2009 Expedition

"Discovering the world's largest cave passage"

A joint British and Vietnamese caving expedition

Vietnam 2009 Expedition – Introduction

 

When planning the 2009 expedition I wondered if this trip would be our last visit to the Ke Bang Massif in central Vietnam. This would be our 11th visit to this remarkable area and caves were becoming harder to discover compared with previous expeditions. We had already explored over 115k of the most spectacular river caves in the world including the Hang Phong Nha system at over 56k long and the Hang Vom system at 37k. Both these cave systems had provided us with many treasured memories of cave exploration at its very best. Therefore when we left for Vietnam in March 2009 I did have my doubts whether the 2009 trip would live up to everyone’s expectations. How wrong could I have been?

The 2009 expedition like all before was a joint venture with our good friends from Hanoi University. We have been working with them now for nearly 20 years and have made many true friends in that time. Prof Quang My, the head of the Vietnamese team for many years is now blind and unable to work. He is sadly missed by all, but Mr. Ngygen Hieu has taken over the lead and has done a wonderful job.

This expedition was also the first cave diving trip in Vietnam. Again with the assistance of Hanoi University we were able to import at short notice a compressor from China as well as the usual paraphernalia that goes with diving.

The expedition had no big going lead other than a huge shaft in the middle of the massif. Three teams generally went out into the jungle for up to 6 days at a time returning to base to swap around. We have no communication between groups and so each group must be self sufficient. Each team would have with them Vietnamese jungle men who act as guides and porters. These men are the true stars of the trip and it is a great experience to go in the jungle with these men. Many of the guides we use have an amazing knowledge of the jungle and the whereabouts of caves. This is primarily due to the necessity to go hunting in the jungle when times were very hard post American war. Caves were often used for shelter and usually provided a water source. Animals often come down to the caves to drink and thus caves were a good site for hunting various animals.

Many of the caves we explored involved long difficult walks over awkward terrain and our guides and porters all made this seem very easy. They looked after us extremely well and were always at hand to assist us in any way they could. The jungle lads often cooked for us and we did not go hungry if we ever relied upon the Vietnamese. That could not be said if you relied upon me. The first trip out for one group was to try and complete the Hang Vom through trip, never been done before and picking up some cave on the way through and also involving a dive in a prime section of the cave. After 2 days of caving through some remarkable caves of the upper Hang Vom system we got well lost in the jungle. We had run out of food and could not find the entrance to the next cave which is a critical key in the through trip. Thus a very hungry team made their way out of the jungle with a very valuable lesson learnt, bring more food or bring a guide and he will catch you some food.

All trips out into the massif were great experiences and many epics were had in the company of excellent people.
The 2009 trip will be remembered for the discovery of Hang Son Doong, what is now thought to be the largest cave passage in the world. We knew that a cave was likely to be present in this area and had a good idea it would be fairly big due to its inlet caves being Hang En with passage width of up to 140m and 130m high and Hang Khe Ry at generally 50m x 50m. We had asked our guides for caves in this area before and only in 2008 did Mr. Ho Khanh rediscover the entrance to the cave which he found originally in 1990 when he was hunting in this very remote part of the massif. In 1990 this would have been an extremely difficult place to visit.

By Vietnamese standards Hang Son Doong is not a large entrance. At 30m wide and 10m high you only see the entrance at the last minute of the walk. We explored over 6k in this truly awesome cave and the way on is still continuing. It certainly is the best going lead in world caving and one we plan to attempt to push early next year.

