The Magical Mystery Tour Expedition report

Expedition report:

Rob with Madame Tan and Ms. Zhang in Snow Cave

In Chongqing we trained members of the Nan Jiang Brigade (South Yangtze geo team) and the Chongqing Exploration Club to use ropes and survey caves. After the training we went caving as part of a joint China Caves Project and Hong Meigui expedition. The China Caves contingent explored some very exciting vertical caves in Tian Xing and recced Fengdu, while the Hong Meigui group recced a wider area.


In Chongqing we were hosted by Madame Tan, a retired member of the Nan Jiang Brigade who has helped many caving expeditions in the past, and continues to do so. She's pictured to the left with Rob and Ms. Zhang, a member of Chongqing Exploration. Madame Tan is 64, but that certainly doesn't stop her from caving. She has boundless energy, waking up at the crack of dawn even after long caving trips when the rest of us want to do nothing more than sleep until noon.

Sarrie and Erin

Sarrie is another member of the Nanjiang Brigade. Mild mannered secretary by day, she was persuaded to be a translator for the expedition. Putting up with smelly cavers definitely lay outside the bounds of her job description, but we were very glad she was there to help us. If she ever leaves the Nanjiang Brigade, we think Sarrie has a future in hairdressing.

Shan Dong in San Wang Dong

Would you believe that Shan Dong is 29? He's a geologist with the Nanjiang Brigade, and he's expecting his first child this week. Shan Dong came caving with us, and when Sarrie was not around he acted as a translator. Away from his wife and family, Shan Dong is a complete beer monster. He taught Rob how to play the Chinese drinking game where you try to guess the sum of the number fingers you both hold out. He also taught Erin how to say, "Rob is a complete nutter" in Chinese.

SRT Training

Zhang Hai teaching

We spent a week training 22 students in SRT techniques.

Our students were a mixture of adventurers from the Chongqing Explonation (sic) Club and staff from the Nan Jiang Brigade. Among them we had karst scientist, several students, and a member of whitewater rafting team that first traversed the length of the Yangtze. Unfortunately, very few of them spoke any English.

Ms. Zhang abseiling

We started them of easy, with ropes rigged close to the ground so we could easily supervise them. Even so, the language barrier was a big problem. Zhang Yuan Hai did the bulk of the translating and also helped with the instruction.

Next we moved to a rock-climbing centre near Chongqing, where they tried abseiling on the climbing wall. As we only had 4 SRT kits for 22 students, this also gave the rest of them something to do whilst they were waiting.

One day a camera crew turned up and filmed us teaching and abseiling on the wall. Rob did his standard quick abseil, and for the rest of the day we had to keep reminding some of the more enthusiastic students that they should always abseil in control.

For the final session we moved to a showcave resort near Chongqing. The powers that be had intended us to put bolts in a very chossy, loose rockface near the resort, but there was a beautiful 4-story outdoor staircase nearby that was much better for rigging an obstacle course.

Chris teaching SRT

We rigged a complex course of rebelays and deviations. Chris Densham and Lev Bishop joined in the teaching, making it possible to have many students on rope at once.

The resort was quite pretty, with a showcave was designed by Zhang Hai. After our work was done, we went on the showcave tour. Zhang Hai seems to quite like boat rides, and true to form this one had a long passage that was flooded with the aid of a dam. Unfortunately the cave has a bad case of lampenfloren.

You Yang County

Sump-backup lake

Our first stop on the whirlwind recce tour was You Yang. It has an interesting active cave system that drains to the city. Stay tuned for a map.

Pictured to the right are two resurgences (top and left) and one sink (bottom right). You wouldn't know it to look, but the first time we drove past these caves there was a small stream flowing between them instead of a huge lake. For scale, you might be able to make out the man floating in a tyre inner tube in the bottom left. It's fair to say that it rained a bit whilst we were in You Yang...

Rob and Chris in traditional costume

In You Yang we stayed in a minority village constructed for tourists. The first night we were there we were taught a traditional handwaving dance by women from the minority nationality.

The village was built inside a doline, accessed through a 150m long , 50m high cave complete with concrete gour pools. In the background you can see the cave entrance.

Medicinal fern

This is the mayor? of You Yang. He wanted us to find foreign investors/importers for his health food. A type of fern, it is supposed to cure cancer, the common cold, Japanese B Encephalitis, etc. It comes in your choice of spicy or plain.

Big Resurgence Cave

Staying in the doline was the ideal location for exploring the resurgence that feeds the through-cave. Unfortunately high waterlevels and not enough time meant that we didn't get very far (only 670m). Chris Densham and Lev Bishop did the original exploration to the point where swimming was required, and Erin and Lev carried on with tyre tubes. The cave was left going at easy walking passage. We believe that everything we surveyed had been previously explored, but virgin passage is likely in the further reaches of the cave. Our local contacts have suggested that we could return in the dry season.

Snow Cave

Rope-assisted crossing

Water levels restricted our options in You Yang, so we were unable to explore the sink in this valley. Instead we crossed the river and went to a high level fossil cave.

The river crossing was a bit exciting. The river was in flood after heavy rains. One of the porters slipped whilst crossing, and a bag full of Madame Tan's belongings was swept away. We were relieved that the porter was unhurt.

Our guide, Wu Yi

The entrance to Snow Cave was supposedly a 10 minute walk from the jeep. It took over two hours for our party to reach the gate (so much for original exploration).

We went caving with a cast of thousands (well, actually only 15). The count was 5 locals, 3 scientists, 2 exploration club members, 2 reporters, 1 translator, and us. This caused a bit of a bottleneck on a dodgy, slime covered climb near the entrance. The Chinese are masters of combined tactics, so even those with no previous caving or climbing experience were able to see the cave.

The cave was well decorated, but it had suffered from years of traffic.

Our local guide was Wu Yi. We don't think that he'd actually been in the cave before, but he seemed to be enjoying the novelty, and have hopes that he will become a caver.

Chris in Lemming Cave

Lemming Cave

Chris and Erin surveyed Lemming Cave, poised above a big, enticing river sink. Lemming Cave was short, although there's a possible lead off beyond a lake.

The formations were quite pretty and the locals had done a reasonable job of protecting the cave, although we did see a few broken stals.

Lev coming out of Dilong Gorge

Peng Shui County

In Peng Shui we explored Dilong Gorge, which has an amazing bamboo scaffolding route down a vertical 200m cliff. The gorge contains a sink and a resurgence. We didn't look at the sink, but the resurgence looks good, especially for a return in dry weather.

Rob goes for a swim

We also surveyed Wan Nan Kong Doline, which contained a rather nice resurgence. From the log book: "After a chamber we encountered the stream... We climbed up the side of a waterfall on big rounded jugs and stopped at a wet traverse. Always keen to keep dry, Rob attempted a high level traverse. Looking ever the hard man, Chris asked him to pose for a photos,at which point Rob fell 3 metres into the water and got his photo taken looking more like a drowned rat."

Rob in San Wang Dong

Houping, Wulong County

Houping is a small town in northeast Wulong near a valley dotted with cave entrances. Here we surveyed 5.5 km in 2 days. The caves are well travelled in places, with doors, and stone rings for mine works. However, virgin passage can be found past minor obstacles...