Report 2009

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Vietnam 2009

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

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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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

Hang Song 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?”
“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



Hang Son Doong lower series
On our return to camp we found Snablet in waiting with a much appreciated brew , his Trench foot cleared or at least bearable. Conversation soon turned to our day’s explorations of the inlets. Of interest was the pitch Sweeny and John had descended in the oxbow passage below the first daylight doline. With no survey kit and a number of leads presenting themselves the pair had decided that a return trip would be required. One discussion point was the amount of water and the prospect of a wet trip. I sniffed an opportunity here as a proud owner of a wetsuit. It was agreed that Sweeny and myself would begin a survey through the wet sections with Martin C, John and Snab following on. Sweeny appears to be the other insomniac in the team so an early start was made.
The pitch in the oxbow passage below the first doline was descended 42 meters into a stream way which rushed past and soon disappears into boulders. A climb up over boulders led to a fossil passage with pools of cold water to a balcony overlooking a large river passage. John and Snab had caught us up by now with a worrying tale that Martin had a bad fall in the entrance series and had been lucky to escape with only bruising to his arm. The rigging bag was passed ahead to Sweeny, as he carefully unpacked and prepared the drill the unmistakable sound of metal bouncing on rock was heard, a pause, a splash and an awful lot of swearing. Convinced that the driver for the bolts had just fallen into the river below Sweeny cursed his clumsiness. No problems, plenty of friable naturals presented the fearless Sweeny plenty of options for rigging and he soon disappeared down the 22meter pitch into a large stream passage below. Not convinced by the belays those above tipped out the rigging bag to see what we could find, and there glinting in our LED’s was the driver.
A bolt was set and I joined Sweeny in the river below leaving John and Snab to re rig the pitch. Landing on a sandy beach was a relief as the current of the water was surprisingly strong; some concerns were voiced about our ability to swim against the current. Prudence was used and we swam upstream a short way to test the current and discovered the upstream sump. The previous day I had a nightmare with flooding of the MDL, now, faced with an electronic survey device (Disto) in hand and the prospect of a long swim, we set off with some trepidation. Downstream was followed for over 200m of swimming terminating at a sump. On the swim back an oxbow section was followed but not surveyed. Mid way we had also noted a dry passage which we returned to on the swim back. By now the rest had descended the pitch; with no wetsuits they endured the chilly swim to join us in the exploration of the inlet. A sizeable passage was followed with several ox bows but sadly it soon ended at a large boulder choke. Back near the river passage daylight could be seen high above, the source unknown but believed to be from the first doline. This will require specialist climbing techniques to reach. At the pitches we had three SRT kits between four of us, we had the inevitable delays and excitement of passing kit back down with associated re-belays and noise of water. Safely at the top with the pitches de rigged and some heavy looking bags we discussed our next plan. Sweeny and Martin to slowly porter the heavy loads out, John and Snab to explore the large side passage in the Rat run just before the second doline. Both teams were faced with the prospect of traversing and climbing very loose boulder sections. Bidding each other luck we went our separate ways.
The roar was sickening; the cave shook, froze to the spot Sweeny and myself confirmed we were both alive. What about the other two had their climb collapsed? Then the shout from John ‘come back’, dropping the sacks we dashed back around to see the two lights of our friends. ‘What happened?’ We all asked. Finally we agreed that it must be thunder from above, a storm. This quickly changed the dynamics of the trip with the prospect of river crossings and flood pulses we all agreed to exit. Water was pouring in from hitherto dry inlets leading to concerns for the crossing. This turned out to be relatively easy, so much so we de rigged the line. Darkness had fallen and so was the rain. Route finding in the jungle in darkness is best avoided especially with heavy sacks and fatigue. After a few wrong turns we hit the river! Ah the river, this was a dry river bed before! Oh dear. On we went wading and boulder hopping until the camp lights were seen ahead.
A very relieved Martin greeted us explaining the severity of the storm. Our idyllic camp site on the river bank was perilously close to flooding. The waters rose and so did our camp.
The site of the fire spluttering and being extinguished in the turgid waters below signalled the abandonment of camp. The jungle men disappeared high up above our original position to establish a new camp on the slopes above. With hammocks they soon had a comfortable dry bed for the night. For us, the prospect was the jungle floor in the rain on a 25% slope. Will we ever learn? Huddled together toes ‘dug in’ each convinced the others had the flattest section we slept fitfully.
The next day we sat in sunshine and watched the swollen river tracking the levels as it receded slowly, inevitably we concluded it would not drop sufficient to make an exit. At least there was time to construct a better bivi. We woke the next morning to thunder, the water had dropped but still high, however we felt we should take our chance. Wading upstream was challenging but passable. We were amazed when we reached the inlet tributary from Khe Rhy as this was the source of the problem, the river was swollen and heavily silted, yet upstream the water from Hang En was clear and normal levels. We stopped for breakfast at Hang En savouring the sunshine as well as the brew. Almost an epic!
Martin Holroyd

