The
Bristol
Exploration Club, The Belfry,

Wells
Road
, Priddy, Wells,

Somerset
.
Editor: Adrian Hole

Contents

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Sean Howe
Editor: Adrian Hole
Caving Secretary: Greg Brock
Tackle Master: Tyrone Bevan
Hut Engineers: John Walsh, Neil Usher
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
BEC Web Page Editor: Greg Brock
Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford
Floating Member: Bob Smith

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not
necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in
general

Lime Tree Formation,
Lynn’s

Cave,
Tasmania,
Australia
(See
article on page 29)


The Paddyfields,

Nguom-Nam-Lao,
Vietnam
(see
article, page 8)

Editorial.

Welcome to the Winter Issue. Ok, it’s a bit of a cop out but due to overwork I have had neither the
time to cave nor to edit the BB.  I
sincerely apologise for this and can only hope to have more time this spring
and summer to devote more time to editing and possibly even to caving.  In addition, due to an unfathomable technical
fault I seem to be unable to access emails. I have received a number of articles recently and thus should be able to
follow this issue fairly quickly with the spring issue.  If you have any news or articles please post
them to me on disc – preferably in something simple such as word that the old
Belfry laptop can cope with.  If you have
sent articles in the last year and they have not yet appeared I can assure you
that they will be in the next issue.

A way from grovelling and incompetent editors, the last few
months have seen a number of events of importance, most notably the rescue of
Vem Freeman from St. Cuthbert’s on the 13th November following a fall down the
first (lower) pitch in Maypole Series.  A
six hour rescue saw him carried out via Sentry Passage and then up the stream
way – whilst above the Fire Brigade pumped water away from the entrance (just
before they were due to go on strike). After undergoing surgery he is now recuperating.

On a sad note it is my duty to inform you of the passing
away of ‘Jock’ Orr a few weeks ago.  A
full obituary will follow in the Spring BB.

Happier news, Tony Jarratt reports a most successful
Meghalaya 2003 Expedition with a pickup truck filled with empty beer
bottles.  Oh, and 25, 771.83 metres of
surveyed passage, lots of new leads and an article to follow.

On a personal note I have been looking at a number of sinks
and old dig sites in the Otter and Ban- Y -Gor catchment areas – anyone over
this way fancy a potter near Chepstow?  There
will be a short description of some sites in the next issue.

 

Digging and Diving News.

Eastwater Cavern.

Before his return to
Tasmania,
Phil Rowsell and Alison Moody visited the far reaches of the
West
End
to push the end of Southbank for a few more metres to another
gravel-filled sump.  They plan a return
in the spring (weather-permitting) if you fancy joining them.

Hazlenut Swallet.

Graham Johnson, Nick Mitchell and John Walsh have recently
made a return to this interesting site in the

Biddlecombe
Valley

to find the terminal sump has silted up. A drilling operation looks necessary, but will be made more difficult by
the fact that the sump lies at the base of a small pot down which a small
stream cascades onto the digger below.  A
previous attempt was aborted last year when the drill did not take kindly to
being held beneath the falling water and darns failed due to a lack of
mud.  An umbrella has been posited as one
solution!  If this seemingly short sump
can be passed progress could be made at this small but hydrologically
significant site somewhere ahead must lie the water both from the other sinks
in the valley and possibly also those heading for St. Andrews Well from the
Thrupe catchment area.

Hillgrove Swallet.

Following the discovery in September that this old dig was
blocked with inwashed silt, branches etc. – to the point where the entrance was
not initially visible let alone accessible, Sean Howe, Pete Hellier and Paul
Brock dug out the entrance in October. According to Pete some 10 metres of dug passage at the end has also been
infilled.  Whether this is the start of a
new attempt to gain access to what must be extensive passages beyond and that
have for nearly a century repelled all corners, from Martel onwards, remains to
be seen.

Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink.

This remarkable dig got even more unlikely around Christmas
when a sump was encountered.  Rich Dolby
dived it over Christmas to find it blocked – it seems to be a seasonal affair
so possibly come the summer sunshine (?) it may be possible to dig it out after
it dries up.  For a description of the
attempts to pass it see the article on page FIVE.

Working Weekends @ The Belfry 2003

The idea of working weekends is to maintain and clean the
Belfry.  This year we would also like to
combine the hut maintenance with some conservation and cleaning work in St.
Cuthberts Swallet, numbers permitting. Remember 2003 is the 50th anniversary of
the breakthrough into this fine system. Everybody is welcome!

 

The dates for this coming year are May 3rd – 4th, July 5th –
6th and Sept 6th – 7th.

Club News

The Working Weekend of the 1st-2nd March saw the front room
cleaned and repainted – further weekends are planned for the spring and summer
– see page 7 for dates.

Sett would like to extend the invitation to join the ‘Old
Codgers’ on
Exmoor at the Pinkery Centre, for
six nights from Tuesday 22nd April including a trip down a local lead
mine.  If you are interested contact him
on 01823 xxxxxx.

 

Following the Streams in Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink

by Tony Jarratt

Since the breakthrough report in BB 514, work has continued
at four separate dig sites despite atrociously bad air conditions.

The Hatch

Situated on the RH side of Pub Crawl just below the 2m fixed
ladder.  A strong draught sometimes
emanates from this originally tiny, vertical fissure which has now been blasted
to body size for some 2 metres to where two wet weather inlet streams enter
from updip and combine to form a steeply dipping outlet.  At least one of these emits water which sinks
in an impassable bedding plane on the RH side of the standing height section of
Pub Crawl just before the iron ladder.  A
hosepipe test also revealed that they both carry the water which sinks in the
rift below the entrance shaft.  This
water is next seen pouring out of the boulder choke in the ceiling of Lower Bar
Steward Passage (B.S.P.) which would indicate that there is a parallel bedding
plane to Pub Crawl, or more likely an extension of the same plane, running down
the NW side of B.S.P. at about the same level. Water also filters through the choke here from the field above, probably
via the shallow depression SW of the new car park.  Traces of flourescein have been noted at the
entry point to Happy Hour Highway (H.H.H.) where a dig has been started in the
hope of bypassing the grim terminal choke in the streamway below.  There maybe an updip continuation of H.H.H.
below The Hatch but work has been suspended here for the time being.

Lower Bar Steward Passage

Reached via a 7m deep shaft excavated down a boulder filled
rift c.lm wide and 4m beyond the stream sink at the end of Pub Crawl.  A scaffold frame was built to stabilise the
up and downstream walls of poised boulders. On the 11th October the boulder infill was finally passed to gain some
5m of open stream passage with perched and heavily calcited boulders obscuring
the way on.  Whilst rearranging these, a
very large chunk of the RH wall started to move and so was hastily propped up
before a rapid retreat was made.  Work
then commenced on blasting a route higher up the rift in order to reach this calcite
covered slab from above and also to gain access to a black void between
boulders which could be seen ahead.  The
stream here issues from the base of the dug shaft and is the water sinking at
the end of Pub Crawl.  All of this
passage is aligned along a substantial fault, as is The Hatch, the stream from
which enters from a boulder choke above. Alex reports slickensides, fault breccia and crushed limestone lenses
from the exposed sections of this fault and is very enthusiastic about
potential.  Again, blasting is being
resorted to enlarge the downstream passage. On the 6th November the black void was entered and proved to be some 4m
of spiky bedding plane with a c.l.5m square stream passage below and on the LH
side.  Unfortunately a ruckle of loose
boulders prevented access to this and the continuing bedding plane streamway
beyond, but following a bang on the 6th November a return was made on the 10th,
the ruckle was dropped and a mere couple of metres of passage entered to a
decidedly horrific choke.  The new dig in
H.H.H. above will hopefully bypass this.

Happy Hour Highway – upper

The original high level dig at the end of the fossil cave
has been restarted by Trev, John W., Shaggy, Matt and others and is reported as
easy and promising but long term.  The
plan is to sink a 2m deep shaft through sand and collapsed ceiling slabs and
tunnel under the wall.  Trev’s homemade
plugs and feathers have been successfully employed here for boulder
splitting.  A deckchair and parasol have
been installed on the "beach" below the dig!  No, don’t ask …..

Happy Hour Highway – lower

After having been laboriously excavated downwards for some
4m the compacted nature of the sand and rock infill, coupled with the recent
CO2 problem has driven some of the team to seek easier pickings in the upper
dig.  Now that the air conditions have
improved this dig has seen a considerable amount of work.  A phreatically enlarged joint is being
pursued downwards in order to find a wider section which can be excavated
forwards and should theoretically lie at c.4m depth from the floor of the
phreatic pocket above this dig.  The wall
is beginning to undercut towards the centre of the main passage above so we may
nearly be there.  Work continues in the
steeply dipping sand/clay infill.

Photography/Tourism etc.

Pete Glanvill and Nigel Cox enjoyed a damp photographic
recording trip to the cave on the 20th October and a couple of tourist trips
have been done with some of the visitors assisting with spoil clearing.

More diggers and helpers

Hugh Tucker, Elaine Johnson, Simon Moth, Sue Whitby (all
A.C.G.), Rachel and Andy Smith, Mike Kelly (all Gagendor C.C.), Pete Glanvill,
Nigel Cox, John Christie, Simon Flower (V.B.S.S.), Lloyd Dawes, Roger Galloway,
Martin Hayes, Dan Harries, Dave Robinson, Kate Janossy, Fraser Simpson (all Grampian
S.G.), Pete Golide, Matthew Butcher (S.M.C.C.).

 

Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink – The Good and Bad News.

by Tony Jarratt and
Rich Dolby

Work has continued on the lower Happy Hour Highway dig where
at a depth of c.5 metres the ceiling became briefly horizontal before beginning
to ascend at a shallow angle in what appeared to be one side of a phreatic tube
– the left wall being composed of inwashed boulders, clay and sand with
spectacular multicoloured sediment layers which will be left in situ for
possible scientific evaluation at some future date.  As the dig lengthened air conditions became
steadily worse.

The writer, Jake Baynes and Roger Dors became famous for a
few minutes on the 27th of November when Radio Bristol broadcast an interview
about the dig, cave and Pub. The interviewer was Kate Salisbury who had heard
of the project from Rich Dolby and tied it in with the 30 years of Mendip
A.O.N.B. celebrations.  Points West, the
local TV news programme, then expressed an interest in filming the cave but on
having the entrance passage described to them fortunately have so far failed to
materialise.

Trevor, after putting in a lot of hard work on the upper
H.H.H. dig, eventually hit solid rock at a depth of 1.8 metres and allowed it
to be used as a handy spoil dump for the lower dig.  Andrew Moon, on a tourist trip, was unaware
of this and started to clear it out again!

 

Our new Joint Hut Engineer making room for digging spoil in
Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink.
 

While the writer favoured following this dig upwards towards
a hoped for airspace Mark Ireland decided to dig downwards at the lowest point
so work continued at these two sites in conjunction.  On the 15th of December the ascending dig had
reached a length of some 5 metres from the base of the drop and the sand/clay
infill now contained buried rocks which gave a hollow sound when hammered.

