Newcomers start here – The BASICS

Welcome to Under Victoria. I really hope you leave this website knowing enough to get underground, in one way or another.

This page for newcomers to the concept of caving.

Firstly, caving is not cave diving – the caving this website details is all ‘dry’ caving. Whilst there is often water in caving, ‘dry’ caving does not require any kind of special SCUBA gear. This is a very common misconception.

So – what do cavers to down there? We go under, over, around, beneath, behind, beside, down, up, through and any other direction you can think of, in the process of exploring new and exciting cave environments. You might compare it to rock climbing but in three dimensions, and initially heading down instead of up. We don’t always wear harnesses and ropes like climbers do, but there is some cross over and generally climbers taking to caving quickly and naturally.

Left to right, Andy Higgins, Peter Freeman, Tom Aberdeen (Author), Doug Henry and Helen Higgins (who got changed quickly!) after a 6 hour trip into Elk River Cave. Photo by Doug Henry

Left to right, Andy Higgins, Peter Freeman, Tom Aberdeen (Author), Doug Henry and Helen Higgins (who got changed quickly!) after a 6 hour trip into Elk River Cave. Photo by Doug Henry

Different people get into caving for different reasons, and enjoy particular aspects of the activity. I would loosely divide this into six categories.

Acrobatics

There is often scrambling and climbing involved (although if the climb is more than a few metres we would use an aid such as a ladder or a handline). There is often also squeezing involved. Tight squeezes freak out a lot of people, but the rule of thumb is that if you are okay in an elevator, you will be fine in a squeeze, and if you can get into a squeeze, then you can get out too. Suffice to say, the energetic nature of caving attracts many people.

Beauty

We also go for the beauty of caves. All sorts of things abound such as stalactites, stalagmites, straws, rock formations, helictites (beautiful calcite formations that defy gravity), gypsum decoration and all sorts of other crystalline formations. All of these decorations can be large and incredibly beautiful. Things like large chambers and underground rivers can also be very beautiful. Many cavers get into cave photography with elaborate equipment, and that is a science in itself.

Geology

We go for the geology. It is fascinating to delve into how the caves are formed, how they vary with age, and why the cave is the way that it is. It isn’t interesting for everyone, but if you have a scientific bent you might be interested in researching caves from a geomorphological perspective. This is something that people tend to start to notice when they have been caving for a little while.

Sport

We certainly go caving for the sport. Can you imagine abseiling down a vertical shaft the size of a 20-story building, surrounding by shimmering crystals, with no view of the top or the bottom, just your rope fading into the blackness beneath you? Ropework in caves gets quite technical for reasons I won’t go into now, but a lot of people get into the vertical side of caving where there are lots of toys the play with and lots of opportunity for technical and complex manoeuvres.

Meeting people

We go for the mateship and social opportunities, like many other hobbies and subcultures. I’ve met so many amazing people through caving and developed lifelong friends. Quite in a cave often a team will work as a unit, with each person filling a role of some sort, especially when it comes to vertical caving where rigging systems are needed. And a beer and a meal together after a long hard day of caving is very special. Caving certainly attracts interesting people, and there are dozens of caving clubs in Australia, and many more around the world.

And most of all….

The holy grail that every caver dreams of, is the chance to stand in a spot where nobody has ever stood before. Finding virgin cave is amazing. It doesn’t happen often, and normally doesn’t happen easily. Whilst cavers differ on the other categories I have just mentioned, the attraction to finding new cave is almost totally universal.

Cavers are curious souls, always wondering what is around that corner or down that passage. We thrive on the unknown. When you combine mystery, technical aspects, geology, aesthetic beauty and mateship you have the best hobby in the world. The more caving you do, and better you become, and more you learn, the more you will enjoy it.

 

The entrance to Buchan's most popular cave, Wilsons Cave

The entrance to Buchan’s most popular cave, Wilson’s Cave

Which caves are the best for beginners in Buchan?

Day 1: Saturday

Here is my virtual beginners caving trip for your information. The caves I usually present are: Wilson’s Cave on Saturday Morning. This is a walk in and walk out cave where you learn your basic skills (how to climb, how to squeeze, etc). After lunch, Dickson’s A & B Caves (if the bats aren’t in torpor through Winter), and Parks Victoria are okay with it. If it is Winter, or the ranger says no, then a trip to Slocombe’s cave on Saturday Afternoon which is an intro to ladders, but its only really 4 or 5 metres of ladder until you can step off onto a large rock then climb down. All cavers on belay whilst using a caving ladder – See the laddering section for more information.

Day 2: Sunday

Day 2 is the choice! If the beginners have taken to caving naturally, have not struggled with anything, aren’t worn out and were okay on the ladder in Slocombe’s Cave then it’s into Honeycomb which will take a good four hours. Often if it is a group of outdoor types (especially rock climbers and cave divers), then they will be fine to get straight into Honeycomb. Honeycomb is still ultimately an easy cave, but has a deeper ladder entrance of about 7 metres, and has more climbing and squeezing, some of which is exposed (above or near to big drops). If you do Honeycomb, get your leader to do the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ for you. If they don’t know the way, they probably shouldn’t be leading Honeycomb. It is also very well decorated in areas. A very good cave. Don’t worry though, if you don’t do it now you can do it next time. If you are disregarding my advice and you have somehow found Honeycomb, I would urge you to re-consider. There has been at least one rescue for lost cavers, and a leader will show you more than you’ll find on your own.

Want to get wet?

If the group was a little weaker, or everyone is just feeling like an easy fun cave, then a trip into M4 which is a stream cave can be good, and beginners often enjoy it due to getting to splash around in the stream. It is radically different to the other caves. Sometimes M4 is ‘sumped off’ (the water is too high to pass) but when the water is down there are two very impressive chambers and a lot of good live decoration. You need a minimum of 2 sets of polypropylene thermal underwear with overalls on top for M4, or if you are the type who feels the cold easily then a wetsuit. The water is cold, although not as cold as Tasmania or other serious caving areas. In M4 normally you’ll be totally immersed in water up to your neck at least once. While you are moving generally it’s okay, but if you stop for any reason you cool down quickly. Be careful, and take in spare dry clothes in a dry bag.

If the cavers don’t want to get wet, or don’t have the safety gear needed for a wet cave, then the final backup cave is Razor, although this has a very tight jagged awkward and generally pain in the bum squeeze not far in, which is challenging and has trapped multiple people for quite some time.

If you are a beginner going to Buchan, these are the caves I would recommend you do (unless of course you have permits or know a local). I guarantee an amazing weekend.

Lost cavers? Good to carry a map! Photo by Topaz Aral

Lost cavers? Good to carry a map! Photo by Topaz Aral

I hope that explains why we go caving at what it is all about :)

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