Hang Tang
Hang Tang was one of the 2009 trips main objectives. Noted in 2007 but undescended due to insufficient gear, this massive surface shaft was a real peach.
The first trip out saw Deb, a press-ganged Martin C & myself head out into the jungle with four porters. A later than hoped for start saw us camping mid-way before hitting the top campsite next day. Using a large tarp to waterproof a thatched lean-to, the only drawback was
the somewhat scummy water supply resulting in a definite decline in hygiene standards over the ensuing days.
1st Descent
Forty minute walk to an impressive shaft. (“Kind Words Butter No Parsnips”). Festooned with usual bolting paraphernalia, including the excellent Makita 14.4v drill, I stepped over lip & started the descent. From the offset it became clear this would not be a straightforward rig, the shaft went down at an offset angle, prohibiting a straight drop, and bulged out with cherty ledges at regular intervals creating rub points where there was no good rock to whack a bolt in.
Using 10mm drop-in anchors it seemed sensible to double up the belay points rather than rely on single bolts. 15m down from the lip and two bolts placed on the overhang, down 30m and repeat. 35m down the pitch veering leftwards and then a final single bolt (having managed to now drop the taped roll of anchors) to a 90m drop.
Landing on a large boulder slope, a fantastic 30m x 20m passage barrelling down at 45 degrees with a waterfall clearly heard in distance.  I was able to speak to Deb & Martin via radio, confirming I would take a quick look ahead and report back in thirty minutes.
The passage headed downwards over large but relatively easy to cross boulders before levelling out in a huge chamber with twin but small waterfalls falling from the darkness high above. The passage continued onwards crossing a pleasant sandy floored beach but seemingly closing down at a huge gour filled chamber. (“The Theatre of Performing Monkeys”) It seemed unbelievable that such a huge shaft with a large stream entering in the wet season could kaffle out. At floor height however two twin green shoots could be seen dancing in a 2m wide, 2m tall niche. My first thought was how where they managing to grow so far out of daylight followed immediately by what was it that was causing them to move about?
Stepping into the alcove a distinct draught could be felt, climbing up the crumbling wall I could see through into a chamber accessed by a pitch down. Fantastic, game on!  Back up the 45 degree slope, resting on the way, an excited, happy, conversation with Deb & Martin to explain the situation. It was getting late in the day so agreed the best thing would be to ascend and return en-masse tomorrow.
The return was a bastard; foot jammer sling snapped 15m up resulting in following 75m of ascent by a jury rigged frogging system. I was very slow and very tired as I approached the first bolt going out. Now I was able to pinch the string from the setting tool and repair my foot jammer allowing a slightly quicker final 80m exit.
2nd Descent
Following day all three of us were back and kitted up for the descent. Plan was I’d go first and add further bolt belays with Deb and Martin surveying and carrying a photo kit. I’d also noted our new 200m Mammut rope was performing peculiarly inasmuch that it had tighten up considerably beyond each bolt belay resulting in insufficient slack so as to easily clip in descending gear. It was agreed I’d take rope out of the first bolts, pull up resulting extra rope at the second and then the final third re-belays before drilling extra belays in the final 90m drop. The rope was noticeably also in areas feeling like tape and bunching up at the belays.
Our plan worked smoothly, the final 90m being split by two further belays to a final 30m pitch. At the bottom loose rock rained down from above as dangling bags caught rock and as a small ledge gave way, one of the ricochets catching my left forefinger resulting in a somewhat swollen digit.
Reunited at the bottom Martin commented he’d hated every minute of the descent.
Both however where impressed by the continuing passage, huge rifling bands in the roof adding to the impression of the cave shooting downwards. Deb and Martin surveyed whilst I went ahead to rig the pitch. Rather than take the previously noted 2m climb up, a step through onto a ledge led to easier access.
A convenient thread gave backup enabling a bold step out to place a bolt belay for a straight 20m drop. (“Whooping Mamba”) A calcited walled chamber led over boulders corkscrewing back on itself. A small climb led to a dramatic change in the passage, a sharp, wet, rift passage and a 1.5m crawl. (“Unlucky Fried Kitten”) A somewhat painful 10m crawl led to a small window over a 20m pitch with a pool and rift at bottom. That was it, we were out of rope. Having all peered
down the pitch we exited photographing as we went. The ascent of “Kind Words Butter No Parsnips” took all three of us 1hr 15mins. At the surface we walked back in the rain which had been continuous throughout the day to campsite.
3rd Descent
A later start due to continuing inclement weather, we discussed about the 200m Mammut rope, how we could move heavy loads up and down, the shaft, the inherent risks and finally, a rather unfortunate incident involving a pan of boiling water and my left foot. It was decided that we needed more kit and that the Mammut needed replacing with something we could trust. We agreed that I’d go down; de-rig leaving the second and third belays in place so we could easily find the bolts on a return visit.
 Only problem was trying to get off the rope at the bottom of the entrance pitch. The sheath had by now concertinaed up, despite there being a further 15m spare & wouldn’t run through my stop leaving me standing on my tiptoes but unable to get off the rope. Clinging to the wall allowed the Stop to be opened and twenty minutes later I was starting back up the rope taking maillons out but leaving the hangers in place. The second and third belays where left in place complete with krabs and the rope thrown back down from the initial belay.
Hang Tang wasn’t revisited and remains an ongoing lead.
Entrance pitch needs new 180m rope, should be easy to spot re-belays as hangers in place and Mammut still attached to 2nd & 3rd re-belays and knots below these left in situ. Follow Mammut (having attached new rope!) and where you see a knot, bolt belays will be found nearby.
Sheltered, flat camping at bottom of entrance would be practical with sufficient wood at bottom to create fire.
Problem of hauling gear up large, slanting shaft probably best overcome by rope across the shaft with a pulley in the middle with a haul rope thro same.

Photographic trip to Hang Son Doong and Khanhs Resurgence
The walk alone into Hang En must be one of the best wild walks in the world. The views of the jungle and  karst are spectacular and a highlight was meeting the minority tribes of Ban Duong. The walk to Hang En starts at kilometre 45 and took about four hours. The view of Hang En at the head of the valley was well worth the walk. The wide entrance was going to be home for the next few days, or so we thought.
Camp was soon set up and the kettle boiling on the open fire. We had two main objectives, first to have a look at a resurgence cave which Mr Khanh had found, which was only a twenty minute walk away. Secondly to photograph the very large new find of Hang Son Doong, which we felt was going to be a tall order, due to our photographer Howard injuring his back previously on a trip to Minh Hoa. After a visit to a masseur who turned out to be blind, he managed to get semi sorted out.
We set off to explore the resurgence cave. Perhaps it was not the best idea to send two none swimmers to explore an extremely wet resurgence cave, but off we went. Mr Khanh, our guide, set off walking first along a fallen tree and leapt off into space landing on the edge of a small cliff! We traversed along the base of a cliff until we arrived at a small entrance with a stream emerging. Here Sweeney and Snablet decided to stash some cans of beer for later! (Who is the bad influence on whom?).
 We set off and soon arrived at the first swim.             
 Snablet and Sweeney suggested that Watto go explore, and let them know the dimensions. Watto’s reply was unrepeatable, with words to the effect of ‘if I go, you go’.
The pool ended in a short low air space into a wet area with stal down to water level. I turned around to mark the survey station, to see my tub of dry skin lotion (bum cream) floating on the lake surface. This humoured Sweeney and Snablet immensely!
The cave continued through canals and over climbs until it sumped at 265 metres. A return to camp and an early night after a tea of sausage, onions, chips and gravy (northern boys love gravy) was in order, to prepare for the trip in the morning.
Morning came and during breakfast there was a disturbance from the locals, who refused to go near the washing line where Howard’s underwear was hanging. To our horror there was a massive green snake draped on the washing line! It was dispatched by one of the locals.
We set off into Hang En which is the way through the hill, which has to be one of the finest cave exits in the world. The walk continues down a meandering river gradually increasing in size, until an obvious resurgence from the left doubles the size of the flow. This water I was informed comes from Khe Ry. Half kilometre down stream the first sink is met, at this point we start the climb up to Son Doong.
What a draught, as you look down the entrance .I caught sight of the size of the passage, also the clouds which were going to give us such a problem for the rest of the trip. Sweeney soon had the rope rigged and off we went, at the bottom of the pitch abseil gear abandoned we set off towards the first river crossing; it was apparent to everyone how big this cave was.
We started the process of photographing this immense cave passage but the condensation and misting on any flash near the camera was a problem. We took photos to the top of the slope above the level playing fields despite the clouds and mist. We turned for home taking a few more shots by the river crossings for good luck.
An uneventful night in camp and a great walk out ended a superb outing into what could be the worlds largest cave passage.

