CRF-HMG Hunan 2005 Logbook


1st March 2005: Luota to Zhangjiajie

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch

An early start before we were driven to Zhangjiajie. The drive took a little over five hours, and included a couple of stops for food - noodles in Hongshan (where we kicked ourselves for not having a camera to hand when we saw a butchers stall consisting of halved pig carcasses and various limbs and entrails hanging from a rail above an 18" deep, 10' wide pile of decomposing household rubbish) and a very decent hotpot somewhere an hour or so short of Zhangjiajie.

A bit of a drive around the city found the offices of the Tianmenshan development company, where we thought that we were expected, but apparently they hadn't been informed that we were coming. However, soon we were greeted by Mr. Zhang, and then Li Guangyu appeared. They found us a room at a nearby cheap hotel and then left us to our own devices.

Later, Quan Songbo arrived at our hotel room and whisked us off to a bar owned by his friend Zhao Wen where met Wu Rengui, a climber, and a few other of Quan's friends. Apparently a trip had been organised to visit some caves near Wu's hometown, 5 hours drive away, we were invited and it looked like declining might be difficult. However, it also sounded quite interesting and a good jolly so we agreed to come along. Afterwards, Erin managed to get locked out of the hotel and spent the night in a net bar.

2nd March 2005

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Wu Ren Gui, Ye Hua, Huang Yong, Zhao Wen

Packing for the trip

茅溪 (mao xi) has a cave/pit reported to be big. Area also has a small cave.

Getting from ZJJ to Yùjīn by public transport.

5pm <- <- 8am
张家界 last bus 6-6:30pm -> 桑植 7-8am, one bus/day -> 玉金 -> 西莲
zhāng jiā jiè ~2 hrs sāng zhí ~6 hrs yù jīn xī liān
(overnight stay)

Jeep to Xilian with bird shooting by Snail Club members along the way (don't worry - no birds were harmed!) The road was fairly good until near the end, although there were a bit too many curves for those susceptible to motion sickness. The scenery was quite good driving along the edge of a reservoir for quite a way. Saw 3 x ents - look good!

3rd March 2005: Wan Ren Dong

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Wu Ren Gui, Ye Hua, Quan Song Bo, Huang Yong, Zhao Wen

Bobo in Wan Ren Dong

Out of bed by 8am for an early breakfast only to be told to pack up all our stuff so we could head back to the city in the evening - so much for a long trip. In the cave by 10, we were soon whizzing along with the survey while the others investigated all the other passage. I was cold as we'd decided to survey a draughting side lead as opposed to the bigger + warmer main passage. It was fun going - easy 10m long legs along cobble floored vadose passage. By the time we'd reached our first obstacle, a climb, the others had returned from the main passage reporting a 40m climb up that needed rope. D went up our climb + put a line on it. The others followed as there wasn't enough rope to tackle the other climb. A bold step followed and then more nice canyon passage, a short crawl, and more stomping passage. Eventually Bobo, Yehua + some of the others fancied going out for lunch, and asked us to turn around at 4pm. We'd mapped over 700m by the deadline + left many side leads - a satisfying trip. On the way out D, Zhao, Wu and I all turned our lights out + had fun feeling our way along the passage.

TU: 6 hrs

4th March 2005: Kong Dong Shan

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Ye Hua, Wu Ren Gui

Best cave on Kong Dong Shan

We went with Yehua + Wu Rengui to Kong Dong Shan in search of good entrances for the expedition. Kong Dong Shan has a failed showcave, but the area doesn't live up to it's "Hollow Mountain" moniker. We gps'd 19 entrances in total. The vast majority were choked-looking 10m deep depressions. Below the limestone were beds of pink siltstone and green-grey shale, so we didn't hold much hope for great cave development. The last cave of the day was by far the best ~250m of 20m wide passage which ended at a dig. Bum. Nice walk, crap area.

