VIETNAM CAVING EXPEDITION 2014
· Introduction –Howard Limbert
· Summary – Howard Limbert
· Phong Nha system
· Hang May- Dave Ramsey
· Hang Moi for real - Martin Holroyd
· Vuc Moi – Martin Holroyd
· Hang Moi Bon-Martin Holroyd
· Hang Moi Nam-Martin Holroyd
· Hang Lan- Martin Holroyd
· Dong Vong Phu/Hang Lucky/Hang Tam Tam – Deb Limbert
· Hang Bang, - Deb Limbert
· Hang 17 - Alan Jackson
· Hang Hoa/Vuc Heo- Dave Ramsey
· Foot &Mouth- Dave Ramsey
· Hang Ha -Dave Ramsey
· Thach Sinh Linh Dong – Paul Ibberson
· Khe Trieng – Paul Ibberson
· Hang Khe Dung - Snablet
· Cu Tom, Vuc Cu Tom, Hang Cu Ton 2, Wet Rift Resurgence- Sweeny
· Medical, kit review – Deb Limbert
Vietnam Quang Bing 2014 expedition
The 2014 expedition was again based solely in Quang Bing province. In this area we have now had 16 major expeditions exploring vast, impressive wonderful caves. Obviously during that time the easier options have been pretty well checked out. Thus expeditions now have to visit the jungle and its many difficulties for long periods of time to explore new caves. The limestone massif is huge and the majority is unexplored in terms of cave exploration. On the latest expedition we discovered and explored over 17 km of new cave passage. Many vertical remote caves were explored as well as a number of river caves.
As usual we are indebted to Hanoi University of Science who made all it all possible for us. We have worked with them closely now for nearly 25 years and without their considerable help none of the success would have possible.
The province has changed considerably since our first expedition in 1990. In the last few years the area has become very popular with tourists visiting the amazing caves and beautiful area. It is expected to be the 3rd most popular destination in Vietnam in 2015. Over 5,000 people are now employed due to the caves and tourism and the area is thriving.
The local guides and porters we use on every expedition always are the stars of each and every trip out into the jungle. Nearly all the caves we explore now are as a direct result of these guides. Without them it would be impossible to achieve anything like our present results. They are still actively searching for new caves as they understand the importance of caves in this area.
This expedition was tough on bodies. We had a number of injuries though not all from caving. On this expedition we spent a lot of time in very remote areas towards the Laos border. There are still many new caves and leads to explore that we were unable to finish on the last expedition. We plan to return for a 6 week expedition in early 2016.
Huge thanks must be given to all the expedition members, who worked extremely hard in very difficult conditions during the 6 week expedition.
Most of the leads this year were in remote areas of the Ke Bang Massif. Two trips were made to the remote area beyond Xuong Valley, and two trips visited areas along the border with Lao.
Beyond the Xuong valley, 10 new entrances were explored. Significantly Hang May was 1100m long and 200m deep; Vuc Moi was 500m long and 213m deep, and Hang Lan was 123m long and 33m deep.
To the west of Road 20, near the village of A Ky, Hang A Ky proved to be the first cave we are sure crosses the border, and water resurging here will come from Lao. 1260m long, the cave is initially quite dry with old formations. Further in you eventually meet the stream, and the cave ends with a deep sump pool.
To the east of road 20, a 3 day walk with lots of entertaining climbs did not yield much. Dong Vong Phu, a high level cave 840m long.
Other areas were accessed from Road 20 such as above Hang Khe Ry and beyond Hang Dai A.
Above Khe Ry, Hang Hoa/Vuc Heo was explored for about 700m and Hang Ha for 360m. A long day’s walk beyond Dai A led to Vuc The, a 200m deep cave, almost entirely vertical.
Hang Khe Trieng (previously Khe Tien or Trevor’s Cave) was finally explored to a conclusion after 3.3k, and an unusual cave was explored between Khe Trieng and the En Valley. Hang Khe Dung 1.5k long, was unusual because there was very little limestone in the cave, mostly sandstone.
K17 shaft 160m deep dropped into an underground river, but was not fully explored.
39 caves were explored yielding just over 17k of new passage.
As usual not all the leads were visited, and some leads from previous trips still remain. Our local guides are regularly asking us about new entrances they are hearing about, so there will undoubtedly be plenty to do in 2016.
Alan Jackson, Dave Ramsay, Adam Spillane
All three cavers on this trip were Xuong virgins and two of us were Vietnam virgins, with only the previous day’s trips under our belts. None of us really knew what to expect but we’d heard the walk in could be epic in hot conditions. It was cold and raining. My bag, which had failed to arrive with me on the flight over, had been located (still in Melbourne!) and was not going to make it to Son Trach before our departure. Hence I was doubly nervous – first jungle experience combined with a cobbled together collection of borrowed kit.
Departing around 9 am from Mr Khanh’s, our team of three cavers, guide (Mr Phong), five porters and Hanoi Uni interpreter (Quang) made our way to Paradise Cave, watched the porters sort the gear, hitched a short ride on the electric cave tour buggies then headed into the jungle. Water availability limits what you can do in this neck of the woods so day one was a pretty leisurely affair to the first (semi-reliable) water hole – about three hours walk in.
Day 2 was a pretty solid day with some steep and rough terrain. Weather was still cool and drizzly so no heat exhaustion problems but it made for slippery conditions and a minor leech-fest. Something like ~5 hours saw us at the main Xuong Valley camp. One of the shoes I’d borrowed from the pile of dead and dying shoes in the sweat box at the Thành Đhạt Hotel had imploded and was tied back together with string (a good omen for the rest of the trip). The skies cleared and the full moon was spectacular.
We had been under the impression that Day 3 would be a caving day, but with none of us having any idea where we were going we had to just wait and see. Instead of proceeding along the Xuong Valley proper (where the 2012 trips had gone) we turned ‘right’, over the ‘water supply’ (i.e. shampoo tainted shit hole), and were soon ascending steeply up a loose rocky flood channel. The clear weather meant temperatures climbed and the steep terrain made for sweaty going. We eventually topped out at about 630 m a.s.l. before dropping just as steeply down the other side. We paused briefly at a camp where two random jungle lads were seated, whittling sticks with their machetes. After some discussion we were off again and we moved another 40 minutes or so along the track to a camp beside a large rocky river bed with a few pools. It was only 1 pm so we figured we should go and at least recce the first cave but the information received said it was 2-3 hours away and that we’d go in the morning. So why are we camped here then? We asked ourselves. A couple of hours later the plan was revised and the target cave was now only 1 hour’s walk away, but of course sufficient time had now passed to make going there that afternoon unfeasible. We learnt on the 12 day Xuong trip later in the expedition that this tactic of misinformation and delay is Mr Phong’s modus operandi, allowing for lots of snoozing in the hammocks for the locals.
During our lazy afternoon Quang found a fascinating rock (too heavy to carry out) which Deb later suggested was likely to be a part of a meteorite – quite common in the area apparently. Well, I found it interesting.
We got away at a very sedate 9 am on the morning of day 4 and after only 30 minutes we passed a large stream sink right beside the track. Allegedly we were actually coming to visit a resurgence, so we were a bit baffled, but it looked like a great entrance. It then became clear that this wasn’t the target, but it was nearby, so while a few porters looked for the resurgence we investigated the main sink. Adam climbed down into the nice entrance (about 10 x 5 m with massive sand banks outside) but it terminated only ~20 m in, the stream soaking into the sandy floor. Adjacent to the obvious entrance was a steep sandbank atop which was another potential entrance. Lots of beautifully sculpted limestone immediately below the main track leads to a series of small sandy-bottomed fissures. One of them lead to a steep descending tube with a deep, loose, sandy floor. I slid down, filling every orifice with sand in the process, and it opened out into quite pleasant walking passage – about 4 x 4 m on average. I called out to Dave that it was looking good but he obviously didn’t hear me. I slipped and slid along the now mud-floored horizontal passage until it terminated in a mud choke. I paced it out and it was 150 paces back to the sand hill tube.
By the time we returned to the track the original target resurgence had been located 50 m away. The entrance was a pile of jumbled boulders on a short side branch of the large dry flood channel that lead to the previously explored sink. We were informed that the cave was called Hang Nô, which means ‘Explosion/Explosives Cave’. Dave and I did a quick recce and it proved to be a reasonable-sized horizontal passage about 3 x 6 m on average with a few pools of water in the low bits. Adam was instructed to follow us with the instruments of torture and we commenced the survey. After about 250 m of good passage the dimensions reduced significantly and the cave transitioned into narrow, snaggy vadose passage with plenty of stals and deep pools at the bottom. We generally stayed high to avoid having to swim and were slowly gaining height until 100 m later we hit a nasty obstacle – a long deep near-sump at the base of the rift with a tiny hole at the far end that was issuing a roaring draught (causing 50 mm waves on the pond surface). Frustrated with the dimensions and upstream nature of the cave we didn’t bother taking the plunge to investigate the forward options. A 50 m narrow side passage was investigated back out near the entrance but it went nowhere interesting. We were back at camp by 12:30 and, in hindsight, realised we could have achieved all that the previous afternoon. Ah well.