Next day these were removed in about ten minutes and an
airspace providentially reached. Breathing conditions at the face now rapidly improved as the bad air was
dispersed – despite the lack of a "howling gale".  A superb, pure white 0.3 metre high stal.
column could be seen ahead with open space beyond.  Jake B. arrived and over 60 bags of spoil
were removed to make the new passage accessible.  Beyond the column the ceiling sloped steeply
down for c.5 metres to a wide archway with either a pool, calcite floor or
black hole beneath.  The good news was
that we had obviously entered the continuation of Happy Hour Highway beyond the
terminal choke, the "half phreatic tube" being actually a step down
in the ceiling at precisely the depth expected. To avoid destroying the column we commenced digging through soft
sediment and sand on the RH side.  With
this year’s Digging Barrel already in the bag we didn’t really need more cave
until New Year’s Day!  (Not that we’ve
seen the last three …. )  This
excellent morning’s fun ended on a macabre note when the writer came across a
pile of white ash at the base of the entrance shaft and several grinning
D.B.S.S. members on the surface.  The ash
turned out to be the remains of the late Dr. Rodney Pearce who discovered Rod’s
Pot in 1944.  He was a D.B.S.S. and
ex-B.E.C. member and great character who is now keeping Frank Jones company on
the long through trip to Wookey Hole.

Three clearing trips took place on the 18th/19th and 20th of
December and on one of these the writer was digging alone when four festive
Moles members turned up bearing a flask of mulled wine and some mince pies for
his delectation!

The 22nd, 23rd and 26th of December saw four more clearing
trips to open up the passage for access to what now was revealed as a
relatively roomy static sump with the underwater passage descending steeply and
enlarging on the LH side.  Mud cracks and
drip pockets on the floor of the sump indicated that the water level may drop
considerably and it did indeed fluctuate some 0.4 metres in a few days.  A set of diving gear was also carried in
ready for a push by Rich Dolby on the 27th of December.  Due to Christmas excess this degenerated into
another clearing session mainly in the sump pool itself – but next day Rich
spent some 15 minutes underwater in zero visibility probing in vain for an
outlet, all ways on being blocked by sediment banks reaching the ceiling.  This was the bad news.  Keeping to the cave theme the sump was named
Drip Tray Sump.  The line and diving gear
were removed.  Our only hope now is to
wait for very dry weather in case the sump drains and possibly bail or pump it
back into a holding pond at the end of H.H.H. above.  In the meantime work will be concentrated on
gaining access to the continuation of the streamway.  The cave depth is now 50m (l50ft) the same as
the bottom of the Railway Tunnel in Hunters’ Hole, which now needs re-assessing
in the light of these developments.

The Dive – Rich Dolby

Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink, Priddy,

Somerset

ST5494 5012
28.12.02 DIVER: R.J. Dolby (BEC) SUPPORT: A.R. Jarratt, M. Willett (BEC)

The aim was to dive the recently discovered, static Drip
Tray Sump located beyond the excavated choke at the end of the cave.  Observations made during a previous trip
(26.12.02) revealed crystal clear water with a steeply descending bedding
trending east, appearing to close down north and south.  Depth of visible area guesstimated at that
time to be approx. six feet.

Returned to dive on 28.12.02.  Awkward entry into the sump pool (approx.
three feet by four feet) necessitated some de-kitting.  Once in the water A.R.J. assisted R.J.D.,
passing him his bottle and line reel. The diver then descended sloping bedding to reach compacted mud floor at
approx. depth of seven feet.  He belayed
to a large boulder and proceeded to explore in zero visibility.  Moving in an easterly direction the diver
soon felt the low roof descending to meet the mud floor.  He then moved north following the roof/floor
for a short distance, the route became too tight and the diver sensing that he
was very near the surface. Reversing past the belay he continued to probe the
roof/floor junction in a southerly direction. Eventually his feet broke the surface thus terminating the initial
search.  He returned to the belay and
surfaced to swap observations and jokes with A.R.J and M.W.  Entertaining banter did little to conceal the
disappointment of all present.  A second
dive to investigate the area above the roof/floor junction revealed no possible
ways on.

Dive time: 15 minutes. Line removed after dive.

Many thanks to A.RJ. and M.W. for assistance and Roger Dors
back at the Centre of the Universe (Hunters’ Lodge Inn) for some excellent post-dive
Hook Norton!

There are indications that this sump may be lower or even
drain completely in dry weather to enable digging to take place.

More diggers, visitors and assistants

Tom Clayton (West Midlands e.E.G.), Kate Salisbury (Radio
Bristol), John Wilson, Steve Stean, Jim Lee, Mark Edwards, Neville Roberts,
Alan Richards and Dave Bradeley (all Moles e.G.), Norman Wright, Dave Warman,
Tom Stem, Richard Crane, Andrew Moon and Steve Turner (all Wells/Glastonbury
Tuesday nighters),
Estelle Sandford,
the late Rod Pearce (U.B.S.S. and ex-B.E.C.), Kyle Otton, Julie Bevan (Frome
C.e.), Vince Simmonds.

 

Vietnam 2001 Caving Expedition

by Peter
"Snablet" McNab
with photographs by Paul Ibberson and Howard Limbert

Our jeeps drove around the bend in the valley, and before us
a 40m wide 30m high entrance yawned out of a cliff, half a kilometre in
front.  Excitement broke out in our jeep,
we got the giggles.  It had been two
years since we’d caved in

Vietnam

and we were chomping at the bit.  We
drove off the road and headed across the fields for the opening, a small river
separating us from the entrance.  We
posed for photos on a rickety suspension bridge a mere 100m in front of the
entrance.  An amazing amount of self
control was exhibited and held us back from committing the mortal sin; running
in and grabbing the first few hundred metres (just to see if it goes).  However, in this part of the world,
permission had to be sought first. Howard and Deb headed for a border post 500m away to seek to announce
our arrival and produce our carteblanche-go-anywhere-and-everywhere permission
sheets.  We started getting a GPS fix
when we noticed the large sign, written in English "Restricted Area No
Trespass".  A closer look at the
area surrounding the entrance revealed gun placements, army barracks and some
bemused soldiers.  We had been completely
blinded by our enthusiasm to get underground and not noticed the sensitive
nature of our surroundings.  We quickly
put the GPS and cameras away.

A summons to the border post found Howard and Deb being
politely told that we needed further permissions from the Province’s military
HQ to cave within 4km of the Chinese border. Within 24 hours we were back defiantly brandishing further permissions,
we smugly handed them across the table to the border post’s C.O.  He proceeded to cut us back down to size, by
pointing out a bracketed sub-clause "except sensitive areas".  Anywhere with in 4km of the Chinese border
was classed as sensitive.  We left with
our tails between our legs, accepting that it was probably pushing it a bit to
expect to get into that particular entrance. We did not know that this was the first of many such bureaucratic red
tape tangles in Ha Giang.

The 2001
Vietnam
expedition was comprised of three parts; the first two weeks were spent
reconnoitring the mountainous

province of
Ha Giang
.  Ha Giang is the northernmost

province of
Vietnam
. Permissions to cave in Ha Giang have proved difficult to obtain in the
past, both Italian and Australian caving expeditions were kicked out.  The second two weeks concentrated on the
adjacent

province of
Cao Bang
.  We continued the reconnaissance work of the
95/97/99 expeditions, with a few excursions into neighbouring Long Son
province.  The final two weeks were spent
in central

Vietnam

in the densely forested mountains of Quang Binh, the scene of the 90/92/94/97/99
expeditions.  We had a strong team from
the UK, Vietnam and Tasmania; Howard & Deb Limbert, Paul Ibberson, Martin
Holroyd, Mick Nunwick, John Palmer, Duncan Morrison, Martin Colledge, Nick
Jones, Trevor Wailes and Pete MacNab. From

Hanoi
University
; Mr. Hieu, Dr.
Phai, Dr. Bac, Mrs.Flower, Prof. My, Mr. Mau and Dr. Na. Jeeps and drivers were
hired to ferry us about in the north. Accommodation comprised of government guest houses, committee rooms,
occasional hotels as well as the obligatory cave entrances.

Ha

Giang
Province
Reconnaissance

Meo Vac is the town the Pogues wrote a song about, except
the gas works has been substituted for aggregate quarries.  However, once away from the dust, the
surrounding area is jammed packed with gob-smacking cone karst, reaching to
altitudes of 2000m.  The Meo Vac massif
oozes deep cave potential, it’s like the Picos moved to the Tropics.  The area had been visited by Italian cavers a
few years earlier.  Unfortunately, they
tried to explore the area without seeking the relevant permissions.  This is a big no-no in

Vietnam
, and
the Italians were escorted from the premises. They did, however, manage to assess some of the area’s potential by
going -528m deep in the first cave they went to (Tar LunglBasta Noodles).  Prof. My told us that the Italian cave had
ended in a river which needed ropes to cross, and as the Italians were still
persona non grata with the local committee, and the NCC ‘s reputation for
grabbing to uphold, we thought we had better check it out.

The Italian Job 2

Whilst the first team rigged their way into Ta lung (The
Italian Job) local Hmong farmers told us of another long drop nearby.  Duncan, Martin C. and myself went to check it
out.  We were shown to a Rowten Pot like
entrance, and told the Italians had been a short way down a ladder.  We followed a small rift to a balcony, thus
avoiding the loose edges to this imposing shaft.  A Y hang banged in, we dropped the shaft.  After 20m we passed the limit of the Italians
descent (chiselled into the Wall).  30m
down, a well placed deviation pulled us into the middle of a 50m diameter
chamber with the floor 75m below.  At
this point of the descent

Duncan

looked at the state of our rope and went a strange shade of white.  We knew we were caving on the expedition dog
ends, as the new shiny ropes had gone down the -528m cave.  The rope was from the 1993 Dachstein
expedition and was showing signs of wear. To make matters worse, a knot change 50m off the deck was required to
bottom the shaft.  Unfortunately, the way
on was not as exciting as the 105m entrance pitch.  After the initial impressive chamber the cave
choked with boulders.

The Italian Job 1

We picked up the rigging and surveying of the Italian job at
around -250m.  Mick and Dunc armed with a
Bosch made quick work of the very loose 110m pitch, whilst Martin C and myself
surveyed our way down, desperately trying not to kill the two lads below.  Rocks dropped from -200m would not land until
-450m, (by that time they had a few friends with them).  Disaster struck part way down the next pitch
– the driver broke!  "Only one thing
we can do now" exclaimed Mick, three of us started packing bags whilst
conjuring up images of drinking cold beer in the sun.  Our dreams were soon dashed as Mick started
rigging the remaining 160m of pitches on naturals.  We eventually arrived at some horizontal
development (-500m), our nerves slightly frayed.  A long narrow rift was followed,
unfortunately as yet no sign of the reported raging river.  We eventually found another shaft, with
Italian graffiti on the wall.  This pitch
definitely needed a bolt placement to continue. We exited the cave very carefully, leaving the glory for the next team.  The following day the next team re-rigged the
lower section of the cave on to bolts with a new and shiny driver.  They quickly made their way down the last
pitch, only to discover the cave silted up at 530m deep/800m long.  The raging river was actually in another
province, but the description somehow got lost in the translation from Italian
to English, English to Vietnamese, Vietnamese back to English.  The cave was quickly de-tackled, but not
without incident; Martin C was hit by a rockfall, dislodged by hauling tackle
bags.  The tackle bag sized boulder broke
Martins helmet and he suffered quite serious concussion for well over a
week.  Surface reece’s of the Meo Vac
area produced lots of entrances with clouds coming out of them, unfortunately
they were accompanied by kilometres of red tape.  We decided to move on to the Dong Van area.