Hang 26 and Nuoc Nut 2
Hang 26 was a cave rumoured to be a three hour walk from km26 of Road 20. In fact it is less than twenty minutes from the road. When Ian, Adam and Hellie went to the cave it started raining very heavily just as we started to get a fire going for lunch. After we had huddled under shower curtains and covered the fire with banana leaves, we dined well on pork and rice then while camp was built we set off for a preliminary look at the cave. Unfortunately we managed to fully explore it. Less than 40metres to a sump, this allegedly dries up, but unfortunately not today. The following morning we again went to the cave, assured that the sump would have dropped. It had not. So a survey and a couple of photos, and back to camp, to await our guides, who were searching for another cave, on the uphill side of Road 20, they could not find it. Now we decided to cut our losses, and ignore the promises of a cave, 200metres and one hour away for the delights of a walk down Road20 and hitching a bike back to Son Trach to get a jeep for the rest. This however was not as straightforward as it could have been. The first bike running out of fuel, and the second not having a clutch. Ian’s third walk down Road 20!
Nuoc Nut 2
 After the disappointment of Hang 26, the same team set out for a three hour walk to a big cave with somewhere to camp, a good draught, and a short pitch. This turned out to be a 6hour walk, on a very hot day with no water, our guides had to use some of our water, and they resorted to eating uncooked rice. However we did get to a cave with somewhere to camp, but no draught and no pitch. The objective still another one and a half hour away with nowhere to camp. Unfortunately our two day trip could not be extended to three days, so, we surveyed our camping cave, Nuoc Nut 2. A few 100metres of well decorated, batty smoke filled chambers. A disappointing end to four days of jungle bashing, dehydrating, and alternate roasting and soaking. However it could have been worse, we could have gone to Son Doong!
Adam Spillane

Hang kilometre 14
We left the roadside through a barricade of head high vegetation and followed a mellow path. As the tree cover increased around us, the ground vegetation relaxed and I realised that our path was in fact an old jeep track. Evidence for this was the neatly arranged limestone blocks creating vehicular access over buttressed tree roots. As is usual on these walks, we soon left the easy track and followed a more sinuous route into the thick of the forest.
After much meandering we came upon a cliff and made the easy assumption that our cave objective would be nicely nestled at the foot of the rocks. Not so; we started to ascend. The initial easy angled ramp of boulders gave way to steeper going over jagged fins of limestone. The consequences of a misplaced footfall did not bear much thought. Eventually, as the angle eased, we made our way over a shoulder and traversed along the contour. To our delight more scrambling followed, this time downwards over razor sharp limestone. Then, the ground levelled out and a yawning hole appeared in front of us. At last!

The cave entrance was a typically enormous arch in the foot of a cliff, there was a scatter of boulders for us to rest on and a steep ramp down into the darkness. At the foot of the ramp the cave held a confusion of breakdown boulders and enormous calcite columns. We surveyed our way among these obstacles to a high point on a massive boulder. Martin C sought a way on by traversing to a step across boulders. The step was guarded by a curtain of calcite. He ducked and moved forward but caught the curtain with the bag upon his back. Crash. Martin’s hand prevented the falling curtain from damaging the rock beneath by cushioning the impact. Blood. John and Paul arrived with bandages and sticky stuff, but first of all they needed a photograph. A safer way on was found underneath the step and what appeared to be the end of the cave quickly reached.

Cave Entrance

The three of us split up to search the calcite covered slopes and alcoves for a possible way on. As we were about to admit defeat, a short climb was found to lead into a small grotto. Within the grotto a couple of high level windows emitted a draught and revealed a larger passage beyond. As before, an easy way through was found at floor level; this time by squirming along a body sized tube. A large sloping chamber was entered. Upslope over more calcite led to a series of blind alcoves with plentiful formations to view. Down slope led to a steepening, where rope was needed to allow further exploration. Sadly, on this trip, our rope was of insufficient length to reach the bottom. There appeared to be pools of water below and much evidence that this water would rise up to meet us in the wet season. Time to make our way back to daylight; but slowly as we made a photographic record of the cave and its formations. Our two guides had waited patiently at the entrance. They grinned as we shared our success and shared a drink of water. Another successful mission.

Martin Colledge

Hang Gio, Hang Than and Ha Lau
The team of Martin Colledge, Trevor Wailes, Helen Brooke and Adam Spillane set off east of the Chay up the same path that goes to Nuoc Lanh, a steep and unrelenting climb up to a ridge. Where Nuoc Lanh dives off right we headed left to a dry streambed, which we followed upstream to a well set camp. That afternoon we set off for Hang Gio. This cave has three entrances; the first two provide a through trip. Crossing muddy ledges with an obvious pitch continuation below, takes you between the two entrances. The third active entrance connects at the bottom of the undescended pitch. It continues as a very pleasant passage to an awkward climb down where we left it for the day.
The following morning, the cave degenerated, getting smaller as it went, with the draught disappearing and reappearing, eventually it was followed for a short way into a very loose, very sharp and very scary boulder choke. A winner in the Dales but most definitely a loser here! A quick return to camp and an unsuccessful attempt to persuade our guides to go to Ha Lau, was followed by the appearance of the as yet unknown name, Hang Than. Up a steep hill, then down the other side brought us to a cave that we were fairly sure was near the end of Hang Gio. Hang Than was approximately two hundred metres of passage, with walls and ceiling covered with calcite, the floor covered with mud leading to a mud sump. Sure enough, ten minutes saw us back at Hang Gio, then another twenty minutes back at camp.
Day three dawned bright and early, with a brisk thirty minute walk to a cave, Hang Than! Some brief arguments then ensued, and thirty minutes later we were back at camp. Take two, we set off up the hill to the top, then we kept on going up, and into a large depression on the other side, where we found Ha Lau. A high altitude sink, taking a stream in the dry season. A great place to camp and only three hours from the road (when heading towards the road). An awkward climb down at the entrance leads to a further awkward climb, and a ten metre pitch. This lands you in the bed of a stream with clean washed walls and floor. Going downstream and down dip leads past two low crawls in water to an enlargement at a breakdown chamber over thirty metres in diameter and over thirty metres high. The way on continues down dip, and downstream, until a ten metre pitch is met. Unfortunately this was the end of the day, time and equipment were both lacking. So a great lead was left for the next expedition, a high altitude, Dale’s pothole, with a stream, crawls and short pitches. Could this be the way into the Chay resurgence?

