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A walk from k24 to the Chay river bridge via some caves
 
A team of 3 cavers and 4 jungle men from Phong Nha set off for a 5 day jungle hike with the hope of exploring some new caves, and filling in some of the gaps in the Hang Vom system. The cavers were Trevor, Jonathan and Deb, and the men from Phong Nha were Tang, Phong, Luc and Khi.
Once again it had started to rain, making road 20 the usual slippery muddy challenge for the jeep drivers. We reached k24 without any problems, and luckily it had stopped raining. We set off down the hill, and stopped at the small stream to eat our sandwiches. We then continued on the Dai Cao/Dai A (Hang Ho) track, up and over the hill to the dry stream bed. At the point where the track to Hang Du branches off, we took a little used track on the right. This soon involved the use of a machete to make a Vietnamese sized hole in the undergrowth. With much bashing, crashing and tripping up, the cavers were able to follow.
After about three and a half hours walk from the road we reached a large camping area. It was now only half an hour to our camp. The path continued easily through the forest, until we emerged at the entrance to Hang Dai Cao!! We are not quite sure why our men took what seems to be a more obscure route, but we appreciated the full jungle experience, including feeding the leeches.
Camp was soon set up, Jonathan electing for a large tree and a friend for rigging rather than the usual small saplings tested to Vietnamese standards. We soon had a nice meal of pork, fish, onions and chillies with only a sip of rice wine.
The next morning Phong took us to a large cave entrance which looked to be a flood overflow. Due to its location we suspected it might be the large entrance to pitch cave, however it didn’t appear to match the description, so we set off surveying into a swim. After a couple of hundred metres a second entrance was passed. Following a further swim, the passage enlarged. After 800m, it intersected a larger river, which turned out to be the Dai Cao water, and we exited at Hang Dai Cao. The locals know the entrance as Hang Rua. We spent the afternoon drying gear, and introducing Jonathan to the local rice wine. Unfortunately a bit of fried pork fat doesn’t provide much of a lining, and after a few Cham a chams, everyone was the worse for wear. Trevor played mum and looked after us.
The next morning we set off early to head somewhere towards Hang Vom. Jonathan was hobbling with his alcohol induced injury, but still managed the long days walk. We had two hills to climb and descend, and the path was generally very steep and rocky, with abundant short scrambles and climbs. The day was hot and humid, and we sweated continuously. We stopped at the bottom of the second hill, where the lads were able to find enough water for noodles, and to top up our drink bottles for the last leg.
After the final descent into a cliff lined doline, we proceeded to set up camp right on the path. This was nearest to the water supply. We managed to get 7 hammocks rigged up in an area about 2m by 2m. Our lads decided it was a good idea to rig up some shelter, so we spent 20 minutes getting the plastic sheeting up, together with Trevor’s fly sheet and lilo!!
No sooner had we done this than the thunder and lightning started, and within a few minutes a torrential downpour. Several of the plastic sheets were self emptying, so every couple of minutes an extra deluge poured down. Soon the path we had camped on became a stream, and we cut a channel to direct it through the camp. We started to wonder about the other teams, and how they might be faring with the likely flooding. In all, the heavy rain lasted about 2 hours where we were. In this time, the lads managed to keep the fire going and cook another fine meal of pork and rice. Sadly there was only a small amount of rice wine left which they didn’t want to share with us. The rest of the night was spent listening to the jungle and a lot of snoring!
The morning started bright, and Trevor and I set off with Tang, Luc and Khi to go for a 2 hour walk to an entrance. We set off back through the doline, and then headed up steeply on the west side. After about 1 hour we had to wait while Khi searched for the cave. It was 5 years since he’d been there. After about 1 hour Tang and Luc were concerned that they couldn’t hear him. There was much shouting, which echoed around the cliffs, with Jonathan and Phong joining in to add to the confusion. Eventually contact was established so we were able to head off up the loose boulder slope. We met up with Khi where the route levelled off.
This was where the terrain changed to razor sharp pinnacles with lots of potential for harm. We teetered along still pouring with sweat, following our guide. We reached a col overlooking the next doline. Soon we came across a small cave which we climbed down through to reach the head of a cliff. There were two climbs which our guides decided required the use of a hand line! The way continued steeply descending until finally we could see a large entrance below a flowstoned cliff. The GPS told us we were at 450m altitude, so it was likely to be a dry cave, and likely to have drops. Having taken so long to get here we had very little time to explore, before we had to head off to get back before dark. The actual walking had taken at least 3 hours.
Leaving our lads sitting on some flowstone we dropped into the large passage of Hang Khi for a recce. Trevor headed ‘upstream’ and found a 30m pitch. I headed down into the main passage. It levelled off onto a muddy floor with numerous deer-like prints and several small pools. The main passage was blocked by flowstone. Climbing up, an exit revealed itself. About 100m away a steep boulder slope led up to daylight. Collecting the surveying kit we carried out a rapid survey, before we had to leave.
The lads managed to avoid the hand line climbs by heading vertically up the pinnacle karst to reach the col. After a brief rest we continued the return journey suffering from exertion, heat and lack of fluid and food. The sticky flapjacks again proving impossible to eat without a gallon of liquid!!!
We managed the return in 2 hours and settled down to drinks lots of tea and tang.
The next morning was fine at first, and then the thunder and rain reappeared briefly. We set off up the inevitable hill on the slippery limestone. After about half an hour’s uphill slog, I decided to slip off a rock and gash my finger. A hurried search for the first aid kit, revealed the underground box which had enough dressings to cover things up after a rinse with green tea. Tang immediately seized my bag, and refused to let me carry it. The way continued steeply uphill, and then levelled off, but still clambering precariously over sharp and slippery limestone. A number of log bridges over deep drops kept us alert. Finally after a couple of hours we reached the final climb down towards Hang Vom. This was about a 20m v. diff. a few minutes later we were on the valley floor. The lads gladly informed us that the way on was now level and on earth not rock! After two more hours through the forest and a short stop by the river we saw the welcome sight of the Ho Chi Minh road, and Howard and Hanh with some cold drinks. All that remained was a long shower and some micro surgery by John assisted by Watto. Thanks mates.
 

Deb Limbert

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