Hang Lo La Phin

Whist carrying out a recce in the Dong Van area, we happened
to pass an interesting looking sink. Consultation with a passing villager
indicated that there was no cave in the depression.  There was no cave, so our secret police
escort allowed us to go and have a look. Two minutes later we were back at the jeep, arming ourselves with wheel
jacks and hammers.  Our first Vietnamese
surface dig!  Half an hour of frantic
digging and we were in, a ladder was soon dispatched down the first pitch.  This revealed further pitches.  We dropped the next 20m pitch into a steeply
descending passage which followed down several awkward climbs to the head of an
impressive shaft series.  We had time to
drop the first pitch of the series, before surveying and de-tackling our way
out.  The cave was -100m deep and
storming off into the distance, unfortunately our helpful secret police man
refused us permission to return the following day.  We spat the dummy, "Cao Bang here we
come".


Cao
Bang
Province

– Scratching a two year itch

Caving in Cao Bang was a totally different kettle of
fish.  The caves were plentiful, easily
accessible and we had carte blanche permission. The carpet bangs were open.  It
didn’t take us long to form the "Kilometre a day club."  However the club was only short lived and had
to be replaced with the "Mile a day club."  The first on the 2001 list was Trach
Kahn.  During the 1999 expedition, the
team had driven past this area on their return journey to

Hanoi
. They spotted a few roadside caves and the nearer of these received some
cursory investigations (500m of survey notes were recorded in the back pages of
Paul’s novel).  The team then continued
the journey (now pushed for time).  The
road continued next to a sizeable river, then sunk under an outcrop, a big echo
and no time.  10km further, the road
skirted around the top of a large gorge, 200m below a blue-green river issued
from beneath a cliff.  The resurgence for
the earlier sink, maybe?  The excitement
rose to fever pitch when the teams’ gaze fell upon a 50m diameter phreatic
tunnel, winking at them from across the gorge. This entrance (Hang A) was about 150m above the steam entrance, and the
subject of much beery bullshit and anticipation for the following two years.

Hang Two Years Later

Two teams rushed into the sink anticipating caverns
measureless, whilst the third team (

Vietnam
virgins) went for a recce
with a local snake collector to another sink, Pac Lung.  We entered the big sink through some high
level fossil maze, a race ensued to survey a route down to a streamway.  A short ladder pitch was found down into
swimming passage, which continued in a series of sporting rapids to a
sump.  With the cave struggling to reach
600m long, we were a bit dismayed that the big lead for two years had been
"Ghar Paraued".  However the
Viet virgins carne back over the hill with smug grins, 1km surveyed to a river
passage.  Pac Lung was eventually surveyed
to over 3km.

Hang A

The first team to go to the resurgence cave was dismayed to
find out that it was located just over the border in Long Son province.  However, they were allowed a quick look
inside to check if it went.  They quickly
surveyed a kilometre (just to confirm that it went) and found a lower and
easier entrance.  Mr. Bac then travelled
to Long Son city to negotiate the various permissions.  A few days later with all permissions
granted, the cave was on the move again. It was extended to 3km and contained a really sporting streamway, loads
of cascades and loads of fun.  Unfortunately
the stream sumped, leaving an 8km gap between Hang A and Pac Lung (the upstream
sink).  This will be one of the projects
for 2003.

Nguom

Nam
Lao

Our driver pulled off the road and we proceeded to bump and
bounce our way along a dirt track.  We (JP,
MN, PM, & Hieu) hoped we could get to the first sink on our planned walk
(recce) back to base via several sinks shown on our map.  Corning up over a col, our jeep lost traction
and slid back down.  Several half-hearted
attempts, revs screaming and wheels spinning later, our driver gave up.  With our walk considerably extended, we
marched off in search of the first sink. With a few pointers from local farmers we found our first objective.
Nguom Nap Biu turned out to be 1/2 km of easy stream passage to a large
sump.  We returned to the nearby village
to ask if there were any more disappearing rivers.  There were! 

 

The author in Nguom Nam Lao

We were given excellent directions (‘follow this river’) and
so set off on our way.  An hour’s walk
down valley, we followed the stream through some paddy fields to a large cliff
where the stream disappeared into the undergrowth.  We thrashed through the undergrowth, to find
a 40m x 10m passage leading into the darkness, Nguom Nam Lao.  After an initial false start, where we
followed the stream into an impenetrable rift, we eventually located the 20m x
20m borehole next to it.  The main
passage was followed for some distance to a junction.  The right hand passage was obviously the
active passage, with a very strong draught, but stooping.  The left hand passage had a slight draught,
flat sandy floor, and was walking size. We took the left which led through one of the most beautifully decorated
passages we found on the expedition.  We
were stopped by a small tube at the top of a large stal boss which dropped 4m
into a blue stream below, the draught howled through the tube.  Back at the junction, the right hand passage
led through a series of low stoops and crawls. We sent Hieu ahead to check that the passage went, while we surveyed the
awkward section.  That was the last we
saw of "grabber" Hieu for the next two hours.  We eventually intersected a massive passage
leading both ways, and no sign of Hieu. We left a cairn of tackle bags and a note for Hieu to wait for us and
then proceeded to survey the huge passage. Up dip ended in a gour choke, down dip was explored along a "Time
Machine" like passage until we heard shouts from Hieu.  We abandoned the survey and rushed to his
aid.  Hieu appeared from a crawl under
some boulders in the floor of the massive passage, shouting exuberantly that it
was still going.  Sceptical about the
location where Hieu had reappeared, we had a ten minute look to confirm the
passage was indeed still going with a howling draught and a storming passage.  We had surveyed just over a mile of cave, now
time and light were rapidly running into short supply, and so we made a sharp
exit.  Our idea of walking back
cross-country via several sinks was abandoned due to dwindling daylight.  We resigned ourselves to the 10km walk back
along the dirt track, followed by much the same along the road.  We stopped once only at a wayside inn to
drink the bar dry (an easy feat, as they only stocked two bottles of beer and a
coke).  Our excellent day of caving was
topped off when we met our driver and jeep waiting at the col for us, with
fresh doughnuts and sugarcane.



Flash Bang Hall, Nguom

Nam
Lao

The next day we got the jeep to within 400m of Nguom Nam
Lao, and continued our exploration. First on the agenda was the pitch down to the blue stream.  MH, HL, PI, and DH accompanied us to the
pitch, to photograph the preceding passage. They then continued further along the valley checking out other caves
with Hieu.  We dropped the pitch and
crawled along some squalid stream passage, to some low ducks (un-entered).  Above was a high level passage, but it all
choked.  Back at the pitch, a dry passage
led off, eventually reaching a chamber with several leads.  Following the main passage we continued
through a stal squeeze into more walking passage to a further crawl to
daylight.  The exit of the cave was being
used by water buffalo to shade from the sun. We returned through the cave back to Hieu’ s lead from the previous
day.  After the initial 100m of choked
passage we entered a phreatic tunnel, which went and went.  After a kilometre or so, a side passage was
encountered, from which the sound of a river could be heard.  We continued along our tunnel to a breakdown,
through which daylight could be reached. We exited the cave next to a large resurgence.  A river wound its way through the paddy
fields and tower karst towards more limestone cliffs.  There were also some official looking
buildings just the other side of the paddies, and so we kept a very low profile
and didn’t venture far from the cave.  We
had no translator or papers with us, as well as no idea where we were, our maps
stopped 5km short of the Nguom Nam Lao entrance.  The availability of the next map was
restricted, as it mainly showed

China
.  We returned to the cave and headed to the
river passage.  Downstream led
thunderously to the resurgence sump, upstream was followed to a fast flowing
swim, we abandoned our exploration due to lack of wetsuits.  As the weather became unsettled, the road
became impassable for our jeeps.  We
turned our attention to sinks nearer the road as time ran out for Nguom Nam Lao
(next year’s lead).





The Nguon Nam Lao Streamway

A week or so later we were conducting a jeep recce en route
to the next area, asking at every village whether they knew of any caves.  We came across some commune party offices
which seemed vaguely familiar.  We were
at the resurgence of Nguom Nam Lao. Arrangements were made for us to stay for a couple of nights, but a
courtesy visit to the local army base was required.  We drove the 2km down the valley, excitedly
tracking our river, until we reached the barracks.  Permissions were granted for Nguom Nam Lao,
but unfortunately they were unable to provide us with permission for the
massive river sink 1/2 km further on as it was in

China
.  We split into two teams to finish off Nguom
Nam Lao.  The strong swimmers (PI, NJ,
DM) continued the exploration of the main river, and pushed it through some
exciting passage to a sump, whilst HL, DL, and PM continued with the massive
passage, which eventually choked, and then finished off the other remaining
leads.  With everything tied up and
concluded, we had just enough time to survey a cave the locals had called the
most beautiful cave in the world (Nguom Nam Lien).  We went in with full photographic fire power,
and were dismayed to find a Burrington shite hole.  Photos, of course, had to be taken so that
the villagers wouldn’t lose face.

Nguom
Nam

Nam

On route to a resurgence which was prominently marked on our
map, we stopped at the commune office for a courtesy call to show our
papers.  We were somewhat distressed to
be presented with rice schnapps "cyclos" (sickloads).  A few down in-ones with the rice wine is the
last thing you want for breakfast.  It
soon became apparent that these dubious lads were not your dedicated card
carrying party members, but would be more at home in the Mafia.  Eventually we set off for the resurgence
"Nguom Nam Nam", along with our newly employed guides.  We drove to within 5 km of the cave, then set
off on foot across the paddy fields in the direction of some cone karst.  We were starting to get fed up with our
dawdling drunken guides whom we were having to wait for every five minutes.  About half way to the cave, our three guides,
who had now been joined by five of their mates, decided they would go on strike
until we paid all eight of them four times the agreed rate or they wouldn’t
show us the way to the cave.  A few small
flaws in their blackmail technique gave us the best poker hand in this industrial
dispute.  Firstly, we could see where the
cave was on our map, secondly we could see a river up ahead, with a well worn
path leading to it, and finally (the real clincher) we could see a bloody big
entrance in the distance.  The guides
plus extras were duly sacked, and Dr. Bac informed them in no uncertain terms
that they were not entitled to severance pay. The drunks did not, however, take kindly to redundancy, and we suffered
a hail of abuse and stones for the rest of the route to the cave.

Nguom Nam Nam entrance was partially walled up.  Mr. Bac informed us it was an ancient
fortification dating back to a ruling Vietnamese dynasty in the fifteenth
century.  The cave entrance had also been
used as a refuge when the invading Chinese Red Army burnt and destroyed the
northern provinces of

Vietnam
in the border war of
1978.  A traverse dropped down to the
river, wound its way through a large rift passage.  A series of wades and short swims eventually
led to a boulder collapse and an open depression.  A short bash through the undergrowth found us
in the continuation of the river cave. The passage regained its grand dimensions and bored its way into the
hillside.  The passage split in two, a
long deep canal glooped its way to a sump, whilst the draught whistled over a
boulder slope and disappeared up a twenty foot aven.

