The second day of exploration for the two Vietnam virgins caving with veterans Howard and Deb proved just as productive as the first. This cave lay on the flanks of the village Lung Sum in a completely enclosed doline in an idyllic setting looking out over some of the most stunning tower karst experienced on the trip.
The previous day we had met one of the villagers who showed us the whereabouts of death cave ‘a cave in the same valley.’ And today he was to abandon his post on the road working / rice wine drinking team to act as our guide for a much larger more attractive pay packet than his mere rock breaking packet. Plus the added advantage of Howard’s western fags and sweets. The day before he had told us stories of large dry passage with a good draught and we were certainly not about to be let down.
We arrived at the cave after a bone shaking journey with Mr Neu / Mr Shooey Shumacher. As we entered the doline another cave came into view with a huge entrance. Obviously this was assumed to be the one. As the pace quickened towards this monster our guide shouted to us to come back and pointed towards a dense patch of jungle and disappeared. Baffled by this behaviour we thought we had better respect his judgement and follow him.
We stopped in a small clearing and re grouped and met a woodman with some teak style wood that was unbelievably heavy. Much to the amusement of us all Watto nearly gave himself a hernia trying to lift this wood the ever so slight woodman had probably carried tens of kilometres.
Our guide again disappeared into the jungle and hacked a path to the entrance of our cave. On arrival we were certainly not let down, a good draught issued from the caves depths and a large chamber 50m by 50m could be seen from the entrance.
We sat and organised our huge pile of gadgets and gizmos prepared survey books packed enough power bars and water to last us a day or two, then set upon surveying this beautiful new cave. (The local villagers had only found this cave in the last year and it was believed to have been entered in the past only as a source of water).
We set off down the entrance series which took us down a large ramp at 45 degrees to a chamber floor with stal covering every wall. A ramp led up from the chamber floor to a higher level in a large passage 25m by 25m. At the top of the ramp another level could be seen in the roof but beneath our feet a large rift vanished into the distance. Watto pushed on down to the bottom of the rift via a precarious climb down a bamboo pole far too weak for the mighty silver back Watto, but amazingly it held.When he reached the rift floor an impressive 30 metres down, the shouting from the hardy Yorkshire man suggested a going cave.
Myself Howard and Deb followed down the climb surveying as we went, to be greeted with a beautiful piece of passage covered in formations resembling something more akin to the new star wars film.We pushed along a rift 20m high to a small hole draughting strongly. Watto disappeared through this and the foul language happened again Howard and Deb disappeared as well leaving me trying to perfect the art of drawing as quickly as possible in order to see what else this wonderful cave had in store.
The next passage was more beautiful still, a perfect tube 10m by 5m for 50 metres continued onwards. The floor was made up of extinct gours golden in colour with an amazing coral appearance, to a draughting hole just person size. Again Watto disappeared followed shortly by Howard and Deb. And my speedy drawing technique was starting to develop. However this time no cry of the silver back was heard yet this time the Vietnam veterans Howard and Deb could be heard laughing. Followed by Watto in his quietest voice saying ‘wait till the youth sees this collapse’ We pushed through the holerealising we had intersected a massive trunk passage. This passage was untrue, Watto was right I nearly did collapse, it was a massive 60m by 50m for as far as your light would shine with columns from floor to ceiling and cave pearls like gravel covering the floor some the size of tennis balls some the size of peas this place was heaven. After composing myself we pushed on down the passage past an enormous bomb crater looking hole 30 meters wide and 10 metres deep in the floor.
Myself Howard and Deb caught up on some surveying at the rim of this big hole while Watto vanished off in the passage, he came back telling tales of 100ft pitches but this enormous passage was still continuing so we pushed on with a return to Watto’s pitch imminent. The main bulk of this monster passage went on for a further 200 meters climbing over monster boulders that had fallen from the roof until the roof started to come down and the floor started to go down an enormous ramp of boulders and clay at 45 degrees to the horizontal. Another huge passage led us round to the left up a climb on some excellent flow stone ramps and yet again we were not let down by this ever increasing classic Vietnam fossil cave.
We were now in a large branch of the main passage only slightly smaller than the main trunk passage, again this was beautifully decorated with large columns and fantastic flow formations in the most dramatic grey limestone I had ever seen. This passage continued for a couple of hundred metres until it hit a blind end. There seemed to be an obvious way on down a large pitch in the floor but the required tackle had not been brought. So Deb and Howard scoured some higher-level leads up some large climbs up flow stone ramps however they were not to be. Being the youngest most disposable member of the group of intrepid explorers it was my time to push some of these flow climbs desperate for the cave to keep going in the way it already had
.Several climbs into black voids were attempted none of them giving in to my many miss spent hours of climbing technique developed in the dales. Yet still as graceful as an ox. One last climb was made over the top of the large pitch over some horrible falls floors consisting of boulders glued together with calcite and clay. But still no imminent glory as the climb was not much better than the false floor below, the passage did still appear to go however but without a bolting kit it would have meant certain death.
Feeling quite let down that the cave had not continued to China we sat and gorged on power bars and Watto’s secret supply of western sweets. We then set off back out of the cave in search of a higher level our guide had spoken of. We scoured the cave in search of the illusive passage and took several photos of our monster passage. We then decided our guide must have been on the rice wine and the high level must surely not exist!
After photos were taken we returned to the entrance with Mr Mau to ask our guide whether he was sure there was a high level in this cave or whether he was surely confused as Mr Mau’s employees these famous British speleologist s surely couldn’t be wrong.
Our guide then kindly offered to show us the where about of this high level. And produced the most primitive caving lamp known to man botched out of several yards of insulation tape a short length of electrical wire a large style lead acid cell and a hand held aluminium torch with a lens made out of thin polythene bag material to protect his match brightness bulb. He shot off down the cave with his barely adequate light and took us into the start of the large trunk passage and pointed up in the roof. Sure as watto is tone deaf there was a large passage above with a semi obvious climb up to it. Several comments were made about how gormless we had all been and then we set off up this long fantastic climb. Had it been in the lake district it would have swarmed with bank holiday climbers with their 100 classicclimb’s book. The climb ascended up to the roof for about 25 metres up a fantastic slab interspersed with gour pools to provide the required holds for its assent. This passage continued in a large phreatic well-decorated manner for several hundred metres over the top of the entrance passage until it ended at a complete choke of clay and boulders.
We set off out of the cave in search of the next cave the guide had told us of. This happened to be the entrance we had seen on arriving at the Cac Hao doline. Hopefully it would prove to be as fruitful as my introduction to the caves of Vietnam had been. The Vietnam veterans Howard and Deb were both also as suitably impressed by this fantastic cave as Watto and myself and we all left with a great sense of satisfaction.