After some impressive thunderstorm action during the small hours, Day 5 started cool and drizzly. We packed up camp and relocated 30 minutes back down the track to the camp we’d passed on Day 3 (where the machete-wielding lads had been sitting). It turned out that this camp had been our original Day 3 target and the nearby cave the best lead but the earlier arrivals had forced a plan change. Our original plan of two days in, three days caving and two days out had so far yielded three in and one caving, so today was our last chance. Camp was hurriedly erected and Mr Ky led us down an adjacent incised flood channel for a couple of hundred metres to a ~3 wide shaft in the valley floor – Hang Mây (Cloud Cave). It seemed to be at least 30 m deep so Adam commenced rigging while Dave and I surveyed down behind him. The pitch proved to be a narrow but beautiful ~50m pitch to large horizontal passage. We continued along what looked to be the obvious way and after ~50 m it opened out on the left into a large flowstone-encrusted chamber. After a quick check of a small dead end we climbed into the chamber then descended the much longer and steeper far side. All the massive boulders on the floor were covered with mud and gravel deposits, making for slippery conditions and concerns that the whole place obviously backed right up during the wet and would probably be blocked soon.
At the base of the large rock slope a ~25 m pitch fell away in front of us. We didn’t have any rope with us so, being the youngest (and a newbie), I was volunteered to pop back up the entrance pitch to retrieve it. I then rigged this pitch and continued down more boulder-strewn passage about 8 m wide and 6 m high. The passage just kept going with generous dimensions, occasionally opening out into large chambers with 40+ m legs. A u-bend constriction that obviously sumps under any flow conditions was waded. I reported to the others that it was only ‘balls-deep’ which, after crossing it himself and getting a wet torso, prompted Adam to enquire as to where I kept my balls.
A further 150 m on the passage narrowed, a small active stream came from somewhere and a small pitch presented itself. Guess where the rope was. Still being the youngest, I was volunteered to race back up to the previous pitch to cut the tail off the rope and drag it back down.
Adam IRTed the first ~10 m pitch, reported back that it really needed a bolt rebelay to eliminate a bad rub, and started rigging the next short pitch off a large natural bridge of travertine. I placed some bolts to tidy up the first pitch and we surveyed on to join Adam at the bottom of both short pitches. Here the passage suddenly got massive – LRUDs of the 50:1:40:2.5 kind. Dave and I were impressed but Adam kept his usual poker face in place. To the left there seemed to be a continuing passage but we concentrated on the obvious downstream continuation. The water and mud on the floor was vile – smelly and the colour of acid mine drainage. The passage continued at a very low gradient for a couple of hundred metres, getting muddier and muddier, until it terminated in a large mud-filled chamber with a boulder choke at the bottom. The cave was over and it was turnaround time anyway, lest we worry the porters. We had a quick check of two ‘up and over’ options in this final chamber before departing but while neither was pushed to a conclusion they didn’t look awesome.
We raced out, and got back to the surface just as the sun was fading away. Before leading us back to camp, Mr Ky showed us a second, larger entrance 50 m further down the flood channel, which was the entrance he had originally intended sending us down (Hang Say). We considered its close proximity to Hang Mây and suspected the two would connect, probably where the large left hand passage in the really big stuff comes in? It will have to be checked some other time.
My other borrowed shoe shat itself during the day and had to be strung up. Reassuringly the first one to go was still holding together so I was reasonably confident I’d make it out with something more than socks on my feet.
That evening was bloody frigid (wet and windy) and Dave seemed to be only one who slept at all, having a sleeping mat and bag. I had a very thin polypropylene bag I’d borrowed from Sweeny and my sleeping mat was in my bag in an airport somewhere. The locals spent most of the night stoking the fire in an attempt to keep warm.
Day 6 dawned and we packed up in the rain and headed back to the Xuong. The leeches were in full force and kept us entertained when the steep hills and slippery ground didn’t. We were hoping for a big day, getting all the way out to the Day 1 camp, but despite an early start we found ourselves setting up camp thirty minutes the other side of our Day 2 camp in the Xuong. It was 11 am!
To pass the time I asked Mr Ky to guide me to a massive entrance up on the cliff line I’d seen nearby on Day 2. He obliged and it turned out to only be five minutes away. The cave was one of the many Hang Cáo features pushed during the first Xuong Valley forays in 2010. It was a single massive entrance and chamber full of guano (i.e. about 35°C and 100% humidity). It did provide a spectacular view over the Xuong Valley though and was preferable to more hammock-induced atrophy.
Day 7 was a lightening squirt back out to Paradise Cave and home.
Entering the data back at the Thành Đhạt Hotel showed that Hang Nô proved to be 311 m long while Hang Mây was just over 1100 m long and 199 m deep.
Continuing on from the previous work of the 2012 and 2014 expeditions, the aim was to penetrate further into the remote Xuong Valley. The lure of dropping into a possible master cave linked to the Chay River making these trips into this remote area worthwhile.
Equipment for deep potholes, plus two weeks camping in a remote jungle requires a truly staggering amount of gear. It was soon realised that more porters would be required leading to a delayed start at Paradise Cave whilst more were recruited. The walk into the Xuong proved frustrating with shortened days slowing progress, a lack of potable water on the trail ahead being the most common excuse. It had to be remembered that it would be impossible to explore these remote areas without the guides and so we were bound to them. Despite these initial frustrations, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the challenge of venturing into this remote, inhospitable, area with its lack of water.
Finally on day 3, having passed a number of the entrances explored on previous trips, we stopped at a small stream which was to be our next camp and the chance to explore Hang Moi.
Snab and Sweeny disappeared back along the track almost to the previous days camp to explore an old dry fossil cave a little over 200m long which exhibited a lot of evidence of people having frequently visited it, possibly hunting for food. Meanwhile, Alan along with myself climbed steeply above the campground to find two small shafts. Neither developed into anything of significance with the only real excitement coming in the form of utilizing large vines as anchors for the ropes.
Setting up camp with hammocks never causes the porters and guides any issues. Within minutes a frame is created and they swing lazily in hammocks surrounding a campfire. My experience is that if we try to hang off frames results in either cramped hammocks or total collapse! Despite an abundance of trees (in a jungle), finding two that are the right distance apart results in total bewilderment. Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees. Finally after much deliberating we had four placements. Two hammocks were stretched across the trail causing much bewilderment and amusement to a passing group of woodcutters early the next morning. This however, ensured an early start as we climbed high into the jungle before again descending steeply to a small river and our next campsite. The small stream provided drinking water that could be trusted, that wasn’t tinged with the taste of soap and a chance to wash away four days sweat. It was almost paradise.
After setting up camp we were promised of a new cave named Hang Moi. We thought we had already done Hang Moi, and then finally the penny dropped as the translation of Hang Moi (new cave) dawned on us. This caused great amusement to all and, with no imagination at all, Hang Moi For Real was given as the name to this new cave.
The entrance was tucked inside a large depression and entered by an impressive archway that looked in imminent danger of collapse. The large entrance slope dropped quickly to a streamway and our guides stopped here. It was soon evident why. The passage dropped quickly but so did the dimensions and a very wet stream passage followed with numerous pools to be crossed either by wading or swimming. Despite the heat of the jungle, without wet suits this subterranean river was bitterly cold and it was almost a relief when it dropped into a narrow slot barring further progress having provided a very sporting cave just short of 600m.
That evening we prepared equipment for the next ‘Hang Moi’, which, through sign language and drawings, sounded like it would have pitches. It even had its own unique name: “Vuc moi”.
Just as the daylight was fading we witnessed an amazing display of swooping flying foxes as they fought over a mate (and the subsequent reward for the victor). These amazing creatures are always a great spectacle as they soar over camp.
Vuc Moi was a relatively short walk from camp but obscured from any visible path, tucked in a small cleft in a dense area of vegetation. This was soon cleared to present a small entrance leading directly onto a 30m pitch that quickly opened out into a pleasant shaft. A short pitch quickly followed into a rift passage but quickly narrowed. The visible signs of flood debris backed high on the walls did not bode well. The passage ended in an impassibly narrow rift however, armed with a drill, bolting hammer and available rocks, we set about the end of the rift. After much hammering it was widened just sufficient to pass through, directly onto the head of another deep pitch. This was caving at its best.
Working in pairs, Sweeny and myself set about rigging the pitch whilst Snab and Alan followed surveying. This cave clearly took high-energy water flow in the wet judging by the scouring and clean rock which provided a fantastic backdrop and atmosphere to the pitch.
Frustratingly the 30m pitch dropped to another, low, blocked crawl. The floor however was of gravel and we were able to clear sufficient to crawl forward onto another pitch head. The abundance of calcite meant bolt placement was difficult but, with a bit of “imagination”, naturals presented us enough rigging options.
We descended two more pitches before finally running out of rope. The last pitch was descended on the most minimalistic of gear as exploration fever took over. Defeated we arranged kit that could be left in the cave before climbing back to the surface.
Returning the following day with the last of the rope we continued to descend a series of short pitches hoping to drop into a large passage. Unfortunately the cave started to close down and we were forced to climb high over some calcite flows before continuing to descend. This was a rather torturous section which would be impossible in wet weather when the stream is running underground.
We ran out of rope at the head of yet another pitch. Not to be beaten we sent our youth (Alan) on a hunter gatherer mission to strip as much rope off the previous pitches. It should be noted Alan towered above us all in height and we dreaded what lay behind us for the exit trip.
Armed with a bag of scraps we descended a further 4 pitches into a large muddy passage. All the indications were of significant backing up by the water in wet weather. Undeterred Snablet was unleashed with a bolt hammer into the low exit crawl. Furious hammering all to the tune of Bad Manners “Can Can” could be heard ahead. Snab proudly announcing that we “can can” fit through. Sadly this early optimism was soon dashed in an area of unstable blocks with no obvious way on. A disappointing end to what had been a fun trip just over 200m deep. We exited to darkness and some hungry porters. The heavy sacks were distributed amongst us all before stumbling back to camp.
Hang Moi Bon and Hang Moi Nam
Whilst we had been exploring Vuc Moi the guides had been scouring the local area for more caves and the next morning took us to two new entrances, affectionately named Hang Moi Bon and Hang Moi Nam in light of our expansive grasp of the indigenous language.
