Shangri La

Another trip down Shangri La – can’t remember if we blogged the last one!  One of the students from Hillcrest mailed me a few weeks ago to see if I would like to go along on the caving trip she was organising as part of her Advanced PE course.  Nigel was due to be in Oz so I had to take the boys along but since they had already done the trip in December that wasn’t a problem.  We were supposed to go in a minibus but plans changed at the last minute and it was decided that we would go in two cars – mine and Hans’.  Arrived at Hillcrest High to find all the students there, but Uivel had done one of his usual vanishing acts, so we decided we had time for a quick dash to the big red warehouse for wellies.  Once underway it was an uneventful journey – van full of unnaturally quiet testosterone – six teenage boys (and Aonghas)  all wired for sound and typically uncommunicative.  We stopped in Waitomo for coffee and to pick up helmets and lights and then along the road to Shangri La.  Hans pulled in at a gateway and went to open it – I wasn’t convinced but he was sure that it was the right spot.  I had remembered a gateway to a short, steep rubble track which led to two gates at the top, one to the right which opened out into a field with a view down to the entrance doline.  We walked through the gate for a better look and walked up the hill.  It wasn’t what I remembered but he was adamant saying “I’ll drive down the road to have a look but I think you’ll find that I am right”.  As we came back down the hill a Ute pulled up – it was the landowner to say that we were in the wrong spot and that it was further down the hill!  No comment!  At the top of the right track there was really only one space for a vehicle without blocking the gateways and since Hans was in front he signalled for me to drive through the right hand gate to park in the field.  I was reluctant as the entrance looked very boggy.  “You’ll be fine,” he said,” just keep hard right and you’re on solid ground!”   As the van slewed round and took its own path through the gateway I felt a small knot of anxiety form in my breast!!!   Not much I could do now – might as well go caving and cross that bog when we came to it!  As we were getting changed Aonghas let out a scream and doubled up in quite some distress, it took a while before he could speak as he was sobbing so much but we finally worked out that he had put his hand onto the fence to balance and received a hefty jolt of electricity!  Bless him, he soon recovered, but I guess he will think twice before touching a fence again!

It was a good trip – a little more water than last time which made the lower streamway quite sporting (for beginners).  We had a little fossick around the side passages and the little ones enjoyed the mud slides.  Oh yes, forgot to mention that Hans had brought Briana his 8 yr old daughter along – good company for Aonghas once they both got over their shyness! I missed the left hand branch because I had remembered it as a right hand branch  (probably because we missed it last time and came back up the passage and found it on the right!) negotiated the climb down and then spent a little time checking for the way on.  Memory certainly plays tricks on you and the increase in water flow made me question whether we had been in the stream passage last time!  But we had and we soon found the way out to daylight and a mudslide to exit the cave!  The resurgence stream was flowing well unlike last December which meant we could wash most of the mud off our gear before walking back to the cars.

And now to that bridge to cross!  It took a while; a bit of manoeuvring, brute force and some old fencing but we managed to extricate the van almost intact. (we now have a nice dent in the back where someone pushed the soft part of the tailgate!)  Chips in Otorohanga and then home for a nice bath to ease those old and aching muscles!  Bring on the next caving trip! Must mail Lucy for copies of the photos.

Mixed Feelings

We have just heard of the death of a caving legend, Jim Eyre.  We didn’t know him well but had the honour of his company in the New Inn in Clapham,  and at Caving Club dinners, listened to him talking and read his books.  Coming hot on the heels of the death of JRat, another caving legend, and friend, and Pete, fellow Grampian member and friend, it suddenly makes life feel quite fragile.  Three different people and I suppose three different generations.  Jim passed away at the grand old age of 83 after a long, happy and eventful life, JRat succumbed to an illness we all fear I suppose, and one that too many of our friends and relatives have died from in recent years.  The result of a life of carefree living and that feeling that “it will  never happen to me” , but a life, nevertheless, that was lived to the full, on the edge and with much laughter.  Pete died doing what he enjoyed most in life but far too soon nonetheless and in some ways we probably feel most sad and shocked about his death.   The Caving community is relatively small, disparate, anarchical but pretty close knit and the sense of camaraderie and “family” is strong.  It is difficult to come to terms with friends no longer being there especially when they die in tragic circumstances but that is perhaps the nature of having been involved in an “extreme” sport for so long.  We are sorry not to be able to be there to celebrate the lives of these friends and fellow cavers but they are in our thoughts and we can at least keep up with all that is going on through regular e-mails and blog posts.   Our thoughts and best wishes go out to their families.

