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Vuc Tang’s 1st visit 2010

Last year a team left Hang Tang with a small question mark on the survey - a small un-descended wet pitch directly below the main chamber. Surprisingly no-one seemed too positive about potential for great caving below the great entrance series but the question mark was there and it had to be finished. After our initial discovery, Tangs shaft kept me awake at night between the years 2007 and ’09 and I was disappointed to learn last year that 250m of passage was all that was below. Surely a cave of that size must be going somewhere big? If I was attached to only one trip this year it would hopefully be to Tang.

After some quickly fixed permit problems Sweeny, Martin and I set off on a 5 day adventure with Carsten and Robbie trailing, our Nat Geo photography lads. The porter team was led by Tang and Du, with these guys in charge we had a drinking team to be reckoned with! With a caving team of only 3, we still managed to drag a group of 12 lads up the hill to base camp.

Although Tang kept trying to insist that the shaft camp was 2, 6, 8 hours walk still and we MUST stay in an interim camp for the night we finally rocked up to base camp after 5 hours. It would seem that for the first time the porters were playing for time. We set up base and got on the lash with the jungle lads, rice wine and chilies!

At the top of the shaft we put in a bolt on the opposite wall so that a deviation could be set, ensuring no rope rub and less missiles dropping from the take off ledge. With a full rack of bags attached below us all we set off down the shaft. What a sight to behold, certainly an arse twitcher of a pitch! 180 metres drop with a cloud at the bottom where the shaft meets the main chamber. With Sweeny re-rigging a new rope onto old bolts I took down the old rope, and what a mess it was. The way down is hard to rig safely. The rock is broken, the rock isn’t always solid limestone and there is loose stuff everywhere. Sweeny added a couple more re-belays and after an hour or two we were down in camp.

We had some cutting and chopping of the old rope to do to before we could rig further down the cave. Sweens and Martin had already begun to set up camp under the overhang so I set off back up the pitch to bring down more gear. With the camera crew in tow there was lots of luggage! The camp is 30metres back from the bottom of the pitch. It is safe from bombs and is truly incredible. In the morning you wake up in you hammock looking directly up the shaft to the daylight.

The evening was spent drinking brews, organizing kit and taking photos with Nat Geo. Carsten’s photos are amazing, there is no doubt about it, he will build 3 or 4 frames into a shot that we would normally only put one in… And for a German, well he’s actually an ok dude! So we forgave him even when bulbs were blowing up (quite literally!) in our faces. Some good photos were achieved, doing the entrance series the justice it deserves. The evening was spent mainly in amazement of Carsten’s knowledge of snakes; he played with some sort of (small) viper for hours, a viper whose bed was at the end of Holroyd’s bed, much to Sweeny’s and my amusement!

The next morning the light was perfect (!) so we took more photos and the set off with rope, drill and rigging kit to drop the question marked pitch. On arrival at the wet crawl Martin discovered a more obvious and dry way down so off I set with bolting kit and rope to drop 3 pitches, back to back. The first pitch a straight ‘Y’ hang down 13m to a broken chamber, a tight a horribly sharp pitch ensued, 9 metres to a traverse above a 6m drop. We dropped into a beautiful phreatic series where we took off all SRT kit and waded through water to a breakdown area adorned with hanging death. Some of the car size boulders seemed to float in mid air, I whispered “sssh” to the lads following, scared to death that what was above may drop at any minute! We passed this particularly sketchy section often dropping into pools to pass the worst parts. Popping out into a streamway 10 metres wide by 20m high, we rubbed our hands together and set off in search of glory whooping our way down the stream passage. After a while the stream dropped into a proper streamway but the main way on was up a huge boulder slope and a big black hole. The black hole turned out to be a continuation of the main chamber, the original waterway, a large high level fossil series which we hit at a t junction. We decided that downstream was right so we headed off across the sharp cave coral and boulders following this 20m by 20m excellent passage. 2 huge stals, black and white were passed into a superb gour hall with a 40m alcove and a draught. Passing through we hit yet another series of breakdown and another climb up into the continuation. The climbs here were dodgy at best, house sized boulders glued together ready to go at any minute. Carefully Martin chose the up route, Sweeny chose the down route and I stood as still as possible to see which was might be best. Both went into a higher level continuation and a beautiful gour and flowstone passage. After 100m it ended at a pitch head, we could see down to 25m with a black hole beneath. Could we hear a stream down there? With our time almost out we left a great lead to leave for a returning party. With a 19m rope for a survey tape we started out. Each length was “N N N NINETEEN!”

More photos and a camp evacuation saw the team back at the jungle camp 3 days and 3 nights since we left Son Trach. Carsten wanted to photograph the fire flies in camp much to everyone’s annoyance – “Turn that light out, MARTIN, TURN YOUR LIGHT OUT!” A startled Martin grunted a reply to Carsten who immediately took offence and decided the only way to pay back Martins disobedience would be to catch the noisiest jungle Cicada and zip it into Martins hammock where he was trying to read. Well, well, well. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Our team was keen for an immediate return hopefully with some of the lads from the other team. However since they also had a going cave with none of them keen to give up their place and concede the caves priority and mix the teams up we put Tang on the back burner. Again I would have to wait to find out what was going on down there.

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