5th March 2005: Zhangjiajie gets more foreigners

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Andrea Croskey, Mike Futrell, Ben Tobin

Tea at the Snail Club store

A, B & M arrive in town @ 5:30AM in the morning, bus didn't run so we paid for a taxi (~15Y) Door to the hotel is locked with a bike chain. Erin squeezed the gap and greeted us on the corner while Duncan woke the hotel lady. A, B, & M took a nap and the rest of the day we ate brunch, went to Post Office (D GPSed), tried unsuccessfully to change US$ to Y b/c it was a weekend, met and photographed with outdoor club (D GPSed). Yehua treated us to dinner, then we showered and met many Club people at a bar. Purchased voltage regulator and groceries for the trip.

I got a Brunton for $34!!!

6th March 2005

Jonathan Helta

Moving all our kit to the farmhouse

Jonathan Helta showed up from Beijing on a train. He made it to the rest of the crew at the guesthouse. We hopped in the van and made it partly through town when Ben realized he forgot his lights. We went back and got them from storage and headed out again to Wan Ren Dong. We stopped to get water, organized snacks, etc. along the way and made good time. We arrived at the farmhouse, ate some good home cooking and passed out early.

7th March 2005: Group A Day 1

Jonathan Helta, Duncan Collis, Mike Futrell, Wu Ren Gui, Ye Hua

Ye Hua and Mike in Wan Ren Dong

We started @ 10:30 towards the parallel northern passages. Wu Ren Gui and Ye Hua were our scouts and they helped out with route. Many times they disappeared for awhile and we knew we were on the right track. Duncan ran the instruments and Helta ran the tape and Mike sketched like crazy. We cleaned up some short side passages, surveyed around a big flow, found the fossilized horn, and stayed dry despite following a stream most of the way. Wu Ren did have to carry Ye Hua on his shoulders for a short spell. We turned around @ 5:30 and were out by 6:30 and back to camp for some dinner.

TU: 8 hrs

7th March 2005: Group B Day 1

Ben Tobin, Andrea Croskey, Erin Lynch

We followed group A and a number of locals into Wan Ren Dong. After getting to the end of the previous survey we took the right hand passage. We started through a beautiful canyon passage, following the largest passage upstream. Eventually the passage began to pinch out. We left a small - body-sized crawl lead at the end and turned around to clean up leads we had found along the way. After surveying a number of small leads that pinched out fairly quickly we came back to a major split in the passage that had slipped our mind. Running out of time, we began down the passage - turning around as the passage began to get wider (to ~4m). We took a few pictures along the way, documenting the most interesting feature: the ceiling. We named the section Snake Skin, after the patterns on the ceiling. We exited the cave ~7:00, just in time for a fabulous meal.

TU: 8.5 hrs

8th March 2005: Day 2

Wu Ren Gui, Mike Futrell, Ben Tobin, Duncan Collis

Surveying Wan Ren Dong

The day started in search of the main passage - after ~150m of 20m wide passage & a small climb the big passage was too small for Duncan - the passage had turned to a crawl then to a tight squeeze. Turning around we headed to side leads left the day before by group A. After mapping a "cancerous" area (filled w/formations) we turned around at a 10-15m drop w/ a small stream at the bottom. After mapping a portion of ahead off of that, we turned around at a small climb w/ a tighter spot (.5m wide, .7 tall) on top.

8th March 2005: Mishui 'Secret' Passage/River Wet Deal

Andrea Croskey, Jonathan Helta, Erin Lynch

Andrea Croskey:

Andrea, Erin & Jonathan suited up in wetsuits to pursue the wetter prospects of the cave. Downstream of the in-cave waterfall sumped with a few crawls we opted not to do since we were in wetsuits. After much effort and ho-humming upstream of the in-cave waterfall and the waterfall just outside the cave [were determined] to be unclimbable by our standards and abilities. Ate lunch, mapped resurgence, saw cool worms, then Erin and A went to rig lower pit while J walked the stream that exits the cave. A & E sorta rigged b/c it blowed out though we had to bushwack to discover that. Tomorrow will map since there is passage @ the bottom.