We also have many new caves to explore and a number to continue pushing from this year’s expedition. The 2009 expedition therefore proved to be a huge success. The people of Quang Binh are extremely lucky to have such an area of outstanding natural beauty much of which is unexplored. There are possibly bigger caves still to be found in the Ke Bang Massif and we look forward to having the chance to return to this fabulous part of Vietnam in 2010.
 

steps photo

Howard Limbert

 

History of Caving Expeditions to Quang Binh Province

1990

 

The first British Vietnamese Caving Expedition took place in 1990. Our colleagues from Hanoi University with their knowledge of Vietnamese Geology were able to suggest several interesting areas for caves. The Ke Bang Massif in Quang Binh province was to be our first taste of Vietnamese caving. In the week reconnaissance in the area the team were able to begin exploration of Phong Nha cave and Hang Toi cave. 7,950m of new cave was explored and surveyed on the expedition to Quang Binh. Many other caves we were told about and we planned to return as soon as possible.

 

1992

 

A return trip in 1992 led to the exploration of many fine caves in this area. Phong Nha was explored to a conclusion at 7729m. Hang Toi was extended to a final length of 5258m and initial exploration of the Hang Vom system began. Hang Cha An was explored for 667m and Ruc Caroong for 2800m. It became obvious that there were two separate drainage systems, the Phong Nha system and Hang Vom System. The team also visited Minh Hoa district and explored Ruc Mon for 2863m. In total 13,655m of new cave was explored and surveyed.

 

1994

Continued exploration brought the length of Hang Vom to 15,050m. Further upstream in the system, Hang Dai Cao (1645m), Maze Cave (3927m) Hang Ba (988m) and Hang Ca (1075m) were explored. The Phong Nha system was extended by the exploration of Hang Toong (3351m), Hang En (1645m) and Hang E (845m). 

In Minh Hoa district Hang Tien was discovered and explored for 2500m.

The total cave surveyed and explored in 1994 in Quang Binh was 29,910m

1997

Progress into the more remote areas continued. The upper reaches of the Vom system included the exploration of Hang Ho (1616m), Hang Over (3244m) and Hang En 845m. The main river sinks for the Phong Nha system were investigated, Khe Thy and Khe Ry and Khe Tien. Hang Khe Ry turned out to be a very long river cave and was explored at the time for 13,817m.
The total caves explored on this expedition was 20,483m

1999

 

On this expedition we only had a short time in Quang Binh but we were able with a five day underground camp in Hang Khe Ry to explore the cave to its exit below Hang En. The full length of Khe Ry was 18,902m and the longest cave in Vietnam and probably the longest single river cave that can be negotiated underground in the world. Hang Phong Nha Kho was also surveyed and was 981m.

The total caves explored on this trip was 6625m

 

2001

We only had a five day camp in Hang En on this trip which led to the discovery of Hang Lanh a resurgence cave and one of the feeders to the Phong Nha system. This cave was 3753m long. Also Hang Doi (453m) and Hang Ca (361m) were explored in this area. The total explored and surveyed was 4690m

2003

With again a brief visit to Quang Binh this year enabled us to explore another cave in the Hang Vom system called Hang About for 820m. The exploration of Hang Nuoc Nit (2205m) and Hang So Doi (1124m) extended the Phong Nha system still further.

The total cave explored was 6257m

2005

This 4 week expedition to Quang Binh was the first trip to Quang Ninh district with the Cha Rao cave and Birthday cave the main discoveries. Also working from Ruc Caroon the top most point of the Hang Vom system a number of discoveries were made such as Hang A Cu (640m) and Hang Klung (1086m). The final part of the expedition was to the East of the Chay River, where a number of vertical systems were discovered Salt and Pepper to 178m. The longest cave found in this area was Hang Nuoc Lanh (964m.)

A short trip up the new Ho Chi Minh Road into Minh Hoa enabled us to check out a new area and this yielded typical Vietnamese river caves in Hang Ma Nghi(611m) and Hang Thuy Van.(691m)
The total cave explored was 12094m.

