Depth through thought
OUCC News 30th April 2003
Volume 13, Number 8
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Editor: Anette Becher, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tawi Attair in Oman: National Geographic article April 2003; http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0304/feature2/index.html complete with a video stream of the rather spectacular abseil (on a rack!) down the 210m deep entrance.
If you happen to be near California in early August: The NSS Convention is rapidly approaching, and now is the time to get the abstracts in for all the wonderful presentations you'd like to make. Convention Program Chairman, Carol Vesely has been working overtime to put together a rich and varied program, with many new and innovative sessions, in addition to all of the traditional ones. Please consider sharing your own experiences by presenting a paper. For more information about the convention, see the website at http://www.nss2003.com/.
There is a precedent for attending, as certain OUCC members have wreaked havoc at an NSS convention in the past...
(Simon Goddard, Rich Gerrish, Dave Legg) Another beautiful morning at Bull Pot farm, breakfast outside in the blazing sun and numerous mugs of hot tea. But this morning I'm going caving. First time underground in 13 months. I initially just wanted a very short trip, maybe down Lancaster to the end of the first pitch and back out. Rich wasn't having any of this...
"You wanna go down Lost John's. It hasn't rained for ages, It'll be just right for your first trip".
I reluctantly gave in and agreed, but on the understanding that I may jack at any point. After a brief stop at Bernies, Inglesport and food shop, we were on the fell changing into nice clean, dry and shinny caving gear. Well I was anyway! This was to be my first trip underground in a long time and also my first time down Lost John's. I'd heard that is was a nice cave and I wasn't disappointed.
Underground I was rather nervous at first but that soon disappeared except for a few places such as the first set of traverses, which for a normal fit person would be fine. But for an unfit caver with a leg still in plaster it was rather more interesting. Dave was rigging and with no problems. I descended all the pitches with ease and then came Battleaxe Traverse. I had already decided that I was probably going to jack at this point but "what the hell", I was this far in to Lost John's and I may as well finish it. So to the bottom we went. Battleaxe was a challenge, but Dave had rigged it tightly so that I could just hang of it and pull myself along. We got as far as the water at the bottom and decided that we were all dry and there was no need to get wet.
With that the ascent was started. With initially Rich leading and then myself taking the poll position. The exit was more of a challenge with prusiking being hampered by my bad leg. Dave and Rich kindly de-rigged and left me to have a smooth exit from the cave. A seven and a half-hour first trip was completed within out ETA and call out time. Well planned, I feel. Thanks to Rich and Dave for a cracking re-introduction in to the world of caving.
[Simon has also lost his wellies, they are grey and size 7 - he now has an identical grey pair size 9 and would like to swap back them for his size 7s, please. If you own grey wellies please check them, or else risk sore toes on your next trip! ]
We stumbled through the dark, wet forest on our way to Hang Dai Cao. The idea was to camp at Hang Dai Cao and the cave to where on a previous expedition, in 1997, two lads had followed a dry river bed to a new entrance while the rest of the team finished the survey. There had been no time to explore the new entrance then, and so we were returning now to complete the work they had started.
Hang Dai Cao, our camp-site-to-be, is a link in the >30 km chain of caves that form the Hang Vom hydrological system, originally found in 1992. Hang Vom, the cave that lends its name to the system, is a 15 km long cave of truly enormous proportions. Its sink, Ruc Caroong lies near the border with Laos, far away from civilisation, about 44km up the Ho Chi Minh trail from the nearest sizeable village (Son Trach), our base.
The water of the Ruc Caroong sink disappears in a downstream sump after only 2.8 km of passage. The main water then re-emerges 10 km further downstream in an inlet of Hang Vom itself, and finally resurges into the Chay river having crossed Hang Vom for a further 15 km.
Apart from this massive 10 km question mark, downstream Ruc Caroong also continues in two semi-circular dot-to-dot-caving series of flood overflow caves, some completely fossil, others semi-active, separated by stretches of jungle. These two hydrological prongs unite at Hang Ho (Tiger cave, named for the tiger footprints found at the sandy beach at its upstream limit), hence making Hang Ho a keystone in the flood overflow part of the system. Downstream of Hang Ho, the two flood overflow branches unite and are channelled towards Hang Vom, via Hang Pitch, the complex Hang Duat, and finally Hang Dai Cao. All of the caves below Hang Ho are wet and have impressive proportions.
One of the two flood overflow branches passes through two caves (Hang Pygmy and Hang Over) and is completely explored. The other branch still carries a question mark of maximally 2 km between Ruc Caroong and Hang Ho. In all probability, the entrance seen by the two lads in 1997 would provide this missing link. More tantalisingly, this final piece in the overflow puzzle might also provide a way into the completely unknown missing10 km branch that takes the main water from Ruc Caroong to Hang Vom.
We intended to camp in Hang Dai Cao and to then cave through Hang Duat and Hang Pitch to Hang Ho, where we would swim to the upstream end, exit across the sandy beach, walk through a dry river bed to find the connection with Ruc Caroong and perhaps a way into the last unexplored 10 km prong of the system. Worth a go, and even the more so for me, as it involved camping in the jungle in the vast Khe Bang Massif, a great treat, apart from the fantastic caving.
So we were stumbling down a small dry river bed in the dark and our guide appeared to be lost. It was raining and the sharp lime stone boulders in the river bed were slippery and the leeches were coming out in force. Howard kept insisting we had gone wrong, that we should have climbed two steep hills by now. He was worried with good reason, as he had got lost in the jungle for two days off the self-same track, in 1999. Déją vu? This should be a 3 hour walk and we were coming up to about 3 hours, with Hang Dai Cao nowhere in sight and the terrain unfamiliar. Our guide was arguing about the direction to Hang Dai Cao with every team of woodcutters we encountered. The fact that they invariably shouted Hang Dai Cao in a surprised tone and then wildly pointed back to where we had just come from did little to reassure us. Nevertheless I took heart, as our guide confidently insisted that he knew the way, ignoring the woodcutters gesticulations.
After another quarter of an hour in the dark (well, with LED torches), I could hear frogs ahead and shouted to the rest of the team that we must be nearing water. The path suddenly dipped very steeply down a sandy bank among tall grasses. I was first to stumble to the bottom, watching the guide turn round triumphantly to show me what he thought was Hang Dai Cao entrance. Except I had camped there in 1999, and this didn.t look anything like it.
We were clearly in a dry stream bed. About 6 m wide, the ground at the upstream end was punctuated with fetid green pools and boulders on a basically sandy floor. Raising my eyes, everything was shrouded in vegetation, tall trees interpsersed with bushy jungle. The downstream end terminated in a large arched cave entrance above a sandy beach and further downstream a deep looking sump pool. Several, no doubt tiny, frogs had chosen the pool as their home and resonance chamber, producing stentorian echoing calls audible a considerable distance away.
Howard and the others soon arrived and agreed this was definitely not Hang Dai Cao. While we sorted out the camp and got food and water on, Martin, Duncan and Sweeny got kitted up in wet suits to swim into the cave and see if Martin would recognise it. Martin had caved in the area several times before, Duncan and Sweeny had never been to the area, but were desperate to get underground and tolend moral support.
Find out next week where we got to and whether we were able to connect Hang Vom with the rest of the system. (Actually I ran out of time at this point.)