Caves of Chimanimani

Caves of Chimanimani

by Tim Truluck

INTRODUCTION

The Chimanimani Mountains have had 4 expeditions to its deep sandstone shafts. However it was the 1993 Chimanimani Caving Expedition which was the first full-scale caving expedition to the deep sandstone/quartzite shafts in the Chimanimani National Park (Zimbabwe).

The 3 preliminary expeditions were:

1990 - a joint SASA (Transvaal) and Zimbabwe Mountain Club (ZMC) where Bounding Pot was descended to about -150 m.

1991 - The ZMC bottomed Bounding Pot and carried out a low grade survey with a depth of -190 m.

1992 - A group of SASA (Cape) and one SASA (Tvl) member bottomed Bounding Pot again. However, they were arrested on ridiculous charges of damaging National park Property and caving without a permit. After 3 weeks of bureaucratic and judicial hassles, they were allowed to continue. By this time only 3 members were left. They managed to bottom Jungle Pot (-223m) and N'doro's Beetle (-51 m) in attrocious and dangerous conditions.

As a result of these expeditions, the Chimanimani Mountains rank alongside the Mountains of the Roraima Formation in Venezuela as one of the most important deep sandstone/quartzite caving areas in the world.

The following is a summary of the 1993 expedition.

Due to members of the January 1992 being arrested, the 1993 expedition had to be well-planned. A caving permit was issued by the National Parks Board and local organisations and government bodies were consulted throughout the expedition. Everybody (both official and private) with whom we had contact were always extremely helpful.

The team consisted of cavers drawn mainly from the South African Spelaeological Association (Cape Section). The leader was J-P Le Roux, secretary was Tim Truluck, there were 9 other members. We were joined during the expedition by members of the Zimbabwe Mountain Club and had a ranger from the Zimbabwean Department of National Parks and Wild Life Management (National Parks Board) in attendance throughout our stay on the mountain.

Expedition dates: 29 July - 1 September 1993 including two weeks travelling time.

EXPEDITION AREA

The Chimanimani National Park consists of two parallel mountain ranges which staddles part of the eastern border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The caving area is situated about 500m inside Zimbabwe on a plateau behind Turret Towers (Mawenge) at an altitude of about 2200m. The vegetation is mainly mountain grassland with patches of indigenous forest in the valleys and dolines. The caves are about 8 hours hard uphill slog from the nearest road.

SUMMARY

The Expedition spent a total of 20 days in the field. 6 new caves were discovered, surveyed and photographed. One previously bottomed cave, Bounding Pot, was re-surveyed to -194 m. Four of the caves were over 150 m deep and over 1200 m of vertical cave was rigged.

Mawenge Mwena was the deepest at -305 m and it is the deepest cave in southern Africa and the 7th deepest sandstone/quartzite cave in the world. Big End Chasm has the world's largest chamber in a sandstone/quartzite cave: 90 m high by 70 m long and 15 m wide. All the caves were permanently bolted with stainless-steel fittings (donated by Hilti).

Two large and deep rifts linking dolines were also surveyed. All the cave entrances and dolines were linked by a surface survey. A cave with a resurgence about 1.5 km away and 500 m lower than the main caves was surveyed and explored, but after 150 m it became too narrow. A dye test between Bounding Pot and the resurgence cave proved inconclusive. Fauna collected in the caves were not cave adapted (except two species of insectivorous bats). A very large doline and an area with large labyrinthine rifts and pavement karst (in sandstone/quartzite) was discovered in Mozambique.

COST

Total expenditure was R 22977 (UK 4594) with 11 members paying R 12500 (UK 2500). The expedition received over R 60000 (UK 12000) worth of sponsorship (food, equipment, loan of equipment and services).

FOLLOW-UP WORK

Further, shorter duration and scaled-down trips to investigate the Mozambique dolines, Big End Chasm, and general surface work to locate possible new caves. Further work on the hydrology, geomorphology, geology and biology of the caves and the surrounding area is needed.

HANDY HINT

Caving is still treated with suspicion in Africa - please make sure the relevant authorities and locals know you are coming (you must have a permit if you are caving in Chimanimani). The Zimbabwean Air Force in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Mountain Club operates a mountain rescue service throughout Zimbabwe.