2006

A small team of 6 spent time in Quang Binh completing Hang Cha Rao discovered on the 2005 trip. The cave finally sumped after 2623m. Caves around Hang En were discovered such as Vu Ca Tau (329m). Another river cave upstream of Hang En called Hang Hong was explored for 717m. More time was spent at the top end of the Hang Vom system and caves such as Hang Cung (488m) and Nuoc Dong (480m) which is the upstream of Hang About discovered in 2003. Searching for the gap in the Phong Nha system downstream of Hang En we discovered Hang 30 (693m) and Hang Rua (440m.)

The total cave explored was 4173m

2007

A 2 week trip to Quang Binh discovered 2 large shafts, one in the Phong Nha system. This called Nightmare cave (780m) and Hang Circle (1251m) filled the gap between Hang Cha Anh and Hang Thung. The longest cave discovered was in Minh Hoa province near the Loas border called Hang Cha Lo (4873m). The area seems likely to yield more caves and gives access to new parts of the Ke Bang Massif.

The other large shaft around 3km from Hang Vom was not completed and will be a main objective in 2009.

The total cave explored was 7564m

2009

This 4 week expedition to Quang Binh discovered a very important cave between Hang En sink and Hang Thung. This cave Hang Son Doong has the largest cave passage yet discovered in the world. At 6481m it was the major find of the expedition, and the cave is still continuing. Hang Du at -166m and Hang Vuc Tang -232m are both continuing and more rope required. Over in Minh Hoa a number of discoveries were made the main one being Ruc Ca Xai 578m. We have been told of other caves in the area. Diving was done at upstream Hang Vom but unfortunately did not yield the passage we hoped. The main resurgence of the Chay River was dived to -35m and is still continuing in large underwater passage. Noise cave was dived but the current was too strong to push the cave when it surfaced. Two Caves Hang Gio 549m and Hang Lau 510m were explored also to the East of the Chay River, Hang Lau is still continuing.

The total cave explored was 11,506m.

Son trach 1990

Son Trach 1990

 

Son Trach 2009

Son Trach 2009

 

The Phong Nha Cave System

 

The Phong Nha system starts about 40 kilometres south of Phong Nha Cave. Near to the Vietnam/Lao border a series of streams and rivers enters the limestone. The area was first accessed from the village of Ban Ban at kilometre 44 on the road 20. Heading east from the village a few small streams are noted. These all enter the limestone and find their way into Hang Khe Ry. The entrance to Hang Khe Ry is a large dry entrance. A large dry passage continues and soon leads to the main streamway. 

This cave forms a major part of the Phong Nha system. It is almost 19 kilometres long and eventually emerges in a small valley beyond Hang En.

To the east of Hang Khe Ry, Hang Khe Thi is reached. This river joins Hang Khe Ry several kilometres into the system. The final sink to the east is Hang Khe Tien. This has only been explored for about 500m, but the water is believed to eventually connect with Hang En. This area should be checked out on the 2010 expedition.

Hang En is the next major cave in the system. A large river enters and flows through Hang En before joining with the water from Hang Khe Ry. Upstream of Hang En, a few short caves Hang Vu Ca Tau, Hang Khanh and Hang Hong form part of the system. Water from these caves joins the river leading to Hang En. Hang En has one of the largest sections of cave passage in the system. At one point the passage is 140m wide and at least 100m high. The cave is very spectacular. Exiting from Hang En, you enter an enclosed valley. The water from Hang En and Hang Khe Ry combine, and disappear underground in a mass of enormous boulders. Attempts to pass the boulder choke have so far been unsuccessful. There are a number of high level caves above Hang En and Hang Khe Ry. Hang Long, Hang Phong, Hang Doi, and Hang Ho Nui are all very well developed caves, but are not connected with the current drainage of the Phong Nha system. Often well decorated most of them end in calcite blockages.

