As we made our way onto King Solomon cave complex, the surrounding rainforest didn’t reveal any clues as to what lay beneath our feet.
Off to the right of the path was a wall of boulders with a hole in the ground gated off to the public. It had been camouflaged by branches and bark, and as this was removed we slowly saw where we were heading - down into Haile Selassie cave.
After our first ever wild cave tour with Deb Hunter, both Hildegunn and I immediately joined the Mole Creek Caving Club. Our first exercise had been a general introduction to caving and abseiling session with cave leader Cath.
Now standing in front of the entrance to Haile Selassie cave with all our gear on, you could imagine that both Hildegunn and I were about as green as you could get. But we also knew we were in safe hands with cave leaders Deb and Claire at the helm. And we were not alone, Sandon, another new recruit, was also joining the adventure underground.
After unlocking the gate, Deb explained to us the descent into the cave, which would entail walking backwards over two gentle rocky slopes and then abseiling down into a chute with only the vertical rock walls as support. The single pitch was a total of about nine metres.
Claire guided us through the steps to get us down to the big chief waiting at the bottom. It wasn’t the first time I had dangled from a rope in the air, but it was the first time doing it down into a cave. I was too curious to be nervous, although I did have a lot of thoughts flying through my mind, most of which was trying to remember what I had been shown in the abseiling session some days before.
Upon touchdown on a slope that ran down into a smallish chamber, it was possible to take off my gear and start discovering the cave using my headlamp. It looked a bit like a theatre, with a framed ceiling and an open stage area. But in this case the ceiling was framed by straws, and the stage looked like a melted caramel overflow. There was a white string that showed the path further down into the cave and also marked off what was out of bounds.
As everyone took their turn descending into the cave, the light from their individual headlamps lit up different features inside the cavern making the many amazing shapes and forms come to life. As everyone dropped their gear in a safe place and got ready to crawl down into the lower cave sections, there was the mandatory call to attention and eating of chocolate. Once over, we followed our fearless leader into the depths.
Deb led us to a steep section which we navigated backwards with hands, feet and some rope holding. This was followed by the crossing of a slope in what seemed like a widish but compressed chamber. Then we reached the next steep section, but not before we stopped to breathe in the beauty of a shawl jutting out from a wall, which Deb lit up with her torch.
Any rookie to caving quickly learns that caving is about teamwork with the relaying back to the person behind you on what to do, where to stick your feet, how not to destroy beautiful and fragile rock formations with your helmet or bottom, and so on. As Deb stayed behind at the shawl feature, fearless leader Claire led us into another cavern, which had a steeper slope but a ceiling that was much higher than the previous one.
We slotted our way through narrow openings and looked for the infamous ‘slippery rock’ which was the breadcrumb and marker for knowing we were heading in the right direction. As the slippery rock started to elude us, we crawled around a bit looking for signs of where to continue. Some moments later, Claire found the way and we slid on.
The bit that had eluded us turned out to be a tricky section, where we would have to use the chimney technique of leaning on our backs and using feet to shuffle our way up or down. To add another degree of difficulty to it, after chimneying up, we also had to crawl around a kind of rock curtain, which on one side had fragile sections that we weren’t to touch. After going through some yoga-type contortions, we finally made it around the rock curtain and into a smallish cavern with a stunning ceiling of straws, stalactites and other shapes peering precariously down on us. There was also a large wall with interesting colours and patterns which we sat in front of and soaked up the silent beauty of the cave.
The way out inevitably followed the route in and offered some challenges with the throwing of legs and shimmying of backs to get up and over huge rocks. Finally, back at the abseiling point, we were able to test our ascending techniques, which went a lot better than expected. Out on the surface, nobody could deny the huge smiles on everyone’s faces.
We started at 10.30am and arrived back at around 1.30pm, so all up there was about three hours of magic underground. Thanks to our great cave leaders Deb and Claire for the Sunday adventure.