Hang Moi Bon ended after only 100m despite a promising entrance and entrance passage. Hang Moi Nam was just over 200m long but was well decorated and a possible passage was seen high up in the right corner of the chamber.
Back at base, the guides were keen for us to break camp as they were concerned about possible rain. A little confused we packed and set off back the way we came. Our new campsite was beneath an impressive large cliff providing a spectacular backdrop and acting as a natural shelter from potential rain. The evening’s entertainment was a crab hunt followed by a crab BBQ that Alan relished.
The following morning, expecting to break camp we were surprised to find the guides eager to take us down the slope to a potential cave. We packed two sets of survey kit as we only had one opportunity to explore any potential cave.
Buried in the flood debris in a dry overflow riverbed was a narrow rift entrance. This quickly opened into a large, comfortable, walking passage. Hoping for the best we split into two teams. Snab and Alan raced off into the darkness to start surveying deeper in the cave leaving Sweeny and myself to survey from the entrance in.
The entrance series was interspersed with formations and was indeed pleasant caving. However by the time we reached the survey station of our friends ahead the cave had taken on a more sinister character. The large dry passage had lowered to a low wet canal with numerous low, wet, ducks throughout. We were shivering uncontrollably by the time we caught Snab and Alan who were both close to mild hypothermia with the slow pace of surveying in such wet conditions.
We agreed we would go ahead and restart at an appropriate place. This quickly presented itself as a large shingle bank where the cave suddenly rose from the low aqueous passage into a comfortable walking stream way. Continuing along this fine passage way we started to warm up again. Sadly this was short lived and the roof dipped to the surface of the water at an impressive sump pool that I am sure will one day provide a pleasant dive.
The warmth of the surface was most welcome. We had surveyed 1200m of new cave in what had turned out to be a challenging environment without wetsuits.
All that remained was the hike out of the Xuong valley over the next few days.
Our return was a different route to the way in and was in effect a short cut.
We were making good progress until I lost my footing on a tricky area of Karst. I fell approximately 4m landing headfirst onto a large sharp block before rolling off and into the jungle floor below. Dazed and bloodied I tried to make sense of what had just happened. Blood trickled down my face and my thumb was clearly not at the correct angle. The reassuring voice of Sweeny was heard soon after and the others who had been ahead were called back. This had the potential to be serious; obviously I had head wound but how bad?
The team did a great job doing an examination and patching up my injuries. I had two lacerations to my scalp, an open wound to my thumb as well as a break or dislocation. There were no obvious indications of a skull fracture so once patched up we decided I should attempt to walk out. Although feeling groggy and suffering effects of shock we were able to maintain a steady pace and reached camp in daylight.
Once the swarm of horseflies had deserted the camp site the medical team set about cleaning and applying new dressings to my wounds. I had also started a course of antibiotics due to the open wounds. Thankfully I was not deteriorating from the head injury. The following day we made the car park at Paradise cave and a much welcome cold drink. I was rather the centre of attention to the passing tourists with my mummified dressings to my head.
I am most grateful to all the team for their concern and subsequent treatment and support following the accident. John Burton again provided vital support from the UK, taking calls and giving advice at all times of the day. I was taken to Hue hospital where ironically Howard was booked in for treatment. We spent 5 days in hospital and I had my thumb operated on for multiple injuries (Open fracture and a double Rolando’s fracture) requiring a substantial amount of wire and plates. The care from the staff at the hospital and Oxalis was great to both Howard and myself. Some prints from our expeditions were presented to the ward as a token of our gratitude.
Dong Vong Phu, Hang Lucky and Hang Tam Tam
The south-western boundary of the Phong Nha Ke Bang Massif is the border with Lao. At the southernmost point there is a sandstone area which provides the catchment for initial sinks in the Vom and Phong Nha systems. We wanted to check the area along the border to the west of Ruc Caroon and the Vom system.
Initial reports told of 3 big caves, some with rivers. After closer consultation, it turned out that 2 of these were actually on the wrong side of the border, so off limits to us. We decided to continue with the one remaining lead, as this was mainly a recce to get an idea of the area, and we hoped to pick up more leads on the way.
We set off up road 20 as usual in the big truck. As the road has improved this is not quite the chore it once was, but still a hot bouncy ride. We went past our usual stopping point at K44 to a junction on the right at K46. This led to the minority village of Con Roang, where there is a boundary station, where we had to check in. Of course it was lunchtime, so the team cooked up some rice while we waited.
Initially all seemed good, but we gradually met higher and higher ranks, until eventually it was decided we could continue, but one soldier would accompany us. So we proceeded to the edge of the village, and made camp next to a small stream bed. We had a team of Hydrologists from Hanoi with us, and they decided to spend the night at the village, where there was a roof over their heads and beer! We went for the jungle option, with BBQ crabs, rice wine and a thunderstorm! Most of us were okay, but Steve got a drenching due to defects in Mick Nunwick’s hammock.
The next morning we set off in the bright sunshine via the camp to pick up our escort. The way was fairly steadily uphill onto a ridge, passing another minority village of Con Coc, which consisted of scattered stilt houses along the ridge. After 3 hours we descended and dropped into a small stream. We followed this upstream for about a kilometre, until we had to branch off. Here we had a bit of confusion, but eventually it transpired that the porters would re-arrange their loads to accommodate two 50L bags of water. As is so often the case, water would be hard to find for the next two days. So we all filled all our bottles and set off. About another hour or so took us to the night’s camp spot. With the help of our team we soon had hammocks, tarps and plastic sheets up, but this was luckily to be a dry night.
We continued the next day on a SW heading following the border about 1k away. The sting was in the tail, as the last hour was a steep rocky col with some clambering and the occasional ‘ladder’ to assist. The reward was a spectacular view of the massif from the top. A quick steep descent dropped us into our camp, and still no water. A thunderstorm in the early morning allowed us to fill our water bottles whilst lazing in our hammocks, holding them under the rivulets running off the tarps. Steve was unlucky again. Is Mick’s hammock jinxed or is it Steve?
The next day was quite tough with no real path, very rocky with lots of climbing and sharp limestone. Ropes were considered, and helmets used, not the place for an accident. Finally around 2pm we arrived at our destination. A rocky climb down led us to the cave entrance perched above a long valley. After a brew we set off exploring. Initially about 20m wide and 15m high, the cave was dry and quite well decorated. It soon opened up to 50m wide and 25m high, and Dave realised he was no longer in Yorkshire! After about 350m we traversed around a choked hole in the floor to where another entrance came in.
The cave continued nice and large (70m wide and 50m high) and well decorated for another 300m dropping steeply. A large stal looking like a figure helped our Vietnamese guides to choose the name Dong Vong Phu, which means waiting for a wife! Below a high aven (95m) we reached the end, a total blockage. A total of 840m and 146m deep had been explored. Nice but disappointing after 3 days walk! We returned to the entrance to set up camp and enjoy another nice dinner. Luckily some small pools enabled us to top up our water.
The next morning we dropped some pitches which did nothing, and attempted some photography.
Dave managed a nice free hanging rig, useful as the pitch head was a circular hole in the middle of a false floor over a 20m drop! The other entrance was investigated, but there was no sign of a continuation
The retreat was made over the next two days, investigating Hang Lucky and Hang Tam Tam on the way. Hang Lucky was a 15m entrance pitch to a boulder slope and gravel floor which gradually got lower and almost choked after 30m. There was a noticeable draught, and a small enlargement could be seen, a top dig for the Dales, obviously a sink in the rainy season. We were debating who the unlucky person on the trip was causing us not to find much. So to test the theory this was to be Lucky Deb cave, unfortunately I didn’t have the necessary!
Hang Tam Tam was a short cave as well. A 20m steep descent dropped to a flat floor.
Through a rift to a local wooden ladder of 5m into a small mud floored chamber. A Steep rift up the opposite side was followed by a 10m free climb to a small sump pool. Oh well at least some water tonight!!
An interesting trip, but at the moment no obvious caves except over the border. Maybe we’ll try and get a permit??
Ho Khanh told us he’d heard of a new cave close to K16 on road 20. When we had a spare day, we set off with him and Mr Linh on the backs of their motorbikes. We parked at Tam Co car park and walked a short way back down the road. Descended to the river and crossed over. Continuing due east we picked up a bigger footpath, which heads towards Ma Da resurgence. After about half an hour we headed steeply upwards on spiky limestone on the side of the hill on the right (south). Mr Linh recced ahead and we soon reached the entrance.
Quite a small entrance, 25m wide and 4m high. Dry with some fine stal, and no evidence of previous visits. Following the wide entrance past a large gour lake the passage lowered to a crawl over flowstone and looked to be closing down. However just through the low section, it opened up, overlooking a T junction intersection with a very large passage. This passage is up to 40m wide and 25m high in places.
Right, at the junction leads firstly down to a muddy passage with lakes present in the month of April. In the wet season much of the passage would be underwater. This leads unexpectedly to a 15m high sparkling flowstone cascade. This can easily be climbed and keeping to the ridge top is the easiest way to follow next section of passage. The passage has huge amounts of rounded chert present. The continuing passage dips steeply in a borehole and finally becomes impassable.
To the left led down over boulders to a lake with what looks to be an underwater continuation under the left wall.
The area around the lake is covered with soft mud. A continuation could be seen on the right at the top of a flowstone slope. Due to the mud and steepness of the slope, it wasn’t possible to get up to the passage. It seemed to echo quite well, although there was no significant draught. A total of 620m was surveyed.
Back at the entrance Mr Linh had created some BBQ pork and chillie dip, a much better option than the packet of biscuits we’d brought!
A team returned in 2014, and managed to scale the mud slope, but with no real continuation.