Jonathan Helta:

The second half of the day Jonathan went back to the main surface stream. I crossed over and headed up a trail towards the ridge across from the trail to the cave. I walked over into a sink filled with tree saplings. I walked to the right to try and get behind the large waterfall that stopped us earlier. I walked into another sink and up to another ridge. Over the ridge I found an exposed stream heading towards the waterfall. I walked to the stream and found myself under a bridge with a middle skylight 30-40 meters above me. I followed the stream upstream which remained above ground for 15 meter. I turned back, went under the bridge and into the dark. The ceiling was 15-20 meters and the passage took me to three pools. The water was moving quicker and I could see where we had eaten lunch across from the waterfall. I did not make it to the edge of the waterfall but I did check the walls for passage into the ridge. There may be some on a shelf but there were none in plain sight or easily accessible. There are many small mining caves and a few going to the ridge I climbed up. I exited the stream and made my way to the lip of the window above the existing survey. My best guess is that the survey almost immediately travels under the road. Traffic was not far away from this window. I had visuals with trucks on a few occasions. Then I went home because I was in my wetsuit and I was burning up.

9th March 2005: Shin Buster

Duncan Collis, Andrea Croskey, Mike Futrell

Andrea's shin three days later

Went out to A100 to continue passage. Pulled off part of a boulder onto my calf, will photo-document the development of the bruise. 1stlead we pursued led us into a canyon that was very high, very narrow and very much filled with shoddy-ass rock that kept breaking off every time you touched it. Good for widening the passage, bad for climbing. Perhaps a slight breeze (wiff?) into the cave but decided to pursue more spacious prospects. Returned to split and went left. Nice formations, stream, hopes were dashed as canyon narrowed and grade increased into stair-steps of waterfalls. But persistence paid off as we entered "real cave" and shot a few 30+m legs. Were stopped by a flowstone that Duncan climbed 8m of but were prevented from entering the high lead by overhanging flowstone that requires a madman to climb (Wu Ren Gui?).

TU: 7 hrs

9th March 2005: Double Arch, Baijiu Dong, Snake Skin

Ben Tobin, Jonathan Helta

The Double Arch

It took awhile to get going but we headed out around noon to map what I had found the day before. We GPS'd control and Ben made a good sketch of the Double Arch. We made it to the waterfall and surveyed what we could. The water and rock made it difficult going so we placed a head lamp in the SOS position on a rock where we could see station 2 of the first survey, We walked around and managed to see the beacon and triangulated Double Arch in. We surveyed a small cave to see the trend of the cave. It was pathetically small but finishing something is a good feeling. We had some time left over so we went to the end of the Snake Skin survey and finished that to breakdown. Then we had beer.

10th March 2005: Crackers 'n' Cheese

Andrea Croskey, Ben Tobin, Erin Lynch

Formation in Lower Long San Keng

The entire posse hike up to "the pits". Ben set GPS point near road on a tree. Erin stopped to rig southern pit of Long San, A & B surveyed from the GPS point to the entrance. Briars are getting less difficult to fight though still a pain to survey thru (literally).

Cave was blowing out as we entered (~1:30pm). Shot one leg down the two pitches. Left a climb lead to the north at M11. Massive Cave below the pitch to the South, ran around like sugar crazed children, gathered our wits and surveyed 170m to a junction of fossil passage and active stream. Here a discussion was held to either 1) pursue science and exploration and get a little wet by going down the stream passage or 2) survey the huge fossil passage and try to give Duncan, Jonathan, and Mike a run for their money for most surveyed for the day. We chose option #2. Unfortunately felt as though I was going to spew my crackers-n-cheese in a crackers and cheese colored chamber so after a few more legs I chose to crawl out of the cave and die back out at the farm. Ben and Erin were stopped by a crumbly climb in the fossil lead and then by two separate climbs in the stream passage and returned to the farm.

TU: 8 hrs

10th March 2005: 龙三坑 Long San Keng Red Rock

Duncan Collis, Mike Futrell, Jonathan Helta, Wu Ren Gui

The 'Red Rock' at the base of the entrance pitch

We got off to a crack of noon start and went up to the entrance. A couple of local lads with a finely-honed sickle for slashing undergrowth accompanied us and directed us down a very slippery gully to reach the edge of the shaft, which is about 30m wide and deep from the bottom of the funnel.

The pitch took Mike *ages* to rig due to crap rock covered with moss, which he had to clear and dress about 9m2 of to find something to put a bolt or two in.

