Vietnamcaves.com

Equipment review

For this trip we were generously supported by Lyon equipment who supplied a number of Petzl Ultra head torches and Exped rucksacks which were used extensively throughout the expedition.

The Petzl Ultra gave exceptional performance in the large cave passage and proved to be robust in the harsh environment. The switch was easy to use even with gloves on. The batteries had a good life span and a range of settings for the light output.

The Exped sacks were used extensively for porter loads both above and below ground and were seriously abused. Whilst not designed specifically for this task the sacks lasted the expedition and were showing signs of wear and many had been punctured. Where the sacks were used for personal use they tended to survive the trips and proved to be extremely good for keeping personal belongings dry in the wet environments.

Seal Skinz generously provided socks for all the team members. These are particularly effective as leech socks.

Diary Photo Trip 24/4 – 6/5 (I was Carsten’s Bitch)

Sat 24 – walk & camp HE(Hang En) – student tourists – gout

Walk to Hang En with about 12 porters, numerous boxes of flashbulbs etc. Camped in downstream entrance of HE as had about 8, young studentVietnamese “tourists” visiting entrance of Hang Son Doong. Easy day spoilt by short gout attack in late afternoon brought on by dehydration.

Sun 25 – HE, photographing 2nd & final chamber – swift – green boulders - pancakes

Day started with breakfast pancakes before the eggs went off.Carsten photographs the chambers on route to the upstream exit, his meticulous & time consuming approach a foretaste of what is to come as is his ability to see good photo opportunities in the mundane. A baby swift, presumably taking its very first flight, crashes into the lake in the 1st underground chamber & had to be rescued from a watery death. Attempts to photo large calcite walls/gours proved largely unsuccessful

Mon 26 – Pancakes – photos under scallops – Starlight HSD – rained 3am onwards – water from below ent pitch

Finished off last of the fresh eggs with pancake breakfast. Packed kit for move to Hang Song Doong.Raining heavily from 3am onwards. Carsten took some interesting looking shots in the heavily scalloped passage between 1st & 2nd chamber before we set off around mid-day for HSD, looking at gully leading to Khe Ry on the way. Cosy camp set up in HSD porch, “Starlight”, entrance pitch rigged as a protected climb & water collected from the underground river below. Porters cook wonderful meal of pork & rice

Tues 27 – 2 river crossings – 4 porters taking loads to LPF

Down to the river & both crossings rigged with tensioned tyrolean’s, 4 porters pass taking loads to the next camp at Level Playing Fields.Carsten spends hours taking photos of both crossings from various angles including from underwater.Camped again at Starlight, porters cooked beef & rice – superb.

Weds 28 – Hand of Dog – LPF Camp – water in rift – thunderstorm – water higher

Woke up to a monumental thunderstorm, cloud rolling down into the entrance slope. Starlight camp remains dry & squirrel noted foraging in trees. Camp broken & loads taken into cave with intent to set up new camp at Level Playing Fields. Water levels have increased.

Carsten asks that I make my way to top of Hand of Dog, 800m in distance & flash forward. We are down to just 3 w/talkies between 5 stations (1 w/t taking an early bath during the river crossing photos) so agree rudimentary signaling system using lights. Hand of Dog easy climb onto 1.5 x 1.5m tabletop. I’m then on this for over 4 hours(!!!) as various photos taken. Unable to express dissatisfaction with time taken as no w/talkie & flashing my light in an agitated manner fails to produce satisfactory, indeed any, response.

Finally, circular light movement indicates photography finished & perch can be abandoned. Make way to LPF, dump kit & make way back to help carry gear.

Carsten forbids open fire cooking at camp so as to maximise chances of keeping the cave clear for his large passage pictures. This doesn’t go down well with the porters & we end up cooking own food on petrol stoves.

Thurs 29 – RCS 30 – ropes stolen – photo across gully – new pass – 2 more porter loads form entrance – S/Pen stops working

Robbie is 30 today. Happy Birthday. 2 porters bring in surface loads & advise the entrance pitch ropes have been stolen! This is the 2nd time & is a worrying situation as 1 porter already slipped on entrance climb & it’s not difficult to envisage a serious accident taking place.