The left hand passage heads into the hill towards Hung Ton Valley (Hang Thung SD resurgence). It is possible that in the flood season water from here comes to Hang Bang.
30 March 2014
Robbie Burke, Alan Jackson, Gareth Sewell
Three simultaneous day trips to act as a ‘rest day’ for the incumbents and a warm up for the recent arrivals (Snablet, Martins x2, Robbie and Steve). Robbie, Sweeny and I had a ‘~50 m shaft at KM17’ to investigate – sounded good. We were dropped off with our guide, Mr Toa, at a point further down the 20 Road than my previous trip, which was supposedly KM20. Everything’s flexible in Vietnam.
Mega steep hill and no track for some time, then a vague track up over a col, then scrambling on all fours down the other side off track. We were a pretty dispirited bunch by the time we got the impression our guide was starting to look around for the entrance. Robbie’s jetlag was not helping him out. To our relief the entrance was found and it looked great – an elliptical shaft about 40 m by 80 m in plan, nestled under a cliff. We threw a rock over the edge and counted … to seven! Ok, 100-120 m pitch and a good thing we brought 150 m of rope instead of 100. We chose a sturdy tree and I was dangled over the lip. The wall sloped a bit and several rebelays would be required to get down safely. Sweeny played nurse (sans sexy outfit, unfortunately) and supplied me with hardware as I installed three rebelays at ledges/rubs. At the final one it was obvious our 100 m rope was ~30 m short so we tied in the 50 m and did the final bit with a knot crossing (well and truly free-hang from this last rebelay).
The bottom of the pitch was a massive rubble pile on a steep slope which descended to a massive horizontal passage with a lake. While the others came down I climbed the slope to check a possible lead at the top and grab some photos of the others descending. The lead didn’t go but in hindsight that end of the shaft would be better as an access as it would only use about 70 m of rope instead of ~130, but the slope was borderline for safely ascending/descending without aid, so it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.
Once all three of us were assembled at the edge of the lake we cajoled Robbie into going for a swim. The water could be seen welling up under a blank wall to the left and flowing (slowly) into a large passage out of sight on the right. Robbie swam off into the distance and came back five minutes later with reports of 10 x 10 m swimming passage continuing with a strong draught, slight current and the sound of a cascade/waterfall up ahead. On the opposite side of the lake we could see a few possible leads up rock-strewn slopes.
Considering the late start (dropping off other groups), the crazy walk in, a 120 m pitch to rig then ascend, and no doubt an equally crazy walk out, time was against us so we decided to leave this wide open going lead rigged for a return later in the expedition. Robbie had a gear malfunction on the way up (central maillon disengagement!) and I watched the whites of his eyes approach from 100 m down. We gladly packed our much emptier bags and slogged back up the hill. We found a slightly better route down to the road from the col and were met by Snablet, Martin H. and Paul by the side of the road with cold beers and coke in hand – legends!
Post trip analysis of GPS coordinates and the description of the cave led Deb and Robbie to thinking the cave wasn’t new at all, that we’d just re-found ‘Hang Nightmare’ from a few expeditions earlier. This was a bit of a downer, especially since we’d left the bastard rigged. However, when Deb got round to de-rigging the shaft a few months after the expedition it was discovered that the GPS datum was wrong and that the caves were a long way apart; it was definitely a new cave, so it goes on the list for 2016. I, for one, am excited about going back.
20/04/2014 – 24/04/2014
Martin Colledge, Dave Ramsay, with Mr Hoa and a host of other porters.
After a late start we drove up to KM 44 on Road 20 where we picked up a surprise army escort, because of this we did not have enough food so Mr Hoa has to go to the local store to get more provisions. This delay means it is even later before we actually start walking and we only walk about one and a half kilometres before we set up camp by a river, this was not the two hour walk we were expecting so we assume we will have to have to walk further tomorrow, but as we don’t speak Vietnamese and none of our porter/guides speak English we don’t actually know, it’s going to be a magical mystery tour!
Hang Hoa/Vuc Heo
After Breakfast the next morning the army man goes home (so much for the extra rations, but at least we won’t starve), perhaps he was satisfied that we are just harmless individuals. From the camp we walked straight up and down a big hill on a well-used path, at the bottom we joined a stream (Khe Roung?) and followed this downstream for a bit before turning off to our next camp. We set up camp quickly and then it’s off to the cave, which is a 0.5m x 0.5m hole with a powerful draft blowing out. The cave is called Hang Hoa and 3m in is a squeeze which I can just fit through, but no chance for Martin. The draft is very enticing but as we have no hammer (it’s back at camp!) we start to bash the squeeze with rocks. After a while Martin passed his helmet to Mr Hoa, a big mistake as he put it on, breezed through the squeeze and disappeared, there is no way Martin is getting through without a hammer so it’s officially grabbing time and I set off after Mr Hoa to see what lay ahead (any more tight squeezes and it would be game over as we didn’t have time for a prolonged campaign). Once through the squeeze the way on was a climb down and then walking and climbing in a large passage to a huge daylight shaft, Martin will definitely fit down this! I manage to persuade Mr Hoa to turn around so we can go and look for the shaft. Once outside we find that one of the young porters, Heo, has found it (so it’s called Vuc Heo) so we climbed up the slope to the top of the shaft which is very impressive, we measure the depth at approximately 40m using the Disto-X.
We returned to camp for lunch and discuss what our best course of action would be and decided to attempt to enlarge Hang Hoa as this will save on rope, which is in short supply, and rigging Vuc Heo looks to be difficult due to the (apparently) shattered nature of the rock.
After lunch we returned to Hang Hoa and made short work of the squeeze before surveying through to the daylight shaft of Vuc Heo, straight ahead we could see one (probably two) massive high level passages, the highest is about 30m up and unreachable except by a prolonged bolting campaign but the lower one can be reached via a careful climb up perched blocks. From the top the view back out to the entrance is beautiful with sunbeams streaming in and illuminating the clouds which have appeared in the shaft, looking into the cave we see that we are in a massive “chamber”, we can’t see the roof or all of the far wall but there is a huge stall which we measure at 38m high. The obvious way on was a steep and loose slope which the porters (who had joined us) were keen to descend but we managed to persuade them not to attempt this by saying that without a rope this would be certain death and what would we tell their mothers, so they amused themselves by chucking ever bigger rocks (boulders) down the slope which is certainly very long and will use up a considerable amount of the rope we have. We didn’t have the ropes with us so it’s game over for the day but we’ll be back tomorrow, on the way out we checked round the edges of the Vuc Heo shaft and found two separate pitches but neither of these carried a draft so there was not much hope for these.
The next day Martin, Hoa and I returned with the ropes and bolting gear, at the top of the slope is a solid wall, two bolts here gave a solid start and a re-belay at a giant boulder just as the slope steepened allowed a start to be made down the loose and muddy slope, a deviation kept the rope away from the worst of the loose blocks. This was good for about three quarters of the slope before it got even steeper and then pitched, a calcited boulder provided another re-belay but this was on the wrong side of the slope so a tension traverse was needed to get to a decent final hang point, when this was done, the 100m rope was 5m short of the floor, but an extra 10m rope easily made it.
Upstream ended in a choke after about 100m, across from the foot of the pitch was a 10m pitch to a section of clean washed boulders that obviously carries a stream at times, but downstream there was an obvious large passage so we started to survey in that direction. Apart from some short sections with formations it was all steep dirty slopes or large blocks so progress was slow as care was required and route finding not easy, we traversed across to the start of the passage which was a col formed by massive large blocks and no obvious route on. Some time was then spent searching for the way on but all our efforts seemed to be either blocked or to end in calcited pitches with no belays, and, as we had no rope there was no way to descend these. Eventually we found a route that went underneath the boulders and across to the next col where I was sure I could hear water below, which pleased Martin as this was what he had been hoping for.
Beyond the col was a steep slope down, which I followed to water but unfortunately this looked to me like it sumped immediately, I turned around to let Martin know but he’d already found another route down through boulders to the stream. An exhaustive search revealed sumps in either direction. That seemed to be it, we surveyed down to the water but on our return to the final col we spotted a climb up through the calcite barrier which had appeared to block the way on, at the top of this there was black space beyond.
A short difficult climb was followed by an easy ramp through massive formations, at the top of which we emerged into another large breakdown chamber. The far end looked terminal and we think it’s all over, but again, searching revealed a way on (to the right), which had been hidden behind a massive “organ pipe” formation, into yet another breakdown chamber. Across and down this we reached a low muddy area which obviously sumps at times. We may have thought it was all over in the last chamber, but, it is now, as there was no way on from here. We returned to camp to (hopefully) communicate to the porters that we needed to move on the next day.
Hang Foot and Mouth
After an early breakfast we broke camp, which was a relief as it meant that we had managed to tell the porters we needed to look elsewhere, and followed the path past Hang Hoa up a long steep hill before descending an equally long hill on the other side to a camp by a river. The cave was less than 400m downstream from the camp, but the GPS gave it as only 150m away from the Foot and Mouth entrance to Khe Rhy, however, our entrance was 20m across with a steep boulder slope down to a stream (or two!) and we had been informed that the Foot and Mouth entrance was a small bouldery entrance that had only been seen from the inside, so this looked promising.
Downstream looked small so we decided to survey this first and this was 90m to cobble chokes. We then went upstream, although it soon became apparent that this was also downstream! We had surveyed for about 600m, passing a few side passages that were left for later (but these were never looked at), when we arrived at a junction with a 2m leaning stalagmite tower. At this point we were fairly sure we were in known cave as the survey had shown a corner marked as ‘Leaning Tower’, so we decided to return to camp, eat lunch and look at the survey before returning to cave upstream from the tower to emerge at the Foot and Mouth Entrance. The theory being that we had just found a new entrance into the Khe Rhy system, unfortunately this was not to be as every route we tried just got us back into our original passage, having disproved our theory we just had a quick look at the downstream passage, which was all very impressive. A total enthusiasm failure meant we didn’t survey any side passages on the way out, a pity as we found out later that these would definitely have been ‘new’.