In 2009 a very important discovery was made near the final choke of the Hang En River and the Khe Ry River. Above the final choke an entrance to a cave called Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) was discovered and explored for 6.5k. This cave is huge with passage over 200m high and in places over 175m wide. This is the largest known passage in the world as yet discovered. The whole of the water from Hang En and Khe Ry combines to form Hang Son Doong. The river passage sumps but it is still heading away from the next known cave and thus still has large potential for more stunning river cave. The main phreatic passage is a huge tunnel and this is still continuing. At the end a 15m calcite wall stops the way on. Above is a passage around 100mx100m and daylight can be seen ahead around 500m in the distance.. This is the main lead for the 2010 expedition.

The next cave in the sequence is Hang Toong. This cave was explored in 1994. The water from Hang En and Khe Ry passes through Hang Son Doong before it is found in the 3 kilometre section of Hang Toong. The water emerges from Hang Toong, and continues to Hang Tra An. Until 2007, the caves of Hang Tron and Nightmare Shaft were unexplored. The exploration of these caves completes the link between Hang Toong and Hang Tra An.
Hang Tra An was first surveyed in 1992. It is about 600m long, ending in a sump.
In 2001, the team explored Hang Nuoc Nut. A dry entrance leads into a very well decorated cave and a large stream passage. 2.2k long the water emerges and flows above ground to join the Tra An river.

This large river flows on the surface for 4km until it enters the Phong Nha cave. The water disappears into a large jumble of loose rocks and tree trunks. The water enters in lots of places and we have been unable to find a way into the top end of Hang Phong Nha.
Above this area is the entrance to Hang 11. This small stream cave was finished in 2009 and must connect in some way to the Phong Nha system. Diving will be the only possible way into Phong Nha Cave from Hang 11.

At the bottom of the road 20, 3-4 kilometres before Phong Nha village, there are a number of small caves on the edge of the limestone. Hang Duc contains a small stream, and was explored for 1.3 kilometres. It ends in a large sump pool at the down stream end. This may also feed into the Phong Nha system.

Hang Phong Nha is 7.7 kilometres long. It has long sections of deep water passed by swimming, some sections of wading and walking along sand banks, and nearer to its exit some well decorated dry sections of cave. The first full exploration and survey of the cave was completed in 1992. In 2003, whilst working on the entrance to Phong Nha, the locals uncovered a dry entrance some 100m above the river entrance, Phong Nha Kho is a large dry well decorated section of cave 980m long which ends in a 10m pitch down to a lower level and a final calcite choke. This cave has now been opened up to tourism.

To the West of Hang Phong Nha lies the Hang Toi system, comprising Hang Toi, Hang E and Hang Hung Thoc. Hang Hung Thoc lies near kilometre 14 on road 20 and is 450m long. It is in an area which obviously floods in the rainy season. The entrance is very close to the end of Hang E. Water flows through Hang E 740m long, resurges and enters Hang Toi which is over 5 kilometres long, and is a very large impressive cave. It is believed that the Hang Toi system is formed by flood overflow from the Phong Nha system. When water levels are high, the choked upstream end of Phong Nha cannot take all the water, which is believed to overflow to the Hang Hung Thoc area where there are many places for water to sink.

The total length of the Phong Nha cave system is now over 62k.

 

Howard Limbert

 

The Discovery of Hang Son Doong

 

I was born into a poor family. My father died, and my family had no rice fields, so I had to go to the jungle for work to support my family. Over a period of 13 years, I learnt the location of many caves in the areas I passed through.

In the rainy season of 1991, I went with two others to look for the aloe wood, which is very precious and exists deep in the jungle. It is very hard to find. We separated and I went through Hang En. The next day was raining very hard, so I looked for somewhere to stay for the night. Fortunately I found the entrance of an unknown cave. After the trip I returned home, and gradually forgot about this cave.

In 2006 I met the British Caving Expedition and took them to the Doong area, where they explored many caves. In 2007 I took them to the Doong area again for further cave exploration. On this trip we found Ho Nui Cave. Before the end of the trip I talked with Mr. Howard. Although we can’t speak the same language I knew that he was looking for a cave to connect Hang En, with another cave Hang Thoong, in the Tra Anh area.

