Caving and Chillin in Chillagoe


 

img_6603-x4Chillagoe, a small town in Northeast Australia, is about three hours northwest of Cairns. Having decided to visit Cairns prior to the International Congress of Speleology in order to see the Great Barrier Reef the pre-congress trip to see the caves in Chillagoe was a great fit.

australia

I had managed to pick up an Australian sim card for my cell phone while shopping at the mall in Cairns so I gave the trip organizer Paul a call to let him know I was in town. He answered that several people who were going to Chillagoe were meeting for dinner at a restaurant on the pier and I was welcome to join them. since this was a short walk from where I was staying in Cairns I agreed. I was a little late since I underestimated how far a walk it was to the botanic garden but It was nice meeting a lot of people who I’d get to go caving with over the next few days and dinner was good.

The morning came all to soon and once more I got up before the sun to pile in a van, now we were on our way to Chillagoe. Geoff and Jean who I had met at the Texas ICS were on this trip , and a number of new-found friends from Germany, UK, the US, and Switzerland. Kim who had been on the Barrier reef trip with me was going on this one as well, George however, was driving down to Sydney so wouldn’t be joining us.

Our first stop was for snacks at an interesting site- Camp 64. This shop in Dimbulah featured a variety of memorabilia, items for sale and delicious meat pies. several people opted to try the locally grown dragonfruit and I spotted passion fruit growing on the fence outside.

Then it was on to Chillagoe. Most of us would be staying at the Chillagoe caving  club house. The club was an impressive setup. They have an old schoolhouse converted into sleeping quarters, principal’s house converted into the kitchen and dining hall, and a newly built bathroom and shower block. This was at the base of a hill that provided an excellent view of the surrounding town.


The karst of the area was fascinating the caves are strangely above ground formed in limestone which through faulting followed by volcanic activity and secondary mineral deposits were shaped over time into karst towers that were some of the sharpest limestone I have ever climbed over exhibiting rillenkarren, rinnenkarren and grikes. You can read more about the terrain and wildlife at the Chillagoe-Mungana parks website.

Club members had brought three landrovers, which with the rental vans made getting to the caves simple as all the caves we visited were within an easy drive from the clubhouse and accessible by a short walk through the bush. I had not brought any SRT gear as the large amount of photo gear I was lugging around made my pack heavy enough. Fortunately there was plenty of cave to see without climbing though they did have a cable ladder and rope belay for one of the sections I went through, and Valentin seemed to really enjoy the parts of the trip where he got to repel and climb. Cave temperatures were warm, reminding me of caves in Mexico and Guatemala, though not as humid there was enough to cause my glasses to fog up.

After this first day of caving Winifred announced he’d be happy to take people caving at night after dinner. I was the only one who took him up on this but we had a great trip. He spotted a tarantula which was so still we wondered if it was alive but while I was photographing it it took off convincing us it was indeed alive. We also spent some timephotographing the night sky through an opening in the cave and came across some roosting swiftlets. We backed out of the chamber so as not to disturb them but one bird continued to follow us through most of the cave. Eventually while photographing formations I actually caught some pictures of the bird in flight. The  best result is at the top of this post.

 

During breakfast the next day at the nearby eco lodge this guy dropped in for a visit on someones chair.

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Then it was back to caving.

A big thanks to our organisers- the Chillagoe caving club for leading us on some wonderful trips and allowing us the use of their clubhouse. It really was a great and memorable time.

Ely and the 2016 NSS Convention


 

Heading out from Susanville we were taking Highway 50 Americas ‘loneliest road’ at least that’s what all the signs and tourist info said.Our next stop before getting to the convention in Ely was in Fallon where we spent the night across the street from the Douglas Mansion. Currently painted pink its listed as the only Victorian two story in Fallon in 1904.

We were following the path of the famous pony express and passed a few places listed as stops for the express as well as the famous Nevada shoe tree. Oh and when we stopped for cool drinks in Austin the saloon had a small collection of authentic western Jackal-opes.

Eventually we arrived in Ely and looks like we were in the right place!

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I was actually surprised i didn’t notice more signs on the way through town- turned out the were being blown over by windy conditions, it was really windy which was stirring up a lot of dust ugh. At least the sessions etc. were inside. We were warned in registration to put something heavy in the pouches provided for our Convention badges or they’d likely fly up in the breeze and try to strangle us.Since we’d arrived late we missed lunch so we headed into town for something to eat. The Silver State restaurant turned out to be across the street from our hotel and provided a great lunch.Then it was back to the school to admire the art, pictures and cave maps.

