Jenolan Caves: The complete guide

Published by Critical Concepts Pty Ltd, Brisbane, 2013, 268 pp, images, diagrams, endpapers.

Book Review by ANDY SPATE | Mark Hallinan has produced a wonderful guide to the Jenolan Caves.


This book ranks with Beneath the Surface: A natural history of Australian caves (Brian Finlayson and Elery Hamilton-Smith, 2003, (eds.), University of New South Wales Press) as one of the two “best” books on Australian caves.

Jenolan Caves wins hands down on a tourism-orientated rather than scientific approach. Each has its place. However, the science in Hallinan’s book is remarkably well done.

This profusely illustrated guide to the world-famous Jenolan Caves is a remarkable book on many fronts. Conceived as a project to fill a “gap-year” it clearly grew into a much grander concept.

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Exitravaganza 2013 and 2014

SARAH GILBERT and TONY VENESS STC | During the summers of 2013 and 2014, week-long expeditions were run once again as part of the ongoing Exit Cave Mapping Project at Ida Bay in Southern Tasmania.

STC, in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), organised these third and fourth summers of surveying and sketching.

A comfortable base camp was established outside the Exit Cave resurgence to support the main periods of work.

This article details the achievements of the 2013 and 2014 expedition seasons. Readers are referred to CA Issue 189 (PDF) for background to this project and the surveying protocols developed.

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Cliefden Caves in Danger

IAN CURTIS Orange Speleological Society (OSS) | Cliefden NSW, with its caves, world-renowned Fossil Hill, tufa dams, hot spring and cultural sites is in danger of being flooded.

The NSW government is proposing to build another dam on the Belubula River and money has been set aside for a feasibility study and construction.

How can the Federal government, on one hand, be trying to return water to the Murray-Darling and the State government, on the other, be considering extracting it?

The idea was publicly raised by the Federal National Party Member for Calare, John Cobb.

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Cliefden Caves: Repair of the Donkey Tail


GARRY K SMITH NHVSS | The ‘Donkey Tail’ is a stalactite which formed in a passage initially above the water table and was then submerged in a pool of calcite-saturated water for a long time.

As very slow CO2 degassing and water evaporation has occurred, over time the calcite coming out of solution has been deposited as spar crystals. These crystals have completely covered this and other stalactites as well as the surrounding walls of the passage.

At some point after the crystals had been deposited there would have been a flood event which deposited a very fine film of orange-brown clay over all the speleothems in the passage.

Continue reading Cliefden Caves: Repair of the Donkey Tail

Rescue of Trapped Cavers at Bungonia


Click here for larger version of map.

ANDREW BAKER and MICHAEL FRASER NSW Cave Rescue Squad Inc. | On Monday 17th February 2014 three missing cavers were rescued from a flooded passage in Bungonia Caves, south of Sydney.

This is an overview of the NSW Cave Rescue Squad’s involvement in the rescue and notes lessons learned.

Just prior to midnight on 16th February 2014, members of the NSW Cave Rescue Squad (CRS) were made aware of a possible callout involving a search for a small group of cavers who were reported overdue in Bungonia Caves.

An hour later a CRS first response team, consisting of seven CRS personnel, was dispatched in response to a request for assistance from the Goulburn Police Rescue Squad (PRS).

Initial details of the incident were scarce, with reports of a group of three cavers overdue in the well-known Fossil Cave-Hogans Hole cave system, B4-5, possibly as a result of flooding.

Continue reading Rescue of Trapped Cavers at Bungonia

Caving at Altitude in Peru


Expedition background

In early 2000, Les Oldham, a British geologist and caver living and working in Peru, noted a series of large open shafts in the Yauyos district of southern Peru that were taking the waters flowing out of Lago Pumacocha at the grand old height of 4400 m above sea level (asl).

Nick Hawkes, another Peruvian-based geologist and caver, subsequently descended the first part of the entrance shafts and discovered that the cave continued beyond the daylight zone. This inspired three years of expeditioning to the region.

Speculation had arisen over the years as to whether major cave development at high altitude is possible, with early French, American and Brazilian-led Peruvian trips not being as successful as hoped.

The common theory was that the rain water falling at high altitude had not absorbed sufficient CO2, which in turn makes it acidic and speeds the process of cave development.

Although the theory may still be correct, the 2001-2004 Yauyos expeditions proved major cave development at height was possible by recording the deepest cave known in South America to be Sima Pumacocha at -638m and Qaqa Mach’ay at 4930 m (asl) to be the highest surveyed cave in the world.

The Andes is the longest and second highest mountain chain on Earth, extending over 9000km through South America. It has formed above an active subduction zone which continues to push the oceanic crust of the Pacific beneath the continental crust of South America.

Click any image in the Gallery below to see a bigger versions:

Line of volcanoes

This huge geological activity accounts for the line of volcanoes that intermittently extends along the length of the Andes and has caused older rock formations to be dramatically uplifted into their present positions.

