Hongchiba 2002 Expedition Logbook

Logbook:

22nd April 2002: Wuxi

Matt Ryan, Duncan Collis, Brian Judd, Erin Lynch

Yet another night travelling and we woke up in some random bus station which Erin soon established was Wuxi where we attracted a fair crowd, mostly of aspirant porters who were all turned down. Erin negotiated transport while Duncan practiced his Chinese by procuring us all breakfast. Some hilarious miming of animals and thankful refusal of raw eggs and we were in the possesion of three portions off egg fried rice (Yes I know there were four of us but we were getting there at least). Dragged onto minibus and told we'd been ripped off by a factor of lots."

Stopped for lunch in Weng Fen. Erin went to look for a machette while Brian and I were dragged into a restaurant by all these pretty girls we didn't understand. Duncan soon found us and we ordered some food with the aid of a phrasebook. Very soon an obviously very expensive banquet started arriving and we realised we'd only just finished breakfast and none of us were hungry. As we were forcing food into our mouths we were wondering a) why we had ordered all this food and b) what Erin was going to do when she found us. Unfortunately we didn't manage to settle up before she found us but fortunately she did manage to reduce the bill and get a doggy bag!"

Quick stop for a couple of gallons of petrol and 'bide and we were on our way up some very scenic roads in the sunshine. Arriving in HongChiBa we eventually managed to find a cheap hotel (with over inquisative / light fingered / pain in the arse landlord) and unpacked

Left Erin sorting gear while we went on a walk to try and find the two going shafts that Brian and others had descended and left going after a brief China Caves Project recce six years before. We found one and gave up on the other.

Duncan tried to get the landlord to write down the name of the cave with little success when all of a sudden something clicked in the landlord's head and he ran off to get someone or something - coming back with a beaming with a table under one arm! Far from the desired effect but we were tired of cherades and thought it might prove useful anyway so we thanked him and he went ever so happy to have worked out what we wanted and have helped us.

After a less expensive dinner and beer (We decided to leave the food ordering to Erin for a while) Duncan, Brian and I set off to make a start on the shaft we had found earlier. The dead pig in the (thankfully dry) streamway earned it the name 'dead pig' which stuck for the entire trip since we never managed to identify the local name. Erin continued sorting the gear !

After Brian returned home and looked through his notes from 1996 we managed to identify the shaft as probably being either Leng[3] Feng[1] Cao[2] (Cold Wind Slot) or Liang Keng Dong (Cold Shaft Cave)

23rd April 2002: Dead Pig Cave

Matt Ryan, Duncan Collis

Awoke to rats and rain so a rather depressed morning until the hotel guy came and annoyed us so much we actually decided caving was the lesser of two evils. Duncan and I went to continue last night's efforts while Erin and Brian relocated and descended the other shaft which Brian had partly descended last time. A call on the radio after we'd taken kit to the entrance (and found the stream still not flowing but piggy smelling a little more) and we walked across to see the other entrance - a pile of discarded sharps and other rubbish compared to one dead pig. Duncan and I saw no need to switch caves and so we went and played with the drill in a 70-80 shaft with lots of dog-legs. Down to about -100m and still going - maybe another 45m 'til the rocks land. Survey out to learn Brian and Erin had had a much less fun time with rotten horse corpses but no way on at -143m. Tea bed and survey drawing (Erin) before bolting door against our host and bed"

23rd April 2002: Putrescence Pot

Erin Lynch, Brian Judd

Brian and I set off for the second of the "Plum" potholes that had drawn us back to Hong Chi Ba. We found it with relative ease - the wafting smell of decay led us to the town rubbish tip and our first cave of the expedition. Doh!

After a brief consultation we decided minimalist rigging be damned, we'd rig from trees on the far side as opposed to a long abseil past medical waste. Three trees later we were at the "cubbyhole" where the '96 team had rigged a traverse. The plan was for me to wait there while Brian placed a new bolt that would avoid the traverse. Unfortunately this left me marooned on a dripping ledge, well out of reach of the rope. Doh! At this point I should have taken the hint and turned back, but alas a krab and survey tape solved the problem and I was abbing merrily down to the bolt when Brian discovered the joys that lay below --- dead animal carcasses - lots of 'em, heaped on piles of things that don't bear mentioning. Urg. It was a struggle to avoid retching from the foul smell.