Adam Spillane

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. 
John Palmer

Hang Hoa
Info about the existence of Hang Hoa came very late in the expedition & as a consequence of the underground exploration of Hang Son Doong. Daylight entering from the latter’s substantive number of upward soaring, 200m+, dolines proved the existence of, as yet, uncharted but very big surface shafts. Knowing the rough distance & bearing meant we could be specific as to what area & surface features to question the guides about.
Mr Khanh knew of a cave in the approx: right location he’d found 10 years whilst lost in the jungle. Bigger than Hang En (!), he explained he climbed down to a lake, crossed to a second deeper lake, full of fish, that he’d not passed.  With only 1 spare day, Snablet & myself were despatched out on cave hunting duties. Lightweight kit, in & out same day.
6:30am breakfast, 7:30am set-off. Mr Khanh had a helper, a young (15 to 25?), permanently smiling lad. Dropped of at Km 22, the walk towards Hang Nightmare was at a cracking & unrelenting pace. Rather than following the dry streambed at the base of the ridge to HN we instead turned upstream & headed steeply left up the valley side wall.
No path meant the way was sharp, prickly & uncomfortable. Stopping for a much needed breather resulted in clouds of stinging insects descending or a solitary but painful bite on the head from the bastard-cross of some hornet/horse-fly. 30 mins: up from the valley floor & we rested beneath a clear overhang. Mr Khanh indicated we should rest whilst he & the young lad found the elusive cave entrance. 1hr later & Mr Khanh returned indicating he’d found the cave but lost the lad. Communicating via meaningful, to them at least, hooting calls we skirted leftwards under the overhang & started to climb up from ledge to ledge, the exposure increasing & the climbing getting more awkward the higher we ascended.
An open gully climb led to a breakout move leftwards onto a steep pinnacle. We watched as the young lad bent backwards over a long drop whilst hopping left foot to right onto the only hold before pulling up on a thin sapling. Snablet exclaimed “This is no place for Daddies” & said he’d wait there whilst I went ahead & reported back. The climbing became worse & more exposed, most holds being sharp lipped little pockets or some form of very dubious vegetation. Jamming down a gully with no bottom in sight before traversing leftwards I started to explain to the guides that I’d had more than enough but they where off round a corner before I could get the words out. Whooping calls seemed to indicate they where finally onto something so, following nervously on, I balanced round a corner to a hand traverse down onto a boulder & a great looking 15m x 15m cave entrance. As I stepped down, both guides broke out into applause!
GPS reading taken, (labelled “FK TERR TRAV” to remind me which cave) we climbed down for a quick look. Arm thick tree roots led 15m down to a lake, the foreshore split by a large calcite boss. Right of the boss another beach. Rather than the expected “2 lakes” there was in fact just the 1 huge expanse of cold water. Mr Khanh's advice as to having crossed one lake into another was simply a description of him having crossed from the right-hand side to the left, in front of the aforesaid boss, & looking out over the greater mass of water. No air current could be felt.
Conscious as to passing time, photos where taken & the superb echo captured before making our way back to a patiently waiting Snablet. 40 minutes later we were down on the valley floor & on a path again. Mr Khanh’s explanation of finding Hang Hoa (named after his young daughter) whilst lost beggars belief. Clearly the lake is there throughout the year but what feeds it at 330m alt: is somewhat puzzling.
Plotting the entrance on the map tends to indicate there is very little likelihood of Hang Hoa having any connection to Hang Son Doong. Nevertheless it remains as open cave & needs exploring.
Recommend at least 100m x 9mm rope (with another 50m spare in case estimate wrong) & bolt the traverse at regular intervals with electric drill as a “via ferrata” .
Camping on beach in cave possible, & probably preferable to jungle, but would need stove as no wood available to make fire with.
Wetsuits needed for cold lake.

Hang 11
This cave was first explored by the 2007 expedition. The entrance is located on road 20, just above the main river sink for Phong Nha Cave. The team explored 200m to an exit below the road, leaving a couple of leads. With a day to spare, Watto Sweeney and Deb decided to complete the exploration. There was a reasonable potential for a way into the upstream section of Phong Nha cave.
We rigged the pitch and changed into wetsuits, knowing that out first lead was a deep wade or swim. Descending the pitch we soon reached the canal we had left two years ago. The water levels were clearly lower, but it was still a deep wade. After about 60m, the passage enlarged. The wet way continued, but there was a dry passage up on the right. Continuing through the water we emerged onto sand banks. Around a right hand bend we unfortunately hit a squalid mud lined sump pool. There was an underwater passage clearly visible.
Returning to the dry side passage we surveyed down to a junction. The inlet on the right led back through a small gour floored passage to the main entrance passage. Continuing downstream, we climbed through some blocks to enter another canal, this time all swimming. The large passage continued as a high level above. After about 150m of swimming with an amazing echo, we were convinced we were about to emerge into Phong Nha, sadly another sump! The water here is very deep and clear, with a slight flow down to the sump.
Another apparent lead from last time couldn’t be found. A ledge 3m down from the top of the pitch led via 15m of stooping passage and a 4m climb, back to the main passage. In the other direction, an exposed traverse and climb led to crawling for 50m towards the entrance. The passage ended in a loose boulder choke with surface debris on the floor.
Hang 11 was extended by about 400m to a total length of 618m
The sumps would be an easy diving prospect, with a definite possibility of a connection with Phong Nha.
This will be an objective for the 2010 expedition.

