Luota 2005 Project Logbook


15th February 2005

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Chen Wei Hai, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Driver Pan

Backed-up, packed up, and drove to Guilin with Chen for a slap-up Spring Festival booze-up with the lads who were drinking with a vengeance in preparation for the 2-day drive to Luota.

16th February 2005

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Driver Pan

Isn't technology wonderful? The latest + greatest Toyota Jin Bei van comes fully equipped to provide non-stop disco action: girls dressed in tea towels + moon boots wiggling there bums to a Canto-pop beat all the way to Luota. Captivated as we were by the 45-seconds of footage on infinite loop , we hardly noticed when 2 hours from Guilin we came to a washed out bridge and had to backtrack all the way to Guilin, adding 400km to the 2-day journey.

17th February 2005

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Driver Pan

After spending the night in a town 100 and-odd kms from our intended overnight stay at Huai Hua, we set off at 8am and had as quick a breakfast as possible a few km down the road. Prospects for making up the extra distance looked good when we hit the expressway but unfortunately it ended after only about 20km. We continued along the winding 2-land road and were still making reasonable progress until we hit a mountain pass which disappeared up into freezing fog above the snowline. The scenery was amazing, as everything (apart from the road, which was busy enough to be kept clear) was covered in inch-thick ice, making trees, bushes, grass and power lines into bizarre glass sculptures. Of course I'd left my SLR camera in Yangshuo. Here everything ground to a halt, partially due to people driving very cautiously, more because of people stopping to look at the scenery, but mostly because of snow-chain touts plying their trade just before the final bend before the summit. Our drivers declined snow-chains, and rightly so as they turned out to be completely unnecessary.

On the other side of the mountain, at Xue Feng (Snow Peak) we had a quick lunch of noodles and were on the road again. We eventually reached Huai Hua mid-afternoon, and decided to make it as far as Ji Shou as it would still be another six hours from there; we arrived in Ji Shou at 8pm.

18th February 2005

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Driver Pan

Our planned early start evaporated somewhat as several people didn't get up until 8, then we had a nice drive across town to shake hands with the regional director of water resources, and finally we waited for the rest of the team from the Karst Institute who'd set off by train after us to arrive at 9am - we were supposed to already be in Luo Ta.

We set off at 10am and finally reached our destination at 5pm, exactly 72 hours after leaving.

19th February 2005: Du Jia Dong

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Prof. Liang Bin, Liang Xiao Ping

Off to descend our first cave in the area, on "80m deep shaft", partially descended by a local man. Got up for breakfast at 9am, and we were on the road by 10. After a short drive, the cave was shown to us about 10m from the road.

The cave has two entrances, a small one and a very small one. After some confusion as to whether the two entrances connected, and which one had been partially descended, we opted for the larger of the two, which was about 1m wide, and I put in 2 bolts and set off down on a 20m rope. A rebelay halfway down got us to the floor with a short horizontal passage to the foot of the other shaft, and a further small pitch immediately at the end of the rope. Another bolt and the bottom was reached; the only way on was a 2m climb down in a blind pot.

We surveyed out, finding no other ways on. Erin enlivened proceedings by standing on what turned out to be part of a dead goat, releasing a fetid smell which hastened our surveying.

On the surface we tied in to an enormous painted survey station which is labelled KM3.

20th February 2005: Bai Jia Ao Xiao Xue Dong

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Prof. Liang Bin

Cast of thousands at the entrance to the mine, several huge tree-trunks procured from the local farmers were evaluated by our chaperones, two eventually being selected and dragged along the mine level, to our consternation as the length of the poles suggested that the plan was to wedge them across the 5m wide shaft.

We tried to set off into the mine, but were not allowed to until the crawl had been lined with plastic sheeting to keep us clean.

Shoving two tacklesacks and a dangly bag along the level was as close to pure pleasure as is possible in an 80cm high Chinese coal mine, as the plastic meant that the bags slid very easily ahead. At the pitch-head, a handy boulder provided a back-up and two bolts were put into a band of good rock by Erin, who descended the slope to the pitch-head proper.