These sad events happen just as we make our first forays into New Zealand caving. As I mentioned in my last post, I accompanied the OE group from school on their caving weekend.  Well, we followed that up with another trip last week.  Hans, the head of PE and OE was keen to check out another cave that we could take the OE group to, so during the holidays we headed off to Waitomo with Nigel and the boys.  We managed to find someone who could tell us where the entrance to a cave called Shangri La was and off we went.  It seems that whilst many of the caves in the area are on DOC (Department of Conservation) land where there is generally open access, many are on private land.   The landowners are usually quite happy to let you access the caves as long as you ask permission as there are no real permit systems in operation. Indeed we knocked on a couple of doors and met pleasant, friendly people who were only too willing to help and point us in the right direction.

We had been shown towards an obvious sink area and after a few minutes of poking around soon found the entrance.  A muddy slope led down to a stream way which was rather squelchy – Aonghas was in danger several times of losing his wellies as the mud threatened to go over the top of them!  We picked our way through the more solid sections of it until firmer ground was reached!  We had called in at the Black Water Rafting place where we had managed to get John – our cave guide from last week – to copy the survey for us. Route finding was pretty straightforward, there were several cross passages to explore before we reached a climb down – probably free climbable but since we had an 8 year old with us and a 13 year old only 2 days out of his plaster cast we stuck a ladder  and lifeline down.  More splashy stream passage – some bits quite deep – well it was for Aonghas! – and we came across a bit that looked like we might have to crawl – in water – under boulders !  Lachlan, Hans and Aonghas went onwards as Nigel and I brought up the rear looking at some dodgy looking hanging boulders until we heard Lachlan shout back that there was no way on! I backed out and climbed up over the top to look for the way on which I duly found.  An easy climb up and across the gap for an adult, but rather wide for the boys, so we rigged a ladder and line for them.  Not a lot of belay points as we were in some quite dry passage – loose boulders covered in mud equals not very stable anchor points!  Anyway, obstacle overcome, we headed on to find that, not surprisingly, we had to go down again! Again an easily negotiated (for adults) climb down into a rift passage and then a short crawl to a muddy, vegetation strewn, ramp out to the surface.  All in all a quite a good little beginners’ cave, a bit of variety – some stream, a bit of climbing, the possiblity of exploring some side passages. The boys had a great time and we enjoyed getting our caving gear back on – even if in Nigel’s case it was a litlle tighter than the last time he wore it!!? – and getting underground again.

Spring is in the air

Well, we are officially in to Daylight saving – the clocks sprang forward this morning and last weekend was the first day of Spring.  We went along to Hamilton Gardens where there was a Hispanic theme as the Latin-American contingent of Hamilton celebrated the beginning of Spring. It was very pleasant as the drummers and strummers made their music accompanied by girating, scantily clad, nubile, young ladies!  When  the boys had had enough we ventured outside for ice creams and a refreshing beer in the sun.

The last few weeks at work have been pretty hectic – Nigel is busy writing a major report which has to be submitted this week so he is hard at it every evening collating and interpreting data, and I have been up to my ears preparing students for Practice exams, marking them and now preparing follow up work to make sure they are ready for their main exams in November.  But the boys and I now have a two week break so I can perhaps manage to catch the tail I have been chasing!

Lachlan gets his pot off tomorrow so he is looking forward to being able to scratch!  We have tried to prepare him for the likelihood of him not being able to immediately use his arm but not sure that he has really taken that on board!  Hopefully he will be able to get some physio pretty quickly – not sure how it all pans out here but I am sure we will find out soon enough!  We might even manage to fit in a day’s skiing at Mt Ruapehu if the doc says Lachlan’s wrist is up to it!

