Since New Zealand’s longest cave, Bulmer Cavern, was discovered in 1985 cavers have congregated at Bulmer Lake on Mt Owen in Kahurangi National Park every January. After 34 years of effort from scores of cavers, the length of the cave is about 74 kilometres, and it is the third deepest at 750 metres.
This year expedition saw about 25 cavers converging on Bulmer Lake in the first two weeks of January to continue the exploration. Though there weren’t the major discoveries of previous years, there were several highlights on this expedition.
First up Kieran McKay and Chris Whitehouse, with Canadian Andrew Wilkinson in support, continued the aid climb up the incredible South Park aven (a vertical shaft). The climb was started several years ago by Neil Silverwood and another Canadian, Neil Warrington, in the hope of reaching the top of the aven without too much effort. The two Neils climbed about 50 metres, but couldn’t see the top. Others took over and progressively increased the height of the climb, until this year’s limit was reached an incredible 250 metres above the starting point. Near the limit of exploration Chris and Kieran emerged on to a spectacular triangular ledge – the only flat spot in over 200 metres, with a monstrous drop on both sides to the floor. They are now able to see the top of the aven, perhaps 30-40 metres above in the darkness.
Next our Aussie contingent of Matt Dunwoodie, Lewis Clarey, and Keith Chatterton got busy with new exploration in Close Encounters, a large chamber that is at the very end of the high-level “Main Passage”. After some tricky squeezes they broke through into a series of pitches, dropping about 150 metres to reach a horizontal area. With a bit of exploration they found their way to known passage and exited via the normal route from Camp 2.5. The trip was repeated the next day by a team of six, who managed to find a more direct route to the camp, ironically using a rope that the Aussies had previously put in place.
Other teams members explored various dark corners of the cave and made some small discoveries, and also “prospected” the surface for new caves – one new discovery being over 100 metres deep.
This year the weather was great, with only a few wet days, but previous expeditions have suffered really bad weather. This led to a stainless steel-framed PVC shelter being constructed for the expedition to provide shelter during the expected downpours. The expedition would like to express its gratitude to Aspiring Safety for providing the material for the shelter free of charge.