The next day was the usual start of a breakfast of rice, peanuts, pork, soup, beef and the cucumbery thing, we then ‘discussed’ (sign language) with the porters where we were going and what gear we would need. Today, we were ‘told’ was ‘a walk uphill, followed by a short downhill and then a little flat section to the cave entrance, once there we do not need ropes’, apparently. It was as hot as ever when we set off up a very steep hill with not much of a path. It was also a bit of a nature show as en route we spotted a big lizard and a tortoise (we didn’t eat them!).
When we finally arrived at the cave we could see that it was a fairly big entrance of steeply sloping boulders with a load of bats roosting in the roof. The cave was obviously fossil and the altitude was above 500m so we resolved to survey it as quick as we could in the hope that we could get as close to Phong Nha that night as possible.
At the entrance an easy climb down underneath a large boulder entered a flat floored chamber; up a slope at the far end of this was a 60m x 110m chamber with some large formations and a massive block (at least 15m x 20m). At the far end of this the cave narrowed but soon opened out into yet another large chamber, this one had a flat roof and floor, very little in the way of formations and was not very high, empty really, so we called it ‘Vacant Space’. Again there was a narrowing before another chamber, 100m across, flat roofed, flat floored and with little or no distinguishing features, but impressive in its’ own way, I thought it looked like pictures of the Nullabor. There was one single solitary stalagmite in the midst of all that nothingness, which looked just like a cactus, Martin commented that it was like a Model Desert which we thought an apt name. After two further small chambers the cave closed down, we had surveyed it in just twelve legs.
We arrived back at camp with plenty of time to spare and thought we could make it back to Phong Nha in time for beer and food, so after a hasty lunch we set off. The porters had other ideas and seemed determined to go slowly, the next four hours passed with the porters dragging their heels while we tried to get them to go at a sensible pace. Eventually we arrived at the first camp at about four pm, one and a half kilometres from the road, when they started to put up hammocks we stopped them, pointing out we could make the road, a long discussion followed during which we realised that they were under the impression that they would lose a days pay if we got back early.
Once we explained to them that they would be paid for the extra day there was no problem and we made the road in double quick time, only one problem, there was no ‘phone signal so we couldn’t call for a lift! Apparently the ‘phone signal is a bit dodgy at this location so we kept trying and after about 45 minutes Hoa was able to contact Khanh to arrange a lift which arrived at eight, meaning we got back to Phong Nha at ten pm, too late for food so it was just Choco Pies, Custadas and 333 Beer at the Thahn Dhat Hotel.
Thach Sinh Linh Dong – a.k.a. A Long Walk around Co Khu
One of the big leads for this expedition was a shaft which was estimated to be 100m deep with a passage visible below and also with a surface circumference of 1km! Most places this would be dismissed as bovine excrement, but in Vietnam you know there is a fair chance it may turn out to be true.
With a long walk in, we were expecting a short afternoon saunter to an intermediate camp and then a day’s walk to the cave. Apparently we were heading over to the Vuc Tang/Hang Du area so we had a reasonable idea of the terrain to expect. Or so we thought...
Our arranged 10.30 pickup time from the Thanh Dhat Hotel came and went, but as we only had a relatively short walk we were fairly relaxed about the delay. Eventually we were under way and headed up to Ho Khanh’s house where we were a little surprised to find no porters. It transpired they had gone off to buy food for the trip, having had a little misunderstanding about who was doing what and when. Ah well, we still had plenty of time.
Once supplies were sorted, we then had a hasty reassignment of porters – one of our guys was needed for the trip up to KM58 near the border with Laos, hence a replacement was quickly found. What we didn’t realise at the time was that he was found in a bar, where he had clearly been for some time.
Arriving at KM18 around 1.00pm we unloaded the gear and our porters began the usual process of repacking all the swag into rice sacks. Our replacement porter produced his sack, which was clearly his day sack rather than his “going out in the jungle for a week” sack. The pile of gear looked large. The faces of the porters displayed concern. The porter who had been on the rice wine fell over. This was not going at all to plan, but at least we only had a short walk in prospect.
Somehow all the kit made it into rice sacks, a couple of which were very heavy indeed. The day sack was filled with ironmongery and we started off into the jungle, pausing only to seek Uy’s reassurance that the day sack and its contents wouldn’t become a pillow for sleeping off a rice wine session. The early thrash and subsequent dry river bed were familiar, then a decent path up to a small campsite. We stopped for a breather. Of the day sack, there was no sign. We waited for around 20 minutes and then Uy set off back down. He returned 20 minutes later with the day sack on his shoulders and its erstwhile carrier stumbling along behind. Sympathetic as always the other porters had found a larger rice sack in the camp and proceeded to decant the ironmongery and add a few other items to the load. We did wonder if this might end up being counterproductive, but on the contrary it seemed to perk up the porter in question. Off he went up the hill in front!
My recollection of this area was that we went up a way and then along and up, with a decent track leading us to a notable large tree on the way to Vuc Tang. Signed conversations with our main guide appeared to confirm that agenda, but instead we headed off steeply up a stream bed punctuated by tufa dams. The water dried up and still we went on and up. Our GPS and map data suggested we were heading straight for the top of Co Khu, the biggest hill around. We had no idea where the supposed camp was located and by now it was starting to get late. After some discussion, we were advised that the porters didn’t think we would be able to make it to the planned camp that night and we needed to go back to the last point we saw water. We worked out that having travelled a couple of kilometres in a big arc, we were 900 m from the drop off point on Road 20.
Back at the water, we fashioned a bivi for the night and the lads sorted out fire, drinks and food, except for one of their number whose first act was to put up his hammock and his second was to fall into it and start snoring loudly. It still amazes me that no matter where you are, all human life somehow finds a way to distil alcohol!
After a meal, Uy told us that the porters were not sure they could make the camp near the cave the following day with all the equipment we had brought. He could still phone back to get an extra porter to come up very early in the morning and that would help. We had to admit there was a lot of kit – a 100 m deep shaft in an area with a 170 m entrance to a 300 m deep cave and a separate 200 m deep cave certainly indicated that if we were going out for a week we should not go empty-handed. The extra porter did seem like a good idea though and we agreed before settling down for the night with the sound of vehicles on the road somewhat closer than we had expected.
The following morning, our reinforcement porter arrived and we set off back down and across the hill; back in fact to the main path we knew from previous journeys around the hill. After some jungle bashing we found the path and started off up it. A little further on there was some discussion amongst the porters. “We are not sure if we can get to the cave today” came the translation. This was definitely not going to plan! We decided to cut our losses and head back to Son Trach and then try to sort out a 3 day trip. As we had a phone signal, calls were made back and forth to Khanh and Howard, who fortunately had not left for Hang Son Doong.
Back at KM18, more phone calls were contradictory; stay there and we’ll send up someone who knows the way; come back and we’ll sort it here. The bus turned up and we went back. Howard and Khanh had come up with a plan and, after a feed in Son Trach, we were back on the bus and back up to KM18. One and a half days in and we were back at square one, albeit we now had a total of 8 porters/guides.
A couple of hours on the right track saw us arrive at a camp in a much wider and seemingly more pleasant stream bed than the previous night. We ate well and settled in to our hammocks as darkness fell. Then the frogs started up. We had obviously chosen to camp at “Frog Find-a-Mate Central” and sleep was a rare commodity that night, especially for Dave who added about 30 minutes onto his cumulative expedition sleep total of not-as-much-as-needed. It was a bleary-eyed bunch who set off at 8.00am the following morning. At 9.00, we passed the Vuc Tang tree and at 10.00 we arrived at a small camp against a cliff. I guessed what would happen here, having passed this way in 2010, but Alan and Dave were astounded when the porters lit a fire and started to prepare lunch! “There is no more water for 5 hours” we were told. “How far is it to camp then?” we asked. “4 hours”. Hhmmm, are we missing something there?
After lunch, we were off again. The path was as rough as I remembered and made more interesting by many fallen trees and the previous week’s rain. We played the frustrating game of “How far now?” a few times, but gave up after a series of random 3 hours, 1 hour, 4 hours, 2 hours answers. In fact it was around 3 hours of tripping, stumbling, sliding, snagging and grumbling before we emerged in a clearing with a small but just about serviceable pool. “We will camp here” said Uy. Looking at our GPS location and the map, we noted a black marker pen dot which corresponded to our current location. Next to the dot was the note “Hang Du”. “Ah”, we said, “is Hang Du around here?” “No” came the reply, “no cave here”. Then Phong arrived, took one look at the clearing and said “No way are we camping here, we’ll go 100m up this stream bed and camp at Hang Du”.
As the porters settled in to camp, we started the “where is the cave now” game. One hour was the first estimate and given that it was only 2pm we suggested going to check out the entrance and get an idea for the best rig point etc. We were told that the guide who knew the way was tired. Sympathetically, we suggested that there would be time to rest the following day and right now we needed him to show us the way to the cave. (At least part of the logic here being the avoidance of another day fruitlessly wandering the hillside). “He thinks it is more than one hour and it will be dark on the way back”. Count to 10... “Well he’d better bring a torch then!”
35 minutes later we were looking over the edge of a VERY big hole. We estimated 80-90m, with the cliffs to our left rising a further 30-40m. The far wall was around 100m away and the right hand wall out of sight in the jungle. Big smiles all round. We checked around for a good place to start rigging and settled on a point where a few trees appeared to overhang a clean drop of around 60-70m. Happier than we had been for 3 days, we slept more easily that night (with the exception of Alan who’d had a close encounter with a stinging plant earlier in the day and spent the night in sporadic bouts of agony).
