The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Adrian Hole

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)


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 4x4 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.













Hang Phuong Tien

Vi Xuyen

Ha Giang

    (-6,10) 16


Hang Na Hau

Ha Giang

Ha Giang



Italian Job - The Sequel

Meo Vac,

Ha Giang



Hang Ta Lung

Dong Van

Ha Giang



Pia Lung Xa

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Lo La Phin

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Ca Ha

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Pho Coa 1

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Pho Coa 2

Meo Vac

Ha Giang



Hang Rong

Dong Van

Ha Giang



Hang By Su Phin

Dong Van

Ha Giang



Hang Two Years Later

Thach An

Cao Bang



Pac Lung

Thach An

Cao Bang



Nguom Nap Biu

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-9,2) 12


Nguom Nam Lao

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-21,19) 40


Nguom Tong Long

Thach An

Cao Bang

(-17,2) 19


Nguom Ngam Darn

Thach An

Cao Bang



Nguom A

That Khe

Lang Son

(-51,26) 77


Nguom Ban San

Chang Ding

Lang Son



Nguom Ban Sien

Thach An

Cao Bang



N guom N am Lien

Thach An

Cao Bang



Nguom Nam

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Nguom Ireby Fell

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Lung Chuong

Trung Khanh

Cao Bang



Na Nguom 4

Trung Khanh

Cao Bang



Hang N ang Tien

Thach An

Cao Bang



Bicycle Cave

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Hang Coc Bang

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Cam Thon

Tong Cot

Cao Bang



Pac Bo 1

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



Hang Ban Hue

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



N guom N a Giang

Quang Hoa

Cao Bang



N guom Cuom

That Khe

Lang Son



Hang Trua

That Khe

Lang Son

(-18,3) 21


Hang Gio

That Khe

Lang Son

(47,-17) 64


Hang Lanh

Bo Trach

Quang Binh



Hang Doi

Bo Trach

Quang Binh



Hang Ca

Bo Trach

Quang Binh



Hang Thoc

Bo Trach

Quang Binh





    Total Length

2001 =


Martin in Nguom Nam Lao.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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




Junee- Florentine


Mt Crips


Mt Anne


Guns Plains


Mole Creek




Mt Weld


Ida Bay


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!!


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.