Carsten photographs back towards entrance, I’m situated down in gully where river can be heard roaring below. Porters dressed in Carsten’s orange ‘Gitmo’ boilersuits. 3 hours later, numerous exploding f/bulbs having been heard in various locations in the meantime & can now move position. Check not needed for next shot & take opportunity to look at where the water is going. Climbing down it is apparent that the water course is still a place of extreme, active violence. Huge boulders are closely packed & scatter-gunned up into the roof & any side rift. Progress is made via squeezing, climbing & bridging downwards through a huge rock maze. A offset chamber has a stream running through & an obvious inlet passage coming in at 90 degrees, approx 10m x 10m the passage is initially jammed with boulders but then changes to open passage. Conscious that I’m by myself & have been away for almost an hour, a return is made. Some route-finding difficulties in trying to climb out of the packed boulder jammed passage & into the open gully above, couple of failed attempts before finally finding correct way out. Climb back to LPF, photos now being taken at moraine between LPF & Watch Out for Dinos.

Back at camp for 7pm. 2nd night without fire & once more have to resort to boil in bags.

Robbie et al consume 3lt of the 5lts of rice wine brought by the porters for his birthday. As an old man I take to my bed early & thus miss the ensuing chaos.

Fri 30 – Collect Martin & Kangh – genny to Beach – talc bath –

5:40am start for Howard, Deb & myself as we make way from LPF to collect Martin (Nat Geo graphic artist) & Mr Kangh. Up new, & easier, route across the difficult terrain opposite. Rigged both climbs down & up above the wet pitch. Down Watch Dinos, along Ratrun & up into Garden of Edam, the rope previously rigged from the surface showing up clearly in the daylight. Past the Beach & into the start of Passchendaele before arriving at the start of the 86m climb up to HSD exit where we due to meet Martin & Kangh at 10:30am.

Howard’s hand still painful from earlier fall (torn ligaments) & he elects to stay at the bottom of the rope climb whilst myself & Deb collect our visitors.

They turn up at mid-day, their ascent up the hill pushing a troupe of long-limbed monkeys in front of them into & across the entrance providing us with a perfect view as they silently flee across our field of vision.

Both carrying large packs + spare rope & a half-sized suitcase containing Carsten’s specimen Petri dishes. Introductions, share gear & make way into cave. As Kanghs only previous abbing experience is 40mins outside hotel couple of days ago, & with a hanging belay stance to also contend with, clip cows tails into his harness & ab with him down separate rope.Back up to ensure Martin ok with changeovers before returning to help with bags.

Start to make way back to LPF, collect film crew’s generator from camp before Passchendaele & take to Beach Camp where same fired up & batts put on charge.

Finally back to LPF camp at 5pm & the delights of a full body talc wash. Doesn’t get you any cleaner but smell becomes temporarily more bearable.

Sat 1/5 – down to Burton – thunderstorm – floodpulse –

Pack kit for moving to Beach Camp, into Watch Dinos for pictures. Heavens open & rain pours down. And down. Flood pulse comes through like a roaring train, waterfalls appear from high up in roof & Carsten has a field day with the exciting new perspectives. Note new rift passage, check it as an ongoing lead then return to it with Martin to explore downwards slanting tube. Ends at a subterranean river but I recognise this as being the beach reached from the Wet Pitch & explored up to Going for a Burton. At least we now have connection avoiding necessity of the Wet Pitch & the subsequent 20m pitch.

Back up & into start of Ratrun, Carsten has idea for a picture with a light shining directly up from the base of a newly appeared waterfall. Agree fee of limitless cocktails & beer in Sun Spa & proceed to get very wet.

Sun 2/5 – fish/shrimp – photo Rat run – break boots

Howard, Deb & myself play at great white hunters & set off to capture white shrimp & fish for Carsten’s photos.

Photo Rat run & then spend couple of hours up the 70m pitch of Garden of Edam whilst Carsten struggles with condensation in his camera whilst trying to take pictures from a slightly higher perspective. Eventually he has to abandoned attempt & I arrive back at Beach Camp just as it’s getting dark.

Discover that right 5.10 boot has come apart after 8 weeks of caving. Luckily, if somewhat bizarrely, Phuong has brought spare pair of Howard’s Hi-Tec lookalikes & they fit!

