World-renowned caver breaks new ground near Nel­son

Adventure - - Contents -

World-renowned caver and New Zealand Out­door In­struc­tors As­so­ci­a­tion (NZOIA) mem­ber Kieran McKay has un­cov­ered new subter­ranean pas­sage­ways in New Zealand’s Kahu­rangi Na­tional Park in a quest to find one of the world’s long­est cave sys­tems. Mr McKay is part of a team of ex­pert cavers who have over­come ob­sta­cles block­ing pre­vi­ous ex­pe­di­tions in the caves un­der Mt Owen, ex­plor­ing new shafts and pas­sage­ways. Their lat­est ex­pe­di­tion fol­lows the team’s dis­cov­ery of New Zealand’s deep­est cave sys­tem un­der nearby Mt Arthur in 2014. He said the new finds were “in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing”, and were an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment in the North Owen Cav­ing Ex­pe­di­tion’s search for links be­tween the Blue Creek Spring sys­tem on Mount Owen’s north­ern side and the mas­sive Bul­mer Cav­ern to the south. Three pre­vi­ously un­ex­plored ver­ti­cal shafts were mea­sured at around 300 me­tres deep. Mr McKay said the first, ac­cessed from Cur­tis Gill, led to a rock wall. In the next shaft, a strong breeze was found com­ing from a crack in the rock at the bot­tom of the shaft, in­di­cat­ing a con­nect­ing pas­sage. At a third shaft lead­ing from a well-known de­scent known as the Gi­ant’s Stair­case, the team dis­cov­ered a “huge sump” where Mr McKay said he was able to dive for about 70 me­tres un­der­wa­ter be­fore re­turn­ing to the sur­face. Es­ti­mated to be at least 300 me­tres deep, it was much big­ger than any­thing the team had an­tic­i­pated, and may in­di­cate a con­nec­tion to as-yet undis­cov­ered caves. The team will con­tinue the ex­pe­di­tion, which they hope will lead to the dis­cov­ery that the Bul­mer Cav­ern sys­tem is one of the long­est cave sys­tems in the world. “When you look at maps of the area, the Bul­mer sys­tem takes up a third of the space un­der the moun­tain, but in the other two thirds we don’t re­ally know what’s out there. “To start with we’ll go back to the Gi­ant’s Stair­case and keep div­ing. We also found lots of other big pas­sages. It’s an in­cred­i­ble place.” Mr McKay has a rep­u­ta­tion as one of New Zealand’s most ac­tive cavers, ex­plor­ing over 120 kilo­me­tres of un­charted cave sys­tems in his ca­reer. He holds NZOIA qual­i­fi­ca­tions in Alpine, Rock, Bush and Cave en­vi­ron­ments, and is an as­ses­sor of cav­ing in­struc­tors and guides. He and his team plan to re­lease a film doc­u­ment­ing their re­cent ex­ploits at the Wanaka Film Fes­ti­val fol­low­ing on from their award-win­ning film, The Cave Con­nec­tion – Into the Un­known, which screened at film fes­ti­vals around the world. The fac­tors that drive him in his search to find the world’s largest and deep­est caves in­clude a sense of achieve­ment, and cu­rios­ity about one of the world’s last fron­tiers. “Ex­plor­ing new fron­tiers re­ally brings peo­ple to­gether. It’s in­tense. You work as a team, you against the world. It’s a feel­ing you only get when you’re out there in the wilder­ness.” And while find­ing new un­der­ground worlds sounds ex­tra­or­di­nary, Mr McKay said it was not out of reach for other as­pir­ing Ki­wis. Bud­ding cavers needed to build a broad range of skills to be ca­pa­ble in a range of dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments so they could tackle chal­lenges such as rock climb­ing, cave div­ing and ab­seil­ing down un­der­ground wa­ter­falls. He said there is no sub­sti­tute for ex­pe­ri­ence. Sup­port from ex­pe­ri­enced NZOIA in­struc­tors and guides can make all the dif­fer­ence to those look­ing for the skills to ap­proach ex­treme sit­u­a­tions.

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