The cave was christened (by its discoverer) Thach Sinh Linh Dong. We wondered why there was a guffaw from the porters until the name was translated as Mr Linh’s Rock Life Cave, but I dare say we’ve all come up with names which didn’t receive universal approval and as the cave was located in an area of rough and dramatic pinnacles we had to concede he had something of a point.
The morning of Day 4 saw us back at the top of the shaft. A brand new 100m of reassuringly thick rope was tied off and Alan headed down. A couple of (t)re(e)belays later he advised that a bolt or two would give a free hang to the base of the pitch. Dave and I began the survey and were on leg 2 when Alan’s voice echoed up from below “Down. Rope Free.” “Eh” we said in unison, “what happened to the bolts?” In fact, defacing the cave with iron had proved unnecessary as a small sapling was situated in an ideal position for another tree belay. Its roots appeared to be held to the limestone by Superglue; hence cavers under 12 stone (Alan and Dave) were likely not to break the bond. Heavier cavers (me) were forced to avert our eyes and instead concentrate on the MASSIVE passage heading off under the previously obscured North end of the shaft.
A spectacular free hang landed amid the palm trees at the base of the shaft. It was like arriving in the Garden of Edam again, with thick jungle everywhere. Alan was hopping up and down with excitement and frankly who could blame him! Dave alighted having Go-Pro’d the descent and we set off into the passage. Hugging the wall, we managed to avoid the thicker vegetation and soon we were on boulders and ancient gours. Straight on choked, but the passage curled around to the East... and choked. Not quite what we’d hoped for.
There was still the south end of the shaft though and that was where the passage visible from the surface had appeared to continue. We surveyed around the western wall of the shaft, firstly up the collapse cone and then down the other side. Alan climbed down a slightly dodgy-looking gully and, hoping for an easier descent, I headed into the foliage with survey pad and pencil in hand and promptly slithered onto my rear end in a spiky bush!
The slope descended quite steeply down boulders, gours and jungle-covered scree. With an air of inevitability we arrived in a further choke. Alan found a way through boulders to a climb that needed gear, but our travelling rope was back at the pitch. With no draught to speak of, we felt going back for it would be a waste of time. At least Alan was able to fulfil a long-held ambition to make an exploratory descent on available foot loops, cowstails and other assorted tat which was to hand! Apart from a couple of decorated chambers though, this effort did not yield the extension we were hoping for.
We completed a circumnavigation of the base of the pitch without finding any continuation, although there was evidence of the last primate to descend the shaft, a monkey who clearly lacked both SRT experience and a rope. We hoped the small sapling and Superglue would be sufficient for us to avoid remaining with him.
We exited steadily, “admiring the view” (well that’s my excuse anyway, nothing to do with being hot, tired and slow) and de-rigged carefully to avoid dislodging debris, jamming bags or loosening Superglue. It was a spectacular spot of that there is no doubt, but it was still disappointing that the cave that must lie below was full of rocks.
Meanwhile, our porters had been busy on two other tasks. Two had gone in search of a shaft they had noted previously which was estimated to be 50m deep, whilst two others had been delegated to find a short cut back to the road. We had realised that being at Hang Du put us around 2.5km from Road 20 at KM22 and following the valley upwards should take us to a ridge leading down which would avoid the long walk back. To our dismay, neither of these missions had been successful. The shaft had not been found, although as it had previously been approached from a completely different direction we had some sympathy with the search team. The short cut team on the other hand claimed there was no path, something which we immediately decided was either a) nonsense or b) irrelevant as we weren’t going the long way back.
The following morning we packed up camp and headed up the Hang Du stream valley. A wide, open series of tufa dams with waterfalls and pools shortly closed in and the going became more difficult with many fallen trees to negotiate. Nevertheless, we made good progress towards the estimated GPS location of the col at the head of the valley and eventually we arrived on a flatter area with a decent path. A little further we began the descent down the ridge towards Road 20. Just over two hours after leaving Hang Du we stepped out of the jungle onto the tarmac. It had been quite a trip out from base, one which in hindsight could have been undertaken much more quickly, although that would then have left us with less of a story to tell.
The final twist to the long walk was that as there was no mobile signal at KM21/22, we had to start walking back towards Son Trach. Porters one by one hitched on passing motor bikes until only Ki and Linh were left. We took refuge under a tree until the truck with Deb, Adam and Sweeny arrived on its way back from KM58. Jumping aboard for the bounce home, we quickly had to disembark as a minibus (complete with cool box of beer) arrived. Our pleasure was only slightly tempered by the fact that the driver was of the view that sounding his horn frequently and loudly was a guarantee of immortality and hence obviated the need to slow down at blind bends. Fortunately we made it back in one piece, having retrieved most of the porters on the way and some fine views of Sweeny’s rear end when he mooned us from the back of the truck. Thanks are due to Phong, Ky, Dung, Uy, Linh, Quan, Cuong and Phap – it was frustrating at times, but we would have been properly lost without them. On occasion, a straight answer would have been good though!
Khe Trieng - A Tasmanian Tragedy
At the end of the 1997 expedition, Trevor and Cal travelled east from Hang Khe Rhy to the next known sink. It was anticipated that as well as yielding new cave, this may provide an easier route in to the lower reaches of Khe Rhy for our next visit. What was not expected was for their trip to develop into the most serious episode in the history of all our expeditions to Vietnam.
After an arduous walk, the pair entered the sink known then as Khe Tien, little knowing that they would only exit the cave some two and a half days later. Having surveyed to a sump, they began their exit only to find that the door (effectively a “u”-bend in the entrance series) had closed behind them due to flooding. They were obliged to sit it out on a gravel bank in a small chamber with a dim view of daylight somewhere high up in the roof. After a major rescue effort damming and diverting the stream outside the entrance, the water levels subsided enough for them to escape the cave and return to Son Trach with only hours to spare before the end of the expedition.
There the story ended, apart from the obvious question of where the water went and how it fitted in to the Khe Rhy hydrology. It remained one of the major gaps on the map and one to which we had hoped for a long time to return. The chance to revisit the Khe Tien valley finally came this year when we were advised of several caves in the area, of which one was Khe Trieng. “Is that Khe Tien?” we asked. “No” came the reply, “it is Khe Trieng”. It all sounded a bit similar (we wondered if Quang Binh and Hanoi accents varied by as much as, say, Geordie and Mendip), but there seemed to be other caves as well and thus a team set out.
With a long walk in prospect, the plan was for an afternoon walk in to Hang En and then a day walk on from there over to the Khe Tien valley. At the Doong village, Khanh suggested that as we only had a relatively short day, perhaps we should go to look at the sink the older members of the village had told him about. Enthusiasm was not greatly in evidence, but having been told “It is nearby” we unpacked helmets and lights and set off with perhaps the two oldest guides we have ever had.
Across the cultivated area was fine, into the thick, snagging rosebush-type scrub was less so and then we hit the jungle proper. And the leeches. Every time we stopped to de-leech, more of the little blighters jumped aboard. Senses of humour began to fray as we thrashed along overgrown flood channels and balanced along fallen branches. And evicted more leeches from our boots. After about 45 minutes, the old lady rolled her cheroot from one side of her mouth to the other and cackled loudly. “I think we may have forgotten where the entrance is” came the translation...
Scratched, bitten and somewhat irritated, we thrashed our way back to the village and the porters. An hour or so later we were de-leeching again in sight of Hang En as the porters set up camp for the night by the river. In no time at all the riverbank was festooned with hammock frames, a fire was blazing and hot mugs of 3in1 were being consumed. Were it not for the blood, we could almost have forgotten the fruitless leech attraction foray.
The following morning we headed off over the col towards the Khe Tien valley. The path was awkward in places but pretty good overall and clearly well-travelled – although we hadn’t been to this area for a long time it was obvious others had. Perhaps that explained the leech population, one which was far more numerous than we considered necessary. We passed a large open shaft which Deb recognised from a prior expedition and then dropped into a depression which marked new territory. A stiff climb out was followed by a steady descent to the valley. Our GPS mark for Khe Tien came and went; it looked as though we had somehow skirted over it. At a clearing we managed a glimpse across the valley to a col beyond which were the sinks of Hang Khe Rhy, but we could see no evidence of a stream flowing towards Khe Tien. Half an hour later we arrived at our base for the next few days. The porters immediately set to preparing camp (big fire, fishing, snail collection) whilst we headed off for a quick look at the cave. We had been told of a stream sink with a higher entrance and our hopes were high. A couple of hundred metres from camp, we looked down on a fairly miserable low entrance surrounded by flood debris. What looked like a higher entrance appeared to be a choked rift. Spirits sank somewhat. Deb then trawled the memory banks for a 17 year old nightmare. “Is it Trevor’s cave?” we asked. “Could be. It looks different. I’m not sure. There was another sink nearby but it’s all silted now”.
We stooped through the entrance and into a walking passage. The water went into a canal to the left, but under the right wall a dry way continued. Flood debris was everywhere, all manner of detritus organic and otherwise. At least it kept the resident large rat happy. It looked as though the cave spent a lot of the year underwater. Beyond a distinct low arch, Sweeny walked up into a gravel-filled chamber. In the roof, a faint glow of daylight was discernible...
The 17 year wait for a return to Khe Tien was over. Khe Trieng, Khe Tien, Khe whatever – it was the same cave and in truth it didn’t look much more appealing now than it had then. At least we had other things to look at as well. Before that though, we had the job of resurveying, the original notes having never surfaced following the ’97 epic. We resolved to knock that off in the morning and move on. Shortly after breakfast, we were once again at the entrance. Optimism was at such a level that we took no water, no food and no spare lighting.
