Wow this looks promising! We’d had a long walk in with camping kit and were standing on the edge of a large depression. A rapid descent, a chat to some locals and we were off to meet the village headman. After formal introductions we were told of a cave that went “through the hill” and were guided beyond the enticing river sink to a high level entrance.
The cave entrance was wide and inviting, it had a roof soaring upwards at about 60 degrees and was smothered in huge jugs “wow” I said “Jugs Ville”.The locals had already promised us much, saying that they had been into the cave as far as the river. The plan was to split into two teams and survey past each other as we progressed into the cave.Martin, Chris and Snablet (Team 1) would start the survey from the entrance, while John, Dannie, Mr Phuc and Duncan (as Team 2) would push on into the cave as far as the river and would start surveying from there.
The problems started at this point.Team 1 entered the cave and like a well-oiled machine disappeared with shouts of 50.4m echoing around the enormous entrance chamber.We hesitated.We had no water for the carbide lamps and rather than walk the 5 minutes back to the river outside the cave we vainly searched for water inside the cave.All the time a panic started to wash over the team as we were missing out on our part of the cave.Eventually water was located and we entered the cave.Panic over we quickly located the others, who were finding that the way on was not immediately obvious.
So fuelled with water we surged on ahead with much haste.We were later to receive criticism for not rigging the climbs which we had hardly noticed in our rush.The cave continued to get better with some stunning passages and some nice formations.We soon found ourselves on a pebbled beach of a 3m wide river with the sound of water falling ahead….
Time for wetsuits.We began to get ready. In feverish anticipation of what lay ahead.Then we discovered that, some how, the survey tape was not with us in the cave but back at the house where we were staying.The recriminations started as our mistake was realised but we quickly decided that the blame was to be shared.Following discussions it was decided that we did not have time to finish the trip and the best bet was to tell the others that perhaps they should continue to survey while we checked out the passage ahead.The reply of “get stuffed” made it clear that they were not keen on this idea.With this clear, I was dispatched to retrieve the tape along with Mr Phuc, while Dannie and John continued downstream with the others.
Following a dash of 90mins, I found myself back on the beach and ready to start the surveying.Dannie and John met up with Mr Phuch and me again, reporting that downstream was looking really good and the others would continue with this and that we should begin surveying upstream.This did not seem such an appealing option but in view of our incompetence so far during the day we felt we had better do as we were told!!
Sure enough the passage felt very stale and after only about 150mit sumped.We returned to the beach for discussions.John was keen to check out a side passage 50m downstream, so following a discussion we decided to pursue this.
The swim downstream was immediately impressive with the current picking up as the stream passed through a constriction with the roaring ahead of Niagara Falls (a 30cm drop).The passage opened out into a much larger section of stream way with the side passage we were interested in going off on the right.This side passage initially appeared to travel 100m where it developed into a steep boulder slope.Mr Phuc was reluctant to stop at this point and found, among the boulders, a continuation swinging off to the right.Excited, we entered this and it soon developed into a substantial passage.What was more, we could hear water ahead.
The passage was followed for 100m to the river, which turned out to be a bypass to the upstream sump.The river now in front of us was very spectacular and we all cursed our decision not to bring cameras (the location of the cave close to the Chinese border meant we were nervous that they might be confiscated). The river was 7-10m in width and in the 50-70m that our lights penetrated there were four 50cm cascades as the water fell over the remains of gour pools which dated from some earlier stage in the development of the cave.
Excitedly we began our survey upstream and found the cave continued to impress.After 250m of surveying almost entirely in the water both John and I, who were both in 3mm wetsuits, were getting very cold.Not for the first time Dannie was keen to continue and so she left the lads huddled on their ledge, coming back after 30mins to report that the passage continued in the same vein.
With the time at 22.00hrs we decided to call a halt for the day.We made our way back through the cave to the village where we were to stay for the night, in the house of the village president.As we passed back through the cave we were once again impressed by the size and beauty of it all.
Once at the village the other team quizzed us, keen to know how we had got on, and also by the villagers who were interested to find out what happened in their cave.This interest can be easily understood when they explained that the Chinese had used the cave during the 1978 war.That evening we made plans for the following day and the Teams were rearranged.Dannie opted to join Team 1 and go downstream, with Snablet preferring to go upstream with Team two, even knowing that his swimming strength matched against the strong current would mean that he would end up out of the cave!Mr Phuc would not come either this time.
The next morning saw us waking early, all the worse for a poor nights sleep.Apparently we were staying on a frog farm and the frogs had been very vocal as had the cockerel that lived under the floor of the house we were staying in.
John, Snablet and I moved quickly to our last survey station of the night before and began to survey on upstream.The cave continued to develop in the same vein as before with the dimensions increasing up to 15m.It also continued to cross a number of further small waterfalls.At this point the roof began to lift and the right wall became a very large 75m high boulder slope.What became apparent was that we were in fact entering a very large chamber (The Mulberry Bush).This later proved to be the confluence of 3 rivers/streams.We continued following our river upstream and after a climb up a 2-3m series of cascades we found ourselves in what proved to be the continuation of the river.This was followed for a further 150-200m and finished at a boulder collapse, which was entered for a few meters until no obvious way on could be spotted.
From here we returned to the cascades.The two streams, coming in on the right, were then followed to attempt to find a way on from here.The first of these continued for 75-100m through some very large boulders until it became too tight to carry on.
In an attempt to trace the second inlet we travelled over the top of the boulders and found a route back to the inlet.This was followed upstream for 20-30m and here again it was blocked by loose boulders but with a large black space ahead which echoed.At this point with a long walk out still ahead, we decided to exit the cave leaving this possible lead for another day.
Ah! the mighty Niagara Falls, soon passed and on to a swirling pool and water chute to an uninviting rock strainer. A traverse and scramble down quickly led back into the stream way that grew to impressive proportions. Much wading and swimming along the rift passage followed; the occasional roar of water ahead being completely out of proportion to the size of the cascade that was generating the noise. Many of the survey stations were in deep water, our ace swimmer Snablet spluttered at times, but we were driven on by our dream of caverns measureless…..
On route we were intrigued by a number of soft calcite barriers that spanned the stream way, creating much welcomed dry survey stations. Large breakdown chambers were passed and the rift passage grew taller. We came to a halt on the first day beside a small streamside pillar of rock, a dry stance at which to recommence our survey.
Swimming out against the current was strenuous and we were glad of a celebratory glass of rice wine back at the village. Sleep that night was fitful. The under floor frogs were turned up to volume setting ten. An early start next day and we soon returned to our aqueous surveying. The stream continued in fine style past another huge breakdown chamber and many crusty formations to eventually end at a sump. A SUMP? “I thought this cave went through the hill?”
The sump pool was complex, several options through low arches all leading to the same conclusion; no way on for air breathing mammals! A ledge gained by climbing out of the stream gave way to an ongoing passage. Though long this passage was of relatively small proportions, being a mere inlet to the system rather than the sump bypass we’d hoped for. On our way out Dan and I enjoyed a welcome break from upstream swimming whilst Gollum (Chris) was dispatched to check out the breakdown chambers. Alas, his probing into the bouldery jumble was inconclusive.
The sump is still several kilometres short of the likely rising of this cave near to the Chinese border. This sump and the upstream leads await future exploration, there’s obviously much more to find.
Duncan Morrison/Martin Colledge