The Huautla Resurgence Project 2016 Expedition, Mexico

By ANDREAS KLOCKER | Southern Tasmanian Caverneers, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

March 2016, and I’m off to Mexico again – the third year in a row. The previous two years I joined the Proyecto Espeleológico Sistema Huautla (PESH), an American-led expedition with the goal of continuing exploration of Sistema Huautla, a 1545m deep and about 75km long cave system located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca (see here for an article of last year’s trip).

The furthest explored downstream part of this cave system is a huge Sump known as “Sump 9” or “The mother of all Sumps” which had been discovered on an expedition led by Bill Stone in 1994 (Stone and am Ende, 1995). Also have a read of Beyond the Deep: The Deadly Descent into the World’s Most Treacherous Cave by Bill Stone and Barbara am Ende for an interesting account of this trip (Stone, et al., 2002).

It was only in 2013 that cavers returned to Sump 9 on a British expedition organised by Chris Jewell. On this trip Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell pushed Sump 9 to a depth of 81 metres at 440 metres penetration, with the underwater tunnel barrelling off to greater depths (Jewell, 2013).

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Bunda Cliffs, Nullarbor Plain

By ALAN JACKSON Southern Tasmanian Caverneers | As an arrogant, self-righteous Tasmanian I’ve always been of the opinion that the North Island has nothing to offer me as a caver.

I kept a clean sheet for 15 years but am now sorry to report that I’ve blotted my copy book and set foot inside a mainland cave. Of course in truth I only went for the above-ground scenery. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Cave Exploration Group of South Australia (CEGSA) have a long association with cave exploration on the Nullarbor, mainly the traditional entrances on the plain itself but also the cliffs associated with the Great Australian Bight.

I understand the first serious cliff cave exploration started after CEGSA members hired a light plane in 1988 to fly along the cliffs and document cave entrances.

Since the late ‘90s a subset of CEGSA members, calling themselves the Banunga Cavers, have been taking it more seriously and, with improving tools and technology, they have become increasingly effective and efficient.

Armed with aerial footage of the cliff faces, Google satellite imagery, grappling hooks and an infectious passion for the area, the Banunga Cavers are systematically exploring and documenting the caves of the Bunda Cliffs section of ‘The Bight’.

I was fortunate enough to cross paths with this group in 2014 and convince them I should join their July 2015 expedition.

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Exploration beyond the sumps of Red Ball Canyon, Sistema Huautla, Mexico

By ANDREAS KLOCKER | Southern Tasmanian Caverneers, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Last year I had the chance of joining an expedition with the aim of extending Sistema Huautla, situated in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Sistema Huautla is one of the largest and deepest cave systems in the world, and probably one of the most beautiful.

Apart from a British expedition in 2013 to dive the most-downstream-known sump (Sump 9, aka the “Mother of all Sumps”), many years had passed without any significant exploration taking place.

This was in 2014, the beginning of a 10-year project called the Proyecto Espeleológico Sistema Huautla (PESH), whose aim it is to restart exploration of this cave system and extend it from then approx. 64 kilometers length and 1,545 meters depth to over 100 kilometers in length and a vertical mile (1.6km) in depth.

Before the successful expedition in 2014 was over I knew I wanted to come back the following year, but this time with a particular project in mind.

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Growling Swallet: The Niggly Connection Project

Photography: LIZ ROGERS

By STEPHEN FORDYCE

Background: JF-36 Growling Swallet is a particularly extensive and significant cave in the Junee-Florentine area of Tasmania, and has been known since the time of early European settlement.

The cave has a very impressive opening in the form of a slot in a cliff, with a significant creek flowing into it in summer, and by all accounts a practically unimaginable torrent of water in winter. The water has been dye traced to emerge from Junee Cave, approx. 8km away as the crow flies and Growling Swallet is generally considered to be one of the major feeders to this system.

With over 11km of surveyed passages, many of which are of “master cave” proportions, and at present four entrances, the Growling Swallet system is big — and complicated. Being a streamway cave with lots of water, there are inevitably passages which terminate in sumps.

