It had been a long time since I had gone through Slaughterhouse Pot. It was one of the first caving trips I did in my caving career and to this day remains the most memorable. For this expedition we had a party of three with varying experience levels. Both myself and Gabriel had explored the cave before and had significant caving experience in Tasmania. Liz was a solid caver but didn’t have the same background in gnarly climbing up slippery rock faces while getting pounded by waterfalls. This turned out to make things a little tricky given how the conditions turned out…
At the get-out point we could clearly see the water levels were borderline. The exit to the cave is essentially a giant amphitheatre of stone where the river funnels through, dropping into the abyss. The roaring sound it makes is where it gets the name Growling Swallet. With the water levels so high we were uncertain about our ability to climb out of the cave. We packed for the worst case scenario, being fully prepared to ascend the ropes to get back out if needed. Soon enough we began squeezing in to the tiny and unassuming cave entrance seven kilometres from our eventual egress point.
The first bit of the cave is a bit tricky but all fairly straightforward. Several pitches of abseiling, some tight spots and bits of tricky climbing before we arrived at the first major challenge, a deep rift that appears to drop off into the depths. It’s narrow enough that you can traverse it by putting your hands and feet on each wall and edge your way along. Looking down and knowing that if you let go you will be falling to your death is pretty nerve racking. Liz was having some doubts so I busted out a 10 meter length of cordage I had thrown in my pack and we rigged up a rope system to protect her in case of a fall. In hindsight bringing this equipment along was utterly critical to the success of this mission. I would not consider running this trip without something similar in future.
After climbing down some rope ladders that have been there for over 10 years and look in dire need of replacement we made it to the stream, which is were things started to get more hectic. In the good sections you are wading through a reasonably fast flowing stream. In bad sections you are climbing up and traversing a series of waterfalls. Soon we are all completely soaked, and Gabriel and I stopped to have a quick chat about a plan of action. We’d been rigging up ropes to help Liz up each of the drops, which was working well and she was handling it all like a champion but she was clearly a bit tired. Given the conditions, we had very little margin for error. After a quick bit of thinking we decided it was best to push on. We were managing the risks with the belaying and turning back had its own danger, exposing the whole team to a lot more freezing cold water and some rather nasty down-climbing.
Soon enough we made it to a large waterfall chamber with some glow worms in it. Normally we would stop here for a snack and to enjoy the light show but everyone was cold and quite keen to keep moving so we pushed on. The last thing we wanted was to have the water levels rise even further, which was a real possibility.
It was with palpable relief that we saw a glimmer of daylight up above. I was very cold at this stage and we were getting blasted by the snow melt swollen creek. We pushed on, emerging through the magnificent entrance of Growling Swallet. The brilliant green ferns, epic cliff walls and roaring sound can only be appreciated in person, and in my opinion are best appreciated upon emerging from the cave. I won’t provide a photo here as none of mine come even close to doing it justice. Having now done this trip twice does nothing to detract from the experience. It is still to this day one of the most incredible trips I have done in the outdoors!