At 1.00pm, we took stock. Hungry. Thirsty. Not sure how much more life in our light batteries. 87 stations in and to quote Clarkey “Still she keeps giving!” It had already been quite a day – the entrance series had been fairly dismal, but each low wet stoop or cobbled crawl was followed by something a bit better. Several wet sections were obvious places to avoid were there any precipitation about. One section stooping along a 10m wide passage with around 20cm of airspace was probably Trev and Cal’s limit. Beyond that the cave gradually became better and better. Large walking passage followed and then suddenly we all stopped. We’d all heard it, the roar of a river. Beaming smiles and expletives. The roar came from a narrow rift, but a larger passage carried on ahead. Following the latter, we stooped under an arch and the stood up in the biggest section of the cave to date. A large chamber had formed where the cave met a joint and the passage made an abrupt turn back towards the water... except the passage was completely dry! Returning to the rift, we realised that the roar was a draught howling through a small triangular arch with a pool at its base. The draught was whipping through the pool and creating waves which were amplified along the rift. We all felt a little sheepish.
2.00pm. the 95th station was atop a boulder pile. To the left a canal, to the right a high chamber. Straight on... a big, black void! We’d reached the turnaround point and Deb’s quick summation had us at about 2.5km for the day. Proper Vietnam caving, with the only downside being the thought that we might be a long way from our emergency lighting. Two hours later we were back at the entrance and little while later we were toasting a fine cave with a dram of the Isle of Jura’s finest.
The following day we returned somewhat better equipped. The black void boomed off in great style, a large walking streamway allowing long survey legs and plenty of admiring comments. Then it stopped. A huge boulder pile filled the passage. There appeared to be surface debris higher up, but despite a good look around we could find no safe way through. Many of the house-sized blocks looked to be supported by very little and we concluded that as we were now a very long way from home it was no place for anything foolish.
The survey indicated that Khe Trieng (or Tien as was) was separate from the Khe Rhy drainage system. More likely it would be part of upstream Hang En via the 2001 discovery Hang Lanh. Although the two caves appear to have little in common in terms of passage size and nature, Khe Trieng is more or less on a collision course with the known end of Hang Lanh. The reason for the 1997 GPS location being around 1.5km away from the actual location is unclear, but one thing for certain is that Hang Khe Trieng is 3.2km of classic Vietnamese underworld. Commiserations to Trevor and Cal, who on another day could have been counting survey legs rather than water level markers.
Having completed Khe Trieng, we moved on to other targets. Day 5 of the trip saw us following Mr Hoa back towards the previous presumed location of Khe Tien. Climbing up the hill, we surmised that a river cave was not in prospect, but a large rift entrance greeted us at Hang Dam. A climb down amongst boulders bypassed the obvious entrance pitch and then a series of climbs in a boulder collapse added a degree of interest. The descent from one climb up a calcite ramp had Clarkey twitching and seeking assistance. “Is that sling well belayed?” he asked. “Course it is” replied Sweeny, although even from 30m away I could see his nose was beginning to elongate as he said it! Fortunately the belay was not tested and all returned to base. An interesting feature, but not the going cave we hoped for.
Day 6 saw us pack up camp and start back for Son Trach. On the way we made a short detour to Hang Hoa. This was another large entrance, but yet again one that stopped some considerable distance short of its potential.
Back at the first night’s camp site, we were told of a cave which Mr Hung knew. Taking helmets and lights with us, we followed him back in the direction of Hang En. Branching right and following the edge of the limestone, we were soon jungle-bashing again. It was leech city once more, one crawl under a fallen tree being a very popular spot for hitchhiking nasty’s.
Eventually we climbed up and arrived at a large and spectacular entrance. We started surveying in, first down the boulders then up over boulders and across ancient gours. A small passage appeared to lead off from the top of the calcite so I headed that way. “Does that ramp lead to a low passage and a decorated chamber” asked Deb. “Er, Yes. How did you know that?” “It’s Hang Long” she replied, “we did it a few years ago from Hang En”.
Thus we illustrated one of the current problems with the Quang Binh expeditions. As more people are asked about caves, it is inevitable that there will be crossovers. Different names, different routes which arrive at the same end point, explorers new to a particular area unsure of previous work. All of these are genuine concerns and as highlighted by Khe Tien, some GPS locations are questionable. An important next stage will be to validate GPS data and ensure that this information is taken into the field by all groups.
To summarise, our 7 days in the jungle led to 3 (ish) days caving during which time we surveyed around 3.5km of cave. Thanks must definitely go to Khanh, Uy, Ky, Hung, Hoa and Hoan who looked after us superbly and also to Trevor and Cal for picking a wet day to go cavingJ.
Hang Khe Dung
Geologylesson 1.01; from the Mendip guide to cave exploration: "Theresbees two types of rock; cave bearing limestone and tother shite"
It was uncomfortablyhot as we left the roadside of the Ho Chi Minh highway. We were accompanied on our march to the sound of distant thunder in the mountains. Oursmall teamconsistedof Deb, Mr Kyand his gang of 4 porters, a national park ranger & myself. With an objective to check out a small stream sink in the valley next to Hang KheTrieng (AKA Trevor’s cave).
It had been a late start to the day, supplies, porters and transport being sourced and organised in the morning, we now had a leisurely walk down to the Doong River for our evening camp at the base of the first ascent, ready for a long haul the following day. Our unhurried pace allowed ample time to fit in a spot of crab hunting and BBQ at the first stream crossing, followed by afternoon tea at the Doong minority village and rounded of by a spot of drag net fishing for our supper in the main riverbefore retiring to our hammocks in the warmth of the evening sun, life's tough at the sharp end of speleology.
Dawn start, and the first ascent for a rude awakening. We followed a hunters trail up over a steady hill and dropped into the adjacent valley. A dry wet season river bed provided a virtual motorway into the interior. Travelling upstream we eventually reached a set of pools at the base of a steep 'perfume tree harvesters'path,wherewe replenished our water bottles in preparation for the day’s main event. Mr Ky advised us that the cave and camp was just over this hill. Great we thought, and asked how long it would take? "Six hours"! Not quite the answer we had hoped for. We climbed, we toiled, we crawled, we sweated, we plodded, we fell over, we staggered, we scrambled, did I mention we sweated, throughbamboo crawls, rattan traps, 36 degree heat, no shade, loose scree and tornado felled trees and always taking a near vertical direct line for the summit peak. At the top we were relieved to see that we would not be climbing any higher today, as we were on the highest peak for miles. To our relief the descent down the other side was not at the same gradient, which bode well for the journey back. Eventually wecrashed out of the bush into a wide valley with an active stream bed strewn with flood felled trees. We set up our hammocks a on a gravel bank a couple of hundred metres upstream, near a convenient crab catching pool, and set about preparing a late lunch. Fed and watered, and armed with survey gear, we set off to investigate our lead.
The stream bed led to an uninviting rotting log jamb (an entomologists paradise) disguising the active stream sink. We crashed through the detritus and climbed down into a very black conglomerate maze. Choosing a route through the multitude of small tubes was made easy by an incredibly strong draught whistling into the cave (we later discovered it was not so easy relying on following the draft to negotiate the conglomerate maze in reverse). We picked up the stream and followed it through a complex series of tubes until it sank into a boulder collapse. Steep walled boulder run-ins on the left of the passage became a reoccurring theme in the upper sections of the cave, this left us nervous that our trip would be cut short by an impenetrable boulder choke. We regained the solid passage and noticed that the conglomerate became lighter in colour and resembled a mosaic of differing types and colours of angular stones set in light grey cement. We continued along a zig zagged section of parallel tunnels, the last of which was stunning. The highly textured mosaic walls stopped abruptly at floor level, and met a smooth curved & undulating bright pink floor, it looked bizarre, and neither of us had ever seen a passage like it. We dropped into another complex of interconnecting passages within rock that resembles scabbled concrete. From this point on the cave started to grow in stature as we reconnected back to the stream.
We froze in the strong draught as we swam across a brace of deep pools. Exiting the wind lashed swims we were able to warm up in a large square railway tunnel sized passage. This section of cave was extremely photogenic with its roof decorated with shields of stal and marbled calcite and green pools. We encountered a boulder run in from the left and the roof rose in to blackness, andour lights soon revealed a large chamber. A large inlet stream emerged from the left wall of the chamber; unfortunately we could only follow this passage for several metres until a deep blue sump barred the passage.
We continued through the chamber climbing over a huge breakdown boulder pile to the edge of a deep precipice. We were looking down a massive tunnel with the stream rumbling 20m or so below us at the base of a very steep boulder slope, with no obvious way down. High up on the right a well decorated passage/grotto could be seen, unfortunately ropes and protection were required to gain access. Our immediate concern was how we were going to safely descend down to the stream way so we could continue exploring along the enormous passage. Our investigation found a small vertical squeeze under a van sized boulder, which provided a precarious descent to a rock ledge which allowed a safe access down to the stream. We did find it somewhat ludicrous that we were digging out a loose vertical squeeze in a 40m x 40m wide open railway tunnel. We continued to follow down a series of climbs with the cascading stream below along a remarkable passage with somewhat unusual and striking with flat horizontal pink roof, vertical square dark red walls, cream coloured floor and turquoise pools and stream. We followed the passage to another large chamber with stream thundering through. We turned around at this point and headed out photographing as we went.