Deb Limbert

After much discussion on the merits of diving in Vietnam an attempt was made in 2007. Unfortunately the logistics of transporting air without the facility of a compressor proved to be the undoing of the trip. Whilst charged cylinders had been sourced from a dive centre in the Ha Lang bay area from where they were sent down to the team by train, however cylinders have to be empty for transportation on Vietnamese trains. Unknown at the time the disappointment was obvious when the team collected their cylinders only to find them empty.
For the 2009 trip a number of options were explored which included transportation of the dive centre cylinders by a hired vehicle or taking out a compressor from the UK. The downside was the limited fills available by decanting and weight and associated costs of shipping out a compressor. The decision on what to do was finally made easy when Jon Simms was identified as a potential team member due to living in China and owned a compressor that could be transported via train. A few emails and telephone conversations confirmed the latest recruit to the team.
In order to bring the compressor still required some work to ensure it cleared customs, however this was all sorted thanks to the tireless help of Mr. Hieu.
For this trip the diving part was still very much a Recce with the primary objective the Inlet sump in the upper Cave of the Hang Vom system. The significance of this was that the source of this inlet is unknown with a large area of limestone providing great potential. Other sites dived were the resurgence of the Chay River and Noise Cave which is found above the Chay Resurgence. The Chay resurgence is a major resurgence again the source of water unknown but no major cave has yet been found in the possible catchment area on the North side of the river.
The Chay Resurgence is an inviting Blue pool and which provided a good place to test equipment and dive together since it had been over 10 years since our last dive together. The pool has an average depth of -10m with the water powering out of a number of rifts and boulders. The only passable passage was a rift in the left side of the pool. Almost immediately the passage was obstructed by boulders. Route was attempted over the top but could not be negotiated due to the force of water. An attempt under the boulder s proved successful and entered a large tunnel that dropped steeply. This was descended to a depth of -35m and approximately 50mof line laid. Due to the small cylinders, limited visibility and the passage still going deeper the dive was terminated. Future dives here would need to be geared up for a potentially long deep dive. Whilst kitted we examined a second pool kindly located by the support team. This was a static pool 200m upstream and on the same bearing as the resurgence passage, it was hoped this could be a window into the main cave. Unfortunately no way could be found as the heavily silted walls soon turned visibility to zero and the pool was full of jungle debris including fallen trees which made route finding impossible.
Noise cave is found almost directly above the Chay resurgence and was discovered in 2003 a little over 400m long with the cave ending at an upstream sump. On the day of the dive the current was alarmingly strong and difficult to swim against. The sump was soon passed after only 15m into a large sump pool forming a 3 way junction. Following the downstream flow of water to the left the flow of water was soon lost and static pools were crossed until a chamber was reached with no way on. The pools were examined with a mask but no obvious passage was seen. Attempting to follow upstream at the 3 way junction proved a challenge. The passage narrowed to 1m with the full force of water. Progress was impossible despite a combination of wading, swimming and pulling along on the friable handholds of the passage. A return would be best done when water levels are lower.
Hang Vom inlet sump is found close to the upstream entrance of the upper cave. Visibility for the dive was almost zero due to
recent heavy rains. The sump was passed after 30m into a chamber and a massive boulder choke with no way on found.
Future prospects for diving are sure to be successful however the major river caves will no doubt present challenges in the form of low visibility and depth not to mention the remote nature of some of sites. The smaller caves will be more appealing for small lightweight teams with limited equipment. The trip was affected by significant rainfall which affected flow and visibility which would need to be taken into account on future trips.
Martin Holroyd

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

Searching for a needle in a jungle.

I remember it well; ‘it will be one of the best through trips in the world’, what will be? my ears start to listen as I am backing out of a flat out bedding dig on Scales Moor, thinking that sounds better than this, I had better sign up for this. Two years later getting into jeeps seven of us set of up the Ho Chi Minh road (highway 20) to Ban Ban on the Vietnam/Lao border. We arrive at the village of Ruc to start the walk in, Helens bag smelt like Morison’s petrol station in Skipton, everything is covered in petrol, worst still we had lost some of the fuel for the stove, never mind we will have to cook on the open fires. The walk down is pleasant until a recently cleared area of jungle and the track disappears under the brash, eventually we relocate the track and a steep descent takes us to the first river crossing a slippery affair. Here our guides catch up, great; they have brought half the village dogs with them. A pleasant walk down the valley brought us to the entrance of Ruc Caroon.

This is a short pleasant through trip accompanied by the guides and dogs. We emerge back into the jungle and a walk of approximately one hour brings us to the impressive entrance of Hang En (Pygmy). Here we leave the guides and we are finally on our own. This is a dramatic cave. We spent some time in the entrance guessing the passage dimensions against the disto, the original explorers had somewhat underestimated the size of the passage. Half way through a tricky climb up calcite is aided by a fixed knotted wire! Exposed traverses over stal followed including a short hands and knees crawl. The climb out is equally impressive again in a huge passage. Our progress was captured on the movie camera. We crossed a short doline through thick jungle and the razor sharp Karst to a low entrance with a draught, of Hang Over. The cave was extremely well decorated and some time was spent photographing the impressive chamber and passages. Part of the cave was better suited to the skills of Torvil and Dean and not a group of cavers as the mud deposits underfoot were extremely slippery and was reflected in some of the passage names.

An exit lead into jungle, in the fading light finding the best way through was difficult. We arrived at Monster passage a massive tunnel forming part of the Hang Ho cave. The passage then drops to a lake and a 200m swim brought us to our bivi at the cave exit. Problem! Helen is vomiting and unable to keep any food down. Big Nose the expedition physician examines her whilst we cook tea. A mixture of petrol stove and open fire ensure tea is quickly prepared and consumed. Bedtime. There are a lot of complaints relating to snoring, no names mentioned but I am easily offended..
The next morning we are informed that we have to find a needle in the haystack. We set off down an extremely hazardous and slippery riverbed; a welcome relief was the use of a short bypass cave of 100m. At a point of a landslip near the base of a large cliff and the bottom entrance of Pitch Cave we climb out of the river bed and strike uphill out of the valley to reach a col, where the small entrance into Pitch cave that bypasses the pitch is located! This was last used in 1997 so some there were some concerns as to whether we could locate this small entrance again. This was the key to our successful through trip of the Vom traverse and more pressing meeting with the porters at Hang Dai Cao with our food. Needless to say we spent a number of hours searching in vain.
We thought we had cracked it when a drafting cave was found, this was partly blocked with boulders but a bit of Yorkshire persuasion soon unblocked the entrance, but it actually turned out to be a new discovery and not the connection we were seeking. The hunt continued without success and we therefore had to retreat back to Hang Ho. Helen was still unwell (a slight problem) a bigger problem is we now have no food. Helen was in her sleeping bag, throwing up on a regular basis. A whip round and a root through all the bags produced a meal for six comprising of: two salt biscuits, 4 Wine gums, and a small handful of peanuts. This was followed by a tin of sardines shared between six of us but Howard said he was ‘full’ so didn’t want any leaving five to share the Sardines. It was a long night; breakfast was short, very short. We had a choice to make, either return the way we came from Ruc and a 40km walk back down highway 20 or exit Hang Ho through a different exit and a long walk back through the jungle to KM 24. The only downside of this option was only Howard and Martin had ever done the walk in the jungle before and couldn’t be sure of finding the way. However we decided on this option as given Helens condition it would be a much shorter option if we found the way.
To reach the exit a long swim was needed, Trevor opted to keep his clothes dry and stripped naked for the swim and this was not a pleasant sight. The weather was hot for the walk however it was reassuring when sections of the walk were recognised by Howard or Martin and we arrived safely at KM24. We walked the 10 km to the shrine where we were able to hitch a lift on a motorbike to Son Trach and send the vehicle to pick the remainder up. The porters returned a day later with all our unused provisions.