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The Holy Caver, the Blue Demon and the Bulldog

The story of three years of expeditions to the Sierra Negra in Puebla State, Southern Mexico.

Based on articles by GUSTAVO VELA TURCOTT. Translated by ALAN WARILD

Mexico deep cave
The Keyhole, Santito


We’d all heard the story of how the GSAB (Grupo Espeleológico Alpino Belga) had stopped exploration of Sótano de Akemabis at –1015 m at the edge of a 30 m drop because they were out of time and had never returned.

That was in 1990 and part of a series of expeditions to the Sierra Negra in the south of Puebla State. Over the years the GSAB had moved the focus of their explorations and had left the area behind.

Motivated by rumours that Akemabis continued, and tired of stressful big expeditions with way too much hype attached, three of us, Franco Attolini, Gustavo Vela and Al Warild, organised a low key expedition of 30 days, 13 cavers (from six nationalities, although most were Mexicans).

Click on any image below to explore the Gallery. All photographs by Gustavo Vela Turcott, unless noted.

Our objectives: have a good time with like-minded anarchist cavers; explore a bit in Akemabis; and, if we had time, do a ‘tourist’ descent of Pozo Verde, another 1000 m deep cave in the area.

Of our three objectives, we accomplished only one.

Continue reading The Holy Caver, the Blue Demon and the Bulldog

Vietnam: Cave of the Mountain River

The first river crossing of Son Doong at base camp with the upstream sump in the distance
The first river crossing of Son Doong at base camp with the upstream sump in the distance

Hang Son Doong — Cave of the Mountain River

TREVOR WAILES STC | This is a brief account of my part in the joint British-University of Hanoi expedition of 2010 to the truly remarkable Hang Son Doong (cave of the mountain river) in Vietnam.

The British-Hanoi University expeditions are usually every two years, but with the excitement of the Khe Son Doong discovery, a return trip in 2010 was planned.

In April 2009 an entrance 3 km downstream of Hang En was first entered. Our guide, Mr Khanh, had discovered it many years ago when foraging to supplement his family’s food supply; this was around the close of what the Vietnamese call the American War.

Our group of five was one of four groups that had left our village base at Son Track on a reconnaissance of the Khe Bang massif, a deeply incised limestone block with a general height of 850m but with enclosed river valleys often only 100m above sea level.

Our first night was at Hang En, a massive river cave 1.6 km in length, one of the best camp sites anywhere. It was explored and surveyed by the joint British-University of Hanoi expedition of 1994.

Continue reading Vietnam: Cave of the Mountain River

Annual expedition to Tianxing: 2014

Thousand Year Egg, Da Keng Wan with laid-back author. Nicholaus Vieira photograph
Base of Thousand Year Egg, Da Keng Wan with laid-back author. Nicholaus Vieira photograph


The Hong Meigui Cave Exploration Society (HMG) has been taking on the immense task of exploring the caves of China’s vast limestone geology since January 2001. This year four ASF members were lucky enough to tag along on the annual expedition to the area of Tianxing this past September, enjoying a few weeks of deep vertical cave exploration.

To provide the full background on the history and accolades of HMG would require a lengthy article on its own. A fairly comprehensive website covering the “who, what, where and why” of the society can be found at Hong Meigui Cave.

In a nutshell: China is a bloody big country; a very large percentage of that country is covered with limestone; that limestone is chock full of empty spaces conducive to a sport called ‘caving’.

Here’s a gallery from the 2014 Expedition: Click any image for a larger version.

In the 11 years that HMG has been up and running its members have participated in over 90 expeditions and have explored and surveyed over 388 km of cave.

Continue reading Annual expedition to Tianxing: 2014

Cave Links: June 2014

Explorer trapped in Germany’s deepest cave.

Johann Westhauser was one of the team who discovered the Riesending cave system in Germany in 1995. The thrill was such that he returned, again and again, to discover its extremities. The cave’s name translates as Giant Thing, and it has lived up to the title recently.

Caver Westhauser rescue.
Caver Westhauser rescue.

However, on 6 June, Westhauser was struck by a rockfall, and has been stranded a thousand metres beneath the earth’s surface. His situation triggered perhaps the largest rescue attempt of a caver ever seen in Europe. He has now begun his journey out to sunlight, with the support of more than 200 volunteer rescuers. Read more here

UPDATE June 20: Westhauser was finally brought to the surface after the complex 12-day rescue operation, Bavaria’s mountain rescue service says.

Cave dig unearths 45,000 year old artefacts

An archeological dig has revealed artefacts of early occupation so old they rival the dates of those found at sites of the earliest human settlement in Australia.

The animal bones and charcoal were found at the Ganga Maya Cave (named by traditional owners meaning ‘house on the hill’) in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The cave, close to an active iron ore mine, is of even more significance because it is believed to have been settled continuously and right through the Ice Age up until about 1700 years ago. Read more here