The following day we continued from the chamber downstream along the massive passage. It wasn't long before ourhearts sank as the passage appeared to close down completely and end in a large pool. Swimming across the pool, a low arch revealed a sharp turn in the passage with the continuation of the stream following a deep canal "Sign of Zorro revisited". After a long cold swim the passage regained its grandiose stature and charged off again into the hillside. The massive rectangular passage continued, and was intercepted by another high level inlet coming in from the left. We suspected that we were close to the surface, as the passage became littered with decaying vegetation and the air was filled with swirling bats overhead.
The huge passage again swung to the left and took on a different character, and the stream funnelled into massive silt covered boulder pile, the passage looked to continue wide open at high level, but due to the steepness and severity of the near vertical mud coated walls; we dismissed it as a plausible route to glory. Our focus turned to the complex boulder choke and an attempt to trace the stream through the blockage. After an age of dead ends, blind alleys and dodgy voids with in the rock pile, we retreated and took a second look at the high level passage. Our initial thought was to scrabble up the slope for a better view; this was easier said than done. Combined tactics and got Deb to the top of a muddy 45 degree arête allowing a scramble to the top of the 6m climb. However, getting the next person up and both down again was going to be dodgy. To overcome this obstacle a ladder of steps was hewed into the near vertical mud slope using a karabiner. With the climb safely negotiated we found ourselves perched on an obstacle course of steep muddy arêtes. Legs straddled either side of the knife edged ridge, we tentatively crawled between 8m deep precipices on 80degree mud slopes, whilst cursing leaving the rope back in camp. What goes up must come down, this involved a slide of faith, then reversing the slide by cutting more steps to ensure it was reversible before both of us committed to the slide and the open passage beyond.
We followed the stream along a stooping silt lined passage that had the feel and look that it spent a significant part of the year submerged. We stumbled around a bend and encountered a deep emerald pool. Our discussions immediately turn to "it must be a sump! Doesn't look hopeful, Looks cold! Time to call it a day, we better just check it out, just in case". Deb took the lead and swam off in the direction a low arch, and causing mayhem to the local white fish population. Shouts of "It goes" filtered out from the archway, signalling another succession of floating survey stations. The canal took a sharp turn to the right, and after several survey legs we beached on a shingle bank in large rectangular passage. We stormed off surveying in the vain attempt to warm up after the long swim. This plan was thwarted when the passage turned 90 degrees left and immediately the roof descended deep into a turquoise sump pool. A swim around the pool failed to reveal any sign of airspace and confirmed the end of our exploration. Amazed at the distance we had travelled underground without encountering any limestone, we beat a steady retreat, ensuring we captured a photographic record of the cave on route, and checking that no obvious side passages had been missed.
Extremely happy with 1.5km of sandstone cave tucked under our belts, it was time to end our foray into the “hills of other rock" and embrace the demanding nine hour walk back to base, in time for aperitifs at cavern bar.
Cu Tom, Vuc Cu Tom, Hang Cu Ton 2, Wet Rift Resurgence
Martin College, Steve Woods and myself spent 3 days upstream of the river flowing past Ruc Caroon, the once full-on, bone-shaker of a journey tamed by a vastly improved road. The village’s former sense of extreme isolation has been exorcised following it having being re-built, on a grid system, as a larger, uniform, settlement complete with café/store, school and communal village hut. Nowadays the village elders, patriarchal spokesman, rounds of rice wine toasts, suspect food and hours of talk around permissions and guides are replaced by Khanh’s 30 min disappearance followed by a trek down to the river and desultory waves to the only vaguely interested villagers.
Turning upstream, the left-hand bank was followed for some 90 minutes or so before fading daylight and a thunderstorm forced an attempt to make camp shortly abandoned as a better site was found a further 20 minutes upstream. This extended trek crossed an obvious resurgence (left-bank, upstream), “Wet Rift Resurgence” which we would look at two days later.
The new campsite was particularly pleasant. Open aspect, sandy beach, wide river complete with swimming and a dry crossing point. Idyllic.
Hang Cu To + Vuc Cu Tom – 14th April 2014
Crossing the river to the right-hand side, a steep valley ascended to the first of the two new caves, Hang Cu To. A very large and exciting looking depression was descended via a corkscrewing, and heavily vegetated, path on the left-hand side. This levelled off into a large, desiccated 20m x 20m chamber complete with obligatory bat roost and connecting chambers of a similar size. Despite its obvious looking promise, the cave quickly closed down after approximately 200m of surveying with no sign of any obvious leads, water or drafts.
Back to top of the depression and a further 20 min walk to Vuc Cu Tom. Now this wasan exciting looking lead! A straight 20 – 25m pitch into a huge depression complete with its own dense foliage. Perhaps indicating its potential, in Son Trach Khanh had flagged he would want to accompany us down the cave and hence we had packed a complete spare SRT kit. As the pitch would necessitate a rebelay over the lip, initially we tried to dissuade him from going down but quickly realised the potential loss of face, or any failure on our part to encourage his obvious enthusiasm, might ultimately prove counter-productive. Instead we decided to use two ropes on the pitch and a safety tether between Khanh and myself.
Unusually I had failed to pack my foldaway saw so clearing the bushes over the lip had to be addressed with a porter’s machete. Lowering down a couple of meters and locking off before wildly swing a sharp machete close to the now tensioned rope caused wild fluctuations of amusement and panic across the faces of the Sherpas. Finally rigged with two separate tree/sling re-belays, all descended without incident.
The bottom of the doline was an impressive 100m x 100m, the greenery becoming denser towards the middle with increasingly larger boulders peppering the floor. A general decrease in available sunlight however meant that where the walls met the floor; a reasonably easy path could be circumnavigated around the entire perimeter. Unfortunately, other than a side chamber and bat roost, there was little of interest. A quick thrash into the centre of the bowl-shaped floor failed to find any ongoing passage/leads despite signs of a wet-weather stream. Disappointing as the cave had had such initial promise but hey ho, such is the lot of exploration caving and at least Khanh seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself.
Hang Cu Ton 2 – 15th April 2014
The next a day, a return along yesterday’s route before branching of to the right led to Hang Cu Ton 2, a 30m elliptical cave entrance with no obvious continuation. By now Martin was struggling with illness and a return to camp for an afternoon’s reading and relaxation was in order. This turned into a high-level Tyrolean, Passé bloc, rigging exercise 10m above the river to the delight of the Sherpas who took turns in being popped into harnesses and crossing back and forth.
Wet Rift Resurgence – 16th April 2014
The mighty machine that is Martin Colledge had now ground to a halt. Sickness meant Martin needed a day in camp. The Sherpas remaining new cave increased in a distance from camp from 2 to 5 hours. With this in mind, Steve and I instead decided to visit the downstream resurgence crossed on the walk in.
Water flowed out and various, presently dry, overflow spots could be seen in times of wet weather. Starting at the nearest spot to the river, smashing through cobwebs we slid between a narrow 1m x .5m gap in the boulders into a hand & knees stream passage. Looking narrow, dangerous and unpromising, we decided to abandon any attempt to survey but instead have a look to see if it went, the expectation being that in all probability it would quickly choke. Unfortunately the cave had other intentions.
The first 50 or so meters was through sharp, fallen boulders, a combination of ducks, hands & knees, sideways rifts and rifts leading occasionally to daylight through roofs of hanging death. A 100m ish, the cave turned into a dark but solid 1m x 1.5 rift. By now our Ronnies and t-shirts had developed numerous slashes and holes as the sharp rock took its toil. Ducking face down above stream level as a squadron of poo-bombing bats swarmed overhead, we decided this pesky cave was unfortunately still going and therefore did need surveying. A cautious exit was made to sunlight whereupon Steve turned and asked if I’d mind if he didn’t go back in? Trying to mask my exuberance, stoic faced I agreed it wasn’t a problem and we scampered back to camp with only a jaunty whistle playing across my lips and a spring to my step hiding my deep, deep disappointment.
So sorry, Wet Rift Resurgence still needs a second look and a survey team. In all fairness it is heading into a blank area of hill and was getting better but probably isn’t worth a visit for its own sake. It’s low, broken, wet and sharp entrance series isn’t your typical Nam cave being more akin to something situate in Foxup & Cosh. It goes without saying that the crawl through the entrance series boulders should be treated with caution.
Vietnam Expedition Medical Kit 2014
As usual we try to provide a comprehensive first aid kit, as teams are often several days away from each other and any medical help. A typical kit contains:
· Paracetamol 500mg
· Co Codamol 30/500g
· Diclofenac 50mg
· Lidocaine 2% Plain. Local anaesthetic
· Metronidazole: 400mg
· Erythromycin: 250mg
· Amoxycillin: 500mg
· Ciprofloxacillin 500mg
· Flucloxacillin 500mg
· Anti-histamine (Chlorphenamine)
· Diazepam 2mg
· Buccastem (prevents nausea)
· Daktarin/Lamisil cream anti-fungal
· Daktarin powder anti-fungal
· Savlon cream antiseptic
· Chloramphenicol solution for eyes
· Otomize for ears
· Videne antiseptic solution
· Assorted rehydration tablets/sachets
· Antimalarials: doxycycline, lariam,
· An assortment of bandages and dressings
· Steristrips and stitching kits
· Burn gels
Typically we don’t have many problems with diarrhoea or stomach upsets. People often suffer with the heat and dehydration, so we have made more effort to carry and use rehydration salts.
Fungal foot-rot is always a concern and needs preventative measures such as always changing to dry socks/shoes at night and using anti-fungal powders.
All cuts and grazes/bites etc are treated with Videne solution to avoid infection.
There were not many problems this year, except a severely sprained ankle, heat exhaustion, and Martin’s epic to be covered elsewhere.
This year we used De Lorme satellite messaging devices, which proved difficult at first, but eventually we sorted out a regular communication system between the groups and base camp. This system can send a text message or e mail. Either a pre-set message or free text, and provided you are careful are not too expensive to run!