Mon 3/5 – photo down gallery to Passchendaele – rift – Cormorant

Spend the morning photographing The Sublime to the Ridiculous. Explore the “Pit” on left-hand wall. Manage to climb down about 12m onto a jammed boulder & pitch continues for at least same depth below. Stone thrown down could be heard to land in pool below.

In early afternoon helped with 2nd look at Cormorant. Amusing climbs up & down increasingly slippery slopes, flat out squeeze into small closed chamber & draught lost somewhere along the way. No obvious way on noted.

Back up G of E 70m pitch for Carsten to attempt further photos.

Tues 4/5 - Passchendaele – drilling – How/Martin exit

Photographing a very muddy & considerably wetter Passchendaele. Robbie comments that Little Jonnie not very happy with the higher water levels. At the Wall take various drilling shots. One bulb blows whilst Howard screwing it into firer, now has both hands damaged. Decide he will go back to Beach to collect burn bandage & then continue out to HSD Starlight Camp with Martin who is due back in Hanoi in 2 days time.

Meanwhile Carsten & Robbie, Deb & myself continue with the photography showing the former the wonderful Pearl Harbour passage & the magnificent array of cave pearls. Carsten & Robbie make such voluble appreciative noises that I begin to suspect their appreciation of karst geomorphology may have taken on a somewhat worrying & unnatural bent.Photo the calcited skeleton found on the original exploration & then onwards to the daylight exit 650m forward before returning back to Passchendaele & Beach Camp.

Very little food for the 4 of us not helped by the cooked spam falling into the sand. However quick rinse & patting down with (unused) toilet roll salvages situation.

Weds 5/5 – Beach – gear -

Spent the morning photographing across the Beach Camp & then down into Cormorant before Carsten spent some time taking “experimental” shots depicting moving in cave, these shots in particular caused the firers no little consternation as the bulb guns fire automatically, & with no warning, as opposed to a manual fire.

Afternoon Carsten & Robbie off photoing biology specimens whilst Deb & I dig pit, burn rubbish. This takes hours but excellent job done.

In afternoon ferry large bag up 70m Garden of Eden pitch, store at the first star 10mm rope belay & de-rig the 9mm rope. On slow prussik up, large flying squirrel detaches itself from about 2m above my head just at the point where the roof is met. Large membranes stretched taut between wrist & ankle make it look like a large leather box-lid as it glides down & upbefore landing halfway down the wall on a small clinging tree, folding it’s wings it practically disappears as its size greatly reduces.

Evening meal, pasta bursts through bag & follows y/days Spam. By now we are getting used to sand in meal & same given only a token rinse/clean.

Thurs 6/5 - exit & Son Trach – 2nd boot failure

Carsten & Robbie due to exit via G of E pitch so that they can visit Lon Kom whilst Deb & I de-rig HSD exit including the petrol generator, Howard & porters being due to meet us around 11am.

6.00am & we are off. Last trip through the squalidness of Passchendaele to the base of the pitches. We each have large bag of bivying/cooking kit plus drill + 2 batts + 200m of rope on the pitches + 16 boxes of flashbulbs + petrol generator etc etc.

Take turns prussiking up to first large ledge towing bags behind following abortive attempt to first carry bag on back. Tie-off & descend for next load. Sole of right boot peels of completely & have now wrecked 2 pairs. Unfortunately still over 650m cave & 90 mins of karst hopping & walking to get back to the road. Plastic support still in place but same has very little grip & climbing up the calcite becomes very frustrating.

All kit onto large ledge before final 8m verticality & 35m slope. Halfway up slope & the lights of 3 porters appear at the top. Step up slip, step up slip, step up slip. Towing rope handed over & they start to haul, however 200m & 6 individual lengths of rope results in a real dogs dinner & porters confused by which rope they need to take in on. Deb’s intervention tames the circus & finally everything is at the top but even with 5 of us, it’s still an awful lot of gear.

The walk with just1 boot is highly uncomfortable, particularly along the dry riverbed,but finally 2 hours later we are at the road where the air-conditionedmini-bus complete with cold soft drinks & beers awaits.

13 days & photography now finished. Can’t wait to see the results.

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Sweeny

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