Mick, Phuong and I set off round to Minh Hoa district, to return to the village of Cha Lo, and hopefully pursue some of the leads left from last year. When we arrived in Cha Lo, we checked in with the military post, as this area is close to the Lao border. All seemed well, so we went for lunch in the local café, and tried to locate the guides from last year.
None were available and we were advised to wait till late afternoon when they would return from the jungle.
Phuong and the driver promptly went for a siesta and were soon snoring away leaving Mick and I to twiddle our thumbs. About 4pm we woke Phuong up to see if there was any news of the guides. He wasn’t feeling very energetic, so Mick and I decided to walk back to the café and see if we could get a cold drink.
Within 5 minutes we were approached by an army man appearing out of the bushes. Unable to explain we’d already spoken to the military, we took him back to Phuong who explained, and he duly recorded all this in his notebook. Setting off to the café we were stopped almost immediately by two more military. Phuong appeared with the minibus, and said it was best if we drove the 500 yards or so. We got our drink, and the military kept popping in to make sure we were there, until they’d obviously got the all clear, when they finally disappeared.
After dinner, we returned to the house of the local president, to see who was around. Unfortunately none of the real jungle men were available, but there were some local lads who knew how to get to Hang Vuuc. According to reports this had a large chamber which could fit a battalion of soldiers. As this seemed to be the only option, we made arrangements to go the next day.
After a night with no sleep due to loud TV, road works involving spraying tar all night, and various biting insects we were more than happy to head for the jungle!!
The way to Hang Vuuc involved driving 2-3k out of Cha Lo towards the Lao border. We then took a path on the left of the road, and headed into the forest. The path was well known as it had been used during the war for communications. After half an hour or so, the path began to ascend steeply. Near the top we stopped to wait out a heavy rain shower. Descending the other side, the way continued level and very pleasant for an hour or so. We crossed a fallen tree, and almost immediately our guide realized he’d gone wrong! We came back to the tree, and then proceeded to climb steeply up with no path, clinging on to whatever was available to avoid sliding back down! After 20 minutes or so, we arrived at a small cliff with an even smaller entrance.
Not feeling very inspired, we ate some of Mick’s stash of chocolate bars, and set off surveying. The entrance lowered to and hands and knees duck through into a small chamber. This was well decorated, and dropped via some stals into a lower equally well calcited chamber. A first glance showed no obvious way on, but we continued to survey to the far point.
Phuong showing some initiative was climbing in the stal on the right. He shouted that he thought there was a passage but he couldn’t climb down. Leaving the survey gear we went for a recce. Climbing through the flowstone led to a short drop down, and then into another short crawl. The good thing was it had a good draught. However this can always mean another entrance close by, so we weren’t too excited yet. After about 50m of walking passage full of stal, and about 3m wide we emerged at a T junction with a much larger passage. The passage was 25m wide, and appeared to go left and right, however both ends calcited up pretty quickly. A dark hole opposite where we had entered needed checking and after climbing over some stal we walked into a much larger chamber. The floor was covered in shallow water filled gours, so at least we had a water supply. Across the other side of the chamber the passage continued.
Returning to the entrance chamber, we quickly surveyed into the new stuff. The passage continued to enlarge, and was full of stal columns and flows. The passage was 20m by 20m, and again ended in a calcite choke after about 100m. There was a spectacular shaft on the left, which was completely covered in calcite flows. It appeared to be at least 20m deep, and could not be descended as we hadn’t enough rope. It is likely to calcite up, but might be worth a look.
Mick had spotted a possible passage on the right, it appeared to head back towards the entrance, but soon was obviously a separate passage. Ascending over ‘popcorn’ encrusted boulders we came into a large chamber full of beautiful stal and active gour pools. The passage ended in calcite straight ahead, but Mick had been off again, and found the way on to the left. With great enthusiasm he described the draught and the start of an enormous passage.
Surveying into the new passage we went through a narrowing where the passage was about 5m wide and 4m high. The draught here was very strong. The passage enlarged to 15 and then 20m wide, still full of stal. We could see the roof arch ahead, and after that just blackness! We emerged at the foot of a huge boulder slope. We surveyed up the steeply ascending boulder slope for 200m. The passage was 100m wide, and 40m high from the boulder slope to the roof. Sadly there was nothing at the top, but calcite. There were some small gaps but we had lost the way. We spotted an arch lower down on the left, but this only went for a short way before calciting up.
Determined to find the source of the draught we scrutinized the right hand wall. About half way back down we spotted a possible roof passage about 20m up. This would require bolting. Talking to the locals when we exited, we learnt that there was talk of another entrance. The size and development of this cave suggests that there are major caves to be found in this area.Hang Vuuc is 800m long, and ascends over 100m from the entrance to the top of the boulder slope.