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Hang Rao May – Birthday Cave
We set off on our 5 hour walk with Kien and Mung our very hard looking porters/guides. The path took us from Truong Son commune through the forest and to the hill tribe village of Khe Khe or the stilt village as we nick named it. This small commune is where members of the ‘Vankieu’ tribe (King people) reside. This warm welcoming village proved to be very hospitable during the following fortnight. We stopped here for a water and “dung” break, by which time we were getting use to the amazed stares of the local people. This village is where the two-team party split. Debs team turned southwest and Howard’s team – us, turned northwest.
Our path took us over the very steep and slippery hill where most of our 6 man team encountered the expedition’s first leeches and re-discovered Huey and Howard’s unhealthy obsession for torturing the slimy cretins! Whilst resting on the ridge of the hill, Chris confided to us that he had special dietary requirements and would certainly need any available extra food on the trip. Concerned about this apparent medical condition we questioned Chris as to what was wrong; to be told by Dinkie Densham that he was in fact, just a greedy bastard! No extra rations were granted. When our porters finally arrived on the summit, with their hefty loads, we descended into a large river valley, deep in the green jungle.
On arrival at the river, we took a GPS reading and our guides told us about a cave 200 metres downstream that sounded promising. So off I set in search of glory to find a large gaping entrance with a great echo and the whole river sinking into the cave. Our spirits were somewhat lifted when GI Robbie, Sweeny the brave and I descended the boulder slope to find a stunning canal wandering off. This cave would now be known as Rao May downstream. We reported back to Howard and decided to head upstream to Hang Rao May proper to find a suitable campsite. The leech infested streambed was incredibly slippery and full of flood debris. In the wet season I imagine you can’t get anywhere near the apparent huge torrent that washes through the valley.
About 700 metres upstream from the GPS location, we were stunned to find a 25 metre wide,by 35 metre high entrance. Adam confirmed that 50 metres above the fluted passage there appeared to be another dry, high level entrance. Later we discovered that the locals use this as a short cut through the mountain. The huge boulder choke at the entrance is where our hardy porters, our army support and Huey set up a rather rough camp. They spent the next three days fishing and always seemed to be eating.
The entrance of the cave sports a large lake which leads into a canal on the left side of the passage. Our guides told us they had witnessed the entrance passage almost flooded to the roof, this is easy to believe after seeing the amount and size of the flood debris high in the passage all the way through the cave. Robbie, Sweeny and I ventured up the passage to find a suitable camp, at the end of the short canal we followed the sound of water up a 10 metre climb, over the house size boulders and into our camp, which would be the site of the best underground 21st birthday party in the world that night! It would later be commented that Howard took me away a boy, and brought me back a man! We ferried all the kit across the lake in 2 large Ortilieb sacks.
Whilst Mr Sewell and I surveyed the huge entrance passage, the lads set up camp and made a stunning and well-deserved meal of Wayfarers! The huge passage took us to a series of beautiful cascades, where we all took some good photos. We were annoyed to discover that the magi-cubes wouldn’t fire, thus we were unsuccessful with some of the swimming shots. Leaving an exciting echo and draft, we retired to our camp to celebrate my 21st with a smoke, Jack Daniels, Jonny Walker and wine gums! We entertained ourselves by attempting to climb E6 in our pissed stupor! Next morning we awoke, clutching our thumping heads, eager to push the cave. It was now we discovered we had only one tape in our six-man team, so we joined together three ropes and knotted them at five metre intervals. This would act as a tape, we had devised the new surveying measurements of knots and smidgens! Whilst Adam, Sweeny and Chris ventured 500 metres upstream with the rope tape, we started surveying up behind them. This way we can leapfrog the teams up the passage and get in twice as much mileage in a day. Above the cascades the passage continues at water level and we swam through a stunning canal passage, about 5 metres wide yet at least 20 metres high. There are three very sporting climbs up small waterfalls – the power of the stream makes them difficult to pass. We arrived at a larger waterfall with a huge log hanging over the top which would act as a super diving board on our return journey! It was here that we caught up with the knots and smidgen team who were unhappy to report that the cave ended in a huge cavern around the corner. After a disappointing 387.9 metre of passage we sent Adam, Chris and Huey to Hang Rao May downstream to start a survey. Howard, Sweeny, Robbie and I were to push upstream through the jungle to either get a GPS reading or find the continuation. We walked, crawled waded and swam up the river and after maybe 700 metres we got a GPS reading in a clearing which told us with the map that we were in a different river valley to previously thought/hoped and there was little potential for cave for at least 5 kms. We decided to return to Jack and Jonny back at camp!
Shortly after arriving back Chris and Adam came in to report that the downstream cave ended after 136.5 Metres in a “minging” sump – as named with no way on.
We spent the evening drinking whiskey and watching ‘Sweeny the Daft’ explode boulders by building fires beneath them! We were sad to leave “birthday cave” with no more leads and began our long trek out. We were happy though to find that Debs team had had more luck.