By half-past four we finally all reached the floor. There were three ways on, one of which was fossil with a big draught, the other two were up-and-downstream of each other. We went downstream and soon found ourselves in decidedly chinese-sized cave passage; Mike's 30 LED headset and my 24 LEDs combined couldn't really make out the far wall too well, so we were pretty pleased. After a few hundred metres the passage shrank to a 2m wide scoured-clean rift where we had to either turn around or swim. We turned round and Mike & Jonathan did a surface survey to the GPS point while Wu Rengui learned why not to prussik your jammer hard against a knot.

TU: 2 hrs

11th March 2005

Erin Lynch, Ben Tobin, Jonathan Helta

The survey day of the trip. We took off down the bottom pit on the Taco Salad passage. We made it down and to the end of the previous passage survey. We rigged the corkscrew with the aid of a handline and surveyed upstream. It was a nice easy survey with some long shots. We made it to a large junction room with leads a plenty. We ate some grub and decided to survey the splays to the leads and continue upstream. We got to a 7 meter waterfall and decided to turn around instead of getting soaked. We went back to the junction room and followed big air to the south that went and narrowed to nicely carved stream passage that dropped a few meters to a main drain. The climb down was hard for the team to do because there was nowhere to rig a handline. We went back to the junction room because time was running out and headed towards the entrance. We followed a downstream passage to a maze of a cave we called the 10 o'clock passage. We tried like hell to find the large water we heard but failed to find an easy survey route. We surveyed what we scooped and exited. There was ice on the ground and we found the farm with no electricity but we did manage a warm meal and rushed exhausted to get things together for the morning.

TU: 12 hrs

11th March 2005: Scoopatorium

Duncan Collis, Mike Futrell

Nitrate Pit in Upper Long San Keng

Our survey-till-you-drop final day, having finally found the good stuff yesterday. We were a bit worried that we might unknowingly wander into stuff the others had surveyed already, but it didn't happen and we were soon surveying down big passage. We hit a streamway which went to canals both upstream and downstream, both draughting hugely. Upstream must connect to our stuff from yesterday, and downstream has to be the same stream that the others looked down a a pitch to. We did a few side-leads and pretty much surveyed everything we could find barring swims and gnarly crawls. We left the cave at 10pm to find ice on our ropes, which was a bit of a surprise as we'd been wearing T-shirts a couple of days previously. Got back to find no electricity and the others not yet back, so we got changed, did a bit of packing and sat in the smoke-house that the locals use as a sitting-room until dinner was ready; the others arrived as we were eating and the next couple of hours were spent finishing packing ready to set off at 7am for Zhāng Jiā Jiè.

TU: 10 hrs

12th March 2005: Setting off

Andrea Croskey, Ben Tobin, Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Jonathan Helta, Mike Futrell, Ye Hua, Wu Ren Gui

Pushing the van

We got up early to find that it had snowed heavily overnight, leaving several inches of snow on the ground. Our chances of returning to Zhāng Jiā Jiè that day, let along by 4pm when the train to Guangzhou left, looked grim, as phone calls ascertained that there was snow all the way to Zhāng Jiā Jiè and that even local buses weren't running. However, we trudged through the snow without breakfast to load the van, and then began pushing. About an hour and 100 metres later we returned to the farmhouse. It was still snowing and it looked like conditions were only going to get worse. We had breakfast and then sat around the fire while calls were made to try to get a decent 4x4 to come for us. Just as we'd resigned ourselves to the fact of being stuck, and the Americans missing their international flights, we were told that the snow was starting to melt and it was time to go.

Much more van-pushing ensued, even including some downhill pushing after our driver ran into a ditch, and an equal amount of driver-coaxing was also needed to prevent him from throwing the towel in. After several kilometres we stopped at a small shop and sat round a fire for a while while a tractor was sent for. Eventually the tractor arrived, and helped get the van up to the main road, which was clear. Even with the tractor pulling, plenty of shoving was still required. When we finally reached the main road, we ruminated over the fact that if the van stayed on the road last night rather than coming down to save us a 20-minute carry, we would probably already be in Zhāng Jiā Jiè. We took a longer route back than the one we'd gone by six days earlier, but much less of it was on dirt roads, so we only had to do a little bit more pushing.

We finally got to Zhāng Jiā Jiè at around midnight.