Page 19 of 24
A Wander through Hang Vom
The last big trip of the expedition, and Martin Holroyd, John Palmer and myself are off to Hang Vom to photograph the through trip, dive the resurgence near the top entrance and look at a climb. It will also be the first time anyone has been to the cave with the new generation of bright lights, so we will be the first people to be able to see the whole passage of this impressive world class river cave.
The trip started with the familiar bone-shaking ride to KM 24 in the two jeeps; where we set off through the jungle with our team of porters, lead by the redoubtable Mr Tang. After a couple of very warm and dry days, I was wondering if we would be beset by the hungry heamophiles that had been such a feature on earlier trips; it soon became clear that they were out in force. I was thankful for the leech proof properties of the Sealskinz socks that kept the worst of them at bay.
After several hours of walking through the beautiful and pristine jungle, accompanied by continuous coughing from John, we arrived at the entrance to Hang Dai Cao and set off down the river towards Hang Vom.
Here one of the porters was bitten by something that produced a rapidly expanding angry rash across the tops of his legs; John leapt to the rescue and produced a magic pill from the first aid kit that soon cleared it up. First camp was made in a splendid doline about 1KM short of our objective, with the intention being to press on at first light, set up camp in Hang Vom entrance and dive the resurgence. Once camp was established Martin, with fireman like
efficiency, produced a never-ending supply of cups of sweet tea to replace the fluids lost in the thrash through the jungle.
The next morning we finished the journey to Hang Vom and established our main camp at the entrance. John had clearly succumbed to an unpleasant infection of some sort, so rested with the porters while Martin and I proceeded to the sump, laden with diving gear. The water flow was much harder than Martin remembered from his earlier trips to the cave and visibility was very poor, no more than 18 inches. The chances of passing a sump in a large passage in these conditions seemed dismal at best. Nevertheless, I kitted up, Martin passed me the line reel and I set off, following the left side of the passage where the flow was not too strong. After negotiating a couple of silt banks at a depth of 5M, I lost contact with the roof, so headed up. A minute later I broke surface, and felt a couple of seconds of mounting excitement and imagining caverns measureless before my eyes focused upon the bolder choke 10M ahead. Having tied off the line, I returned to Martin with the news, we split the diving gear (it is normal to cave dive with two of everything) then both went through the 25M sump to try to find a way through the choke. Although there was some draught, there was no way on; we had failed to access the missing link in the Hang Vom system. Disappointed, we returned to John, packed up the diving gear and gave it to the porters to carry out for us.
The next morning John’s mysterious ailment was worse, so Martin and I set off to follow our second lead, the climb. This was just beyond the sump, so we hoped that it might lead over the boulder-choke through the sump and back into open passage. We were soon up the climb, with Martin lowering a hand-line to me over the trickiest few meters, and off we went. After passing through a stall portal we wandered across a large chamber to a boulder choke covered in white sparkling crystals. With no draught anywhere, the prospects were not good and after half an hour we had thoroughly checked everything out and concluded that this again was not to be the illusive entrance to the missing section of the system. We surveyed back 250M of steeply descending passage to the climb and returned to base.
After a brew, we decided to move to Paradise Beach for the night, taking photos en- route. The majority of this section of the cave was swimming, made easier by a gentle current. The consistently huge dimensions of the cave impressed us as we swam through, with the passage width rarely reducing below 50M. After about 500M we were joined by a throng of flies, attracted to our bright lights; we then remembered the advantages of carbide lamps with their modest glow combined with their unfailing ability to roast anything attracted to their incandescence. With LED lights, along with the huge amount of additional illumination came the constant hazard of inhaling, swallowing, or snorting these irritating creatures as well as the discomfort of them landing on our faces and in our eyes. One trick was to turn ones own light off for a minute or two, so that the winged horde would move on to another’s
lamp, only to return as soon as the light was switched back on; at least this allowed a few relaxing deep breaths. The cave though, was magnificent, starting with a 60M high square profile, passing some very spectacular flow stone formations from time to time, with just a gentle current to aid our swimming. Every now and again, we would hear a distant rumble as the water flowed between boulders or dropped over a tiny cascade; these minor obstacles would break up the swimming and force us to shoulder
our bags and walk around them for a few meters. After about two hours of this superb caving, we saw daylight, and the river disgorged itself down a 2M cascade into the doline that was to be our camp sight for the evening. The aptly named Paradise Beach was just that; a flat sandy floor surrounded by
imposing 200M high white limestone cliffs carpeted in jungle. We soon gathered plenty of dry wood, and our expert from the Fire Service had a brew on before you could count to three. A short debate then ensued considering the merits of pressing on (John’s condition had not improved and was cause for concern); the next possible campsite was at Daylight Beckons, several hours further into the system.
“Last time we camped at daylight Beckons I found a scorpion in my pit”
“Last time we camped at Paradise Beach we found tiger paw prints”. In the mean time I had taken my boots off and noticed the onset of “Mulu Foot”; “Right that settles it” said John, “We are staying here tonight”.
The following morning we broke camp early in order to be able to photograph the cave as far as Daylight Beckons, and soon were once again swimming down the huge, impressive river passage. The mornings caving comprised mainly of swimming, with a few boulder piles to scramble over, with the route finding generally fairly simple. This was the first time this impressive passage had been lit up to this extent, but no obvious new side passages were spotted during the next phase of our trip. After nearly six hours of caving and photography, we saw the distant glimmer of Daylight Beckons, and Martin went up a gear and shot off into the distance. By the time I caught up, he had once again put his Fire Service training to good use, and managed to find enough dry wood that had fallen in from the skylight 200M above to light a fire and get a brew on. Suitably refreshed we then headed out for the final section of this impressive cave, with the aim to exit no later than four pm in order to enable us to reach the road, and our pick-up point, in daylight. During the one and a half hour walk through the jungle, the effects of ‘Mulu Foot”, suppressed by the cool waters of the cave, started to make themselves felt, and by the time we reached the road it felt as though my boots were full of Broken glass. We were met by a relieved and cheerful Howard (and three cold beers) as we were the final team to return to base. An excellent end to an excellent expedition.