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.
Jonathon Simms

Minh Hoa District
To the north west of the expedition’s base area at SonTrach (and crossing the district boundary from Bo Trach to Minh Hoa), there lies a large limestone massif some 80km by 30km, along with smaller outcrops to the north east. The latter were initially visited in 1992 and 1994 when access required a long road journey back to the coast and all the way around the massif. Some significant caves were explored, notably Ruc Mon and Hang Tien, but the long drive made further forays unappealing given exploration opportunities elsewhere.
Between 1997 and 2005, several visits were made to the south east corner of the area, usually by means of hitching a ride along the rough tracks on a motorcycle and crossing one’s fingers. In 2006, the construction of the new inland Ho Chi Minh Highway gave us a rapid route into this vast unexplored zone. Permission was not always as easy and a couple of false starts were made, but 2007 saw a small team achieving a significant breakthrough with the exploration of Cha Lo cave. Talk of many more caves in the area led us to return in 2009.
Our first day in the district was spent sorting permission out in Quy Dat and hiding from the excess of precipitation which greeted us. However, with formalities complete we headed up to recce the Ban On valley whose steep access road had repulsed a 2007 visit. Mr Cung’s jeep made short work of the steep col which took us over into a hidden valley surrounded by karst features. Expectations were high and a conversation with the local policeman and military confirmed the existence of, amongst other things, an “Elephant Cave”. With dusk nearly upon us and the return journey apparently fraught with “cow hazards” on the HCM Highway (imagine coming upon a herd of Friesians on the M25 and you get the idea) we made plans for a proper visit and headed back to Son Trach.
Phase 1 – Ban On
The next day our designated transport first had the minor job of dropping off the Hang Vom team at the top of Road 20. The poor weather made this a bit of an epic and two very tired jeep drivers straggled back into Son Trach in mid afternoon. Enthusiasm for driving to Ban On was not high, but with a permission stop in Thuong Hoa needed before 5pm we (Adam, Snablet and Paul) charmed Mr Cung into setting out on our 4 day mission. Half an hour into the journey, the wisdom of this seemed questionable as the driver’s eyes slowly closed and the jeep slowed to a crawl…the rest of the trip was spent alternately talking to him and getting Mr Phuong to wake up and talk to him in Vietnamese! Fortunately we made it in one piece, picked up the commune permission letter and headed up the last leg to Ban On.
Once in the village, we were obviously keen to see the Elephant Cave, which was apparently down at the end of the enclosed depression with the river running across it. Our guide/host suggested we should wait until the morning and go to see Hang En as it was bigger, albeit half a day’s walk. We applied the old NCC principle of “best cave nearest cave” and asked him to take us to the Elephant Cave. Grudgingly he agreed and so off we went in search of caverns measureless.
As dusk fell, we wandered down into the enclosed depression before climbing up towards a col. “What about the sink?” we asked. “No cave there” came the reply and in truth it did look pretty mud-choked. Over the col, we descended back down to stream level and arrived at the resurgence. Given that this was a low, narrow bedding full of water, it was not quite what we imagined. It then transpired that the Elephant Cave was 2km downstream and had no roof…
After a solid night of Honda C90s, dogs and eventually cockerels, a sleepy party set off for Hang En, heading south out of the village towards the tower karst. A couple of hours through varied terrain brought us to a steep path leading up a tower. We asked again if there was water in Hang En. “There is a pool” we were told. About three hundred metres higher, we concluded that Hang En was probably not a river cave, although as we reached the top of another scramble up sharp pinnacles, we had to admit that the view which greeted us was impressive. A vast pit 100m wide and 50m across dropped away for around 50-60m below us. Looking up, a towering cliff approx 100m high framed the scores of swifts which flitted around the entrance.
Back at the base of the tower, our guides suggested we should stay in the hut of a local couple. We surmised that a brisk walk would have us back in the village well before dark, but all manner of spurious reasons were produced to convince us that this was not possible. Then the local Ruc couple arrived back with two plastic containers full to the brim with a strange colourless liquid… we slept well that night!
Another misty dawn saw us heading for our next objective, a cave that supposedly went through the mountain. Hang Lon did indeed go through one of the limestone towers, but being only 154m long it was again something of a disappointment. The main point of interest was a mound in the entrance which looked suspiciously like a grave; which indeed it was – a local man who had liked the view over the valley from the cave entrance!
Back in the environs of the village, our next cave was one which had apparently been inhabited by several Ruc families until relatively recently. Clearly we were not to be “the first” explorers of Hang Ca Rung, but at least we did manage almost 300m more survey in a heavily jointed complex of small passages.
Before we left the area, we felt it important to check out the source of the river flowing into the enclosed depression visited on the first evening. After a call at the military post, we were guided a couple of kilometres westwards to a series of resurgences. The river emerged from several areas of boulders over a hundred metres or so. Only one of these allowed any access and that only for 70m or so along a hading rift, but the volume and temperature of the water being emitted led us to conclude that somewhere up in the misty mountains there was definitely some cave to be found somewhere.
Phase 2 – Caving by Jeep
Our next foray to the area involved considerably less walking as Martin H, Snablet and myself decided to try to break into the central area of the massif from the north from several locations along the Ho Chi Minh Highway. Shortly after the turn off to the administrative centre of Quy Dat, we asked locals if there were caves in the hills nearby. Receiving a positive response, we recruited a guide to take us to the entrance. As usual, we had arranged for this walk to take place in the hottest part of the day and it wasn’t long before Mr Phuong decided that the shelter of a nearby café would be a much more sensible idea. Half an hour later, we were toiling up towards a col between two enclosed depressions and wishing we had been more sensible.
The second doline opened out into a well-cultivated area before a bit more jungle-bashing took us to a part of the forest which seemed to be ideal habitat for leeches. Amongst the trees, a dry stream bed led to a boulder choked sink, but nearby was a slot to a muddy slope into a decent-sized lake. Changing into caving gear entailed the occasional shriek as leeches made a bid for soft fleshy bits, but soon Martin had slithered down into the pool and was swimming across to what appeared to be a passage. It occurred to me that the slope was going to be slippery when wet…The “passage” closed down immediately, but Snablet dutifully descended to ensure we had the survey measurements, the refreshing dip in the water being purely incidental! Exiting the pool did indeed prove entertaining
(for me watching) and we quickly left the leeches behind to brave the heat of the day once more. Three hours for thirty metres was not exactly the return we had been hoping for. The long hot walk back improved immeasurably once we made it back to the café and made the most important discovery of the day – bottles of iced green tea, which tasted absolutely wonderful. Yes, we were thirsty!
On the way back to Son Trach, we checked out the downstream end of the Ban On water course. Although not marked on our maps, the area plan in Quy Dat had indicated a dam at the upstream end of the river which flowed alongside the HCM Highway. Dams at the base of limestone have previously led us to some significant discoveries, but in this case our hopes were dashed once more as the water level met the roof level extremely close to the resurgence.
Phase 3 – Cha Lo