A large sink was marked on the map further along the
hillside, Nguom Nam Nam, was heading straight for it.  We decided to pay the sink a visit.  The river sink was partially dammed and contained
a small hydro electric plant (made out of a bicycle).  We followed the stream into an immediate
swim, which rapidly led to a sump (the other end of the canal).  However, a dry passage led off and eventually
reached a large chamber.  At one end of
the chamber, a large boulder choke was climbed to a twenty foot pitch – this
was the connection point.  At the other
end of the chamber, a complicated route through boulders led to another
entrance.  We tied up all the remaining
side passages and photographed the system. Whilst photographing the main chamber, Trevor had a lucky escape when
the large flash bulb he was holding exploded. The chamber gained the name "Flash Bang Hall".


Lang
Son
Province

– Just in passing

Hang Ban San (

Kawasaki
Cave
)

We departed from the Hang Ban Sein team, and headed up over
the col towards Ban San.  MN DL and PM
consulted the map.  It showed a river
flowing into the cliff just over the hill; however, it also showed the province
boundary running along the top of the hill. We asked Hieu if he was sure it was OK to go to Ban San, "No
problem", came the reply.  On
entering the valley, a review of the lie of the land looked promising, rivers
running off non limestone hills straight to the base of a 100m limestone
cliff.  We paid a courtesy call to the
local police outpost.  Our luck was in,
only the deputy was at home, he did ask to see our permits and allowed us to go
to the cave.  Our permits were for Cao
Bang province and the visit to the outpost had confirmed our suspicions that we
were now in Lang Son.  However, it wasn’t
until we started surveying and wrote down the cave’s address, that Hieu
realised in horror we were in the wrong province.  He let us go in to check it out, but 1½ hours
only, whilst he went back to explain the mistake.



After the initial scramble through boulders we popped out
into a large stream passage.  We surveyed
along the easy going flat gravel floored streamway.  The cave was pleasant and easy going, and we
were making good time as every survey leg was 50m long.  The cave then started to look like it was
going to sump, luckily we found a route through, "A duck without a bicycle
pump up its arse".  The low air
space was named because all the other ducks we had seen that week, had been in
the restaurant causing a racket whilst being injected with a marinade.  The stream (river) passage enlarged to a
grander scale, side passages lead off here and there.  A massive passage was encountered on the
right, and we decided to explore it because it would be quicker than following
the stream (we were very conscious of our time restraints).  We strolled along the flat sandy floored
fossil passage (Bowling Green) surveyed our way in and out of the stal columns
and eventually intersected the stream passage again, a similar passage was
surveyed on the other side of the stream. We still had just about enough time to continue surveying downstream for
a short distance.  The passage dropped to
a low wide stoop with a howling draught blowing in our face.  We eventually stopped the survey at an
obvious junction, with passage storming off into the distance.  A quick exit was made, but we managed to find
time for a few photographs.  We had a
successful trip exploring, surveying and photographing a mile of cave in 1½
hours.  The passage was so easy going
that Mick is going to take his motorbike down it on the next trip.

Hang Trau

Whilst exploring Hang A, the village president informed us
of a couple of other small caves in the valley. Out of politeness we thought it our duty to check them out.  First to be investigated was Hang Trau
(cattle cave).  Its entrance is used as a
cool cow shed in the summer heat, hence the name.  A short distance in, a climb ended the
cattle’s forays into the phreatic tunnel passage.  The main way on eventually choked after a
couple of hundred metres . Two passages led off the main route, the first we
entered led down to a deep canal.  Hieu,
keen to show off his new found swimming prowess, dived in with the survey tape,
proceeded to swim to the middle of the pool, and with the buoyancy of a brick
promptly disappeared from sight.  Deb
dived in to the rescue, and pulled a gurgling and distressed Hieu from the
pool.  After this little incident we
decided to look for a dry bypass to "Drowning by Numbers".  A small draughting crawl was located, allowing
safe access to the far side of the canal, which eventually led to a sump.

Hang Goi

Next on the agenda was Hang Goi (wind cave).  The entrance is located in a small thicket
behind a villager’s very steep vegetable patch. Half way up the 1:3 allotment the temperature dramatically dropped, and
we continued up and on to find a low crawl from which issued a wicked
draught.  The cave took it’s time to grow
in stature, crawl followed by low stoop, back to crawling then yet more
stooping.  The draught, however, kept
drawing us in.  Eventually, on
intersecting a canyon, we gained passage dimensions worthy of a Vietnamese
cave.  We followed the up-stream canyon
noting several leads on both sides of the passage. The cave yet again changed
character as we dropped into a stream passage. We followed upstream to a waterfall issuing from the roof.  A by-pass was soon discovered, so we
continued our way up a series of climbs and shower baths.  Shorts and T-shirts were not the ideal caving
kit for climbing up shower baths in an air-conditioned cave, so imagine our
relief when we reached a 15m un-climbable waterfall.  A quick exit was made before the onset of
hypothermia.  Returning the following day
to check out the side passages, we dropped down the canyon and followed the
passage through a complex series of tunnels and tubes, eventually ending in a
draughting canal.  With the previous
day’s incident fresh in our minds, we left the swim for a future trip armed
with wetsuits.  Our public relations
exercise into a small hopeless looking limestone hillock had revealed nearly
2.5km as well as entertaining the villagers.


Quane
Binh
Province

– Welcome to the jungle

The final fortnight of the expedition, a small team (HL, DL,
DM, and PM) spent their time tidying up loose ends around Hang Khe Ry (the top
sink to the Phong Nha hydrological system). Our base for ten days was a cobble island within the upstream entrance
of Hang En, located 400m upstream from the Hang Khe Ry resurgence.  The 1999 expedition explored Hang Khe Ry to
over 18 Km, encapsulating three major sinks. However there were still some interesting question marks, namely; where
did the river in the fourth river sink go? What were the entrances seen in
cliffs above the upstream Hang En Valley? Also, the 1994 Hang En exploration team was pushed for time, therefore
missed the resurgence to Khe Ry, what else did they miss?





The route to base camp in Hang En was always an expedition
in itself.  Our Vietnamese friends from

Hanoi
University

and Dong Hoi Peoples’ Committee had done us proud.  Our transport for the trip along the Ho Chi
Minh trail to kilometer 14, was to be all singing and dancing 4×4 Vietnamese
army jeeps with air-con and cushioned seats. (They must think we are getting soft). We normally travel on the top of a loaded six-wheeled rattan lorry,
getting thrown around/out by metre deep potholes (bomb craters) whilst being
dragged backwards through the jungle canopy. If that wasn’t exciting enough, the contents of the jungle canopy are
shaken into the back of the truck to share the ride (a snake landing in your
lap can be a bit unsettling).  Our
friends from Son Trach Peoples’ Committee provided us with a guide, a committee
man, and some willing porters to get the gear the day’s walk from the Ho Chi
Minh trail to Hang En. Best laid plans and all that, a
US helicopter looking for MIA remains proceeded
to fly into a limestone mountain (the

US
maps always did confuse ridges
with valleys).  Needless to say, our all
singing and dancing jeep had more of a pressing engagement ferrying US and
Vietnamese military to the disaster zone. We caught a lift in the back of a bone shaker quarry wagon, allowing us
to brush up on our Vietnamese flora and fauna. We were also wondering why our porters had such smug grins, with the
prospect of an 8 to 10 hour carry through the forest ahead of them.  On approaching kilo 14, we prepared ourselves
for demounting, but the truck just thundered on.  Ahead of us, as far as the eye could see, a
swathe had been cut through the forest. A partially constructed dual carriageway bordered by workers and shanty
towns, now occupied the once remote forest. Streamways and rivers (feeders for
the Phong Nanh system) two years previously had provided welcome refreshment
from the humidity of the forest, now ran red with spoil as the bulldozers used
them as self emptying spoil heaps. Another rainforest bites the dust. Not content with our carry to Hang En now only taking 2 to 3 hours we
proceeded to get lost for a few hours – caving in Quang Binh would be the same
if you didn’t have a long walk in.

Hang Ca

Whilst ridding himself of guano and sweat, after a
disappointing investigation of the innermost recesses of Hang En,

Duncan
noticed that the
water on the left side of the Hang En river was several degrees colder than the
right.  Further investigation was needed,
and wetsuit and gloves were put on to provide protection from the cold water
and the poisonous plants that adorn the river banks.  We waded chest-deep upstream for 500m to the
base of a cliff.  It was like a scene out
of "Apocalypse Now".  Huge
house-sized boulders concealed a crystal blue lake, large fish darted in and
out of the shadows.  We had found the
source of our cold water, we called the resurgence Hang Ca (

Fish
Cave
).  The phreatic river passage was out of our
depth for all but 20m of the 300m cave. The passage was a series of lake chambers/tunnels interspersed with low,
gloopy, sumpy regions, the cave ended unsurprisingly in a large sump.  We concluded that Hang Ca was probably the
resurgence to the fourth sink.

Hang Doi

A chance meeting with a group of woodcutters camped in the
other entrance of Hang En, provided us with a few leads high on the
plateau.  The three lads told us they
were going to camp for three nights in a Hang Ho (

Tiger
Cave
)
and would pass Hang Doi (bat cave).  They
agreed to show us Hang Doi, after they had finished their breakfast.  Breakfast was caught by waving a 3m stick
through the air.  It consisted of
swiftlets, plucked, then barbecued alive, and we politely declined the offer to
tuck in.  The route to the top of the
plateau led past the exit of Hang Khe Ry, followed by a steep scramble up a
100m cliff.  However, the route turned
out to be a bit more severe than we expected, rickety ladders and vines were
rigged on the VDiff. climbs traversing above Khe Ry’s 50m high entrance.  An executive decision was quickly made – we
needed ropes and harnesses to continue safely. 

Duncan

(being a climbing instructor) was not phased by the climbs, although he did
free climb next to the fixed aids to be on the safe side.  He continued on with the woodcutters to check
out the cave – it was miles away, over rough terrain and dense jungle.  Meanwhile, we checked out the river sink, it
didn’t go, but it did provide some entertaining route finding through an
immense boulder ruckle with a full-on river churning through it.

We returned to the climbs and awaited

Duncan
‘s return.  He showed up just before dark, minus one
penknife and torch which he traded in exchange for being taken back to the
climbs.  We returned a few days later
with harnesses, ropes and survey gear to conclude Hang Doi.

After our success with locating Hang Ca by the cold water
detection method, we decided to try our luck further upstream.  Whilst drawing up surveys in previous years,
we had noticed that the caves in this area followed lines of the major surface
depressions; our map showed just such a line of depressions about 1 km
upstream.  This needed to be checked out.  The vegetation in the valley floor upstream
is secondary growth, thus the terrain is difficult to negotiate other than on
woodcutters’ paths or wading in the river. Limestone cliffs pen in the river, into a 300m wide flood plain.  Multiple oxbows and tributaries allowed us to
skirt the edges of the cliffs in search of resurgences.  Our luck was holding, we detected another
very cold water course and followed it for several hundred metres, until a wall
of forest descended into our stream.  We
now needed a machete to continue with this lead, and to gain access to a couple
of visible entrances high on valley walls. The next day two porters, Mr Oih and Mr Nha, were dispatched to a Hmong
tribe village, a couple of hours back towards Son Trach.  On return, they would blaze a trail to the
two entrances high on the valley wall (unfortunately, both soon closed down).