This had been billed as being at least 80m deep. How far would it go? A couple of rebelays got Erin to the floor, and I followed admiring the beautiful fluted walls of this fine shaft, trying not to notice the many scars on the walls from where huge rocks from the surface collapse had ricocheted around the shaft.

At the bottom, the way on was a double-back into a high, 1m wide rift. Not far along there was a squeeze with evidence of water backing up. The air was a bit bad.

Erin went through the squeeze while I climbed up above to find that the draught went up an aven. Beyond the squeeze was about 10m of streamway to a cobble choke.

The air was very bad and after only a minute or so we both were short of breath and sweating, and Erin had a headache. We wasted little time on the survey, in order to get back into better air the other side of the squeeze.

On the way out, our survey showed the shaft to be46m deep. We did a centreline survey along the level and were then rushed back to base - everyone was hungry. After dinner, a special* treat - HOT SHOWERS!

*And much needed.

21st February 2005: Du Jia Keng

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Prof. Liang Bin

Another natural shaft accessed via a mined level, this time with no surface collapse as an alternative entrance. Once more we were made to wait while the mine level was wrapped in plastic before we were allowed in. As it happens, though there was a 10m long section of four inch deep liquid mud to be crawled through, which rather rendered the plastic pointless. Poor old Prof. Lang was the fall guy who was sent in to move the mud & water before we were allowed in, but to no avail. In fact it was just about possible to keep mostly out of the goop.

We were told that there were two shafts to descend in this mine, and leaving everyone else at the head of the first shaft, Prof. Lang & I crawled off to check out the second I was a little surprised to see the rest of the group standing on the far side of the 'second shaft' - clearly the two places were opposite sides of the same pit.

I set off rigging at the first, wider, less crumbly pitch-head, and descended a find 35m shaft. At the bottom there was no real way on. The strong draught that produced steam at the entrance came down a rift, which I climbed up to the bottom of a 6m cliff where I found the remains of a mining cart -- it seems that there must be a second entrance via another nearby mine. In the opposite direction, a muddy climb up led to a narrow muddy rift and a very slippery climb down to a dead end.

We surveyed out, glad to find that the mine level had previously been surveyed and we simply had to connect in our survey.

Another much needed hot shower in the evening, in my case wearing my oversuit, the easiest way of washing it off.

22nd February 2005: Wu Yan Dong

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Liang Bin, Chen Hong Feng

The idea was to go into the cave to check that nothing had been overlooked on the old survey. We were given lots of confusing descriptions of what the cave was like, what tackle was needed and what clothes were appropriate, but eventually the consensus seemed to be that we'd be part of team A who would go upstream from the entrance with an inflatable boat for the bits that were impossible to traverse out of the water, somewhere en-route passing a dam, while team B would walk in through an artificial tunnel to wait for us at the top of a second dam. They would carry with them a bag containing our drill, a rope and an SRT kit so we could rig down to the water beyond the second dam. We arrived at the cave at around 11am to find the boat being slowly inflated - the pump was not very springy and refilled itself with air quite slowly.

Just around the corner, barely out of daylight, was the first dam. The dam itself was about 5m high, but it was on top of a 5m climb and raised the water level by 10m in total as the old water course was in a narrow channel below the climb. We waited while the boat was inflated, wondering quite how we were going to paddle it up the sheer wall of the dam. Once the boat was ready, we were told that a ladder was on its way, and presently it arrived. The ladder was about 3m long, and reached far enough up the climb that the last bit could be done without its aid. Once the boat had been hauled up and everyone was gathered on the ledge, the ladder was pulled up.

The dam itself was an uninspiring construction. Water was pissing out in a narrow jet low down on the left-hand side just below a wide bulge from which a crack ran across the width of the dam. The ladder was at least 2m too short. Various improbable schemes were attempted, including balancing one side of the ladder on the 12' diameter handwheel of a huge valve sticking out of the base of the dam, but even so the ladder was still clearly too short. The next twenty minutes were spent looking at the ladder, but no amount of shouting and smoking cigarettes could make it grow longer. A retreat was beaten. By now it was about 12:30.