The 2007 expedition had visited the western end of the massif and returned with a 4.5km cave and tales of many more in the area. Hence a team of 4 (Howard, two Martins and Paul) was despatched to build on that work and hopefully improve our metres surveyed to kilometres walked ratio.
Approaching Cha Lo, it was clear that we had travelled beyond the end of the limestone and were then skirting up the edge of the massif. The whole area felt different from Son Trach; higher, less forested, different houses and people. Cha Lo itself is on the main road through to Laos, with the border being very close to our intended area of work. We made the obligatory call at the local military post, where the English-speaking commander was clearly disappointed that his language skills were patently more advanced than ours. Nevertheless, permissions were duly granted and we set about finding a place to stay.
One empty house was made available to us, conveniently situated directly opposite the bar. About 5 minutes after we had unpacked all our gear and set up camp, the village policeman came and told us we couldn’t stay there and both we and our equipment would be much safer at his house. Much grumbling followed as we loaded everything back up again, but in hindsight our hosts were probably right that it was safer to leave our spare kit in an occupied house rather than a shack by the pub.
With a couple of guides recruited, the following day saw us leaving the road and heading east into the hills. Tales of a river sinking at the base of a 200m cliff helped to spur us on through the jungle and up and over a couple of steep ridges. After about 3 hours walking, we arrived at a small woodcutters’ camp by a stream. It looked a pleasant spot for a camp if the nearby cave went.
Unfortunately, the stream sank into boulders and mud and Mr Huy then started to hack a trail out of the doline through the thickest section of jungle of the day. Over another col, the path then descended steeply (very, very steeply!) and we began to consider how much fun it would be to haul a lot of kit this way. Then, somewhere below we heard the unmistakeable sound of running water and eventually we emerged in a gully strewn with huge boulders. A stream cascaded down and down and as we followed, our eyes were drawn to the birds which circled up against the backdrop of a massive cliff of clean white limestone. Jaws dropped and expletives were exchanged. Then several more expletives as empirical evidence (falling on our arses) suggested that the recent rain had given the boulders in the gully a negative coefficient of friction!
We cautiously negotiated the boulders and tufa dams that led us to a spectacular sink entrance at the base of the cliff – spectacular, but by now beginning to feel quite a long way from home. The two Martins carried on down to recce the entrance and quickly reported back that we needed rope and SRT gear to get down a pitch. This was a bit of a problem, given that we had neither, and the drop was christened Yellow Card.
Back with the guides, we packed up and headed out, obviously vowing to return a.s.a.p. The route home was somewhat circuitous, at one point being only 300m from the rendezvous with the vehicle, but still with about 1km of meandering to get back to that point. That night we sought further information on caves near the sink of Ruc Ca Xai and there did indeed seem to be several other possibilities as well.
The next day, we loaded up 4 guides/porters with a pile of gear and headed back out to the sink. A steeper but more direct route was taken and at the end a detour to a larger but more squalid camp inhabited by an abundance of horse flies. With cave to push, we decided to defer this problem until later.
Once at the sink, surveying and rigging were quickly under way. In our wisdom, we had decided that one SRT kit between 4 was adequate for this one pitch into the main cave as we could easily pass it up and down the pitch. Three of us watched as Martin C made the first descent and carefully set about putting in a deviation; fortunately he realised the error before we could heap too much abuse on him!
At the base of the pitch, a squeeze past a huge boulder gave access to a pleasant stream passage over boulders and cascades. Beyond a wading section (Early Bath), the passage
began to take on a more traditional Vietnamese river cave feel. Our first 50m survey leg landed us on a sandbank, from which a slope led down to a lake which had no draught and the appearance of being somewhat terminal. Martin H swam across and confirmed our worst fears. Ruc Ca Xai had indeed shown us the Red Card at a considerably earlier point than we had hoped. At around half a kilometre, the cave had not quite lived up to its 5km+ potential.
With the cave photographed and derigged, we were back at camp by midday and hoping to move on to the next target - either a sink called Cho Can or an old dry cave which it was claimed could hold a division of soldiers. Our guides advised us that the dry cave was a day’s walk and Cho Can was half a day and they still had to have lunch. As it became clear that the next target would have to wait, we busied ourselves with the task of setting an example by tidying the camp and a couple of hours were spent gathering and burning all manner of detritus from the immediate area.
Hoping for an early start the following day, we ate early. This meant that we were fortunately still full when the guides’ elaborate trap by the camp emitted the squeals of a rat which then became the subject of an impromptu barbeque. (“Oh no, sorry, I couldn’t eat another thing tonight!”).
Our fourth day in the area was marked by much dragging of feet and changes in length of walk estimates by the guides, but eventually we did the 5-6 hours walk in about 4 hours. Good paths, poor paths, stream beds, clearings, thick jungle – it had been an interesting day which ended at a camp worse than the previous one. The cave was apparently 100m away, so we decided to go and see if the entrance offered any better alternative. It didn’t really, being a low stream sink against a small outcrop, but we decided it was the best solution.
Whilst the two Martins sorted gear, Howard and Paul went in for a quick peek in the hope of finding some nice, soft sandbanks or similar. What we in fact found was a stooping cobbly, stream passage leading to climbs and cascades. Howard then adopted a strange pose whilst looking into a low section and didn’t move for a while. It transpired his back had gone. We were only a few tens of metres into the cave, but it was a painful exit for Howard which partly involved being dragged along on a handy woodcutter’s plank. Having dosed him up on painkillers, we decided that the cave needed doing and headed on in.
The cascades and climbs continued in a sporting rift until a short pitch barred the way. Martin H had a close call as a natural belay snapped off as he descended, but fortunately the backup held before he completed the descent in a less orderly manner than planned. We just began to wonder if there was a third incident around the corner, but a couple more drops led to a hading rift and a conclusive choke. Another one that didn’t quite live up to its potential.
Back on the surface, we spent a couple of hours debating how we could carry Howard all the way back to the road. Various combinations of rope/hammock stretchers were discussed at length. This ensured that when he woke up, Howard rose like Lazarus from his (plank) bed, muttered something about not being trussed up and hobbled out of camp. Fortunately the path back was a good one and much more direct, such that we were back on the main road in around 3 hours and back in Son Trach by late afternoon.
Our time spent in Minh Hoa seemed to constantly feed us with interesting possibilities which subsequently proved to be largely disappointing. A lot of ground was covered and a fair number of sites visited, but the amount of cave surveyed did not quite do justice to the effort put in.
However, we saw and heard enough to convince us that the district still has a great deal of potential. We were told of many other caves that we did not have time to visit and the prospect of finding major systems remains. As always, finding caves in this type of terrain is virtually impossible without the help of the local people, but there are many woodcutters who work hard in these forests and may well be able to lead future explorers to other stunning locations like the sink of Ruc Ca Xai. To date, we have scratched the surface and although there are unlikely to be easy pickings, there remains a lot of work to be done and a vast area to be covered. Somewhere up there is the source of the river at Ban On…
Paul Ibberson