It was my turn to rig, so I waded across the putrid heap and chucked a few rocks down - 1, 2, ...boom. Try it again - 1, 2, ...boom, one last rock... I noticed the rock was splattered with blood - lovely - so I figured that was enough rock throwing for the time being. The pitch obviously had to be dropped, so I spent a while bolting while a trickle of effluent slowly filled my left wellie and Brian sat amidst the carcasses turning into a popsicle.

About 30m down, the pitch landed on a smaller, yet equally foul smelling ledge, and beyond it looked like there was cave - woo woo! In a stream of runoff I abbed past the ledge, down to a mud floor. A quick inspection showed the chamber, although sizeable, was blind. There was an 8m high waterfall that'd need bolts to climb. Bollocks to that, so there was nothing left to do but prussik out and survey.

It's difficult to put the joys of prussiking that first pitch into words. Think a constant ice-cold stream of gore-laden water down your neck, in your face, etc. The smell was so bad I had to swallow hard a few times to keep from adding to the mess. On the way out Brian cunningly avoided kicking any carcasses on my head, and we reached the sweet-smelling surface in time for beer and sunshine. Back at the hotel Brian's experience as a schoolteacher came into play and he convinced the local children that washing our oversuits was the best game around.

24th April 2002: Fester and Walk

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

Awoke to rain again. Festered a bit then had breakfast, then did some more quality festering. Quick look to see if Dead Pig streamway was active yet - it wasn't. More festering. Eventually we decided Brian and I would go for a walk shaft hunting with a GPS and some key cave hunting phrasecards while Erin and Duncan would continue pushing Dead Pig or derig if very wet. More festering. Finally Brian and I set off and logged about fifteen features, mostly impeneterable sinks and a few tight entrances - nothing inspiring and all obviously very immature. Some amusement trying (and failing) to ask locals about caves and then returned to find Erin and Duncan huddled around our petrol stove - they'd forgotten to take a short piece of rope for the top of the entrance pitch (which we'dd derigged to discourage locals who'd looked keen to attempt the descent hand over hand!) and so had given it up as a bad job.

25th April 2002: Bottoming Dead Pig, Tour of Pots

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

Still raining. Brian and I went to push Dead Pig while Erin and Duncan had another go at finding caves with theirr better language skills. We continued from Duncan and I's far point and bolted out and then down a parallel shaft to where we were chucking rocks before. This connected towards the bottom - back under the waterfall, where in fine tradition we ran out of rope 5m from the floor. A somewhat aqueous knot pass for all. Short climb down into streamway with major inlet from left then a sump on a sharp bend back into a parallel rift which closed down. Also a phreatic overflow tube down to a second sump at about the same level. Bolt climb into black hole above main sump plus inlet passage left until another day but we surveyed the rest and headed out - both unable to untie (Brian's!) double fisherman's on the knot pass so unable to rerig from the last bolt on the way out. Some photos then out for a late tea.

Duncan and Erin had been more successsful at talking to the locals than Brian or I and got shown plenty of pots but not without some scary pillion motorcycle riding.

26th April 2002: Hongzi Dong and Bai Yan Dong

Matt Ryan, Erin Lynch

Another late start, partly because our landlord had wanted to borrow our drill to wire up his hotel which he was still building around us (actually to drill holes at random it transpired later), and partly because Erin was dragged off to have a look at another pothole. Erin and I then went to have a look at what Duncan had described as being like Alum Pot, or Eldon at least. Duncs and Brian meanwhile left to tick off some of the less promising leads around the valley. Erin and I's route took us up through a steepish path then difficult climb through bamboo which we were forced to haul our bags up on occassion.

Erin set off bolting and managed to reach the bottom on a single bolt and trees. No passage at bottom but both descended and surveyed out. Met three local ladies who were talking to Erin as I surfaced. All interested and helpful and offered to show us another pot the next day.

