Vietnam 2012: The Descent of Son Doodle by W.H. Bowman–Long
The objectives of the 2012 expedition were; a new world record and a first traverse of the cave by a film star.
A team was assembled capable of performing this incredible and therefore unimaginable feat. The team of Yoshida – a cameraman with climbing experience, Takashi – a director with drinking expertise. How At – an up and coming chat show natural. Hugh Grant – an established filmstar. Generator Man – a cook and world's strongest man contender. The caving porters - a selection picked at random from Chief Biscuit Eater, Watto, Dep, Leg End, Dun Can, Adam the girl, and Sweeny. The final team was chosen; only by the continually changing expedition dates.
This team could not have achieved these objectives without the porters, led by Khanh, Ky and Nguyen. Supported by: a five man lighting team; sound team; camera team; geologist; stumbling team; forestry team; and someone on a lead; 5 porters carrying generators; 6 carrying fuel; 7 carrying sleeping equipment; 8 carrying food; 9 carrying cameras; and 10 carrying equipment for the remainder of the porters. A boy carried equipment for these last 10 and his own equipment.
After a long time, all of the equipment and all of the people were loaded into all of the vehicles. 40 minutes later we arrived at the road head. The people were counted and the bags were counted then all of the superfluous equipment was consumed or abandoned until the numbers matched, and the loads were heavy enough.
Progress started initially slow but was soon moderated to a crawl. After what seemed like hours the team arrived at the first water stop. Here bottles could be filled, caps dunked, and stars soaked. We then arrived at our first food stop, rice wine and lizard to fill our food and drink requirements.
As it started to rain, we ran for a location where being trapped by flood water was much more likely. This would make the film, more exciting, more deadly, more boring; depending on personal opinion and absence of knowledge and experience. The first campsite is one of the world's finest; air conditioning, soft sand, plentiful water, snakes and high ceilings. Here the boy was taken ill.
The following morning the boy was no better, an evacuation must commence. Loads were redistributed to make them heavier, and the weather looked worse. A choice was made to hurry to Son Doodle, some still thought that footage of flooding would be exciting. It was putting the expedition objectives at risk. One more push and we would be safe, trapped if necessary, but able to film and out of danger. Finally we made camp at the level playing fields.
The following days were spent battling fog and fumes as clouds waxed and waned; the filming hampered by climatic conditions and tardiness. Early mornings were cooler and clearer, but alas they came much too early each and every day. The porters became bored, playing cards with ever greater volume; this makes the game more competitive. The louder you shout and the harder you slap down your cards, the better your hand. Then on to feats of strength and feats of balance. People went missing, search parties were tasked, people arrived; until at last we set off to the land of the dinosaurs, traversing precipices while the porters unerringly found; safer, longer, faster routes. Arriving at Beach Camp, via a thorough soaking in a thunderstorm the last phase of the expedition was at hand. A world record set for underground camping, preparations made for a safe, staged exit from the cave, and a plan to scale the last major obstacle, the Great Wall. Would Passchendaele live up to its name? Or would it be a gentle paddle through the darkness? Or as it turned out, a slither along the trench, a quick dunking, and a slide and sink in thixotropic mud at the base of the wall. Some climbed the wall, most were dragged; the only casualty, an errant ladder which rolled – and dived into the pool and disappeared.
So it was that Son Doodle received its first traverse by film stars, and its first and last traverse by makeup bag and electric razor, which had somehow inveigled themselves into the necessary, from the superfluous. So ended Vietnam 2012, and so began preparations for the return in 2013.
Dr Anette Becher
Peter Ward/Span Set
John Atkinson City Learning Centre
Phoenix Survey & Safety Equipment
Thanh Dat Hotel