Medical report

Caving in Quang Binh province in Vietnam puts the expeditioner at increased risk of accident or injury. Although the base camp in Son trach is in a thriving small town with good road links to major towns with hospital facilities, the working area for the expedition is remote and harsh country. The quick response of a rescue team and helicopter rescue from remote valleys is very definitely a thing of the future in Vietnam. With this in mind the expedition realised that self sufficiency would need to be the name of the game and organised its medical and first aid equipment and personnel with this in mind.
The team was strong on rescue experienced cavers with underground rescue controllers from British cave rescue bodies present. Added to these skills the expedition members included several people with first aid skill and one registered nurse. There was no doctor on the team but arrangements had been made for phone consultation with a UK GP with cave rescue experience. Reliable phone coverage, however, was not available in most of the working areas.
The medical equipment was gathered together in the UK and organised with two things in mind, injury or illness. The objective dangers of expedition caving do not need great mention here. Suffice to say Quang Binh caves are remote, sharp, often loose, and often involve lengthy swims. This year’s trip saw the exploration of vertical systems also. The fist aid gathered to cover injury whilst exploring these caves included gear for fixing wounds, dealing with pain, and covering the onset of potential infection on the grounds that evacuation to a medical facility would be lengthy. Added to the risk of caving injury, being in remote tropical rainforest brings medical risks including illness, malaria being just one of the potential problems, insect stings and bites and infection, the list goes on. To cover as much as possible within the skill levels of the team, the expedition gathered a small pharmacy of medications including antibiotics, malarial treatment and diagnostic kits, treatment for severe allergy and anaphylaxis and anti anxiolytics.
The next problem was how to organise the kit.
This was done by having 3 fairly comprehensive kits designed for field use, these included the equipment alluded to above. The physical size of these kits (a waterproof “Darren” drum) made them impractical to take underground but very practical to have at a jungle camp. Underground kits were much more basic and packed into small nalgene bottles that people would actually take underground with them. Back in Son Trach was a base camp kit with IV sets for fluid resuscitation in case of severe problems and a stock of medical expendables.
To cover the fact that few people had extensive medical knowledge, each field kit included very clear and concise instruction on the uses of the medications written for us by a UK GP. We also carried at base, the excellent RGS Expedition Medicine Edited by David Warrell and Sarah Anderson 2nd edition 2002.With the preparation done, and the caving started, it was not long before casualties started coming in! Fortunately there were no serious injuries or illnesses but few people escaped some sort of medical or first aid problem. There were, of course, the near misses which are best discussed amongst mates over a beer or two!
Starting with injury, we had a caver suffer a very deep laceration to the base of the little finger, down to the bone and extending laterally, done by stumbling onto a razor sharp limestone block The victim was given great first aid by one of the jungle guides (cold weak tea to wash out the wound, the tea of course having been well boiled before being bottled for the jungle trek) and needed wound toileting and deep suturing on returning later that day to Son Trach., plus a precautionary course of antibiotics. Another unfortunate caver had a stal curtain break and fall onto his hand causing a small deep cut that was patched up with steri-strips. The same person took a fall, causing extensive bruising and minor laceration to his bicep. He sounds unlucky, but the fall could have been much worse as he landed on his back on a sharp ridge after a 10 foot fall but the big tackle sack he was wearing took the impact.
An over-social session with the jungle porters and their rice wine saw a fall from a hammock and a minor, if messy, head injury.
An innocuous move whilst caving put one man out of action for a week with lumbar spasm and pain.
Added to the injury list, most cavers suffered minor bumps and bruises and aches and pains associated with the nature of the trip and the high average age of caver.
Illness wise, minor complaints took a toll but there were no major worries. There were 4 cases of gastritis with severe vomiting that resolved in 48 hrs or so, one chest infection requiring antibiotic cover, 2 cases of fungal foot infection, one severe enough to prevent caving for 3 days. One unlucky caver developed moderately extensive rashes on each trip into the forest, possibly sweat rashes rather than allergies but frustrating and itchy none the less.
Everyone had their share of scratches, leech and insect bites but it was notable that there were none that developed into anything other than minor skin infection. Possibly this is a happy side effect of the team taking doxycycline as malaria prophylaxis.
Overall there was enough going on medically to cause ongoing interest and minor disruption of the caving plans. Fortunately most of this was minor in nature and should leave no lasting problems, although there will be a few scars.
One of the reasons that the issues that arose did not cause greater problems was the prior planning that went into the medical kit. To this end thanks go to Drs Angela Hare and John Burton for their input.
John Palmer

Longest Caves of Vietnam

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Hang Son Doong
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Nguom Ban San
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Nguom Sap
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Hang Toi
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Hang Cha Lo
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Hang Duat
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Hang Lanh
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Ban Ngam
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Hang Thung
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Ki Lu
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Hang Ca-Be
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Bo Luong
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Bo Nhon
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Na Lon
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Pa Ca 1
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Ban Lay
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Hang Vuc Tang
Bo Trach
0630405 1933437
Chay Resergence
Bo Trach
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Hang Du
Bo Trach
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Hang Son Doong
Bo Trach
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Hang Hao
Bo Trach
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Nuoc Nit 2
Bo Trach
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Hang Nghia
Bo Trach
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Hang Sot
Bo Trach
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Hang Khi 2
Bo Trach
0627640 1934712
Unammed Shaft
Bo Trach
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Hang 26
Bo Trach
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Hang 14
Bo Trach
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Hang Gio
Bo Trach
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Hang Than
Bo Trach
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Hang Lau
Bo Trach
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Ruc Ca Xai
Minh Hoa
0584971 1957623
Hang Cho Chan
Minh Hoa
0584723 1954870
Hang Ca Rung
Minh Hoa
0603549 1952803
Hang En(Ban On)
Minh Hoa
0605567 1947905
Hang Lon
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0604186 1950682
Ruc Ma Rinh
Minh Hoa
0598654 1963651
Song Ruc Lan
Minh Hoa
0597317 1954831



Ghar Parau
Lyon Equipment/ Ben Lyon
Singapore Airlines
Jonny Shaw
MDL Measurement systems
Hope Lights
Excellent Stuff
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

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