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Hang Cha Rao
Silently the smoke rose is slow plumes to a tiny opening. Soot blackened pots and rattan baskets hang above the fire, choked by smoke from endless fires that have been used to cook the meals and boil water for our hosts. We were based in a small wooden house built traditionally on stilts in the village of Dao Do. Belonging to the Vankieu (King people) our hosts had welcomed us with open arms and warm friendly smiles. Our team of six took over the living area normally used by the family. As they politely huddled in the kitchen we lay out our sleeping mats and hung out to dry wet caving suits. Children fascinated by our presence yet shy, peered around the cover of walls at our bizarre collection of tackle bags and caving equipment.
We had completed a day’s exploration, surveying and photographing at a nearby resurgence of Cha Cung. A little over 200m long this cave had started to open into a sizeable river cave but disappointingly ended at a sump. With nightfall approaching and over two hours of walking to reach the road we had needed to find a place to sleep. The boulder filled entrance chamber had not looked inviting and certainly not to our military guide and so we found ourselves in this most delightful village.
As guests in their house they refused any payment. Instead we exchanged gifts of ‘English sweets and chocolates’ and by the light of a homemade paraffin candle we passed the evening eating, drinking and talking about possible caves in the area.
The next morning we were taken to one such lead. We found ourselves at the head of an insignificant side valley staring down into the sizeable entrance of Cha Rao. Trying to control our emotions we hurriedly changed into wetsuits, the sound of roaring water inside beckoned. We bid farewell to the guides and porters and began our survey of the cave. The sound of roaring water as it cascades over a beautiful calcite flow into an emerald green pool below with blackness above is all that the explorer can ask for.We each imagined what lay ahead. We left the roar of the cascades and swam on into the blackness, a silent river passage. The clicks of bats circling above and our voices calling out survey information broke the silence. We swam on, alarmingly no rocks or islands were passed, the only rests were gained by clinging to the mud coated walls or clinging to the floatation bags we carried.A cramped calcite dam bridged the passage and we could fially rest. Beyond another swim beckoned so wen decided this was a good place to end the day as a survey station could be made. We plunged back into the river and floated back contended.
The cave continued in similar fashion, long swims interrupted occasionally by large boulders or calcite dams.
We were all acutely aware that the weather the last few days had been wet with torrential storms, as we swam through a low sumpy section no words were spoken but perhaps our silence confirmed our apprehensions. We swam on!
The roar of water was unmistakeable, not that of a flood pulse but of water crashing down a waterfall. The cave had changed dramatically in character, the hitherto swims had led into a section of exhilarating cascades, climbs and pools in beautiful light grey limestone. Our apprehensions were forgotten as we leapt into the crystal clear pools and scrambling out of the other side. Concentration was required to negotiate many of the razor sharp water worn ledges and climbs. The cascades were increasing in height and difficulty and finally we were stopped by vertical climb. We tried lassoing spikes, human pyramids and exposed free climbing but without success. To scale the pitch bolts will be required to reach the top and solve the mystery of what lies ahead.
Sadly we made the decision not to return the following day due in part to our exhausted bodies and the lure of the ‘big’ Quang Binh caves.
We had explored a little over two kilometres over three trips exploring the longest cave on the 2005 expedition which also included possibly the longest single swim in a known Vietnamese cave.