overalls aren’t THAT important there.
It’s when you want to try some of the harder stuff – a weekend trip to Buchan caves – and that’s when things get a little more serious.
This trip, like my first to Labertouche, was through the Monash Uni Outdoors Club.
Our leader for the weekend, my friend Steve, is a pretty keen caver (he even goes cave diving – hardcore!) so he organised to have us set up at Homeleigh for the weekend.
This is a huuuuuge old property on the outskirts of Buchan. It’s got an enormous number of bedrooms, a huge kitchen, and is pretty much set up for anyone to stay, as long as they come with all the necessary gear (e.g. sleeping bags etc). Did I mention it’s cheap?
We headed off on Friday night after work – it’s a 4 hour drive out of Melbourne, unless you manage to leave in the middle of peak hour…
The following morning, with Steve’s loud “welcome to Woooooorld of tomorrooooowwww” accompanied by, I can only presume, a spoon banging against a pot outside every door, we started the “attempt” at getting things moving. But with typical large groups, and a few people feeling a little average after some of the shenanigans the night before (it is a uni club after all) it wasn’t until 10 that we headed off. But we still had plenty of time to explore a couple of caves!
Our first cave was a good “you’re about to spend the weekend underground, so settle in and get used to it” kind of cave.
With a super easy entrance point located just below the carpark, it was a simple stroll in, and it wasn’t long before we were squeezing our way through some small spaces between rocks and finding ourselves in a huge open cavern!
Already impressed with what we were finding underground, the fun continued as we squeezed our way feet first between some rock “slides”. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it if you don’t like small spaces, but who could resist?
And then we managed to just walk out of the cave – something I didn’t experience for the rest of the weekend!
On to cave number two…
Following a short, “steep” drive to Slocombe’s Cave Reserve, it was time to take our caving to the next level – a ladder climb.
To get myself prepared and with the hope of getting rid of that fear that was building in my chest (I believe it was an eight metre pitch…), I kept a close watch as the first group went down.
After the eight of them had safely made it, and with a strong request that they didn’t move on until I was safe and on the ground again, I began my climb.
Steve had set up a very comforting safety belay, so I had a rope sitting snug beneath my arms which he kept tight as I put my first foot on the ladder.
The beginning of the pitch saw me moving across the surface of the rounded edge of the rock, and soon opened up into the ladder hanging free, and therefore moving a lot, as I continued down.
Then I made it – my feet hit the bottom and the fear of falling subsided. I tried not to think about the return climb back up – there was a cave to explore first!
Aside from the difficult ladder climb, the rest of the cave was pretty perfect for us beginners. The cave is huge with so many options for routes, huge open caverns, mixed in with a few small squeezes.
Slocombe’s has a circular route as you go through so we were able to make our way down one path, only to return to the via another.
And thank God for that!
We’d found ourselves in a small cavern of sorts, and we’re searching for the way forward, when we had a glimpse of the others. Unfortunately, where we saw them was not in a particularly easy spot to get to, and before we could ask if that was the right way, they’d disappeared!
Without realising there was an alternative (easier) way, we all took on the challenge.
Check out a video of one of us getting across here!
At least coming back out the easier way was also a bit of fun – feet first through a small hole with a bit of drop on the other side!
With a whole new day of exploration ahead of us, we moved on to the “Potholes” – a dedicated caving zone with upwards of 100 caves within it’s limits.
With such an abundance of options, the group again split in two, separating ourselves amongst the caves.
My group got started with Fissure Cave, which, in my opinion, was the… Hardest. Cave. Ever!
After finally locating the “old rotton log” and the “blueberries” on top, we ventured in, and the struggles were immediate.
Steve had told us to head on in and turn right at the end. Of course he was leaving out the small detail that the turn to the right was actually up at about head height.
But we all took on the challenge, and with a few questionable moments, we made it up and through.
I can definitely advise that you’ll want to be moving feet first through this short section. Almost immediately this opens up into what I can only presume is the namesake for the cave – a fissure! And boy, was it a good one (ok… Maybe it’s just the only one I’ve ever seen in a cave…).
And so with my feet extending across to the rocks facing me on the other side, I looked to my left and realised that to continue on required me to wedge myself between the rocks, my back and knees keeping myself in place, with what seemed like a huge drop below me (did you get I didn’t like heights earlier?).
But not wanting to give up on what I was expecting to be something pretty amazing at the bottom, I propped myself up and started the very slow shimmy down to the bottom.
Almost all of us made it to the bottom, and started the exploration for what we’d believed we were coming in to see…
In case you get to Buchan yourselves, I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s not actually anything down here to see!
But you know what? Now that I’ve done it, I can definitely say it was a bit of fun getting down that fissure…
Coming back up was a challenge to be had as well! Even if we were all utterly exhausted and sore once we got back to the top.
Fortunately, the only injuries were some bruised knees – and you need them to say you’ve properly been caving, right?
Saying that, take your knee pads if you’re going to go into this cave.
Here’s how my legs looked Sunday night…
Next up we had a quick trip through Baby Berger. With another ladder climb (we’re literally pro’s now) – we headed straight underground. With orange tape guiding us along, it didn’t take us long to get as far as we could go, and so we stopped to enjoy the dark view of a long, loooong drop, where those keen cave divers can abseil to get to their Elk River dive.
We didn’t miss out on all the fun though, with a couple of interesting spots to squeeze through and the scenery getting more amazing:
Finally, we were on to the last cave of the weekend – Honeycomb.
This is arguably one of the more exciting caves, in terms of the rock formations you get to see. And a lucky thing too – we were all starting to feel pretty exhausted (especially the Fissure cave crew).
With our last ladder climb down (it’s pretty tough after you’ve been through the other caves earlier, or maybe that’s just me?), we descended further and further underground.
Then after one awkward little section where you can’t quite see where the bottom is as you squeeze yourself through, the cave opens up and you get to see some of the most amazing rock formations!
Unfortunately, I gave up pretty quickly in this cave (energy levels had disappeared!) and so you’ll have to go check it out yourself to see what else there was to see. 🙂
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