Arrakis. Weekend 11 & 12 December.
Party: Serena Benjamin, Matt Cracknell, Sarah Gilbert, Alan Jackson, Janine McKinnon, Jane Pulford, Ric Tunney, Amy Robertson, Tony Veness, Geoff Wise.
The long talked about trip to Arrakis finally got underway at 6.30am on a pleasant Saturday morning. The weather report for the weekend wasn’t that flash, but as water was probably going to be a bit of an issue at our proposed campsite at the cave, we thought a few rain showers would be good.
The two cars rendezvoused at Banjo’s in Huonville (where else?), loaded up with coffee, muffins, breakfast, and Amy, and then convoyed to the trail head. We noted that all (2) forestry gates were padlocked open.
After the distribution of group gear, and consumption of festive home made chocolate covered raspberries (thanks Alan) and shortbread (thanks Serena), we headed off into the Garnia at 9am. The track was as unpleasantly muddy and Garnia shrouded as I remembered, for the first 1.5 hours until the first major creek. It improves a bit from there to Trout Creek, half an hour later. This is the last surface water before Arrakis. It then took just over an hour to get to the Arrakis doline. Old trip reports talk of the (slightly) sub 2 hour walk in. They were either very fast, or the track has deteriorated a lot in the intervening 25 years. A bit of both I think.
We set up camp, with several of us bivvying under the overhang in the doline and the rest setting up tents, bivvies, and a couple of hammocks, nearby.
The group then split into two for the activities for the weekend. Alan, Janine, Serena, Geoff and Ric were rigging and bottoming the cave that afternoon. The others were going surface trogging, and doing the cave Sunday morning, de-rigging as they exited.
I was kitted up and started to rig the entrance pitch at 1.30pm. Alan was showing off his shiny new trog suit and the others were kitting up at a more leisurely pace, expecting to be waiting a while before they started down.
Alan was ready to go by the time I had the pitch rigged and he followed me down to the obvious spot for the installation of the safety line needed to get to the pitch head without risking slipping to one’s doom.
Once that was in I was off again down-slope. All was going well so far. The others started down behind us. Then I struck a problem. Without spending pages in lengthy explanations, I had basically misinterpreted the description of the approach to the big pitch in old trip reports. I ran out of rope long before I got to the pitch head. Alan and I discussed this for a few minutes and we decided to use the 10m rope I had bought for a climb at the bottom of the cave (just in case it really needed a handline). I tied it in to the safety line and was off again. I aimed for the side (LHS) that the most recent bolts were placed but I still had insufficient rope to get across to there. I also didn’t really like the look of the approach nor the presumed rigging point. I went to a small gully on the approach line and ran out of rope again.
Alan and I had one of those shouted discussions over 40m and then I tied the 76m rope for the big pitch in. I started down the gully I was in, but decided I didn’t really like the look of it as a place to rig the drop, even though I thought this was where Nick had originally rigged from. That really just left the RHS wall. I came back up to a small alcove, got off rope, and called Alan down for a second opinion.
As he was on rope when he reached me, after a brief discussion, he headed to the ledge above me on the right hand wall to have a look. The ledge itself is a little airy near the end, without a traverse line, but it led to a good site for rigging the drop. Plans back on track then. Good. I came up and we started looking for somewhere to rig a backup/traverse line to get to the proposed pitch head. This took a looong time. We couldn’t find anything trustworthy. Loose rocks, crap rock, no threads. We were desperately trying not to put a bolt in but hopes were fast fading…
It was about this time, I gather, that Ric, back up the doline where the others were waiting at the top of the safety line, was overcome with cold and boredom, and piked on going any further. The other two stoically hung in there. Probably gnawing off the less necessary bits of their anatomy for stimulation, as they waited interminably.
Just as we were about to admit natural anchoring defeat, Alan found a rock jammed solidly at the back of a small alcove. We both checked it carefully and declared it good enough. Forward movement was on again. We rigged this fairly quickly and moved out to the end of the ledge to decide on bolt placement. This was fairly quickly achieved and I put in one bolt. Alan occupied himself doing some gardening whilst the bolt was going in. He cleared the worst of the loose stuff but it was still a ledge to be treated with rock kicking respect.
The rebelay bolt went in fairly quickly after and then I was FINALLY away on the big pitch. We weren’t sure if we had much spare rope so I put in a really tight (Jeff Butt patented) loop, or lack there of. At the bottom I found we had a few metres to spare so Alan re-jiggered the rebelay on his way down.
The others started down to the pitch head whilst Alan and I moved on down the cave. They caught up to us looking for the crack we were supposed to rig the 3m pitch from. After finally finding it, it was declared not the right size for the nuts we had, and a bit dodgy anyway, so we put a bolt in above the drop.
On down to the next pitch, which has a corroded old spit that is only part way into the rock. This is totally unnecessary as there are 3 good naturals in very convenient spots.
Luckily the 8m climb proved to be very easy so we were all able to get to the chamber at the bottom where the stream comes in. We headed downstream first with all of us going almost to the end of navigable passage, and Alan and Serena going just those few metres more into the grovel than Geoff and I.
Then we went upstream to the end of the easy going stuff. No point crawling in water when the Eberhardt’s and Jeff Butt have been there before.
The trip out went easily. Alan and I had decided that a second bolt on the pitch head of the 68m pitch was a better idea than the single one we had put in, and so he re-rigged the pitch at the rebelay, to give us the extra rope at the top. We had seen that we had enough. Just.
Alan waited there for me, as Geoff and Serena went out and then we decided where to put the second bolt. As usual, the best place was out of my reach for manipulating a drill, and so Alan put in this bolt. We re-rigged the pitch head so that tomorrow’s group would have the mental reassurance of two bolts at the primary anchor.
I headed up last and was out at 7.30pm after a very enjoyable but inefficiently slow trip.
Amy was cooking dinner for us, which was a wonderful treat. All I had to do was get changed, get a glass of Port from Tony (who had carried in a small cask!) and start eating the pre-dinner nibblies people had supplied, whilst I waited for my Tuna and lentil dinner to be ready.