Hang Lanh

Whilst proceedings had stopped due to lack of large cutting
implements, we decided to go and check out the further upstream of the Hang En
valley.  Our maps showed the river
disappearing for 400m.  Along our way,
whilst travelling in the river, we encountered twelve bemused woodcutters.  We introduced ourselves, Deb tried to explain
what we were doing, and that we were looking for caves.  To which, they said, there was a cave 100m
from here, but it will cost us.  Twelve
of Howard’s cigarettes later saw us standing in a freezing cold stream issuing
from beneath a big boulder pile.  Closer
examination revealed a small, insignificant entrance leading to large,
significant cave passage.  The cave was
known as Hang Lanh (cold cave) a source of fish and fresh water.  Hang Lanh was about 200m upstream from where
the forest had stopped our passage the previous day, it also coincided with the
line of depressions shown on our map.

We surveyed our way into Hang Lanh, through some beautiful
river cave.  Our pace was occasionally
broken by deep wading or short swims across turquoise pools.  It was sometimes difficult to determine the
width of the passage we were traversing. The passage walls kept disappearing up huge slopes for 60 or 70m.  Many a time the survey was marked as a large
side passage leading off, only to find later it was in fact just the passage
wall.  The cave was liberally adorned
with large, tropical stal.  Fossils of
sand dollars covered the scalloped walls of one section of passage.  One of the most striking features of Hang
Lanh was undoubtedly its gours – there are many huge gours coming into the
streamway along its course.  We ended our
first day’s exploration by one such 20m high gour, and left the cave giggling
wrecks, with 2km in the book.

With an early start and high spirits we began our second
day’s exploration of Hang Lanh.  First,
we climbed the 20m gour using a human pyramid and the survey tape as hand
line.  The passage at the top was big and
led to a large aven.  It continued on,
eventually leading back to the main stream. This was somewhat of a relief to us, as the prospect of a 20m abseil on
a fibron tape measure was a bit daunting. We continued exploration and surveying up stream, constantly checking
out possible side passages as we went. The cave continued to grow in size, with a very nicely shaped stream
passage.  The steam eventually divided;
we explored the left hand route first as it took the majority of the
water.  We ran along a square passage,
until some wades with low-ish air space were reached.  Nerves were a bit on edge on the far side of
the wade.  Nobody wanted a repeat of the
Hang Tien incident, when Trevor and Cal were trapped for 57 hours by a flash
flood from

Laos
.  We were, after all, exploring one of the
resurgences of Hang Tien, on Friday the 13th of all days.  Not hanging around, we continued surveying
along the passage into a breakdown area. A climb through a loose boulder choke was eventually abandoned (Where
Grabbers Fear to Tread’).  The right hand
passage was then explored.  This led to a
complicated area of passages on three levels, the most spectacular of which was
a 30m wide flat-floored oxbow, with a 15m high totem pole in the middle of
it.  Another large chamber above
contained rocket-like stal, but unfortunately reached the same conclusion as
the streamway and choked.  We’d added
another 2.7km into the book, and all that remained was to photograph our way
out of this spectacular cave.



The Streamway. Nguom

Nam
Lao.



Results

 

CAVE NAME


DISTRICT
PROVINCE

VERT

LENGTH


 


 


 


 

RANGE


 

Hang Phuong Tien

Vi Xuyen

Ha Giang

    (-6,10) 16

298

Hang Na Hau

Ha Giang

Ha Giang


90

Italian Job – The Sequel

Meo Vac,

Ha Giang

-122

136

Hang Ta Lung

Dong Van

Ha Giang

50.2

636

Pia Lung Xa

Meo Vac

Ha Giang

-75

157

Lo La Phin

Meo Vac

Ha Giang

-100

144

Hang Ca Ha

Meo Vac

Ha Giang

-55

150

Hang Pho Coa 1

Meo Vac

Ha Giang

6.25

60

Hang Pho Coa 2

Meo Vac

Ha Giang


69

Hang Rong

Dong Van

Ha Giang

15.7

385

Hang By Su Phin

Dong Van

Ha Giang

-41

123

Hang Two Years Later

Thach An

Cao Bang

60

473

Pac Lung

Thach An

Cao Bang

-64.5

3109

Nguom Nap Biu

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-9,2) 12

549

Nguom

Nam
Lao

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-21,19) 40

3360

Nguom Tong Long

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-17,2) 19

626

Nguom Ngam Darn

Thach An

Cao Bang

-58

1637

Nguom A

That Khe

Lang Son

(-51,26) 77

2970

Nguom Ban San

Chang Ding

Lang Son

-30

1660

Nguom Ban Sien

Thach An

Cao Bang

-129

776

N guom N am Lien

Thach An

Cao Bang

3

245

Nguom

Nam

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang

72.5

2390

Nguom Ireby Fell

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang

21

323

Lung Chuong

Trung Khanh

Cao Bang

-6.6

87.1

Na Nguom 4

Trung Khanh

Cao Bang

15

431

Hang N ang Tien

Thach An

Cao Bang

56

525


Bicycle
Cave

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang

24.5

331

Hang Coc Bang

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang

3

181

Cam Thon

Tong Cot

Cao Bang

-113

162

Pac Bo 1

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang

19

351

Hang Ban

Hue

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang


60

N guom N a Giang

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang

10

191

N guom Cuom

That Khe

Lang Son

15.5

1126

Hang Trua

That Khe

Lang Son

(-18,3) 21

456

Hang Gio

That Khe

Lang Son

(47,-17) 64

1381

Hang Lanh

Bo Trach

Quang Binh

114

3753

Hang Doi

Bo Trach

Quang Binh

24

453

Hang Ca

Bo Trach

Quang Binh

14

361

Hang Thoc

Bo Trach

Quang Binh

19

123


 


 

    Total Length

2001 =

30338.1



Martin in Nguom

Nam
Lao.

Conclusion

We visited 4 different provinces on the expedition, each
having its unique and diverse landscapes and styles of caving.  In Ha Giang, the caves were in high mountains
and required alpine style caving. Although at times getting permissions for going underground was
difficult, the reconnaissance expedition did turn up a number of good leads,
with huge potential for future trips.  In
Cao Bang we had a field-day bagging 24km of cave in less than 2 weeks.  These caves were mainly river caves, although
some tying up of loose ends from 1999 provided some excellent SRT caves.  We ran out of time in Cao Bang; there is
still plenty more to have a go at and lots of unfinished business.  Long Son: We barely glanced at it, loads of
going caves to finish and lots more to find. Quang Binh was its usual full-on jungle experience, the caves are
remote, to say the least.  However, when
you get to them, they are awesome.  We
pieced together some more of the Truong Son massif jigsaw, and in doing so we
extended the Phong Nha hydrological system to 44.5km of underground
passage.  We also found out about some
future leads.  In total, the expedition
explored and surveyed over 30km of new cave in 6 weeks.  There are ample prospects for another
expedition and many more besides.  We all
had an excellent time with our Vietnamese friends, and must thank them
wholeheartedly for their kindness and hospitality.

Acknowledgments

Hanoi University, Peoples Committee of Ha Giang, Peoples
Committee of Cao Bang, Peoples Committee of Long Son, Peoples Committee of
Quang Binh,  Sports Council of UK, David
Hood, Ghar Parau Foundation, Mount Everest Foundation, Pace UK Ltd., Mulu
Expedition 2000, Dachstein 2000, Power bar, Lyon Equipment, Thai Airways

 

Vet Eats Guinea Pig!!!

Being one man’s epic story of the 2002 Expedition to Sima
Pumacocha,

Peru
;
the attainment of the South American depth record (in the highest significant
cave system on Earth) and the commencement of the World’s Highest Dig.

by Tony Jarratt

Background

Avid readers of BB 513 will have been overawed by the story
of the discovery and part exploration of Sima Pumacocha 2, near Laraos,

Yauyos
Province
,
Lima Dept., Peru.  Before the rope ran
out , a depth of -430 metres was reached with the way on being big, vertical
and a trifle damp.  The adjacent S.P.3
was descended in one mighty pitch of 120m to a draughting boulder choke.  These caves and the neighbouring, unexplored
river sink of S.P.l were first reported by British caver Les Oldham who was
doing geological work in the area. BEC export Nick Hawkes, also a prospecting
geologist, joined forces with Les and partly descended S.P.2 to find it a
"goer".  He eventually
recruited last year’s Anglo/Canadian/Peruvian/Aussie team for the first push
into the system, all of whom were impressed enough to return this year together
with four new and unsuspecting Mendip men – sacrificial offerings to appease
the wrath of the Puma God.  Four Peruvian
cavers from the CEESPE club in

Lima
,
together with their driver also turned up for a look at the first part of the
system and to do some surface recce.

The 2002 Expedition

On 1st September the Mendip "Saga Holidays" team
of Rob, Bob, Dany and I arrived at Gatwick in good time for our flight to

Atlanta,
Georgia

– or at least we would have been if it hadn’t left three hours earlier.  I’m sure that vets are top class in their own
profession but never let one indulge in deciphering flight times as the words
"departure" and "arrival" can cause confusion.  By great good fortune and the patient
excellence of Delta Airways staff we were allowed on the midday flight as
standby passengers, but only after a mild panic when a young security lady
decided to swab the inside of my tackle bag. The instant production of my explosive licence calmed things down but
the dear girl had to scrub her hands several times to avoid contaminating
everything in sight!

Another minor panic occurred later on the airplane when a
nurse was summoned to attend a small baby, choking and gasping in its mother’s
arms.  Two seats away "baby killer
Bradshaw" silently dropped another one …

Arriving in

Atlanta

eight hours later, after an excellent flight, we spent a night at the Radisson
Hotel and indulged in a light snack at the local Longhorn Steakhouse.  Next day a visit was paid to the Coca Cola
Museum and the now subterranean original main street of the city advertised as
Underground Atlanta.  White faces were
few and far between in this predominantly black state, somewhat reminiscent of

South Africa
.  Following several fine pints of Guinness at
the airport we left that evening for another excellent Delta flight to

Lima
, arriving there at
11pm local time for a beer, pisco and wine session at Nick’s hacienda in La
Molina.

An early start next day saw us packing the Rio Tinto
Exploration Toyota 4WD pick-up then heading south down the desert lined
Pan-American Highway and south east up the stunning Canete valley towards the
Cordillera Occidental of the Andes, pausing for an interesting lunch of fried
guinea pig and chips (with beer of course) in Lunahauna.  Here we basked in the sunshine after having
escaped from the gloomy sea mist of the monotonous desert coastline.

After gradually climbing from sea level to 2,850m, we
arrived at the Casa de Gerencia near the

village of
Llapay
.  Jeny, our attractive hostess, produced a
delicious meal (bereft of small, deep fried heads) and then the rest of our
team turned up from a rigging trip almost to the bottom of Huanca Gorge.  A couple of crates of Cristal cerveza were
necked and we climbed gratefully into our clean beds to dream of altitude and
glory.