Back to wash rope we heard the good news from Duncan and Brian who'd managed to survey 800m of walking passage in the first cave with several good leads and no visible end. Also a shaft to the surface near the entrance maybe forty meters high.

The evening had a random intrusion from the landlord who cheerfully dismantled Duncan's bed and moved him and it into the tackle store for no apparent reason but he seemed cheerful with it and obviously thought he was doing us a favour!

27th April 2002: Dead Pig and Various Shafts

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

We decided to leave the going cave a day with Brian and I concluding and derigging Dead Pig and Erin and Duncan meeting up with the ladies we'd met the day before.

The inlet we had left went for about 75m to the base of a pitch where a passage was visible entering about 6m up in a chamber about 12m high. Also a tight rift inlet just downstream from the chamber which was the source of the water and an Aven with probable inlet. The bolt climb went no-where after four bolts. The top 200m of derigging was left to Brian while I prussicked out with all the other gear.

Meanwhile Erin and Duncan had descended Cuo Ping 1 (45m) and Mu Coo Wan 1 (45m) and 2 (20m) to no cave but a grand audience.

28th April 2002: Bai Yan Dong

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd, Duncan Collis

Went to push downstream qm on a very rainy day - accompanied by the landlord's son who turned back at the 2nd climb much to our great relief.

The first short pitch was rigged from a large thread just clear of the water. The second pitch followed immidietly landing in a larger streamway. Three bolts later and Brian was in the streamway and we followed and set off upstream (because Brian mistook it for upstream when he landed in a pool !). Initially narrow but soon opened out to about 10m wide. The stream came from two roughly equal sized inlets both of which ended after less than 100m - but not without somee airy climbing by Duncan just to make sure.

Downstream we joyfully splashed through a series of sporting climgs and cascades, past an impeneterable inlet and a couple of deep pools - subsequently named 'Sunday Best' since that's precisely what it was. Eventually needed to rig a small splashy pitch ('The Whippersnapper') off a big thread and silly deviation which only Duncan could reach to pass and even he could only place it with a lot of lassooing. Another very short pitch and we were in a 25m breakdown chamber with the stream vanishing under boulders. There was a suicidally loose hole where we could see water but declined that in favour of a fossil exit from the chamber which led via a short climb to the head of a pitch where we could hear the stream once more.

29th April 2002: Bai Yan Dong, Stemple Cave

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

Finally a sunny day, but no lying around in the sun, for once we were keen to get underground. The pitch we had found yesterday took four attempts to rig - once with a sling then with different lengths of rope as it dropped down into a chamber and then around the corner to another short pitch and then around the corner again to a slightly longer (20m) pitch. Finally rigged the whole lot with two bolts a lot of naturals and a long bit of rope. This last pitch dropped us back into the now enlarged streamway. Upstream lead to a frightening chamber in boulders presumably underneath the breakdown chamber we had been in before. Downstream soon lead to another pitch which I descended for about 15m and had great fun kicking huge chert nodules off down the next pitch - complete with satisfyingly loud booms and crashes. A choice of ways on, either along a very greasy ledge or down with the water. After falling off the ledge a couple of times I put a single bolt in for the direct descent and hoped I could deviate lower down. This I did but I got soaked anyway and ran out of rope before I reached the floor.

Meanwhile... Erin and Duncan had planned to find 'Upper Sheep Horn Cave' but their guide disappeared before they were ready to leave (We never did find this cave!). The revised plan was to find the 'Windy Pothole' they'd been told of the day before. They set off to the farmhouse which had toldd us about it only to be told it was too late in the day so they couldn't go there either (nor did we ever find this cave!). The only other alternative was to tick off another of the leads which Brian and Duncan had set off to do when they found Bai Yan Dong, 'Stemple Cave'. Two short pitches landed them in a blind chamber and they started to survey out. By chance Duncan noticed a small hole just large enough to enter while taking the first leg. Anything in preference to surveying enter it he did and after a lot of grunting and groaning he reported a rift with a strong draft and the sound off water but too tight. Erin had another go without SRT kit and after much thrutching found herself over a small hole with a two second drop before rocks hit the floor - a fairly interesting place to be negotiating a vertical squeeze ! Duncan tried digging an alternative route in the roof tube over theirr heads but to no avail so set about enlarging the hole with a bolting hammer until it was both Duncan sized and tea time.

