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Hang Klung & Hang Kling
Ruc Caroong is the highest of the known feeders into the Hang Vom system, Sharing it's name with the local, minority tribesmen, village it had been visited by expedition members just the once in the early 1990's. After 2.8k the known cave ends in a sump, the resurgence then flowing into Hang Pygmy.
Ruc Caroong village lies off Km39 on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Previously necessitating a 12 hour, bone-jarring truck journey, recent track improvements had reduced the journey to a much more comfortable 4 hour jeep trip. A recce team of Howard, Martin H, Sweeny plus Mr Phuc, caver/translator, Mr Mi & the irrepressible Schuey as drivers plus two porters, set out from Son Trach on a somewhat cold & overcast day.
Arriving at Km39, the first surprise was to find that the anticipated subsequent 30min+ walk to the village was no longer necessary, a new settlement having been built abutting the road & the tribesmen rehoused. The former stilt-legged, thatched huts had been replaced by a uniform village of tin-roofed, brick walled houses complete with solar panelled lighting, water butts & flagpoles each flying the colourful gold star on a red background Vietnamese flag. In addition there was a large school building, another in the process of being built & the largest building of all being a communal eating area/party member's office.
We had arrived on a national day of some importance & at first were greeted with the usual customary warmth & friendliness. Invited to join the just commencing communal celebration meal, we sat down to a meal of intestines, fried morning glory (a green vegetable!) & rice accompanied by continual changa changs of lethal rice wine. Martin bravely made a show of eating the intestines whilst Howard & I played with our food trying to keep the bowls as full as possible to avoid constant top ups.
Following the meal we retired to the office next door. Calling in a local hunter they intially confirmed that they knew of caves in the area other than Ruc Caroong & would be willing to supply a guide. However, asking to look at our various permits & permissions once more, the atmosphere changed as they decided there was something missing/defective with one of the documents. Attempts by them to telephone for confirmation from the nearest border police HQ became an exercise in shouting down a silent phone as the signal cut in & out.
We settled in for the night with the situation still unresolved. However Mr Phuc managed to have a private word with the local hunter who confirmed he would still be willing to act as a guide. It turned out he had two wives/familys, one in the village and another down on the river where they continued to live a more traditional way of life & still resided in cave shelters.
The following day dawned cold, not at all the temperature expected. After breakfasting & scrabbling to share out what little spare clothing we had, we set off downhill towards the river passing the old stilt village on route. Following the river downstream led shortly to the picturesque cave settlement with about 6 adults and numerous small children in residence.
Straight ahead from this point following the river lay Hang Ruc Caroong but instead the guide led us leftwards, climbing up a thin trail until we reached the base of a cliff with an impressive 5m x 10m cave entrance leading down. The cave was known as Hang Klung. Kitting up we started to survey in.
The passage dropped steeply and substantially enlarged from the botttom of the entrance slope. Past numerous remant stal and across long dried up gours into and impressive chamber.
Here we could feel a strong draft ahead. Surveying onwards & 50m ahead a side passage on the right (facing inwards) proved to be the source of the air current. A quick look revealed a 10m+, possibly free-climbable, pitch.
Continuing with the survey in the main passage, the cave continued enlarging until abruptly truncating in a calcited choke. Any continuation would be via the drafting pitch. Leaving Howard, Martin & Mr Phuc taking photographs I retraced our steps back to the entrance to collect a rope.
Using a handline, the pitch proved climbable with care dropping 17m via a ledge. The passage ahead grew massive, 50m x 50m at least. Descending to a T junction, leftwards daylight could be seen entering. Heading towards the light a spectacular but unfortunately familiar entrance was seen. We had entered into the main Ruc Caroong streamway from a previously overlooked side passage.
Returning back up the climb and exiting out of Hang Klung we explained that the 1085.5m cave joined Hang Ruc Caroong. The guide knew of one other cave so we followed him back down to the cave village and then continued downstream with the river to the original entrance of Ruc Caroong. Without hesitatation, & despite having no light, the guide set off into the dark. Even with lamps it proved a race to keep up with him as he traversed what was obviously a well traveled route.We passed the Hang Klung side passage and into daylight.
We followed the riverbed before climbing leftwards past a cave shelter known as Post Office Cave, complete with ceramic insulators on the trees outside from which they had strung electric wires during the war, until reaching a cliff face cave entrance of approx: 5m x 5m known as Hang Kling.The entrance dropped to a stal floor and turned right where daylight could be seen, the cave exiting after only 120m.
By now time was pressing &, whilst the guide indicated he knew of still more cave, we decided to head back & continue exploration tomorrow. Leaving the majority of the kit at the cave village we headed back up the steep hill towards the new settlement. Back at base it became clear the question as to having the right permissions had still not been resolved & the local goverment official was clearly unhappy. Concious that we where overstaying our welcome, we decided that it would be best to leave first thing in the morning & return at a later date once the paperwork had been sorted out to their satisfaction. Martin & the 2 porters therefore set off back in the dark to collect the gear left at the cave village whilst the rest cooked up tea.
Following another cold night, we set off back to Son Trach at daybreak.