2003 Yunnan Expedition Reports
Yunnan Province, China
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Just returned from a six day camping trip in the mountains. With only four people left on expe we had more than too many things to do. First of all we succeeded in killing all of our good leads. "Blue Poppy Pot" looked like a goer with a few pitches entering a bloody awful but draughting rift with hideous squeezes. My face and oversuit still bears the damage that razor sharp crystals can do when you repeatedly batter yourself against them... Unfortunately the rift crapped out into impossible dimensions that only chemical persuasion would be able to resolve.
Another deep shaft that myself and Hils explored dropped 70m to a snow plug resting on an apparently solid choke of boulders. Despondent but not defeated we changed tactics.
With time running out myself and Hils headed further north to a limestone plateau at 4200m. The scenery up there is achingly reminiscent of the Picos with only the lack of oxygen, Yaks and Tibetans making us realise otherwise. Opting for a light weight approach we crashed in a Yak herders hut and were treated to the delights of the kind of traditional Tibetan fare you don't get at the "Traditional Tibetan" food joints on the tourist trail.
It is a damn good job neither of us have a lactose intolerance as almost everything we ate came from the udders. If it wasn't yoghurt, cheese, milk or butter it wasn't on the menu!!! Well almost, we had something suspiciously like Nan bread only doughier, a little bit of rice supplemented with boiled pig fat and some marrow like veg which was a refreshing alternative. They also do a good line in Caramel which if generously scraped into the yoghurt takes away the sourness that pervades everything formed from Yak milk! The butter tea also grew on me but it is very rich and also a little salty.
As usual the Tibetans were remarkably humble people and despite our intrusion into their daily lives seemed to find our fascination with their mundanities amusing rather than irritating.
A 70 year old gent with a nasty rash seemed to be the boss and he showed us to our first cave of the trip. A very steep walk up to the base of a towering limestone cliff revealed a massive entrance invisible from below. Sloping down at 45 degrees and covered with a mass of scree death a 10m wide and 6m high passage dropped down a short pitch. Despite having brought rope and SRT kit with us we opted not to explore further feeling that it was more important to log as many going leads as possible rather than spend time exploring just a few. The most interesting thing about this entrance is that despite its size we were both ecstatic to discover a slight but noticeable and extremely cold draught!!!
In the afternoon we were treated to more entrances on a walk with two 14 year old and one 7 year old lad. The following day and accompanied by the old gent again we set out to log about another 10 entrances!
Our frustration with the area is unbearable as all of the entrances seem to choke very soon with none of the caves explored to date reaching greater depths than 100m. The geology and lack of surface drainage off the mountains however convince us that a 2200m cave system exists even if it does seem to be very difficult to enter. With the number of new, unexplored entrances we have been shown and the unknown number that must still lie out there undiscovered we are convinced that it is only a matter of time and luck before we find the entrance that bypasses the blockages and leads us into the unknown.
Coming down off the hill yesterday we dipped into our pockets and hired a couple of boys with horses to carry the mountain of kit we had accumulated at camp. Gavin and Helen both leave the expedition now leaving Hils and I with another week of surface recceing. Our last objective is an exercise in exploration and adventure with a tempting goal at its end. Tomorrow we plan to head up onto the area of mountains directly above the resurgence show cave. We have not had chance to look at this area yet due to time and manpower being concentrated on other promising places. Walking up from the Zhongdian side we are going to traverse the entire plateau, spending one day reeceing from a lightweight camp and trying to glean as much information from the Yak herders about entrances, before dropping down steeply the 2000m to the Yangtze side and a grand night out in the resurgence night club!
Whilst we are all bitterly disappointed that we have not found our going cave this year we remain more hopeful than ever with the area and feel sure that more effort will eventually reap its rewards. Yunnan 2004 is a definite date in the diary with plenty of shafts to drop and even more vast limestone mountain to recce...
Take care, yours to -2200m, Rich.