Adventures in Hobbitland Part 4: Greenlink Camp, Scary Times
Friday, 30 October 2015 – Sunday, 1 November 2015
Second weekend caving in a row, things were starting to look up a bit on this front after 2 months of no caving. Early start at 5:30am after 3 hours sleep. In Picton, got a lift with a Maori seafood diver (who smoked like a chimney) called Gibson. We were pulled over by police to see if he had his drivers license: he had 2 learner licenses. After 20 minutes, we were on the way to Blenheim. Not worth being rude to the cunts, just slows you down. They dont like it if you say “fuck off or Ill fucking shoot you. Weve all done jail bro. got a free crayfish caught the day before so that was good. Quick and uneventful progress to Nelson. Dropped in to see Benoit who informed me he had discovered massive 30x30m walking passage in Harwoods, exciting times! Then on to Bruces to eat crayfish and get ready for a weekends camping underground. Arrived at Michael Brewers residence at 6pm, then on to cave entrance for 7pm. So far so good.
I had caved down to the top of the Lighthouse Series (120m pitches) before with Morgan and Tristan, so knew this area. We were fast to get there. At the bottom of these is Cannonball Alley, a massive boulder slope that is decidedly safer than before and still quite dangerous. Then into a large chamber with beech leaves all over the floor. This chamber backs up to 30m in flood. Great. Down to the Greenlink streamway, which used to be the route in with 2 free-dived sumps on the way. Our route shaves 5 hours off the travel time. The streamway is very pretty and good drinking water. Stomping for a bit over muddy loose boulders until Gloom pitch, which had a ridiculously thick rope on it: even my C-rigged simple had to be pushed through on the way down! Pretty tired by this stage due to lack of sleep and no practice with tackle bags in ages. Down a couple more short pitches whose rigging was not ideal (no rope leading to/off quite an exposed pitchhead, really had to concentrate on not falling on the way out when tired and with a bag), and then to the top of Inception pitch, which was rigged by Benoit and thus really well rigged. After this, sandy stomping to the Tram/Train/Tractor junction (we took Tractor) and then an hour or so to camp. Into camp at 11pm. The camp is really warm, as is the trip into the cave (I wore only base layers beneath my oversuit and still really overheated). After a quick bit of landscaping filling in gaps between boulders at Camp, which is quite rocky (they moved from the old sandy camp when they realised it flooded very badly and very quickly), it was soon to bed.
Up at 7am (I thought Rob might need a lie-in), and after a breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches we were out of camp by 8:20am. Aims: to survey some passage after the Angelica Steamway (wet crawling, hooray) and bolt up a climb at the end of it. Down the Frogs Mouth pitch, through the Black Moon Room and on to the Junction where we picked up some climbing kit. Then 100m of stream passage, initiated by some flat out crawling (pretty much total wetness). I managed to get my bag stuck in the flat out crawl, leading to much swearing. After 100m or so, we dumped the bolting kit at a fork in the passage and headed off up the stream (we were to return and head off to the climb up the other passage). Mike and Bruce are both good surveyers, and use PocketTopo with Bluetooth between the Disto and the PDA which is actually really efficient. I was station finder bitch. However, after about 50m of surveying, the distos battery died and we discovered that the spare battery was in Mikes bag back at the junction. Faff is a truly universal caving trait. While he went back to get it, me and Bruce went on ahead to scout out the passage a bit. We, went up 3 pretty wet climbs and found a very tight silted up slot at the end. After about 45 minutes, Mike arrived and he and Bruce calibrated the disto in a small chamber whilst I went down a slot in the floor that Mike had thought about going down but decided he didnt fancy it. I got about 10m down through 2 smallish slots before it became impassable. Back to the drippy chamber and wet climbs (though not wet by Yorkshire standards) to continue surveying. By the end of it both me and Bruce were freezing our tits off. We headed back to where the disto had failed to survey up to the chamber (apparently PocketTopo doesnt handle back-surveying very well when connected by Bluetooth to the disto) and froze our tits off even more. It was 3pm before we were back at the junction and ready to head off to the climb, so a long day was ahead of us.