The 4th September saw the stalwart riggers pressing on down
to the X-Files Ledge and photographing the known passage while we spent an
acclimatisation day investigating potential cave sites in the mountains above
Pumacocha.  Two short caves near the
Yauricocha Mine, high above the picturesque

village of
Laraos

were first looked at. Yauricocha Cave 1, at an altitude of 4,630m. is a 1.5m.
diameter by l4.5m. deep pot located at the side of the dirt road leading to the
mine.  The scenery is rugged and starkly
beautiful with spectacularly vertically bedded limestone peaks.  Higher, snow capped ranges provide a
magnificent background and we were impressed with the fact that the melt water
from these feeds both the nearby Pacific and the distant Atlantic via the

Amazon
Basin
.  Not quite the roof of the world but bloody
close to the attic!  The bottom of the
pot was choked with rocks and coils of alloy power cable dumped by the mining
company.  Being some 230m. above the main
system it was obviously worth a trial dig so a return was planned with a pulley
and hauling rope.  (This was done a
couple of days later when some 1.5m. of depth was gained after the removal of
several coils of wire and a dozen tackle sacks of rock.  A stony, earthen floor was reached but
further work could well yield a way on. A bit far for Wednesday nights though). To remind us just where we were a herd of llamas passed by and the
herdsman stopped to have a chat with Nick about other potential cave
sites.  Flurries of hail and snow added
to the surreal atmosphere as did the view down valley of a c.70m. high conical
limestone pillar.  This is actually an
Inca prince turned to stone and has the somewhat unfortunate name of Tunshu
Wanka.

Continuing over the pass towards the mine we found
Y.C.2.  A free climbable ramp led to a
c.20m. diameter chamber, choked in all directions.  One bone was noted but no wall paintings or
other archaeological evidence.

Permission was then gained from the heavily armed guards at
the mine to drive through the property and recce. a nearby limestone area where
the abandoned Mina Exito (Success Mine) and the totally choked Millpoca and
Exito Sinks were investigated and written off. To continue the pyrotechnic theme of this expedition a root around in a
digging bag found in the mine (I can’t help myself) revealed lots of sticks of
gelignite which clearly needed a good home but were reluctantly left in
situ.  The main level had collapsed – or
been blown in – after 50m.  Much of the
spoil from this seemingly extensive lead/silver working had been dumped in the
huge Exito Sink doline and will doubtless present future problems as it is on a
direct line from Sima Pumacocha to the supposed resurgence at

Alis
Springs
.

We continued our travels past the huge and distinctly
eco-unfriendly settling pond of Yauricocha Mine to the lower

village of
Tinco

where sweeties and local music tapes (llama shagging tunes I am reliably
informed) were purchased.  A narrow, high
and spectacular limestone canyon was then followed to the boulder choked
springs, some 16km. from and 1,000m. lower than the main S.P. sink.  More superb gorges were driven through on our
way back down to Llapay which we reached after a round trip of 73km.  No caves of note had been found apart from
the dig site of Y.C.1. In the evening the Peruvian team arrived to share a few
beers before heading for their hotel in the village.

Meanwhile Ian had dropped a bag of bolting gear into the
raging torrent of the (apparently non PC) Shining Path and was distressed.  Rob the owner of the virgin Petzl hammer (35
pounds) was even more distressed.  I sell
them and was not unduly distressed.

Next day came our baptism of fire in SP2.  This magnificent pothole was named after the
nearby Pumacocha (Quechua for

Mountain
Lion
Lake
).  Nick has recently seen puma spoor in the snow
here.  Leaving the

Lima
cavers at the entrance to do their own
thing, Bob, Dany, Rob, Nick and I braved the howling gale emerging from the
cave and abseiled down a series of mind-blowing dry shafts and almost vertical
ramps to a horrifically unstable boulder choke at -240m.  The thin atmosphere is full of fine mist
blown up by the draught from the river inlet at -300m.  This was unfortunate for photographers Bob and
Dany but fortunate for me as, especially on the 113m. Ammonite Shaft, it
reduces the visibility and exposure factor a little!  The photographers were suffering from
"depth shock" and wisely stopped at the Shining Path while the three
of us continued to the X-Files Ledge where Rob commenced a hairy traverse out
above the thundering hell of the Cascadas de Don Jesus in an attempt to pass
this c.60m. deep maelstrom.  He managed
about 20 hard won metres before the noise, exposure, spray and soroche
(altitude sickness) got to him.  Nick and
I could do little but await his return though on the way down I had employed
some time to clamber down to the raging torrent below the main inlet for a
critically timed "dump".  With
a sense of extreme relief I doffed harnesses, metalwork and oversuit, etc. to
squat above the deluge and, with no book to read, was forced to admire the
scenery.  If I hadn’t already been in the
process I would have shat myself as I realised that the coils of
"wire" polluting the riverbed were each the nest of several shiny
copper detonators.  This concentrated my
mind on the job in hand – and on watching my steps on completion of the task!

The long drag out was my first experience of prolonged
prussiking at such an altitude and I found that it took two to three times
longer than the descent with plenty of rests needed.  These gave one plenty of time to reflect on
the single, thin rope stretching into infinity above and below and only
touching the walls near the razor sharp fossils….. I was spat onto the surface
at 10pm and by midnight we were about to organize a rescue for Rob when a
muffled "Yoh" from the entrance came as a great relief.

On reflecting on this trip we realised that this great
pothole was essentially easy and superbly rigged by Mark, Snablet and team
using a battery drill rented from an unsuspecting

Oxford
hire shop.  Our lack of acclimatisation and big pitch
training (Hunters’ Hole after five pints not being quite enough Dany!) caused a
few problems and the psychological effects of travelling up and down this
awesome hole were not insignificant.  Not
a bad showing for the Old Mendip Gits though. (Meanwhile the Young Mendip Gits had been getting deservedly stoated in
the bars of Llapay).

A rest day followed for some while Nick, complete with bad
back, and Snablet returned to push the depths.

Dany drove Matt and I up to Pumacocha where our objective
was to survey the 120m. deep free hang of SP3 and attempt to dig a connection
through the terminal boulder choke into the main system.  At the nearby miners’ hut, kindly lent to us
by the manager of San Valentin Mine, we changed and had an inspired brew of
coca leaf tea with Gatorade – a vivifying drink which I guarantee you can’t get
in the U.S.A!  While sunbathing in my
shreddies I was suddenly confronted by the ancient crone who dwelt in a nearby
thatched hut and herded llamas.  It seems
that she was adamant that we were unleashing demons from the cave to create
illness in her flock.  A bar of melted
Hershey chocolate mollified her and she tottered off muttering in Quechua about
the attractiveness of practically naked Englishmen.

On the way to the cave we investigated the large, abandoned
Mina Ipillo situated above the hut and reached a (blasted?) roof fall after
210m. of 4m. square roadway.  I got up
and over this for 10m. but was not happy with the air conditions or state of
the roof.  There is a dodgy way on back
down to the main level but no obvious draught. This mine, at 4,462m. a.s.l. was worked for copper, lead, zinc, gold and
silver and has left a long embankment of spoil to disfigure the beautiful

Pumacocha
Valley
. The thousands of soles worth of high explosives littering the cave
system are obviously derived from here – SPI being located almost at the end of
the spoil heap.

Matt was by now suffering from the effects of high altitude
alcohol excess and swearing never to drink rum again so, taking advantage of
the weather, we changed our ambitious plans to the more mellow project of
photographing the entrances and running a surface survey from SP2 to SP3 and
onwards to five other entrances downstream which we had identified
earlier.  This was soon accomplished and
we then realised that four of these entrances led to an interconnected cave
system which we now had no choice but to survey.

Three of these four entrances were protected by drystone
walls from the intrusion of animals, the fourth being a steep 3m. drop.  Inside we found a pleasant and beautifully
scalloped little system which was unfortunately despoiled by rubbish including
lengths of plastic pipe, an oil drum, alpaca fleeces, old clothes, a sleeping
mat, two 2m. drill steels, coils of power cable and some graffiti dated 1946 or
1996.  Most of this clatch had apparently
been scrounged or liberated from the nearby mines.  Despite the obvious potential there were
again no cave paintings or signs of archaeological importance as found in other
local rock shelters.  The drystone walls
and aqueduct on the surface appear to have been originally of great age and
later modified by more recent herdsmen and miners.  I suspected that this was a pre-Inca, high
altitude settlement site as used in the "ayllu" system of taking
advantage of all possible ecological niches from sea level to snow line in
order to avoid famine in the tribal community. We were soon to find a valuable clue towards proving this.

In the middle of the system we descended a 10m. deep pot
whose lip was protected by a drystone wall constructed on a ledge about 1.5m.
down.  A talus cone at the bottom of the
moonmilk lined pot was full of animal skulls, mainly goat.  Two impassable, strongly outward draughting
holes between deposits of moonmilk and calcite revealed open spaces beyond but
bang will be needed to pass these into the presumed connection with the main
system.  Having good relations with the
local mining companies makes this a feasible project and it would not affect
any possible archaeological artefacts in the talus cone.  On our return to the head of the pot a grotty
little bedding plane was noticed behind the ledge and Matt life lined me down
to this in order to complete the survey. I crawled in feet first, over a narrow rift, to find it closed down
after a couple of metres.  On the way out
I glanced down at the large stone under my chest to find it staring back! A
round headed human skull (not purposefully deformed as were some Inca skulls)
lay on its left side, wedged among rocks. A couple of leg (?) bones were noted some 2m. down the narrow rift below
and Bob later found a pelvic bone further into the bedding plane when he
photographed the find.  How the hell this
skeleton got here is a mystery but a purposeful cave burial is most
likely.  It has the aura of great
antiquity so is unlikely to be a victim of Sendero Luminoso terrorists.  Other theories of a crushed miner or injured
victim of a pit sacrifice expiring on their desperate free climb out are
improbable.  A burial would add credence
to the settlement site theory and it is quite likely that there are other human
remains interred in the talus slope or earth floor of the horizontal passages
above.  Another possibility is that this
could be the remains of an ancestral mummy hidden from the Catholic
conquistadores who were taking great pains to eradicate the ancient Andean
religions.  There were no obvious
artefacts and the skull was left undisturbed. The alcade (mayor) of Laraos was informed of the discovery but didn’t
seem particularly excited.  An English
professor with interests in the region has also been contacted with no reply as
yet.

This amazing cave threw one other surprise at us with the
arrival of a 12I5cm. long humming bird which was either feeding from the walls
or scared by our presence from entering its underground nest. Is this a
previously unreported cave dwelling species? (Anette Becher informs me that
they are well known – another chance to be famous blown out!).

Well satisfied with our day’s work we returned to the hut
via a 2m. long rock shelter above SPI where a store of drying llama pats was
found.  With no trees around this is used
by the herdsmen for cooking and heating fuel. Our fuel was more "high altitude" tea and beef risotto then
rapidly into our grubby sleeping bags.

Nick and Snablet had managed to bottom the Cascadas de Don
Jesus pitch to find a steeply descending, boulder floored passage with part of
the main river sinking and part running beneath the floor.  Yet another pitch halted progress but they
were convinced that they had the South American depth record in the bag and
after waking us up to inform us of this fact insisted on celebrating it with a
dram of Laphraoig which even the now temporarily abstemious Matt was forced to
imbibe.  Mark and Ian had gone in after
them to push on even further, drop more pitches and rejoin the main river
"thundering vertically out of the roof’ and earning the name "Viagra
Falls".  They stopped at the head of
another pitch and at a depth of c.-580m. Mark described their extensions and the cave in general, as
"totally cool".  Being Canucks
they celebrated with tea!