Additionally, only about 500m separated it from the nearby Niggly Cave, which apart from having Australia’s longest free-hanging pitch (a ball-breaking 190m) is a big system in itself. Also a probably more likely (and exciting) prospect is making a connection to the Porcupine Pot/Tassy Pot/Owl Pot master cave system which is kind of in the middle.

There is big potential for discovery of gigantic “classic master cave” streamway passages, which already exist in Niggly, which ends (both upstream and downstream) in gigantic rockpiles.

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Elk River Cave Update

Results from the Second Diving Project in the Murrindal Potholes Eastern Master Cave

Photography: LIZ ROGERS

PETER FREEMAN VSA | The Murrindal Potholes Reserve, on the hills above the small town of Buchan, is Victoria’s premier cave area. It has always been a fun place — hardly any great caves, but enough quantity of smallish vertical caves to keep us quite busy.

Annoyingly, the deepest of the caves all bottomed out at around 60 m depth and none led to significant active water.

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Cave temperature study could improve climate change predictions

BROOKE GRANT UNSW | Researchers studying the hydrology of Wellington Caves in central NSW have made a discovery that challenges a key assumption used to reconstruct past climates from cave deposits.

Published in Nature’s open access journal Scientific Reports, the research found that there can be a 1.5ºC difference between the temperature of the air in the cave and the drip water that forms the stalactite.

Stalactites and other cave formations, collectively known as speleothems, form when rainwater drips from the surface into the cave system, picking up minerals along the way that solidify once exposed to the cave air.

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Vietnam 2014

We rushed back up the track to find Sweeny kneeling on the ground with Martin’s unconscious and bloodied head resting on his lap. Shit! An unconscious patient with head injuries is not what you want one and a half day’s walk into the jungle …

ALAN JACKSON STC | A mob of pommy cavers (BCRA), led by the irrepressible Howard and Deb Limbert, have been leading caving expeditions to Vietnam since the early 1990s.

I’m sure all of you have heard of Hang Sơn Đoòng—‘the biggest cave in the world’—which has featured in National Geographic and innumerable online publications since its exploration in 2009 on a previous BCRA expedition.

In March-April 2014 I was lucky enough to tag along for the first four weeks of the most recent six-week expedition, having scored a highly coveted invite thanks to the good work of previous Vietnam expeditioners Trevor Wailes and Andy McKenzie; I knew being nice to those two and pretending I like them would pay dividends in the end.

Aside from Hang Sơn Đoòng, countless other epic caves of grand proportions have been discovered, explored and mapped over the last 30-odd years on Howard and Deb’s expeditions.

Many of the early discoveries are now major tourist caves. A thriving tourism industry has been created in the once sleepy rural Quảng Bình province.

The 2014 expedition’s aims were to continue the exploration of the massive limestone landscape between the coast and the Laos border. On my first evening Howard excitedly sat me down with topographic maps of the area and showed me the location and extent of the known caves, the total area prospected since 1990 and the remaining extent of the karst area that is yet to be looked at.

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Cliefden Struggle Continues

Cliefden Flat with Fossil Hill, left, and the island
Cliefden Flat with Fossil Hill, left, and the island

IAN CURTIS Orange Speleological Society (OSS) | In the last Caves Australia Issue 198 I wrote of the alarm that has been caused by the NSW state government’s proposals to build a new dam on the Belubula River and our fear that this will inundate much of the Cliefden cave system.

I outlined what will be lost if the proposed dam is built — decorated caves, a hot spring, tufa dams, bat habitat and maternity sites, Fossil Hill, a scientific research site, cultural sites both indigenous and early colonial, valuable agricultural land ­— and the steps initiated to fight this proposal.

The Save Cliefden Caves Committee (SCCC), formed in July by OSS in conjunction with the NSW Speleological Council to organise the defence, has proven unwieldy, and split into two: a Sydney group, working through the Nature Conservation Council, and a local group headed by OSS and supported by the NSWSC and ASF.

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