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Returning to Hang Lau

In 2009 Helen Brooke, Martin Colledge, and Adam Spillane explored Hang Lau for 500m and to a depth of 100m, abandoning exploration due to lack of time and lack of rope at the top of a short pitch.

This was Martin and Adam’s prime objective for 2010. Hang Lau is located at 590m asl, 3-4 hours walk east of the Chay. It has a strong draught going in, and takes a small stream, even in the wet season.

In 2010 Martin and Adam, accompanied by Mick Nunwick and Ian Watson set off to continue the exploration of Hang Lau, to a conclusion with further leads to the North as a back-up plan. This plan was thrown into disarray at the first hurdle when we were denied entry to the National Park due to a missing piece of the permit. A quick discussion determined that we would visit the northern caves first, accessed from outside the park, trusting that a permit would be in place when we needed to exit. We walked up a good track and were soon at a campsite, having lost Watto on the way due to his prior foot injury. Martin was convinced that the area was very familiar, and GPS locations of other caves were too close for comfort. That evening we inspected the entrance and Martin satisfied himself that he had never been there before.

Day 2 was joined bright and early with a refreshed team, bar Mick who had a lot to learn of hammock sleeping. We returned to the cave, Hang Noi Bu, which was explored to the limits of our rope, at nearly 100m deep, via snakes and rats, the subject of another report. While underground, one of our guides, Mr. Ky explored a nearby cave, Dry Cave, to 300m with no way on.

Day 3 dawned with striking camp and the walk to Hang Lau, arriving shortly after lunch, on a walk that had taken us close to Hang Nuoc Lanh. A new camp constructed on a gloomy afternoon we set off into the doline to Hang Lai, a short dry high level remnant of the Hang Lau system. Back to camp to prepare for the long awaited return to Hang Lau in the morning.

Day 4 saw a refreshed Adam and Martin, awoken with breakfast by an ever alert Mick, awake for hours after bedding down in a hammock/bath of his own design. A 25min stroll downhill led to the well remembered entrance to Hang Lau, this year the entrance was free-climbed, the first climb re-rigged as a pitch, and the second pitch rigged from a minute thread instead of via a scary traverse. Progress was fast via the 2 flat out wet crawls, now thankfully enlarged by monsoon floods, the breakdown chamber and more crawls to the head of a pitch, last year’s terminus, and now named The Long Wait. Here Martin took over the rigging. The pitch quickly rigged from a thread into a chamber apparently blocked by calcite at its lower end. The calcite though had not sealed completely and a steep climb allowed us to rejoin the stream. From here 200m of cascades, and roped climbs led us to a short pitch into a deep pool, more pitches and swims followed, until we were again halted at the head of a pitch, rope had run out and we had to return to Son Trach.

Two days later and the same team, plus Andy, and interpreter Phuong set off for Hang Lau. Phuong was abandoned close to the road to make his own way back to Son Trach, but 5 hours later we were at camp, with enough rope to push Hang Lau to the huge fault that would give us access to the source of the Chay.

Mick and Andy set off, with drill and bolts, rigging. Martin followed as target, with Watto on MDL, and Adam on book. We were over 200m down and 1000m in, surely this trip would see us to glory. Inlets joined, the cave got wetter, still descending at 1in5. A convoluted route through boulders dropped into a deep pool. A 25m very wet pitch landed in a deep pool. A crawl under calcite deposited you into a deep pool. A theme was emerging. Then we caught Mick and Andy. The cave had ended, in a deep pool. A sump took all the water; the draught disappeared through a too tight rift. Hang Lau was at an end. A fabulous sporting cave, with aquaria of white fish, giant tadpoles, yellow long-legged spiders, white woodlice and pinkish cave-waterfall climbing fish. We set off out, Martin in the lead and Adam following, de-rigging as we went. Photographs planned for the exit.

Half way up the 25m pitch Watto’s good leg went bad, cramping up. Leaving no option but to use his bad foot and cause great pain. Martin and Adam, blissfully unaware sat and waited. Adam went up a further pitch, to set up a shot. Martin waited. Just as Martin thought about going back down, the 3 arrived with Watto in agony. Andy came up next to flashes and camera, and we set a hauling system. Mick and Martin came up next, followed by Watto with an assisted ascent. Climbs were passed by brute force and arm strength, pitches with an assisted haul. Eventually we reached the exit, 10 hours underground, and began the slog uphill, vines assisting on the steeper, muddier parts.

Hang Lau ended. Over 1500m long and over 330m deep. .

Adam Spillane

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Reports

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