Participants: Nick Hindley, Tanner Dobson, Heather Filyk, George Hill, Kelsey Miller, Alastair White, Summer Ash, Aaron Yeung, Weiting Hsieh, Harlin Brandvold. Non-VOC participants: Felix Ossig-Bonanno, Alex Thexton, Ryan Edwards.
Day 1 - Written by George Hill
Two full cars made it onto the 8:30am ferry. Almost. Well, one car did. The other car by 8:30am was still waiting to get on the ferry. George was worried for a moment when calling Nick to figure out where exactly they were and Nick responded with “we are six cars from the front of the line up”. Not to worry though, apparently there was a medical emergency on the ferry which delayed the ferry from casting off. Hopefully whoever it was who needed help was able to receive it. It was a stormy day out on the water. The captain warned the ship might roll more than normal. And that there might be whales. But maybe that was just a distractor to make those who don’t like boats slightly less uncomfortable. The ride was indeed wavy and there were a few times where the list of the boat could certainly throw you off your feet. We spent our time on the boat watching waves and looking at the different equipment on the grandwall website. At Nanaimo we met up with Alex and Ryan at the local Walmart. The plan from there was to meet up at the Port Alberni Walmart but Nick and Tanner got distracted resulting in both Tanner and Harlin, who was following Tanner and assuming he knew where he was going, missing the exit by 25km. Then Nick’s car stopped at Cathedral Grove for a bathroom break while Harlin’s car continued on to the Walmart. The next hour was spent faffing in Walmart, No Frills, the liquor store and the gas station. There was so much time we had time to start writing this trip report. Tanner and Nick also picked up a pumpkin to bring along for the ride. Later named Gertrude. By 1pm we were on the road again to Tofino. And by 1:15 we were pulling off to another gas station resulting in a combination of anguish and laughter from Harlin’s car that after we filled up not 15min earlier, the other car was now going to fill up. Our cynicism was unfounded however; this particular gas station was where we joined up with Felix!
Cave #1 – Old Crone - Written by Tanner Dobson
The first cave was a super rad introductory cave and pretty uneventful until we finally made it to the bottom where of course the resident ogre lives (this particular caves troll was named Ralph). As is tradition, we got to ask it for 3 wishes which it is obliged to grant. We first asked for it to stop raining, which it decidedly did not grant on account of it persisted the entire rest of the day and most of the next, much to our chagrin. Next, we requested that we should not have any vehicles get stuck, which also proved not to happen, on account of the Squeak Jeep and The Pathfinder That Wouldn’t Quit both getting stuck, leaving the champion, Special Agent Jack Bauer, the only vehicle which did not succumb to stuckage. After asking for our 3 wishes Tanner presented his protective Cave Troll Protection amulet such that they did not have to spare Summer as a sacrifice, a long-known and well-established cave tradition. The parties said their goodbyes and we continued on our way, being sure to avoid any calcite formations that we happened upon (or was it “always touch the calcite”? I forget). When we exited the cave we noticed it was still raining. We cursed Ralph’s name for not granting our wishes and cracked a beer to make ourselves feel better.
Dead Car No. 1: Saved by Off-Road Golf Carts
After successfully making our way, in the most faffy possible fashion, back along the first water-bar marred track with all 4×4’s intact, we began to think that maybe Ralph the cave ogre had decided to cease being a twat and grant us our second wish. Alas, on nothing but the first waterbar of the next ‘road’, the majestic Squeak Jeep succumbed to the mighty torrents and became stuck in the tiny stream, tow bar wedged and immobile. To this, the only logical course of action in Nick’s mind was to crack yet another beer and trudge down to spectate. Slowly the group congregated, some offering assistance, others not, others resorting to playing chicken on a nearby fallen log. After a couple of earnest attempts to dislodge the poor jeep, and a few slightly more half-hearted ones, we were fortunate enough to appear in such distress that passing by humans in off-road golf carts (also known as quads; the motorbikes, not cavers quadriceps, although those are great too) decided to investigate the ruckus. Fortunately they were well equipped with a winch system which was quickly set up. The Squeak Jeep was saved and Harlin emerged victorious after sitting morbidly in his pinned vehicle for most of the faffing process. In his defense, it was raining far too much for any of us to be truly overjoyed at not sitting in a warm, dry vehicle. At Tanner’s car, it was argued upon whether our saviour’s should be thanked with one, two or none of the precious beersies. We decided not to be total cretins (unlike Ralph) and gift them two entire beers! The Squeak Jeep was soon parked on the main road and Special Agent Jack Bauer was assigned ferrying duties of gear to campsite. The campsite being a space about one car width wide at the the side of the track.
Party Tenting and “The Faffenning”
It was decided that when setting up the campsite we should ensure that there was at least a quads width of room to pass beside the tents (again the motorbike; there wouldn’t be enough room to allow a cavers quad width). Therefore, much effort was exerted attempting to keep the tents and tarps covering no more than half the road. This induced a solid 11 hours of tarp and tent erection faff (keep your minds out of the gutter) after which everybody was frankly too knackered to bother trudging off into the gloomy, moist night in search of dark abyss’ in which to descend. Seriously though, the tarps were the most ridiculous part of this trip.
