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MAY 13, 2003

WALLINGFORD RIVER CAVE


Position: WGS84 - 18 10' 58.4" N, 77 38' 35.1" W, Alt 200 m

Field notes: R. S. STEWART

Cavers: R. S. Stewart, M. Taylor, A. McFarlane

Not long before the start of this expedition, we'd received an invitation to visit several caves in the Balaclava district from the McFarlane family who own the land upon which the caves are found. A drive of several hours around the Cockpit Country, from Coxheath via the Alps road, got us to Wallingford, near Balaclava, at about 11:00 AM. Mr and Mrs. McFarlane, and their son Andrew, were waiting for us at the sharp bend in the road that sits above Wallingford River Cave, and after introductions, we prepared for the river cave, the first of the caves we would enter, and headed in.

This cave is part of the One Eye River, it being an underground continuation that conducts the waters until they rise again at Mexico Cave 1300 metres away. During the driest parts of the year, much of it can be walked without a great amount of swimming necessary, but in mid-May, in the early part of the rainy season, the water is higher and the current is stronger. As a result, most of our time spent in the cave this session saw us swimming or at least wading in neck-deep water.

Andrew McFarlane joined us on our journey in, while Mrs. McFarlane waited about 30 m into the cave where the river began to get very deep. Malibu, Andrew and I, at first stayed close to the left, west, wall and managed to half-float, half-walk, while gripping rocks along the wall of the cave, but after some 50 m of this, the depth was over our heads. We had only one life-vest with us, so using it I went ahead with one end of the 30 m rope to see if I could find a place to tie it and give a line for the others to follow. The 30 m distance had me still in deep fast flowing water, so I began to swim back so that I could consult; the current was strong enough that I didn't like the idea of anyone being in this river without a life-vest. As I made my way back, Malibu and Andrew decided to cross the river to try the east wall and by the time I had returned to my starting point, they had begun to make some progress on the right wall of the cave, it being possible to keep footing while holding on to rocks, the current here being less strong. After I'd reached them, I went ahead in front, with the vest on, to be able to check depth and current before they, with no vests, possibly got in too deep.

Even before we had crossed to the east wall, we'd begun to see crabs and a diverse variety of other cave dwellers, but as we worked our way downriver, on the east wall, the numbers of crabs we were passing began to increase dramatically. They perched on dry shelves above the water, sat in dead branches of shrubs that had washed in, and were seen a half-dozen at a time every couple of metres; we must have seen well over a hundred as we walked/floated along the side of the river. Mingled with these crabs, above the waterline, were numerous individuals of almost every invert species that I've seen in a cave of this sort. As well as the many animals, we saw in several places a remarkable growth on the walls that seemed to be the mycelium of some fungus species, covering about .5 sq m in each location. The colour was white, and the mycelia had a wonderfully exotic appearance in its branchings and patterns. It was in no way sparse or thread-like, but was very dense and covered over 50% of the rock to which it clung.

We continued downstream until the distance from water to ceiling was closing in on a metre, a point at which the passage also became somewhat constricted and increased the current accordingly. I judged that we had reached a point at which to carry on further might become too dangerous, especially for the others who had no life-vests, and called a halt to our journey.

The return to the entrance was uneventful, and we joined up again with Mrs. McFarlane and exited the cave.

I was impressed with Andrew McFarlane's abilities and lack of fear on what was his first real caving experience; he would be very welcome on any future caving sessions. It should be also noted that this cave is quite clean, with virtually no garbage to be seen washed in, and this condition is very much a result of the efforts of the McFarlanes in keeping their land clean and unlittered. It is encouraging that this biologically rich cave is under the stewardship of such a responsible, and caring, family.

This cave is of great importance, both biologically and hydrologically, and would be a very good site for bioinventory.

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