I had a memory of a cave in this area, which maybe had a wind, and fog blowing from the entrance, but I couldn’t remember the location. I went off for an extra day searching for this cave, but unfortunately failed.

I didn’t want to give in. Because of my great admiration for the explorers’ abilities and their friendship, I wanted to show them this cave. In January 2008, I spent my own time and money to return to the Doong area to look for the entrance. Relying on my memory and experience, I followed the stream from Hang En, and fortunately found the big cave entrance in about half a day. I cut down some wild saplings to reach the entrance. Finally using my knowledge of the jungle, I found the best path to take the cavers to the entrance, and made it as easy as possible. It was now 2pm on the third day, so I returned to Phong Nha and waited for the expedition to return.

In March 2009 the expedition returned to Son Trach. On the first trip I really wanted to take Mr. Howard to the new cave, but another team came. At that time I was worried in case the cave was dry and not very long. But thank god, in this trip the cave length was measured at about 5k, and there was a large subterranean river. The explorers realized that this could be the largest cave passage in the world.

I believe that I have made them all especially Mr. Howard very pleased, because this is an important cave which connects the Doong area with the Tra Anh area.

 

Ho Khanh
20.4.09

 

Hang Son Doong – Discovery and Exploration

 

Snablet, Trevor, Adam, Helen and I teamed up with Mr Tang, Mr Phong, Mr Kanh and Hanh our Hanoi University member, to undertake a six day trek through the jungle, with three cave entrances to check out. None of them sounded particularly promising, and the prospect of free climbing an 80M cliff on day three was a little worrying. Nevertheless, morale was high with the prospects of camping in the entrance to Hang En, a huge 1.5KM long river cave, lifting our spirits. The first day’s walk was very pleasant, along easy tracks, initially down hill, through a small Ruc settlement and a banana forest along the river to the cave. The impressive fossil entrance to Hang En came into view at least 1½ KM before we reached it, an awe-inspiring sight with giant trees forced to lean at jaunty angles by the strong draughts emitted by this gargantuan cave. Our camp was to be at the active stream sink, a far more modest affair, but an excellent campsite nonetheless.

We soon established ourselves with the Brits camping about 50M inside the cave and the (somewhat wiser) locals closer to the entrance. The redoubtable Tang and Phong brothers soon had a fire going and supper on; a couple of minutes later a rather ominous looking 5litre yellow bottle appeared, and Tang called us over. This was to be my first introduction to the local rice wine; a potent brew with a kick like a mule on steroids. During the evening we discussed our forthcoming trip, with Snablet describing the route we would be taking after checking out the first cave; further mention of the 80M free climb and the difficulty of the terrain made us all hope that this first prospect turned out to be sufficiently good that we could justify staying at the “Hang En Hilton” for the duration.

Up at 6am, breakfast and off; we were soon wading through the waist deep waters of the magnificent Hang En, over a couple of boulder piles where Snablet spotted a particularly evil looking black and white millipede, with long legs. “You don’t want to get bitten by one of those” he said cheerfully, “their bite makes all your flesh rot”.

After emerging from the cave and a splishy splashy hour’s stroll down the river, we came to Log Jam cave on the left where all the water disappeared underground (surprisingly enough into a log jam, then a sump), not to be seen again for many kilometres. Leaving the streambed to the right, we started a short ascent over a col to the small depression and cave entrance that was to be our objective for the day. The entrance was fairly small by Vietnamese standards and trending steeply downwards.

“Bloody ‘ell” said Trevor as he lent over and the draft nearly blew his helmet off, “I think we might have found something here”. Without further ado I got out my trusty Shetland Attack Pony (that did not work) and Disto (a laser measuring device) ready to start surveying. 

“Looks like we will be using compass and clino” I said, thankful that I had brought them along as a back up.   Jobs were allocated, Snablet rigging, Trevor doing notes, me instruments with Helen acting as Disto target and Adam looking out for photo opportunities. Off we set down into the cave, which descended steeply for about 100M. 

