Thuong Shaft and sink

From our camp Phong lead us uphill over a high ridge above the Chai River. A short descent took us to the edge of a very fine shaft. Russell and I scouted out the best place to start the descent. A tree provided a good belay for the rope and soon I was heading down. The sun lit the shaft magnificently. A good thread rebelay split the pitch and after some 80 metres I touched down on the floor. Unfortunately a quick look round revealed there was no way on. Ascending back to the top Phong had his head in his hands with disappointment as he had hoped it would be the way in to a big new system.
We headed back towards camp and a stream sinking into a cave similar to nearby Hang Lao. I was pretty excited as Hang Lao had been a fantastic sporting stream cave. A short way inside a pitch landed on large sandstone boulders. The continuing passage soon narrowed down to a canyon with several short climbs. Emerging into a chamber we soon reached a sump. Russell soon found a small tube emitting a good draught and volunteered me to explore the way on. A very awkward descending tube led me to a high muddy rift. I was able to chimney up to a larger section in the roof. A slippery traverse forward and climb down brought me back to the stream. The way on now deteriorated to a low muddy crawl with ducks to a point where I WAS GOING TO GET VERY WET. The draught here is very strong. With nobody to back me up I decided to return to the others. Although squalid this cave is definitely worth another visit as similar potential to Hang Lao is a possibility. On the way out we explored the maze of passages off to the side of the entrance rifts. They all end in sumps so the bypass awaits a return of someone with a Yorkshire head for exploration.
Xuong Valley.
Vietnam 2012 saw three light weight reconnaissance trips heading into deep into the interior of the Ke Bang Massif beyond the Xuong Valley to explore caves on two mountain plateaus.
The route to the Xuong valley was used this year as a gateway for exploring deep into interior of the Ke Bang massif, west of the Chay River. The Xuong valley itself is a large closed depression ringed by imposing limestone cliffs and is home to a grotty resurgence, which serves as a habitual watering hole for every illegal logger, poacher and smuggler applying their respective trades between Thailand, Laos & Dong Hoi. It is located due west from Hang Vom and accessed by foot along a well-established path that traverses a high fault valley, over a series of high cols and closed depressions walled in by towering cliffs. Due to the weight of packs and lack of water, the 10 hour walk into the Xuong valley is split after 3.5 hours at a small water hole (only water) situated close to the top of highest section of the trail. Water is at a premium in this region of the massif, dehydration is always close by. In 2010 a number of small caves and shafts were explored in the valley itself; however the extensive wet season flooding and subsequent lake appears to block everything within the valley floor with silt after a short distance.

Vuc Ky Area:

This year our focus for exploration was concentrated in the mountains around 5 hours walk to the south of the valley. We followed the Cha Noi to Lao trade route out of the low lying Xuong valley via a brutal climb to a stunning col hemmed in by walls of towering limestone. Shortly after the col the first clean fresh water, (since leaving paradise cave car park) is reached in the form of a couple of intriguing resurgences at 650m altitude. We followed a well-worn track that ascends through reasonable open forest past a couple more surface streams and areas of non-limestone. After the second stream at around 850m altitude we left the main path and headed west up into the karst. After crossing a series of small depressions the route reaches a hunters camp by a dry stream bed sinking below a small limestone cliff. This was to be our base camp for exploring the sinks of this high karst plateau.
Four caves located at an altitude of around 900m, where visited and explored from this camp.
• Hang Ha Hai; located close to camp, a dry stream bed leads to a large rift entrance and adjacent shaft. (See Hang Ha Hai description for details).
• Hang Khe Cung, approximately 45 minutes from camp in a confusing set of depressions a small boulder filled entrance fed by an active stream way. (See Hang Khe Cung description for details).
• Vuc Ky, approximately 1 hour from camp a pair of dry stream beds feed a large impressive rift entrance. (See Vuc Ky description for details).
• Hang Ha Hai 2 an open shaft located close to Hang Hai. This shaft has not been explored due to time restraints. We surmise that Hang Ha Hai 2 may well link to the lower regions of Hang Ha Hai providing an opportunity to try and connect the two Hang Ha Hai caves to the nearby master cave of Vuc Ky.

Future prospects for exploration:
This area deserves further investigation. To date the plateau has yielded over 6km of exciting and challenging cave reaching a depth of 300m. The caves are likely to all be part of the same master system, which is currently trending north east towards a significant surface feature which on the map looks like a deep fault valley at about 3km to the north with an altitude of around 300m. Further work shaft bashing and using the surveys to target underground inlets is likely to provide connections between the caves, which in turn could produce a sizable cave system.

Vuc Boom Area:
A second plateau was visited approximately 3 hours east from the Hang Ha Hai camp on the neighbouring peak. We back tracked back to the main trail and turned off the trail at the second stream. An improvised route led over a high col to a plateau on the western side of the col with a number of sinks and depressions.
• Deep depression with an undescended shaft.
• Dry rock shelter used as a hunter's shelter immediately above a dry river bed sinking in to boulder filled entrance which terminated in an uninspiring small crawl.
• Vuc Boom; an awe inspiring 190m deep entrance shaft (see Vuc Boom description for details).
• Hang Em Boom; a draughting snake filled boulder ruckle leads to the head of a deep undescended shaft.
Future prospects for exploration:
This area is also extremely exciting with a couple of impressive shafts visited to date and a draught that suggests huge open passage still to be revealed. The caves are currently sitting at around 850 to 900m altitude, we are surmising that these sinks possibly feeds a resurgence stream we passed on our return journey at around 650m on the lower western flanks of the mountain. On our return journey back to the Xuong valley we noted a massive enclosed valley to the west back towards Hang Vom which would also merit further investigation.

Logistical considerations for future exploration:
Travel time and distance to the prospecting area is the major logistical headache. The commute to the caves is taking the best part two and half days to walk in, with camps at the first two watering holes. The journey back is quicker at two days as a considerable percentage of the weight has been eaten. To date each foray to this area averaged around 60km of walking to and from the caves over four and a half days. The majority of caves explored to date in this region commence with a 200m deep vertical shaft system, requiring a considerable amount of rope, rigging gear and drill battery power. As a result of distance, time in the field, equipment required to descend and record the caves resulted in a large number of porters being required. To continue exploring deeper into this area, it may be worth considering for the future a staged supply chain feeding to an advance camp every few days to try and reduce the time walking to and through the caving area. This could allow an increase to the duration in the field for cave exploration and may also reduce the number and cost of porters needing to stay at camp for long periods of time.


2012 Report


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