30th April 2002: Bai Yan Dong and raining again

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

A few days of hard trips and yet more rain meant we finally went caving at the crack of 4pm after spending most of the day writing a more flexible and Survex compatible survey program for the Psion. Tried to survey as many of the dry leads as possible in Bai Yan without getting our feet wet but of course we soon found ourselves in a small streamway with deep gour pools. This lead to a 5m pitch for which we had no gear but a larger streamway could be heard at the bottom. Everything else was too small or choked so we took a few photos and headed out.

1st May 2002: Bai Yan Dong, Stemple Cave

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

Set off in reasonable time for once to push flowstone streamway we had found yesterday. Had planned on pushing Sunday Best again but the thunderstorm in the night put us off and we gave the drill to Erin and Duncans for Stemple Cave. Had to borrow a hammer from the landlord for them (who by now was beginning to get less annoying as we got used to him and vice versa) since we had left ours underground in Sunday Best and needed their decent hammer for hand bolting. Our retaining strap we cobbled together apparently fell to bits but Duncan managed to avoid dropping it down any pitches none the less.

Anyway, Brian and I set off with loads of gear for this huge streamway we could hear and dropped the short pitch only to find ourselves in a chamber with an impeneterable (but loud !) inlet and a sump. A bit of climbing lead to nothing so two survey legs and a quick look at a wet Sunday Best and we left the cave. Brian climbed up to find the shaft entrance and managed to rig and descend (c. 45m).

Lots of sitting around (in the hairdressers' !) until eventually our host started to get worried about Duncan and Erin. We decided to leave it a while and then, armed only with GPS co-ordinates, go and find the entrance to the cave - as much for something to do as out of genuine concern. Since it was still raining we kept putting this off and eventually went to bed setting our alarms for midnight. Midnight came but the rain was still there so we decided we'd give them another hour before heading over there. Before the hour was up our landlord made us get out of bed obviously concerned so to keep him happy we chucked a load of kit in rucksacks and set off in the pitch dark + rain following the magic arrow. Eventually when we were within 20m of the entrance (reasonable GPS error for trees) we set off searching for black holes in the black dark. Fortunately after a couple of minutes we could hear the sound of tired cavers shouting survey numbers to each other and we quickly located the entrance. A few minutes later and they surfaced at 1:30am after a good trip making the most of their time with the drill and going cave.

2nd May 2002: Bai Yan Dong

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd

Sunny again so Brian and I finally got to go and have a look at Sunday Best again while Erin and Duncan recovered from their efforts the day before . We set off for a big pushing trip. Much throwing of slings in waterfalls and I was still underwater on the direct route so had a quick look upstream (too tight) then a brief look at the next pitch (v. wet) so went and had another look at the traverse - which I hoped would provide a dry hang for two pitches. Put bolts in for an aid traverse this time but still fell off twice - this time landing in a waterfall, with less rope to hold the fall, more kit and an (electric!) light which went out both times. Finally we could descend a dry pitch to a ledge and then the floor of a very noisy and drafty chamber with a second similarly sized streamway entering from a similar height pitch.

Waited for Brian to descend then set off over boulders and down to the streamway. We both saw the signs at once; cobbled floor, muddy walls, shallow descending passage and finally sump. A couple of dubious high level leads were inconclusive when we threw rocks at them. It was Brian's turn to aid climb and eventually he was persuaded to look at the slightly more promising one. Two bolts, a natural and a very muddy drill and radio came to nothing so we surveyed out, knowing we weren't going to get a -200m party from this cave,. A quick look at the other stream from the lower ledge confirmed it to be the base of another pitch. We were now faced with the mammoth task of not only surveying and carry out everything we had brought in, but also derigging everything in the streamway. Walking back through the cave and across to the hotel we had to keep passing the extra lead tackle sack between us. At least it had been sunny enough to finally dry our clothes we had washed over a week before!

