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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.