“I’m putting a sling on this bit because it is exposed and a bit tricky” said Snablet, about half way down. 

“Stand by that stall over there Helen and I’ll shine the Disto on your bag” I shouted. Hmm, I don’t seem to be able to get a reading. “Come back a bit please!” Eventually success; “62.3Meters!” I shouted, realising that the stal that Helen had originally gone to must have been over 100M away –quite big this cave- I thought, the powerful Hope lights we were using having made the distance look much smaller. As we progressed, the sound of an underground river started to get louder and louder; after about 400M I caught up with a nervous looking Snablet (a weak swimmer) at the edge of a very substantial river.

“Must be the river that sank in Log Jam Cave” said Trevor. This was not the like the nice cool pleasant wading through Hang En and in the doline, this was a confined, fast flowing very noisy cataract with strong currents interspersed with rapids. 

“I don’t fancy getting washed away in that” said Snablet, looking nervously at a set of rapids. “If I can lasso that rock on the other side, we might be able to get across.”

After ½ dozen unsuccessful attempts we heard Adam shout, “It looks a bit easier here.” He managed to get across and secure the rope. Up the other bank after 100M we ended up traversing on a narrow ledge with a 15M drop to the raging torrent below.

“We had better put a rope on that on the way out” said Snablet “One slip and you’d be a goner”. We climbed back down to the river and another crossing; this time it was a little wider and we were able to swim across by ferry gliding into the current.  As we climbed up the sharp, loose rocks the scale of the cave passage started to become apparent; it was consistently well over 100M wide.

“Can I name something?” shouted Helen, full of youthful enthusiasm.

“Yes of course you can.”

“I want to call this ‘The Hand of God,’ “she said referring to a very large and prominent stalagmite.

“wazzat?” shouted Trevor, a bit too far away to hear.

“The Hand of Dog” someone helpfully relayed.

“The Hand of Dog it is!” confirmed Trevor scribbling furiously in his notebook.

A shaft of daylight could now be seen coming down the passage, and as we topped the boulder pile we beheld a wondrous sight. In front of us was dead flat sandy stretch going on for 100M, with a steep chasm to the left leading down to the river, at least 60M below, which, unlike small children, could be heard but not seen. In the distance was a skylight and below it some tall trees had taken root. The light now enabled us to get a clear look at the majesty and splendour of this gargantuan passage. “Can someone climb to the top of that boulder slope by the skylight so I can photograph them?” asked Adam. Snablet volunteered, handed his bag over to Trevor and off he raced. The boulder pile under the skylight turned out to be considerably further away than we thought and by the time Snablet was perched on the huge green rock at the top, we could barely see him!

We then started to survey toward the skylight, which turned out be about 800M from
where we first saw daylight, by climbing down onto the sandy Level Playing Field, then down a series of flowstone dams and up another unstable boulder pile. At the
top of this pile we could see an easier route than the one Snablet had taken and later described as ‘horrendous, unstable and he never wanted to do it again!’ This made a suitable end point to our first day’s exploration as it was getting late and we were aiming to get back to Hang En before dark.

That night we reflected upon the huge passage we had found, with 1500M of challenging cave surveyed, much of it comprising sharp and unstable boulder piles, two interesting river crossings, a 100M climb down in the entrance series and finally an impressive skylight with a forested floor. “At least we don’t have to do the 6 day walk through the jungle now!” exclaimed Snablet with some relief; none of us were relishing that. He went on to describe the strange vegetation at the top of the slope with its very tall but thin trees and giant pitcher plants.

The next morning we set off, this time planning to spend longer in the cave with a return after dark. We marked the route down the river and over the col in order to make the return easier (moving through the jungle at night can be a tad tricky). As we entered the cave Snablet decided to put a hand line down the steepest section, reasoning that it was likely to get increasingly slippery with traffic. The river was noticeably lower now and the two crossings appreciably easier, indicating that the effects of earlier rainfall were now wearing off. We stopped for a few minutes at the Level Playing Field again to admire the fantastic view before tacking the final boulder slopes and pushing onwards into the unknown. 

