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A stroll in the woods, the trip to Hang Du
With the improvements in the state of the old Ho Chi Minh trail, it is now easier to use this road for access to the Khe Bang Massif. Trips along the trail are no longer arduous walks or expensive and arduous six wheel drive truck journeys. They can now be made by four wheel drive vehicles, just. This means that trips into the massif can be a little more ad hoc, which proved useful when most of the expedition went off for week long trips to Cha Lao and the Hang En area leaving behind three crocks two who were recovering from viral gastritis one from a scald burn.
After an extra rest day the crock team plus Deb as the token able body, set off on a four day trek with Mr. Du, our local policeman/friend/guide/porter and 3 other porters to tick off caves Mr. Du had heard about and noted since the last expedition.
The caves were loosely strung out between km. 23 and km 27 of the trail. I use the term loosely as the km tags are just a guide as to where to get off the main trail and start walking. We decided to go central and after a relatively (compared to the good old days) quick yet still exhilarating 4x4 trip to km 26, we set off marching into the magnificent forest. We were following fairly good trails that are still well used. The trails however are still muddy and steep and the climate is akin to a sauna, so progress, with all our paraphernalia, was slow.
Day one saw an early camp at the recommendation of the porters and Mr. Du. The nearest caves to this camp, still several hours away, which they wished to show us, sounded suspiciously like caves in the upper Vom system, an area, unfortunately not known well to any of our team. It seemed best to leave the caves around upper Vom, still hours distant, until somebody with a greater knowledge of that area was on the team. With this in mind we thought it better to look at caves where there was little chance of them previously having been looked at by expeditions.
Decisions over for the day we sat back and observed the amazingly skilful and speedy construction of a superb bush camp. All we westerners could do was watch in awe as a clearing, shelter and fire appeared from the dense forest before our eyes. Soon we were swinging from our hammocks after our meal, sipping the obligatory rice wine; Mr. Du’s advice was to head for “cave requiring rope where water goes in the wet season”. This would turn out to be a good choice.
A few hours of steady walking the next morning, over steeply undulating ground through misty, majestic scenes of dripping, limestone towers and the occasional distant tree top view of cloud shrouded peaks, saw us scramble down into a steep sided valley at 450 m elevation straight to a wide dry, semi open river bed disappearing into a 20 x 10 m hole. Good stuff indeed.
After a hurried lunch ,at a fantastic open camp site we headed off for a couple of hundred meters steeply up the river bed where a steady stream flowed through clear flowstone pools to disappear in the river bed, and we were off into the cave.
Hang Du, for want of a local name, started superbly with a steeply descending ramp with easy climbs, a short hand line and one short pitch, to reach a very easy on the eye area of active gours. The whole cave seemed steep but the calcite was so grippy that the inclines were very easy. No slipping, no sliding just pure enjoyable sure footed caving.
Continuing in the same vein although in now smaller passage (isn’t it great to see the walls and roof?), took us past a spiralling climb down heavily calcited boulders. This cave was proving to be a caver’s delight, grippy, scenic, no mud, and now we had encountered boulders they were calcited safely solid. Below the boulders a steepening ramp, requiring a hand line for the bottom 10m, landed us at the head of a 15m pitch. This was good caving! Beautiful passage, visible walls, no loose stuff, grippy rock and on it went. The promise of bigger passage below the pitch proved to be a breakdown chamber as an end came to our rope at the head of yet another steep ramp. What a great day of jungle and cave and to cap it all off a good meal and fine company with our Vietnamese friends round the campfire in our stunning camp site. The small cave we explored was stunning and still going. A fantastic trip!
Communication problems reduce efficiency, but the jungle experience is wonderful.