That's not what they were doing when we arrived back though !

2nd May 2002: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

Matt Ryan, Brian Judd, Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis

No -200m party but a few beers anyway. We were quietly swigging beer in front of the landlord's stove when all of a sudden a large group (12) of gangster suited men and police officers burst in upon us - leant against some wet varnish and burst back out again to clean themselves up before trying again. Even with this comical entrance and wood stained trousers it was a fairly intimidating group

4th May 2002: Stemple Cave

Brian Judd, Duncan Collis, Matt Ryan, Erin Lynch

We put on wet clothes and set off in rain for a 3/4 hour walk to Stemple Cave at 10.15 am. The entrance is a morass of black mud. The first pitch drops down past rotten wood that the local people have used to enter the cave. Duncan and Brian were to push on with rigging the cave, while Erin and Matt surveyed. A climb down over semi-cemented blocks leads to a tight rift previously pushed by Erin and Duncan. This is awkward enough that Duncan had to remove his AA batteries from his pocket to get through. The tackle was then lowered down to him with a rope. The rift leads to the head of two 25m pitches. The top is a squeeze and the bottom moderately wet.

The passage below is not difficult, but nodules of calcite, loose rock, small climbs and general awkwardness combine to rip clothing, cause hazard and try patience. In the back of the mind there is the certain knowledge that rescue from this cave would be virtually impossible. At a point at which the stream sinks amongst fallen debris Duncan had unfortunately found a continuation via a small dry crawl and a traverse along a rift with flaky hand and foot holds. Eventually this lead to a breakdown chamber.

It was from here that we continued rigging the cave down a small pitch topped by loose blocks and wet at the bottom. Instead of enlarging to grand dimensions we now found ourselves in a small and wet canyon with the usual obstacles to progress, including a wet crawl. After 200m of this delight the water went down an even smaller tube and we climbed into a dry overflow. Unfortunately passage dimensions remained similar and although we had now left the water the walls were liberally coated with the peculiar sharp evaporation calcite formations found in this area.

Dragging reluctant bags with us we negotiated this until we came to a slightly bigger climb down. Duncan was ahead and shouted back to Brian to avoid the exposed climb by stepping into a crawl on the left. By this time Brian was halfway down and couldn't hear because of the echo. After successfully negotiating the climb he then stepped off onto what he blindly thought was the floor through his steamed-up glasses. Unfortunately he missed the floor and stepped over the next ledge. He hit the side of the wall and the floor with a jarring thud. A quick damage check revealed painful bruising to thigh, back and elbow and probably cuts under the suit but luckily nothing broken. Luckily it had only been a fall of 5-6ft. Duncan then showed his concern by roundly abusing Brian for his stupidity, to which he had to agree.

Duncan continued to romp down the cave with Brian cursing every touch to the thigh, of which there were many. Duncan however was in his element and rigged down a succession of pitches using naturals and a few bolts while using the optimum amount of rope. At last the rope and slings ran out at the top of a pitch down to a 2-3 metre deep pool which may or not be a sump. It was typical to run out at this time, requiring as it will another trip into this delightful hole.

Starting back, Erin and Matt were met in the wet canyon, very cold having surveyed 26 legs and covering one hundred metres. Even Erin the surveying machine realised that she and Matt had got the worst deal of the two pairs. Erin and Matt did suggest that Brian and Duncan take the rope they were carrying down to the last pitch but were met with silence and swearing. By this time the arse of Brian's oversuit was completely hanging out. Pausing only to pick up the bag of rope and more through-bolts Duncan and Brian headed out. Two legs later Erin and Matt were following them out.

There's not much to say about exiting the cave except it was more of the same shite only in reverse. This trip has to stand out in the annals of China Caving as one not marching down huge fossil passages; indeed it would not be out of place in Yorkshire or Mendip, except in Yorkshire you can get a hot bath at the end of it, a cosy place by the fire, some chance of rescue and even there it doesn't rain everyday. Also it doesn't cost £1000 to get to Yorkshire. Apart from that it was a nice trip.