We climbed down from our previous survey limit to the base of Snablet’s big boulder slope, and found a bypass to it. This was right over the river and very noisy with the water rushing past 45M below us. After about 200M we popped out under the skylight. Here the passage became really huge, and as I struggled to get readings with my Disto I started to realise that Sotano De Las Golandrinas (a cave in Mexico popular with both cavers and base jumpers) would just about fit inside the passage at this point. After looking at the strange flora Snablet headed off through the stygian forest “Watch out for Dinosaurs!” I shouted, Snablet, now taking the survey notes, scribbled furiously. 

“I can see another skylight; it looks like it is at least 500M away.” Having mounted a giant green stalagmite we could see the cave disappearing into the distance. This was much easier going than the earlier part as we raced along a “Ratrun” (in honour of Tony Jarat) of narrow flowstone ledges that were nice and stable and provided good footing. The passage was still an incredible size, and with readings of over 100M to the right I sent Helen off to see if there was a side passage whilst we carried on surveying.

“There’s no side passage, it is just enormous!” she called. After 800M of this incredible
passage we reached the second skylight. There was a passage off to the right that we thought might bypass this second arboreal abyss, so we headed that way for 250M through narrow passages. 

“It’s a bit bloody tight this, you could only just get a London bus through sideways!” We stopped at a cross junction as it was now time to head out.

The next day we decided to rest and prepare for a much longer trip on the day following. Snablet had contracted a nasty case of Mulu Foot so was relieved to be able to let them dry out for a while. “It’s a good job Howard is not here or he would give us a right bollocking” someone commented as we drank our seventh cup of tea.

The next day we prepared for what was bound to be an extended trip as transit time to the end of exploration was now about 4 hours each way. Extra packets of Duong (a Vietnamese bar that has a similar effect on tired cavers as Getafix’ brew has on Asterix) were taken. Adam had left his photo gear in the cave and he collected it as we headed up into the tangled undergrowth below the second skylight. Adam and Helen went directly for where we thought the continuation would be, whilst Snablet Trevor and I decided to survey around the right hand wall. As we set off into the Garden of Edam (it is a good job cavers are slightly dyslexic or we would come up with some awful names for passages), we struggled up a huge pile of dry guano and soon discovered the difficulties of using a Disto in dense forest. “Can you move that leaf out of the way? No not that one you bloody fool! That one! The green one!” After about an hour of struggling, we came to a 100M wide passage, with its own system of clouds in the roof. “I wonder if this is the way on or if Adam and Helen have found anything”

“Adam! Does it go?”

“muffblmf!” came the distant reply.

“What did he say?”

“I haven’t a bloody clue!”

“He would have come back by now if there was no passage that way” we reasoned, regretting not bringing radios with us.

“It’s just a side passage, it won’t go” said Trevor, the expedition veteran, referring to our passage.
I looked again at the 100M by 100M opening, then at Trevor, who was rooting trough the first aid kit, and thought he had gone stark raving mad.

“I’m telling you, it won’t go!” he insisted. Time proved him right as a later trip only found the 200 or so meters of passage that we could see.

Having circumnavigated The Garden of Edam, we were back in fine passage again. 

Adam and Helen were sent off to take some photos while we continued surveying down some very pleasant sections with white sandy floors and flowstone, leaving another huge side passage for later, to a huge flowstone formation. After this the cave floor changed and became full of mud. Snablet and I were clever enough to climb high over it, whilst Trevor followed the trickle of water right at the bottom. We could not see our erstwhile companion, but knew he was there, and his approximate position from the never ending string of expletives.

