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 The Exploration of Cha Lo

One of the biggest finds of the 2005 expedition was the entrance to Cha Lo cave in the province of Minh Hoa, Quang Binh. Unfortunately at the time we did not have permission to enter the cave. So in 2007, the same team, of; Adam, Howard, and Watto returned. Cha Lo cave is visible from the road between the village of Cha Lo and the border to Laos. It appears to be an entrance over 100m high and about 20m wide however; when we reached the entrance we found that it was actually 2 entrances; a lower one at stream level, and an upper one, used for camping by the military; that connects to the lower via a couple of, as yet undescended, shafts.

The upper cave is a few hundred metres of large dry passage, nearly all in daylight, while the lower cave is 4.5km of well proportioned streamway. The streamway commences as a passage 30m wide and 10m high; though this quickly enlarges; into a fine high canyon; Thunderball; this was quickly explored to a log choke and dry side passage after 500m. The choke was passed; to a short swim; which was followed by a short swim to a large chamber; with daylight at the far end, and a mud and boulder slope disappearing up out of site on the left. The water appeared to sink into a sump on the right wall.

Watto pursued some dangerous climbs over large boulders, to regain the streamway and determine that the sump was not. It was simply a short swim, providing a much simpler and safer alternative. The daylight we had been able to see, came from a shaft; Moonraker; nearly 80m in diameter, which landed on a ledge 20m above, and to the left of the stream. Following the stream past a large, cold inlet on the right; led quickly to an area of rapids and a sump, easily bypassed by a climb. Returning to the inlet we swam 2 lakes to a continuation up boulders above water level. It was time to leave and find some accommodation.

Driving back to Cha Lo we stopped at the first house, to ask if there was anywhere to stay. This being Vietnam, the answer was; of course; yes, and;
stay here. We then adjourned to the restaurant of 2 years previous, the small wooden shed having been replaced by a large concrete shed, though the menu still consisted of a single item, and the liquid refreshment of beer or tea. Here we met the local police and border guards so we could register in the area, and meet the garrison commander in the morning.
 
The following morning saw us at the border post for meetings, and checking of permission; before we were accompanied to the cave to be met by a camping crew from the army. We were shown the upper entrance, which we explored and surveyed, then returned to stream level, to continue the exploration of the stream passage.
 
This time at the log choke we followed the dry right hand passage; a short well decorated oxbow which descended over gours to rejoin the stream; and
so on to our limit of the previous day. Downstream continued up a climb and down the other side to rejoin the stream in a passage 5-10m wide and 60m
high, and straight for 300m; The Laserace 300; of mixed swimming and wading. This marked our downstream limit for the day as we wished to check out the inlet back at the large daylight shaft.
 
Upstream we climbed out of the second lake, up the boulder slope, into a confusing area of rifts; Dr. No Way On; with drops to sumps. A sharp left turn through a narrow passage took us over an exposed and sharp climb, via more sharp rock to yet another swim. We exited this lake at a boulder choke. A short climb up, then down led to another apparent sump, though a short duck led to a steep and very sharp climb out of the water; continuing upwards we
found a 7m pitch returning to water. Here we left the cave for a pre-arranged rendezvous back at Son Trach, with the passage wide open; both up, and down, stream.

 

The following day an alternate team of Adam, Andy, Snablet, and Howard C returned to Cha Lo having acquired additional permission. Entering the cave in the afternoon we continued surveying downstream. A short distance further, a large ramp led off to the left, and the stream continued to a huge bank of mud and trees; and another sump. A swimming sump bypass, connected with the gour filled chamber; Casino Royale; found up the ramp. A short further recce spotted the downstream side of the sump, and daylight a few hundred metres distant. Returning to the village we sourced alternate accommodation with relatives of our original landlady, her husband having returned. The following day Andy’s foot was not looking well, so he was  reluctantly persuaded, to socialise and discover more entrances, rather than discover further cave passages.

So it was a team of 3 which explored further downstream through yet more swims and via a couple of daylight shafts; The Living Daylights; to the downstream exit and lake. We returned to the village with a successful through trip under our belts and a few photographs. Andy meanwhile had had a successful day of drinking, and had some entrances to visit the following day.

While Andy re-found Hang Ma Nghi and Hang Thuy Van (2005), Adam, Snablet and Howard C continued the upstream exploration of Cha Lo. The pitch was dropped, to a pool, which met a rift connecting back to the stream. Downstream led quickly; via rapids; to a sump. Upstream led; via rapids; to yet more swims, and some squeezes between boulders, into a large chamber; Sixteen Candles; eventually climbing up via razor sharp passages, to yet another pitch down, or alternate traverse; lacking equipment we returned to explore a side passage on the true left side of the high level. The sharp rock here claimed one casualty; so we left; minus a little blood, with the way on lost among a confusing array of chambers and sumps, either; apparently static or having multidirectional flow. We exited with only minor route finding problems. We returned to the bar for refreshments and to write up our discoveries of the last few days, and were joined later by Andy; fresh from his re-discoveries; and Howard, Deb, Watto, Robbie, Sweeny, and Pete; having exhausted reasonable leads in the Son Trach area.

The following day we re-entered Cha Lo en masse; less Andy’s foot; Howard, Deb, Robbie, and Watto to take photos in the large gour chamber downstream. The rest to continue exploration upstream; unfortunately; the pitch led directly to a sump with no way on. The traverse led to rifts, an interesting tobbogan and a long swim; Solitaire; to a boulder choke with squeezes at stream level and finally to a further sump; a slight anticlimax to a thoroughly sporting cave.

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