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Xuong valley and beyond

 
Andy, Snablet, Sweeney and an extremely leech bitten Mick have just returned from 9 days up in the Xuong valley area. After a 3 day walk in and a 2 day walk out to this amazingly remote area we have managed 40 hours of caving, bagging 4km of new passage and reaching depths up to 250m. This is the first pushing trip after several recces during preceding years. The last recce a few weeks ago saw a team of 3 to the entrance pitches of Hang Hi Hai, Hang Cung and Hang Ky. These were our objectives but this time we were equipped with bolting gear and half a km of rope!
 
Our main aim with our work in this area is to try and get into passage along one of the two major faults south of Cha Noi; the main fault to the East will hopefully lead us to the underground source of the Chay river. If this is ever found it will be epically big and very wet! The expedition's interest in these 2 faults has recently pushed us to explore this extremely remote area through the Xuong valley and beyond. One must also note also that water is very limited in this area, 3 of our guys could have easily died of dehydration here a few years ago. In short, this is not an area to head into without meticulous planning.
 
The walk in leaves from Paradise Cave, aka Hang Vom. Last time I was in the immediate Vom vicinity was in 2005 when the walk from the road took 3 and half hours. Nowadays Vom can be accessed by bus/jeep/truck and has a golf cart track that shuttles tourists from the car park to the dry entrance. There is also a bar and restaurant with full amenities selling cold beer! We were slightly bewildered by the hordes of tourists visiting the day we left. The walk heads west with a camp after 3 hours, from here it is a day to the unforgiving Xuong valley and a further day to take you to 800+ metres and to our camp that would become home for the next 5 days. Leeches are ridiculously active around this area, on a bad day in Vietnam you might find 10 on your legs and feet at rest points, in this area you can bet on nearer 50 each time you stop. Keeping the little bastards out of your sleeping bag, brew cup, socks and ears becomes your main task, they are an absolute nightmare.
 
Hang Ha Hai was the first cave that we hit. Its nicknamed Monkey Poo cave for obvious reasons but after 100metres of the classic rift entrance series the monkey poo relents. The first push started at around 2pm of the third day in once the final camp had been established. We dropped 3 short pitches on rope and several longer ones without!
 
Initially the cave appeared to have come to a premature end in a tight, log-filled rift. However a howling draught & too much time on our hands resulted in a digging epic. Andy eventually managed to wrestle a torso sized log from out of the rift, having first subdued it with the help of the bolting hammer, leaving the way forward for 2 hours of frantic digging by Snablet through a flat-out gravel & sand floor squeeze. The cave thankfully then took on more sensible sized proportions leading down a descending rift to the head of an 18m pitch. At this juncture an elated turn-around was made returning to camp at around 7pm.
 
The next morning saw us back, Andy and Sweeney pushing/rigging and "miserable mick" and snablet surveying. At the bottom of the pitch we found another 20 metre pitch which hit a large master cave. The cave split 3 ways going for half a km in 2 different directions. There was several side passages duly pushed and surveyed. The main way with a draft stopped us in a huge area of breakdown, too complex and too dangerous to push further. We took some shots of the big stuff and the shape of the passages and derigged. Hang Ky is 180m deep and 1250 metres long.
Hang Cung was our next target. The month before we were there Hang Cung was left with 250m passage at a 6 metre drop with a good draft. We rigged a hand line and started to survey with happy Mick and Snablet heading the pushing team this time. Sweeney and Andy followed on with the Shetland Attack Pony and disto as our tools. The stream passage is quite young and meanders through a band of chert, after a wet, miserable 20m pitch we were dismayed to notice mick and snablet's push had taken them through a series of wet crawls and the a proper duck! Helmets off, deep breathe in and under we went.
duck
On the other side of the duck we finally struck big passage, 30m wide, 10 metres high with the stream continuing on into the darkness. It was here that Sweeney and Andy started to notice the bats and not just a few, there were thousands of them. On station the bats were flying between our heads and the notebook, Sweeny's screams were extremely girlish (Sweeny: my memory of this is mine was the calm, authoritive voice whereas Andy threw an almighty wobbler. Mind you; I still believe I'm 6'2, slim, 30 & give George Clooney a run for his money!) but definitely justified! As we pushed further along with the bats constant attack we finally caught up with the pushers, an end had been found, Snablet had pushed a wet, tight, terminally looking muddy passage and had awoken the colony of bats and had decided to not push on due to their annoyance of his presence. He had however found a Mendip style dig to keep him smiling. The "dig" drops into a parallel stream passage and goes for 30metres to a terminal sump, with plenty of tight passage, ducks and wet crawls Hang Cung ended at 735m at 95m depth, ending more with a whimper than a bang.
Not the deepest or longest trip but a good fun & somewhat serious trip nevertheless.