“Sounds pretty grim down there”

“Yes, I am glad we went high”

After about 200M we came to a shear mud drop of about 15M. Trevor had been right again, and we were forced to retrace our steps and follow his route. This was a 1 ½ M wide muddy trench with the passage widening to about 100M over our heads, with no way to get up into it!

“We’ve gone from The Sublime to the ridiculous!” Scribble scribble scribble, and another passage named. After another few hundred meters we came to a 20M high flowstone wall across the entire width of the passage, with the prospect of a slimy dismal crawl in liquid mud underneath. We could however, see a very distant opening, at least 500M away and probably another skylight.

“Does any one fancy checking that out?”

“*%$£@ off!”

I thought “not, me neither.”

“We have surveyed about 2KM, so that will do for today, we need to come back with a bolting kit and climb the Great Wall of Vietnam””

“What was the name of a First World War battle?”

“Paschendaele?”

“That will do nicely!”

On the way out we investigated the area where the mud started and found a static sump; this probably resurges during high water and must have been the source of all the mud.

We found Adam and Helen near the Garden of Edam. 

“Did you check out that side passage?”

“What side passage?” asked Adam? Easy to miss I suppose, it was only 60M wide. Having done a quick survey down The Common Cormorant, we headed for the Garden of Edam and our five-hour trip back to Camp. Crossing boulder piles in this cave was always problematic, but crossing one in this jungle filled catacomb in the middle of the night was doubly difficult.

Back at Hang En, we grabbed a couple of hours sleep before an early start back to our pick-up point and the opportunity to regale the rest of the team with tales of adventure and of caverns measured by man.

Credit for the discovery and exploration of this cave should go not to the five of us, but to Howard and Deb Limbert whose hard work over the last 20 years made this series of expeditions possible.
 
Jonathan Sims

 

Thank You

Ghar Parau
Lyon Equipment/ Ben Lyon
Singapore Airlines
Jonny Shaw
MDL Measurement systems
Hope Lights
Excellent Stuff
Inglesports
Spanset/Pete Ward
John Burton (Medical)
City Learning Centre Bradford
Trevor Wailes (printing journal)
Kerry Pilkington (T shirts)
Hanoi University
Peoples Committees;
Quang Binh
Bo Trach
Quang Ninh
Minh Hoa
Son Trach

Team Members

Howard Limbert
Deb Limbert
Paul Ibberson
Helen Brooke
Adam Spillane
Peter McNab
John Palmer
Trevor Wailes
Jonathon Simms
Gareth Sewell
Martin Colledge
Ian Watson
Martin Holroyd
Nguyen Hieu
Vu Le Phuong
Nguyen Duc Hanh

 

Total Exploration

Name Length Depth
Bang 812 121
Xuong Khi 64 56
Hang Leo 559 133
Hang Lui 182 96
Hang Hoan 255 40
Hang Bai 1 and 2 266 68
Cay Sang 850 64
Paparazzi 110 53
Crime doesn't pay
Hoa Huong 2876 121
Vuc Chuot 196 111
Ladder 170 22
Thuong 360 67
K19 100 30
K17 550 150
Hang Bom 1500 15
Gian 30 6
A Nam 250 23
Tre 109 16
Du Du 476 59
Shaft-Noi Dong 93
Ruc Ma Rinh 2 1316 95
Dinh 1 1430 39
Dinh 2 950 45
Uy 876 27
Monster
Ba Tho 292 29
Tien 1 ext 700
Tien2 2519 94
Rua 905 15
Ruc 631 13
Da Ne 280 6
Dung 1 100 5
DUNG Goat 25 7
Dung Res 30 0
Dung 2 200 15
Dung 3
Dung 150 30
Vom xt 250
Hang Cay Moc 350 129
Hang Khong Ten 168 35
Hang Tren Nui 40 8
Hang Doc 5 39
Vuc Hung ?70m
Hang Tulu 145 15
TOTAL 20127

© 2020 Vietnam Caves. All Rights Reserved.