After a spiffing breakfast of chicken noodle soup and tuna,
washed down with more special tea, Matt and I entered SP3 at 9.40am, passed the
X-Files Ledge traverse – gobsmackingly exposed and dripping with rebelays – and
started our task of surveying the extensions at the top of the boulder slope
below the almost deafening Cascadas.  We
had opted out on surveying the traverse itself until we had figured how the
hell to do it.  We pressed on around or
over house sized boulders in a large gallery festooned with flood deposited
detonators hanging high up on the walls and on down Pozo Jeny, named after our
hostess.  We then swung across the deep
Lago Yerlina, dedicated to our vivacious housemaid and then along a short
horizontal (!) streamway to the Rolling Thunder pitch.  Ahead roared the main river inlet, a wicked
place indeed.  The Britney Shakira pitch
(pop music appreciating housemaid’s baby daughter!) alongside this, led to the
current end with a huge and well watered passage/pitch heading off into the
gloom.  Here we halted the survey and
returned to our starting place.  I
ascended the pitch and traverse, taking the best part of an hour, clutching the
end of a 100m. fibron tape and by using walkie talkies we were able to connect
the surveys with a single leg of 77m. at an angle of 68 degrees – is this a
record?  The true record was later
revealed when Rob computed the figures to give a depth of 584.1m. and a length
of 842.9m.  This beat the rival Brazilian
cave by c.150m. to easily give us the glory and prove the system as the world’s
highest cave of significance (but beware

Bolivia
).

Bob and Rob had that day been on a rope delivery mission to
Rolling Thunder but were still suffering from soroche.  We were finally spat out of the cave by the
draught at midnight after a 15 hour trip which personally tested me to my
limits.  Matt was dissuaded from burning
his SRT kit and we put our brains into neutral ready for the de-rigging which
was becoming imminent.  An inch of snow
on the surface added to the fun as we drove back down the vertiginous dirt
track to a clean bed in Llapay.

A heavy rainstorm heralded the following day which we
dedicated to eating, drinking and reading while Mark and Snablet did the final
pushing trip to reach a roomy sump beyond two more pitches with only a couple
of metres of rope to spare.  The final
depth was -638m. and length 931 m.  They
reported a possible desperate climb up one wall to a large, draughting passage
which will probably bypass the sump. They commenced de-rigging but soon became knackered and headed out to
well deserved glory and beer.

While they were scampering up the equivalent of two Pen Hill
Masts with a river inside the rest of us were manfully doing our duty for
public relations by necking vast quantities of beer and dancing the night away
with the local lovelies at Jeny’s bar in Llapay.  The pyrotechnic theme continued with an
exploding paper and cane bull which a local character put on his back before it
was lit by a well wisher.  The assorted
fireworks distributed about the body of the bull burst into action and our man
rushed around Llapay’s singular street to good effect before he was incinerated
creating havoc, hilarity and a spate of drunken photography.  Home made rockets, a selection of local piss
heads and another infusion of ale kept most of the BEC contingent going until
the early hours.  A memorable night.

De-rigging day saw your scribe "as grumpy as an

Easton
taxi driver"
and I was dragged, kicking and screaming up to the Mina Ipillo hut a couple of
hours before following Nick, Matt and Ian down the cave.  This lonely, hungover trip was enlivened by a
nearly fatal epic partway down Ammonite Pot when I fortuitously noted that I
had clipped my short cowstail around the maillon instead of inside it.  Top tip – always utilise BOTH
cowstails!!!  At the Shining Path oxbow,
just below the main river inlet I found a large orange poly. bivvy bag left for
my salvation by fellow drunk Matt and clambered in replete with life saving
Russian carbide generator to keep warm while I awaited the de-riggers.  After two and a half hours of fitful sleep in
the all pervading thunder I ran out of available carbide and retreated to the
bottom of the Huanca Gorge to report my colleagues’ non arrival and the
possibility of their being flooded in by rain and snow melt.  Rob and Bob were the recipients and they also
had absolutely no desire to suffer the X-Files traverse in search of the late
comers though Rob, suffering from a nasty, infected sore on his ankle caused by
a rubbing foot loop, unselfishly volunteered to go and look for them.  After waiting for an hour I heard Nick’s
voice emanating from the boulder choke – a great relief to both me, Rob, Bob
(sciatica in the hip) and three oblivious partygoers back down in Llapay.

All eventually staggered out to the surface between the
hours of 1 and 7 am to meet the redoubtable Juan who had dossed down in the

Toyota
all night in order
to ferry emerging cavers the short distance back to the hut.  He deserves a medal.

Next day the Mendip contingent left for the fleshpots of

Lima
leaving the honour of
de-rigging to the colonials and ex-pats. On our last night Les turned up with a barrel of tasty Peruvian draught
beer having the (hardly mouth watering) name of

Colon
. So ended our hols.  All agreed that
though bloody hard work it had been a memorable experience.  The scenery, people, food and beer were all
first class and the ladies, Jeny and Yerlina, had done us proud.  Our absent sponsor, Don Jesus Arias Davila
deserves our greatest thanks for his generosity as does Sofia Hawkes and her
housemaid for their hospitality.  Nick’s
bosses at Rio Tinto and Juan "Diablo" are absolute stars.  Muchas gracias.

I am told that there is a horizontal cave in the jungle that
needs investigating.

Anacondas, tarantulas, cocaine running terrorists, malaria
and alligators abound.  Sounds great Nick
– book us up!

The Team

Nick Hawkes (BEC – U.K. & Peru), Les Oldham (ex NSG –
U.K. & Peru), Matt Tuck (BEC – U.K. & Canada), Rob Harper (BEC – U.K.),
Dany Bradshaw (BEC – U.K.), Bob Cork (BEC – U.K.), Tony Jarratt (BEC – U.K.),
Pete "Snablet" McNab (BEC U.K.), Ian McKenzie (ASS – Canada), Mark
Hassell (BCSF & ASS – Australia & Canada), Juan "Diablo"
Castro (Rio Tinto – Peru), Carlos Morales Bermudez, Rolando Carascal Miranda,
Samuel Arias Mansial and James Cuentas Alvarado (all CEESPE – Peru), Robert
Luis Bejarand (driver – Peru).

Ed. Photographs and surveys from the expedition will appear
in the next BB.

 

Caving in
Tasmania,

Australia

by Phil (MadPhil)
Rowsell

This article is aimed
to give the reader a general understanding of the range of cave systems, their
access and general differences in
Tasmania
compared to the

UK
.

Introduction

Tasmania is a small island
at the base of
Australia,
directly south from

Melbourne
.  It is a similar size to

Wales
being
260km by 260km, with a population around ½ million.  It is very similar to a rural

England

with a climate to match (it does have the bonus that it generally gets a pretty
good summer!!) 
Tasmania
is often likened to
New Zealand
and for this reason, it remains relatively un-trafficked, people preferring to
head to
New Zealand rather
than explore the hidden treasures of

Tasmania
.  Almost all adventure sports can be pushed to
the extreme here, caving is no exception boasting the best in

Australia
.

Over the last three years I have spent two six months slots
in
Tasmania, the first six months, doing a
mixed bag of activities, before spending the last two months of the trip caving
with the local

Hobart

club (Southern Tasmanian Caveneers STC). Most of this time was spend doing the usual tourist trips and getting to
know the local members etc, but I did managed to spend a reasonable time
helping re-surveying a system called Khazad Dum (KD).  This was enough to give me the desire to head
back for another six months in December 2001 for a trip solely devoted to
caving!!  This time, I capitalised on the
friends and ground work I did last trip. I managed about four and a half months devoted to caving, doing some 50
trips (including three expeditions to Mt Anne) and spending over 350 hours
underground.  For my efforts, I am now
finally losing the "foreigner" tag and being regarded as a local by
the club.  The appeal of the place is so
great I am heading back again for another six months, in mid August!!

General Information

Tasmania has a wide variety
of cave systems, ranging from large horizontal networks (
Exit
Cave approximately 16km of surveyed
passage) to deep vertical ones (several fight for the deepest cave in

Australia

around the 360m mark).  Many of the
horizontal caves are active river systems with several vertical entrances,
giving variety of through trips and exchanges with varying degrees of difficulty/exposure.  Dependant on the cave area, decorations can
vary from non existent, to mind bogglingly stunning.  The tight access controls given to these
highly decorated caves generally make it difficult for "foreigners"
to visit.  With notice the local clubs
can sometimes organize permits etc, however when compared to the

UK
,
there are many other systems with good formations that have unrestricted
access.

Most of the cave systems require SRT techniques, to either
bottom the cave or access some of the complex horizontal systems below.  The caves can be compared to a large
Yorkshire, with multiple pitch lengths generally of the
40-50m range, with pitches of 90-110 m fairly common.  The cave systems are generally damp to wet in
nature, being slightly cooler than in the

UK
and enough to warrant a furry
and TSA type over suit.  Some of the
hardened locals however, just cave in thermals and home made Wombat type suits!

Major Differences

Rigging

Cave conservation in

Tasmania

is very strong.  Bolting is generally
only undertaken when absolutely necessary and all natural possibilities have
been exhausted.  There is a strong desire
not to follow the path of the

UK

caves where pitch heads abound with countless spits and now ‘P’ hangers, many
of which are redundant or unnecessary. As a result many of the less popular but sporting caves are rigged using
natural anchors with occasional spits where a blank is drawn.  A good degree of natural rigging skill and
equipment is required compared to the relatively easy "join the dots
together of

UK

rigging".

The popular caves do have reasonably bolted pitches, but
with the increasing visits to areas and more spits appearing, some of these are
now being ‘P’ hangered to limit the number of bolts being placed.  The author has been involved with this
programme and to date 3 caves have been ‘P’ hangered.  This programme will only involve some of the
popular/classic tourist type caves.

Access

Unlike the
UK
where cave descriptions and guides etc are readily available, in
Tasmania (and it seems

Australia
) a shroud of secrecy is
kept on both the locations and cave details. This can be highly frustrating for people used to the free access of
data and arrive at self-contained expeditions etc.  The local clubs are generally very hospitable
and will guide or direct you to suitable caves/areas.  As you are accepted into the fold, the more
the information flows!

Local know ledge of the area is in any case pretty essential
as most of the areas are deep in bush or forest requiring ½ to I hour
walk.  Some have taped marked
"tracks" maintained by the cavers, and generally involve varying
degrees of log gymnastics.  The less
popular caves can be a straight bush bash. GPS has helped to locate these entrances (if you can obtain the
coordinates!) but getting to the entrance can be as difficult and as exhausting
as the caving trip itself!  On one trip,
the author spent 3 hours bush bashing 600m to get from a dirt track to a cave
known as Satan’s Lair!

The Prospect of Rescue

Unlike the

UK
,
cave rescue is under the control of Police Search and Rescue Unit, which deals
with all forms of rescue.  The police
then call on the available caving clubs to provide the experience for the cave
rescue.  Unfortunately the number of
cavers in

Tasmania

is limited and those with the knowledge to perform a rescue in deep remote
areas you are generally caving with and are obviously out of the equation!  Coupled with the remoteness of most of the
caves, the only form of rescue (as with general remote expeditions) is self!



The author
negotiating one of the many fallen logs!

