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Caves from road 20
This cave had been mentioned for quite some time and a number of villagers had tried to persuade us to visit. We finally arranged transport and off we went on the infamous road 20 for more bone shaken adventures. To 21k is a bit of a doddle these days with the improvement of the road but it will be so nice when the road is completed.
We parked our German truck next to the road at Km 21 and hacked a camp in the jungle for our first night sleep. Khanh our trusty guide was keen to take us to his new cave and off we went next to a stream bed we had seen and used for many years along road 20. This obvious stream bed can be followed to the cave about 12 minute walk from the road. Why we had never checked this out before I am not sure. It is only because people are now actively living by the road in the construction business that many more caves have been found in the last year. I expect when we return more caves in this area will have been discovered.
The entrance is very impressive and must take an enormous amount of water in the wet season. This large boulder strewn entrance drops very steeply in a large passage 50m x 40m until a good sized stream is met. The entrance climb of 116m can be achieved with only a short rope around 1 exposed small drop. Martin Colledge unfortunately had chipped his elbow a few days earlier. This caused a few problems on the climbs for him but the rest of us gallantly raced ahead whooping and surveying as we went. We had 3 passages going off from this point. Firstly there was the downstream continuation, secondly the upstream passage and finally a large passage to another daylight shaft. We had only a short time before we must leave and because the streamway involved swimming we opted for the large dry passage.
This led up steeply to the daylight shaft but at its base another passage went off with the sound of water in the distance. We stopped at a large chamber with a steep drop where a rope would be useful. Pretty excited we left the cave with hopes high for a good push the following day.
The weather until this time had been fairly cool for Vietnam standards. Today it changed and it brought out millions of flies. I have never seen this before in Vietnam but I don't wish to see it again. Eating was a real task with the number of flies who managed to bite through our clothing. It was an early night under the mosquito nets and hence a very hot one. Finally it cooled down a little in the early hours and some sleep was grabbed. We were up early and so were the flies! We had a rapid noodle breakfast and quickly set off to the cave to escape the maddening flies. The cool draught at the entrance soon stopped the little buggers.
We retraced our steps with an additional rope to allow us to descend into this large chamber. This was soon achieved, but sadly this high level passage choked quickly and we tried to find a way down with the water in the large choke. A very sporting passage in fantastic gours was forced to rejoin the main streamway. Upstream was pushed for over 100m to a very dodgy looking choke. It had very limited potential so was not really fully concluded. The way on was downstream. We know the water resurges 3km away and a large ridge runs from the doline we are in to the resurgence. If we could manage to reach that ridge underground we should pick up another very important part of the Phong Nha system. Downstream was explored for over 500m in a pleasant streamway often involving swims or wades. The water sinks in a rift and choke where it can be heard falling. There is also a good draught at this point. However it would be a big dig and would require some scaffolding so was left for future years. Along the way to this point a number of high level passages were intersected. Unfortunately all these high level leads broke down and no way could be found to bypass the end.
This was a disappointing end to a fine cave with huge potential. More work needs to be done in this area and many more caves must exist in this stunning part of the park. With the improvement in road 20 it may be possible for future trips to access by minibus thus making the access to many new areas so much easier. I first went up road 20 in 1992 and then it was a horror show in a truck on a completely knackered road totally unsuitable for even 4 wheel drives. Back then we had 6 wheel drive Chinese trucks which were relics of the war. The road has improved in time and the advent of German trucks has made the journey easier. We only had one mishap on the journey back when the truck started smoking badly. A quick panic in the back when flames appeared, but the trusty Vietnamese took the lead and quickly found out that the load of wood stashed under the trucks chassis had touched the exhaust system and set on fire. A quick re adjustment and we were off back to Son Trach and to escape those flies! The flies seemed to last around 3 days and affected other groups out in the jungle at that time.