They were set up about three different ways using humans as support props for most of the time, in an endeavor to keep the road clear, before we finally gave up giving a damn about the quads and took over the entire area. Due to the torrential rain (thanks Ralph) the aptly named Party Tent became sodden and it was only due to the great company and inherent absurdity of the situation that we were able to remain in good spirits. George provided slightly above average riddle banter resulting in most of us feeling pretty inadequate in the brains department. Turns out a blind man being served the remains of his deceased wife in the form of ‘albatross soup’ can induce suicide.. Ok enough melancholy for one paragraph. The remainder of the night was spent drinking, bantering and making an effort to not plant oneself in one of the many wet patches on the tent floor. The contents of Summers jagermeister was also passed around the circle and promptly emptied (thanks guys).
Cave #2 – Ho Hu
After finally leaving camp following a further 15 hours of morning faff (we woke up at 7 with the expectation of leaving camp at 8, who were we kidding) we finally started making trail on the way up to Ho Hu. It was a decent 40-odd minute hike which Alex and Ryan decided on ditching out on in favour of driving the The Pathfinder through the overgrowth and further waterbars. This ended up being a great decision as the remainder of us continued to either faff on the way up or have impaired pace due to wetsuits and swamp-butt. All were reunited at the mouth af Ho Hu cave, which appeared from above to be a small 1x2m opening in the ground – easily missable if one were not intent on finding it. Despite it being a solid 40 ft drop to certain death, Nick decides to haul himself from one side to the other, twice. Caving – where safety comes third. After further faff, all were rappelled into the depths of Ho Hu and adventures begun. Party room number one was stumbled upon, requiring a 3 metre downclimb to enter. Only the most brave and expert climbers were able to descend, just kidding, but a couple definitely needed a helping hand getting down. The rest of the cave was uneventful other than finding the remains of a deer who had not been searching for the cave as we had and fallen to his death Also found a bunch of soda straws in the party room which were very cool and probably the one thing we actually should be writing about but aren’t really. Ascending out of the cave proved to be the most difficult thing I have done with my body to date. I would like to apologise for the time delay and also for the massive falling rock which almost took out Alex.
Dead Car No.2: Crevasse Rescue Training is actually for Vehicles! - Written by Alastair White
At this point we were a good few kilometers past the deactivation trenches that had been dug across the road, and which so successfully stopped Harlin and the Squeak Jeep the night before, so the road was getting pretty overgrown. It was grassy and it was muddy, in pretty equal parts. Alex, driving his indomitable Pathfinder, had made it through countless tank trap trenches left by the deactivation of the road and it seemed like it was smooth sailing at this point. The trenches and water bars were all behind us, so what could possibly go wrong? I still don’t know quite how it happened, but one moment the Pathfinder was quite definitely on the road, and the next it quite definitely wasn’t. There was the sound of spinning tires, an odd diagonal slide, and Alex’s trusty pathfinder was angled quite steeply off the edge of the road, snagged in some fallen logs and stumps preventing it from careening down the slope. Only one of the rear tires was still entirely on the road. The other was teetering on the edge, and both front tires were well and truly in the woods. Alex, as calm and casual as ever, gets out and says, “well I guess we need to pull it out”.
I’ve occasionally wondered just how strong climbing gear really is, like can that tiny little rescue pulley or that little carabiner really hold me? Turns out that little rescue pulley and that biner can haul a car back onto the road, so I am not too concerned about them holding my weight anymore. We set up a trusty z-pulley system, just like in G1, anchored off a giant tree and attached to the Pathfinder’s hitch, and then beefed up that 3-1 z-pulley system to turn it into a 6-1 pulley system. We then got all twelve of us (Alex, the thirteenth, had to be in the car at this point) to haul on the rope. A prusik slipped with a terrifying jolt. Further inspection showed that the friction generated by the prusik slipping a foot down the rope melted the prusik cord to the core. We did a quick restructuring of the haul system, and tried again. With surprising ease the car came back over the embankment and onto the road, ready to tackle more clearly impassable roads, and far from finished with the abuse we heaped upon it this weekend.
Cave #3 – Blak T
The biggest and perhaps bestest cave of the trip. I’m gonna try keep it brief. Super rad entry like wow (see attached photo) and awesome calcite and soda straws through the whole thing! We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked in this cave due to car faff and Summer’s ascending faff but the time we did have was epic. We made it to an underground waterfall and sat, perched, above it to do a lights out which was super amazing and relaxing. Don’t have many words for that and frankly just kind of want this report to be finished – it’s way too long.
Fast forward to exiting the cave and getting back to Alex’s car where the 13 of us all squeezed onto the sides of the Pathfinder for the journey back to base camp. This is another time where it became evident that safety comes third. It was a very adventurous ride with a few too many close calls of people almost being swiped from the sides. Felix also decided that the roof would be a great place for the ride and at one point had to leap off to avoid being completely demolished by a low hanging branch.
Ferry Home – Eating Gertrude
Safely back at the cars parked on the main road we all began the long and tedious process of removing sodden cave gear and repacking cars. Faff continues. Gertrude finally meets her untimely end and is smashed to pieces with the help of rubber boots which prove to be almost useless at protecting toes from pumpkin impacts. The remainder of the trip was spent drinking beers on the way to the ferry and attempting to hide passengers from the ferry officers so that we could employ a student budget for the trip. All in all it was one hell of a time filled with many memories and laughs.