It had been decided that I should do the bolt climbing, mainly because I had said I would like to get more experience with it. It was about an hours caving up some very delicate and expedition style rigging to where the climb was. Whilst a large amount of the previous pitches had been slightly sub-vertical, this one was much more vertical for the first 10m or so and, judging from looks at the bottom, seemed to be heading toward horizontal passage at the top. I kitted up at the bottom and ended up with a lot of shit dangling off me. I was able to free climb up about 2m to a reasonable ledge to get my first bolt in, and the rock wasnt too bad (still wouldnt want to fall onto that bolt). Unfortunately, things were only going to get worse. I got onto another small ledge and hammered around to check the rock: pretty shit all round. My first hole drilled was unfortunately sub-perpendicular to the face, so I had to try again. Felt pretty out of practice re bolting. The 10mm dynabolts I had are set by pulling down on them a bit (inducing shear stress) and then simply tightening them with a spanner, which is much more annoying to do than European (petzl style) thru bolts as it generally requires 2 hands to set the bolt (with the petzl bolts just hammer them then tighten the nut). My confidence in this bolt was not high, but it bore my weight without mishap. After one more bolt placed from where I was sitting in my harness, I then stood up in the etriers and hammered about to find some passable rock for my next placement. Absolutely fuck all. To add to the issue, I couldnt really hammer away the shit stuff as the blocks of rock that would have fallen off would have been huge and could have damaged the rope below or hit Mike/Bruce. This lead to me making quite a stupid decision. I could see what I thought was a decent ledge about 2-3m up. Ill just climb up there where the rock looks better, then I can have a good stance and get a good bolt in I thought. So I did. The ledge turned out to be very bad and the rock also pretty bad. I was just going to have to not fall. After a worrying couple of minutes, the bolt was in and the panic (for a wee while) was suppressed. It soon returned, however: as I was hammering for my next rock, a large part of the wall came loose. Mike, theres a big rock fallen off on me and I have nowhere to put it. ok, youll have to throw it down. Stupidly and blindly doing as he said, I let the rock go; a few seconds later, I heard a FUCK from Bruce, who was doing something lower down. The rock had whistled past him, narrowly missing him and the rope. Feeling very ashamed and guilty, I had a rest to settle myself and get my head in gear again. After about another 10 minutes, I was near the top. It looked like the horizontal passage did not exist, and the climb just kept going up and up, but did become much less steep in 2m or so. I put 1 more bolt in, which took ages as I was pretty stuffed at this point. However, good rock at last! I then stuck in a dyneema thread (so quick and easy, also probably safer as you can be sure that the thing will stay there; surprised that no one used them on expo, theyre great!), rigged the pitch for SRT and abseiled down on the static rope I had tied to me. Mike then went up and looked around at the top of the climb, free climbing about 15m above where I had stopped. Despite the climb becoming much easier ground, I wasnt sure it was worth risking about a 40m free fall to the deck if he fell. He returned down confirming he thought it would go above, so we left all the climbing kit there. To get to the base of where I had been climbing from the pitch head, it was necessary to do about 5m of free climbing. Whilst down climbing this, a large lump of the wall I had been holding fell off and I fell about 2m onto the ledge at the pitch head, avoiding a plummet to the bottom of the pitch quite narrowly. It was then that I firmly decided that I was pushing my luck and from now on would rig ropes for everything like this in New Zealand: the rock is just appalling most of the time, and its not worth trusting it! Then started the 2.5 hour wet slog back to camp. In an attempt to be cheap, I had only 4 cereal bars since breakfast, so on the way back I got a wee bit tired. Back at camp for 11:30pm, a 15 hour day! Tea was a fish, couscous and dehydrated veg special, really filling and tasty. Asleep by 12:30am.
Up at half 7 on Sunday, which was to be much more leisurely: we planned to do a couple of hours surveying near camp and then head out. However, when we arrived at the place we intended to survey at, it became apparent that the disto bag had got water inside it and thus so had the disto, rendering it unuseable. Cocks. It was therefore instead decided we would go and visit a dig site on the way out at the bottom of Inception pitch. This we did, and enlarged the digface quite a lot. A return with some substantial bang and a good strategy will be required as the dig is basically a huge boulder choke and very precarious. On the way back we went to see an amazing column, where beautifully white calcite had overgrown an older formation. Middle Earth-Greenlink is full of amazing formations, climbs, sandy stomping and boulder hopping: the cave feels a bit like a 450m deep South Wales cave. Then we headed out. It turned out that my prussiking fitness is still half-decent. Out of the cave at 5:30pm, a total of 46 hours underground. Down the hill to Motueka where I disposed of my poo and then ate a great curry cooked by Sarah Brewer. Back to Nelson then back to Wellington the next day.
Excellent trip overall, albeit a tad scary at times. Huge thanks to Bruce for hosting me and putting up with my incompetence, and to Mike for being a very patient and reassuring belayer. Looking forward to the next one!