Caving Areas of

Tasmania

The Figure 1 shows a map of

Tasmania
and the position of the main karst
areas.  Of these only three would be
considered to be the main stay caving areas which are regularly visited.  These are Junee-Florentine,

Ida
Bay

and Mole Creek.  The other areas are
either small with limited number of caves or they are remote places often in
wilderness areas and require expedition type trips to access them.  These remote areas do hold some large
systems, and offer great exploration possibilities.



Key to Caving Areas

C

Cracroft

JF

Junee-
Florentine

CP

Mt Crips

MA

Mt Anne

GP

Guns
Plains

MC

Mole Creek

H


Hastings

MW

Mt Weld

IB


Ida
Bay

PB

Precipitous
Bluff

Figure 1 Map of

Tasmania
and the major
Karst Areas

The

Junee-Florentine
Valley

Situated about 1.5 hours drive from Hobart, the
Junee-Florentine Valley forms probably the best caving area in Tasmania,
certainly for sport caving.  Most of the
systems are still active, and care has to be exercised with regards to the
weather (flooding).  This area is not
renowned for its decorations, but there is the odd gem if you know where to
look!

The Junee Florentine area is a large drainage system (12 by
13 km) involving several valley systems which resurge at the Junee
Resurgence.  The area holds many separate
complex systems which have all been dye traced to this single resurgence.  Links between the systems are continually
being sought and the elusive "master drain" has still not yet been
found!  The majority of the caves are
vertical in nature with many pitches over 80m. Some of the systems do drop into river systems that provide through
trips to a horizontal entrance but the majority are true SRT.  Most of the renowned trips (difficult and
sporting trips) in

Tasmania

are in this area.  (Ice Tube 360m one of
the deepest caves in Australia, Niggly Pot, 100m of pitches along difficult
passage followed by a 186m free hang pitch, to a large blind horizontal system,
Serendipity – regarded as one of the most sporting trips in the country).  There are many other caves etc of less
arduous nature, several of which are regarded as "classic" tourist
trips, Slaughterhouse-Growling Swallet, Dwarrowdelf-Khazad Dum exchange, but again
most of these are vertical.


Ida
Bay

This area is dominated by the

Exit
Cave

system, with some 16km of surveyed passage. Its true length however is unknown due to the poor correlation of the
survey data!  It is an active river
system, with a number of vertical entrances providing the scope for a variety
of through trips and exchanges, one of best being a Mini Martin 115m free hang
entrance pitch in daylight. 

Exit
Cave

is very well decorated in places, and is restricted by a permit system, but by good
planning the local clubs can obtain a permit with relative ease.

The area also has a large number of straight vertical trips
(bounce trips) generally to a depth of 180m to 200m with only limited
horizontal passage in the cave.  Many of
these however, provide good digging opportunities with potential connections to
the exit system, a thing the locals rarely do "why dig when we can find
virgin passage elsewhere!"  It is in
this area the author dug through a flattener to find a major extension to a
cave system which will hopefully be connected into the Exit System on the next
visit.



The lime tree in

Marakoova
Cave
. Mole Creek.

Mole Creek

Probably the most famous and well known of the Tasmanian
caving areas being renown for its beautiful formations.  Many of the caves are horizontal systems,
offering easier caving opportunities, but most are permit only caves.  While some are relatively easy to obtain
through the local clubs, gems like Kubla Khan are subjected to such severe
restrictions (somewhat ridiculous) that it is nearly impossible for
"foreigners" to gain access, unless by sheer luck.  (After a year of trying I still haven’t got a
Kubla Khan trip!!).  The effort to obtain
these permits however is worthwhile as their beauty and formations are stunning

Highlights of the last trip

One of the main aims of my trip however was to re-survey and
push a remote complex system known as Anne-a-Kanada (presently 360m deep) with
the aim of attaining the deepest cave in Australia record.  The system is situated in the south west
wilderness on a (1000m) ridge system near Mt Anne.  As the area is in a National Park, no
helicopter flights etc are permitted so all gear has to be hiked in.  This involves a 4 to 7 hour walk dependent on
load.  Three 6-7 day expeditions as well
as several gear carry trips were undertaken by myself and Jeff Butt.  Together we have re-surveyed most of the cave
and new ground pushed, but the results of these expeditions will form a
separate BB article.

Stal in

Lynn
‘s Cave.

Another project worthy of mention is the extension of Baader
Meinhof in the

Ida
Bay
area.  Here the author was shown a tight flattener
with a cobble stream way running through. The passage was too tight to squeeze through but had a howling draught
(and we mean howling!!) indicating a probable connection into the Exit
System.  The locals thought the prospect
of digging this too daunting or may be degrading!!  On seeing it my comment was "Man this
would have been pushed long ago!" Several digging trips and the restrictions were removed and the author
broke through into a large extension with the possibility of a connection to
Exit.  Again the results and survey of
this extension will feature as a separate BB article.

As well as these projects, I did many of the classic trips,
found several new small caves and extensions in various others.  One goal I still haven’t achieved is to do
Niggly Pot and the 186m free hang (the black super giant) much to my annoyance third
time lucky I guess!!

Conclusion

Tasmania is a great little
undiscovered island, similar to a rural

England
some 20 years or so
ago.  Most of the cave areas are
predominantly vertical systems with large horizontal systems at a base level,
some of which have horizontal entrances. The required skill level varies right across the board, from relatively
easy to a very serious undertaking.  This
is complicated by the fact that the majority of the caves are not bolted to any
extent and that a good level of skill in natural rigging is required.  The decoration in the caves varies from non
existent to mind blowing, dependent on the caving area, although access to the
pretty areas is permitted and can be very difficult (if not impossible) to
attain.

With the limited number of cavers and hence traffic, new passage
can be found relatively easily especially those in the more remote areas.  The digging potential is huge but it is
generally frowned upon from the cave conservation point of view.  If conducted, it has to be planned carefully
with good homework and a clear aim to prevent bad feeling from the locals.  Banging would be tantamount to treason!

Overall, Tasmania is well worth a visit with some exciting
caving so much so I am off in August for a 3rd six month session.  If you’re heading out that way, contact
myself or the local cave club (the Southern Tasmanian Caveneers STC) as they
are a good bunch and will show you around. See ya there.

Formations in

Lynn
‘s Cave.

Hut Warden’s Report 2001-2002

A big thanks to all who helped with various jobs throughout
the year: Fiona, Smithy, Neil, J.Rat, et al. Even Quackers helped me to clean
the changing room once.  Most of all I
would like to thank the "wreckers" for not wrecking a much better J
atmosphere when people can come and stay – without having to watch their
backs’, or duck (no pun intended).

Takings and visitor tallies will end much the same as last
year:

Members’ Nights: 396

Visitors’ Nights: 351

Good luck to all the workers on the new extensions.

 

A Note from your New Membership Secretary

Hello, I am Sean Howe and I was appointed at this year’s AGM
to the position of Membership Secretary for the year 2002 to 2003.  My intention is to continue the good work of
my predecessor, Roz Bateman and I am grateful for her offer of help whilst I
become familiar with the system.

This year I attempted to reduce some of the postage costs by
sending an electronic version of the renewal form bye-mail.  (The distribution list I used was obtained
from the current record of members e-mail addresses.)  In the e-mail I asked the recipient to print
out the renewal form, complete and return to myself in post or person.  I did ask for acknowledgment of this method
and specified a reply date otherwise I would put a paper copy in the post.

I know there was some duplication as some of you I e-mailed
also received a renewal in the post. Next year I hope it will be slicker and that those of you on e-mail will
be aware to look forward to receiving your renewal form shortly after the AGM.

I did receive some renewal forms completed electronically
and attached to an e-mail.  However on a
lighter side, there was a member who shall remain nameless that failed to attach
their form correctly to the e-mail.  Well
I hope that person is better at attaching themselves next time they are on a
rope!!

May I thank all of you who have already renewed their
membership and/or updated their details. Furthermore, a special thank you goes to the contributions I received
from a number of life members.

Remember, this is your opportunity as a member to ensure the
club has your correct contact details (address, telephone and e-mail) as this
information is used in the distribution of the BB, the members address booklet
and any other written communications.  On
this note if your details change in the future please inform the current
membership secretary.

What happens when details are incorrect is that e-mails
bounce back and letters might get returned. One of the letters returned had written on it, and I shall quote:  ‘Not at this address for at least 15
yrs’.  This was a life member but is not
specifically related to them, however I do not have details of the following
life members:

  • Bob
    Kitchen
  • Dermot
    Statham

 

 

Can you help, and then at least we can ask if they would
like to receive correspondence.

Sean Howe

 

Extracts From The Logbook.

6/10/02: Swildon’s Hole (Short Round Trip): Bea Goford, Greg Brock, and
Nick Gymer

This was my first time through the Mud Sump, and it was
good.  The water was nonexistent on the

Short Dry Way
, and
levels were pretty low throughout.  None
in the Mud Sump so no need to bail it, we set the siphon running in the
Troubles, but didn’t hang around as the water was so low.  Despite the low water levels, the "wet
puddles" (as opposed to dry puddles?) and the sump were the perfect cure
for after-dinner hangovers.  Also, my
light went out at the top of a climb down to the Landing and only my superior
common sense presented my falling to certain death …. 2½ hours. Bea.

13/10/02: Longwood Swallet: Gonzo and Tony Boycott

Prospecting and CO2 testing down as far as Reynolds’s.  No leads, lots of CO2!!

23/10/02: Eighteen Acre Swallet: Graham, John Walsh and Shaggy

We couldn’t find the place we were digging ten years ago,
but the Shepton have done a lot of work and their dig isn’t going in the
direction the old dig was.  Looked in the
SMCC Journal and found that the passage we dug has been backfilled, no hint of
a draught throughout despite cold +2 degrees, the garage was also ramraided
this evening.

9/11/02:
Slaughter
Stream
Cave
(Wet Sink),

Forest of
Dean
: Vince Simmonds,
Peter Bolt, Rich Blake and Henry Bennett

Upstream to waterfall – into Three Deserts (very dry and
sandy) to the end of Flow Choke Passage (some incredible pink limestone) –
returned to Boulder Chamber along Dead Dog Passage and into extensions beyond
Pig Trough.  Returned to Main Streamway
via Coal Seam Passage and Slade Passages. Streamway had aroma of effluent and occasional floating tissue paper!
Impressive entrance pitches – good excavation – fine trip.  4½ hours.

27/12/02: Aggy: Paul Brock, Mark Ireland, Sean Howe, Pete Hellier and John
Walsh

Nice trip to Turkey Pool, Coal Passages (?) and odd passages
here and there.  John managed to use up 3
batteries?? 18 hours 6 hours (approx.). I will admit. … .! am crap at writing up caving trips). PB.

8/02/03: St. Cuthbert’s Swallet (September Series): Jim Cochrane, Greg
Brock, Crispin Lloyd, Tyrone Bevan, Rich Bayfield and Chris Morgan (CUCC)

Excellent photographic trip to the stunning September Series
– took two flash guns so was able to back and sidelight pretty well.  Found September Series without too much
difficulty and spent half an hour, then came out taking a few shots on the way
at Wire Rift and the ladders – Jim.

12/03/03: Hazlenut Swallet: Nick Mitchell, John Walsh and Graham Johnson

First trip since July ’02, the sump has silted up quite a
bit, a rather large, bang/drilling operation is the way to go.

© 2024 Bristol Exploration Club Ltd

registered in England and Wales as a co-operative society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, registered no. 4934.