KM17 Shaft

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.

Alan Jackson







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