Photographs by Harry Whaite 1912 - 2011

 

 

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GROVELLING.

Adventurers in Tuglow Caves. 

By Beryl Thompson.

The Trampers' Club of NSW. and 

The Coast and Mountain Walkers of NSW

From The Bushwalker 1940.

"Men only in the party," the boys of the Club said when they announced a trip to Tuglow Caves at King's Birthday week-end. The girls were downcast, and, after some discussion, it was agreed that if they could negotiate the first thirty feet descent in one piece they could go the whole way, and three of the fair sex were included in the party.

We drove beyond Jenolan Caves, along the Oberon Road to Edith, and thence through Ginkin to Dennis's "Tuglow View" farm, which stands on a windswept crest overlooking the valley of the Tuglow River. Leaving the car just after dark, we shouldered our packs and walked in bright moonlight to a camp site on the river a mile or so distant. Here we pitched our camp, dined, and slept well, a light rain keeping the night moderately warm.

The following morning, having squeezed our torches, candles, magnesium, matches, and lunches into two small packs, we set off, the boys groaning beneath the burden of two coils of rope—one 300 feet length of one-inch rope, and a 100 feet of half-inch, slung around their necks. We followed up and along a ridge and descended suddenly to the entrance of the Tuglow, or Horse Gully Caves, as they are known locally. I half expected to hear an "open sesame" from the leader, and was disappointed when an uninteresting space between two rocks was indicated as the starting point of our adventure. The thick rope was secured to a nearby tree, and turning our backs on daylight we took the plunge down the first chimney.

We descended slowly, only o:ie being on the rope at a time, to avoid unexpected slackness. Showers of loose pebbles falling on the heads of the lower members, and torch bulbs failing at awkward spots, did not improve matters. The most uncomfortable section was a right-angled tunnel, through which we "wriggled in snake fashion and promptly assembled on the other side to see and hear the effect on the stoutest member of the party. I heard him declare with some feeling that he had again lost those portions of his anatomy which he had taken such pains to replace since his last trip into the caves several months before.

UNIQUE FORMATIONS.

On the first floor, 135 feet below the surface, we sidetracked and, by magnesium light, admired the beauty of the Pink Lampshade, numerous stalactites and stalagmites, and a marvellous miniature pine forest. Here we viewed the scene of the adventures of the first bushwalking party to descend to the lowest level of the io caves some years ago. They eventually succeeded by making a ladder from rope and saplings, and the relics of their handiwork still adorn the walls of the caves. Very faintly rose the sound of the underground stream running 130 feet below, where it tumbles noisily over a series of basin cascades. We returned to our stout friend, who had decided against all unnecessary grovelling and was usefully employing himself in untangling the rope, which had become twisted into an intricate series of knots. The last striking formation we encountered before the last lap was a magnificent angel's wing about twelve feet in length, which we admired from cramped niches in the cave passage.

One of the party, with visions of his previous trip into these depths still vivid, nobly decided to remain at this point to haul us up out of the jaws of death after we had seen the lower cave. His was an unenviable position, alone with the bats in the darkness, while we revealed in the beauties below. It "was definitely •worth the effort of sliding down the last 35 feet of slippery limestone, with footholds few and far between, to see the Grand Shawl Canopy, the Organ Loft, the glistening Diamond Walls, and to drink the water from the underground stream which flows through at this spot. It is fed from Horse Gully Creek and ultimately enters the Kowmung, probably some distance below the limestone bluff. We lit our candles and lunched at 260 feet below the surface, but the masterpiece was yet to be seen—Mount Vesuvius, a perfect, glistening, white miniature mountain complete with crater, and surrounded by a forest of slender columns, stalactites and stalagmites.

 THE CLIMB OUT.

Then came the ascent. The smaller rope which had been carried from the top for this purpose was lowered for use as a life line, or rather was hurled down with a stone tied to the end by the member above, while we dodged under a convenient ledge for safety. We tied the rope round our waists, and, while pulling  ourselves up on the heavy rope, were helped from above by means of the life line. Being first to ascend, I was unfortunately deprived of the cheering sight of the others struggling up that section, but had it not been for the efforts of the life liner, who fortified himself with bites of apple between pulls, I am convinced that some of our bones would now be fossilizing on the floor of the cave

The story is related, and authentically I believe, that one of the earlier visitors to the caves had attempted this section without a life line, but, when half way up on a ledge, decided he could manage more safely with it. We are told how he clung to a stalactite with one hand, held the thick rope with the other, and tied a bowline with the other—just as well he was ambidextrous ! The rest of the ascent was uneventful, although more strenuous, I thought, than the descent, especially as we knew and could see in advance what we had to climb. After being in the inky blackness underground for more than six hours, the first pale glimmer of light was a welcome sight, and we were soon strangely dazzled by the bright afternoon sunlight.

Grovelling is great fun, but stick to bushwalking if you suffer from claustrophobia !