Vuc Ky
Day 1.

A 50minute, meandering stroll from base camp leads to a dry-stream bed ending in an impressive 20m vertical rift entrance.
Easy 7m climb down to pitch head, an open, chert riddled shaft of impressive dimensions. Loose rock abounds making rigging, ascending/descending somewhat of a potential accident lottery. Mick did a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, an electric drill being essential so as to ensure multiple rigging points.
 
From the head of the pitch the 2nd & 3rd rebelays follow at 4m intervals before descending (40m?) to a large ledge & further ( 17m?) drop.3m of rift, a welcoming refuge from falling debris, then lead out to a second pitch split mid way with a traverse. The base of the shaft leads into a short steeply descending meandering passage and abruptly reaches another pitch. The obligatory rock was tossed over the edge into the unknown; we excitedly counted the seconds as it crashed into the distance and concluded the rope was not going to be long enough. Immediately all four of our remaining ropes were tied together and Mick set about rigging down a spectacular 90m 'Boppidy Bop 'pitch. With the drill batteries fading the next two short drops were rigged off naturals to the head of another 17m pitch, lack of rope brought the day's proceedings to a close. We exited the cave surveying and photographing as we went.
 
Vuc Ky Day 2.

The 17m pitch was swiftly dispatched which to our amusement revealed a section of tight rift similar to Pippikin's stemple rift. Moving tackle bags through tight narrow rifts wearing extra thermals and balaclavas was more reminiscent of caving in Austria than Vietnam. We burst out of an insignificant slot into a large tunnel; we had broken into a master cave.
 
A short debate ensued as to which direction the stream flowed, with the intention of exploring downstream chasing depth. We then promptly headed upstream along a beautiful gravel floored running passage in a dead straight line. A previous incident involving distos and water meant we were undertaking a grade 2 survey, Mick managed to get an 85m survey leg. After a few hundred metres at a chamber "tumbling dice" the passage forked with Sweeny investigating a hanging death route to a miserable water obstruction. Andy checked out the large draughting walking passage, Sweeny was out voted 3 to 1 and we raced off down more open passage, which eventually our exploration was terminated by a number of high avens.
 
We retraced our steps back to our initial entry point into the tunnel and started the downstream investigation. The passage was initially flat floored and easy going, passing a number of pools populated by hundreds of blind whitish pink fish 'the fish bowl'. Large side passages and avens started intercepting the main drag, encouraging a growth in dimensions. Boulder falls littered the passage floor in huge piles forcing some steep climbing. At a couple of points the passage became completely filled and sneaky routes were sought through the choke 'houses of cards. Once through the choke the passage opened up into a spectacular well decorated borehole with a huge echo. A discussion ensued between Sweeny and Snablet as to whether to wait for the survey team to catch up or just check it goes. The question was asked what would Mick do, and both proceeded to run down the passage. Meanwhile Andy and Mick started surveying around the house of cards and through a few of the side leads, there were several question marks left on the survey in sizable passage. When the survey team eventually caught up with the grabbers they were pointed in the direction of the way on and leaping and yelling all four of us descended the 50m boulder slope into the amazing passage. The 500m echo and strong draught in this 10m by 25m passage indicates good things to come. It was decided that a grade 2 survey would absolutely not be acceptable in this super master cave and without much time left on the clock we decided to head for home, the 2 day epic walk back to Vom leaving the cave rigged for another trip.
 
The level that the larger cave is sat in is the same height as the big stuff in Hang Hi Ha; a definite trend is developing in the area with the chert bands and the different levels in the limestone. This group of entrances are a few km west of the Xuong Valley and are generally tending northwards, a return trip will leave tomorrow to push Hang Ky to its limit and will then check out a few entrances to the south east of the Xuong valley. A great trip, some brilliant caving and a good time for us all.
 
Andy
 
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