I am still buzzing from my first caving trip in NZ!  I went away with the Outdoor Ed group for a two day trip based in Waitomo (Maori name meaning Water (wai) Cave (tomo)) at the Hamilton Tomo Club base.  They had a session doing some rescue techniques at the Black Water Rafting centre, a session learning SRT, an abseiling session and then a caving trip.  It was great to get all my kit out again – that familiar feeling as I donned my gear and had a play on the SRT rig at the centre.  Walking into the cave (Gardeners Gut) just felt like coming home – what a wonderful sensation sloshing my way down a stream passage with beautiful banded limestone and a fair bit of flowstone.  We climbed up into some dry fossil passage beautifully decorated with straws, helictites, stals and columns (compulsory photograph of the tallest column in North Island but unfortunately not available as we go to press – I’ll add it as soon as I get it from the photographer!) before dropping back down to the stream and heading out.  All in good sized walking passage apart from one short section – a large lump of flowstone blocks the way on but for a low, narrow, sloping section called the “Organ Grinder”.  It is a similar sort of size to the Cheese Press in Long Churn but probably a bit more technical as it is a dog leg on a slope, so you have to keep your legs and hips up high or you slip nto the narrowest part and get stuck!  Most of us slipped through easily with encouragement and instruction from our guide John, but waiting at the end of the line and watching as everyone else goes through is quite unsettling and our last two students were pretty nervous by the time it was their turn.  Both were physically a bit bigger than the rest who were thin, skinny things but they maintained their composure and showed strength of character to get through without too much difficulty.  Alan, (aka “Brown Bear”) our second guide. had the most difficulty – whereas John holds the unofficial record of 23 seconds for sliding through, Alan took 15 minutes the last (and only) time he did it!  However with John to direct him he beat his previous attempt by 10 minutres and was a happy Bear as he rejoined the group! About a 5 hour trip altogether with a group of 8 novice cavers and a good varied introduction to NZ caves. Bring on the next cave!

Hamilton Tomo Club Hut, Waitomo
Hamilton Tomo Club Hut, Waitomo

As I already said we were staying at the Hamilton Tomo Club hut – oh, aren’t caving club huts the same the world over!!?  That same earthy smell of damp caving gear, sweaty bodies and stale food and beer! The cliquey photos of the current in-crowd and historic photos of legendary club cavers, the ubiquitous “squeeze machines” and old caving equipment festooning the walls.  Difficult though to find out where any of the caves are – there were plenty of surveys and the NZ book of surveys for both North and South Island but no grid references for the entrances and no mention of any locations in the trip logs either, even for newly discovered caves as you would find in UK hut logs (except for top secret digs!!) I sense a challenge coming on!  We WILL find some NZ caves!

On Friday afternoon we headed back to Hamilton but stopped on the way in Cambridge for a spot of Paintballing!  It was the first time I have had the pleasure of this activity and I was a little apprehensive.  However I soon got pulled into the excitement of it all and had a great time, despite taking a nasty hit to the unprotected soft part of my neck which two days later is still sore, and looks like I have been eaten by a voracious blood sucking bat!  However being on the victorious team makes up for the pain and dsicomfort! (Blacks (my team)  beat Greens (Uivel’s team) 3 games to nil – Go the Blacks! (Who said I was competitive!?)

This weekend has been fine and sunny and we have been forced into spending some money on a lawn mower to tame the rapidly sprouting lawn.  We also bit the bullet and bought some outdoor furniture – it was still just about warm enough to christen it this evening and eat outside!  Let’s hope it will be the first of many meals al fresco!

We are now busy planning for Christmas – presents need to be sent soon to arrive home in time and we are starting to plan what to do for the holidays – it does seem strange trying to plan summer activities for Christmas! Looks like we will be down in Wellington and Greytown as soon as school breaks up for NZ family Christmas and we will probably make our way back up the East coast beach hopping after that.  Will keep you posted!  A bientot!