 

We spotted a sun spider in the hallways, said hi to Morley and Lorelle and watched kids and adults alike enjoying the cave sim. All too soon it was evening and time for the Howdy Party, this years theme was supposed to be Donner Party or some such but as at most Howdy parties  Most folks came as they were. Some did dress in old time western garb so the theme was present. Dinner was fine, though there was some grumbling at the late arrival of the beer truck Finally it was time for the main attraction. The performance by ‘The new Christy Minstrels‘ (an American large-ensemble folk music group founded by Randy Sparks in 1961). Needless to say it was a great show with many of the audience joining it with familiar songs and dancing.

The next day we spent enjoying the talks and sessions. Dad and I stopped in to watch Kip manage to beat the time for his age group in the 30 meter vertical, he managed to climb faster then the goal he’d set for himself so he was pretty happy.

The other vertical competitors all appeared to be enjoying themselves and there was plenty of people encouraging them so it was fun watching.

For that evenings entertainment I had signed us up for the ‘Rockin Rollin Railroad’ a geology field trip aboard the Northern Nevada Rail Roads authentic coal burning steam train.This featured presentations by local geologists covering railroad & mining history with a show and tell of ore samples from the Robinson Nevada Mining District. They did a great job telling us all about the geology of the area.They had some fascinating info about all the copper, gold, molybdenum and silver that had been mined in the area and descriptions of how we could see various layers from the Cretaceous where there was limestone as well as a host of other layers and minerals I must confess I missed as I was too busy geeking out on being on a steam locomotive. Running back and forth trying to find the best spot to get a picture while not getting covered in smoke and cinders proved challenging, but it was a lot of fun.

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I made it back to my seat in time for the description of the Ruth mine and to see the samples of garnets picked up at nearby Garnet hill.

A mine is a hole in the ground, owned by a liar.
-Mark Twain

Wednesday and Thursday we spent mostly attending sessions at the High school though we did spend some time in town admiring the new Lehman cave mural done as a commission in honor of the convention and browsing the great caving pictures at the art bank gallery. I even picked up a copy of a murder mystery book about a murder at an NSS convention in Ely Nevada! ( The book ‘An Unconventional Murder’ by Nevada caver Gretchen Baker was very entertaining)

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I left Mom and Dad at the motel to catch up on their rest while I headed down to the camp ground for the campground party which was great fun as usual. The canon firing was a nice touch. Though it had to end a little early because of noise complaints.

 

 

Friday morning we skipped the sessions and headed out to tour Lehman cave.

 

On the way back we spotted a couple elk standing by the roadside and we took a small detour to visit the charcoal kilns. We also stopped to see these guys by the roadside.

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We made it back in plenty of time to get ready for the banquet dinner and awards ceremony.

It was another wonderful convention and I look forward to attending many others!

Summer in Susanville


img_1100-x2 Since this years NSS convention was being held in Ely Nevada which is North East from Bakersfield and my parents had decided to go with me, we opted to take the long way around and head a little further North to see my brother and his family in Susanville first. It was a long drive but leaving the 100 F degree temps of the valley for the cooler mountain air made it an enjoyable trip.

We went out to dinner at ‘whitehouse‘ a local Thai restaurant, food was tasty though a little sweeter then I’m used to. Saturday, Emily suggested a trip to Subway cave up near Hat creek and I readily agreed.Unfortunately Michael wasn’t feeling well so he and his Grandma Meg stayed home. When we told Mathew we were going to see a cave he proclaimed “I must wear my batman shirt” and ran off to change. It had been a few years since I visited Subway (pretty sure it was during the Western Regional at Hat Creek in 1999) and I had forgotten the stairs going up and into the cave. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, Mathew ran all over but we could spot him easily enough as his shoes flashed in the dark. Alice seemed plenty happy and it was nice and cool in the cave compared to how warm it was outside.

We stopped on the way home to look at some wild flowers and spotted a young buck in the trees.

 

All too soon the weekend was over and it was time for us to head onward to convention but that’s another post.

PackSaddle 2016


 

Waterfall at the creek

Creek

Last year I managed a visit up to Packsaddle cave but it was mid summer and I headed up a bit late in the day which made for a too warm trip. Well honestly it was hot but I survived. This year I joined a local hiking group and they wisely headed up early in the morning and picked a weekend when the weather was really very pleasant. I managed to pack extra water and even had some ice left in one of the bottles upon returning to the motorcycle for the ride home.

As evidenced in the photos there was more water present then last year which in turn meant more wildflowers and unfortunately more poison oak but I think we managed to avoid it all.

Hiking across the ridge

Hiking across the ridge

 

wildflowers

wildflowers

Hiking up the hill

Hiking up the hill, if you look real careful there’s people up near the top 🙂

It was a surprisingly large group, close to 30 people but everyone seemed to enjoy the hike and no one complained that I took my time coming up the hill as I stopped to take just one or two more pictures.

lupine

lupine

Finally we reached the cave. Here I was disappointed to find my flashes weren’t triggering from the radio transmitters but I did have optical slave as an option so I took a couple shots with that and found that my dive light made a fairly good substitute as well.

flash

flash using optical slave in the cave

dive light

dive light

So at least I got a few in cave pics then it was time to hike back down the hill.

There were still plenty of flowers to photograph on the way back

Mariposa Lilly

Mariposa Lilly

and I got back to the motorcycle early enough to enjoy a pleasant ride through the canyon before heading down to the valley where it was getting pretty warm again.

More wild flowers

More wild flowers

End of Summer


Upper Twin Lake

Upper Twin Lake

Well I guess it’s official, summer has once more come and gone. I’m back in school juggling classes and work so no adventurous outings for awhile.

As I previously posted though I did have a final trip this Labor Day weekend. I once more loaded the backpack/tent and all my caving gear onto the motorcycle and headed up to the Kaiser wilderness.

Near Kaiser pass

Near Kaiser pass

I stopped at the Ranger station near Huntington Lake and learning there were limited permits available I signed up for a fifteen person permit. I tried calling Ron to let him know that I had a permit but there was no signal, so I headed to the trail head and after stashing my food in one of the bear boxes there I backtracked to Shaver lake so I could call and let Ron know I had a permit. Back at the trail head I set up camp and called it a night. I got up early the next morning and after making coffee on my camp stove hiked up a nearby hill to enjoy the view. I spent the rest of the day hiking along the trail and talking to some other hikers I spotted entering the wilderness. Since they were exiting the next day though they wouldn’t effect our permit. I returned to the trail head and once more set up camp.While cooking dinner I noted cows wandering nearby and my curiosity got the better of me so I investigated where they were heading and found a nearby spring that had a fixed pipe coming out of it. This makes it a convenient place to fill up water before heading out on the trail but definitely requires   filtering /treatment.

That night people began rolling in but since I was warm in my sleeping bag and tent I didn’t bother to investigate how many had arrived till the next morning. After a leisurely breakfast I packed up my gear and wandered over to where others were beginning to gather. Turned out we had 31 people! The person who had said they’d pick up a wilderness permit didn’t show so we were short. Fortunately two or three people had hiked over from the eastern Sierras so they would continue on their on wilderness permit, one person had picked up a permit for himself and the rest agreed to hike for the day and then return to Sample Meadow Campground so it worked out ok.

30 people (I'm not in there, someone had to take the picture)

30 people (I’m not in there, someone had to take the picture)

We split up into three groups roughly based on who was interested in visiting what caves, hiking speed and or whether they would be camping in the wilderness and off we went.

wildflowers

wildflowers

more wildflowers

more wildflowers

and still more wildflowers

and still more wildflowers

In spite it being so late in a very dry summer at this altitude there was still plenty of wildflowers and while I did notice the first stream we reached was dry most had at least some water in them.

The day war,ed up quickly and the trail got a bit steep but fortunately it wasn’t a long hike and soon enough it was time to put down our packs and check out some caves.

Limestone, wonder if there's a cave nearby?

Limestone, wonder if there’s a cave nearby?

This hole goes somewhere...

This hole goes somewhere…

Stephen in the cave.

Stephen in the cave.

Amanda

Amanda

Emerging from one of the caves we got our first view of a Marmot on this trip as one was sunning itself on the rocks overlooking the cave.

Marmoset

Marmoset

After visiting a couple of caves those of us who were camping overnight made our way over by the lake where we found a good spot to set up our tents. We then had a good time gathered in the center of our  ‘camp’ preparing dinner and chit catting about a wide variety of subjects. It got cold pretty quickly after dark though so most of us headed for our tents fairly soon after the sun went down.

Getting up the next morning I was admiring the warm sun rising above the trees when Jessica asked if I’d seen the lake yet this morning? I hurried over and admired it’s beautiful mirror like surface before taking a few pictures.

mirror smooth lake

mirror smooth lake

Then after breakfast it was back to caving.

Thin rock proves translucent

Thin rock proves translucent

Pink Marble

Pink Marble

Happy cavers

Happy cavers

Caving

Caving

As a special treat we spotted a cave cricket on the way out so I stopped to photograph it.

Cave cricket

Cave cricket

All to soon it was time to start packing things up and beginning the hike back to civilization.

I hated to leave but after four days of camping a hot shower and my own bed sounded pretty good.

Goodbye Marmot, See you next year.

Goodbye Marmot, See you next year.