The new plan was for boat upstream through the low conduit carrying water from behind the dam out into an aqueduct. A fall guy was duly elected and torch in mouth set off. For some indefinite reason it was decided that a rope was needed to pull the boat back through the tunnel, so when our man reached the end of the tunnel the boat was hauled back, stranding him until the next man pulled himself in along the walls of the tunnel. At some stage it was realised that using the rope to pull the boat in from the other end might be faster.

Eventually we had size people perched on top of the dam. Two set off on the boat into the cave. The rope ran out before they reached dry land, so it was dropped and we had to wait for one man to return and act as ferryman. The round trip was taking quite some time. Beyond the first lake was a second, and then a large boulder pile. Prof. Lang who'd been the first to be dropped off there had made a fire in the flood debris to keep himself company, and by the time Erin & I arrived it was blazing and producing vast clouds of acrid smoke which were being drawn onwards into the cave. We used a drybag as a bucket to extinguish the flames, but by then visibility in the passage beyond was not good. I went on ahead to find another deep pool with white water rushing into it. A handy log was extracted from the choke to bridge the pool, but ahead was foot-deep fast moving water, no-one was really dressed for getting wet and our companions didn't want to go in over the tops of their wellies.

Some time was spent hauling logs around and trying to wedge them across the stream until eventually the two local blokes got across and found a 5m high waterfall with about 2½ cumecs coming down it. now it was about half past four.

We turned back and boated out. On the first lake it was just possible to pull the empty boat back by tying all our ropes together, but even so some climbing around was required to prevent it from snagging, but on the second lake the rope ran out when the boat was about 10m short of the dam. Those in the boat didn't want to get wet having stayed dry so far, and those back on the bank didn't want to let go of the rope, still hoping that the boat could be pulled back empty rather than having to be rowed to and fro. Eventually the boat party returned, picked up the rope and rowed off. Four trips back and forth were needed to fetch everyone else, and then we still needed to float out of the tunnel. Erin & I speeded things up a bit by going 2 to a boat, although this turned out to be a bit problematic in the low bit at the start.

Back on the surface, we asked to nip in through the tunnel to the 2nd dam to have a look at the lie of the land. It's clear that the tunnel was blasted to carry water from the 2nd dam, but it's never been put into service.

The 2nd dam blocks the passage from floor to ceiling, with a sluice at the base. We crawled through a rusty iron pipe to get to the other side of the dam, which is about 5m thick. The drop on the far side is about 5m to very manky looking water, and the only good rock for bolts is in the ceiling, so of course our ring hangers are back in Yangshuo. Luckily there's also a spillway tunnel which gives a better pitch-head, so at least we have an idea of what's coming tomorrow, but still no real idea of what's upstream of the 2nd dam.

23rd February 2005: Beyond the second dam

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Prof. Li Zhao Lin, Liang Xiao Ping, Lao Xiang

Erin Lynch:

Driving down the valley we couldn't help noticing that water levels were up quite a bit. Snow melt thanks to yesterday's sunny weather was swelling all the surface streams. The cave entrance itself was an impressive sight with white water overflowing the aquaduct + streaming down the sides of the bridge. There were lots of oh's + ah's then Xia told us the recharge area for the cave extends 30km and it takes 15 days for water levels to drop. Not good from our point of view.

We headed inside, well prepared to call it all off if it looked dicey. Duncan + I agreed that we'd be safe in a boat, but wouldn't want to risk getting out of it into the current.

The rumble as we approached the dam was much louder than before + the air filled with spray. We headed straight for the overflow tunnel + there it was clear the water was up a great deal. Lao Xiang had reported a rise of 0.5m at the old dam, but here the constriction meant it backed up much more dramatically. What had been a pitch of 6-8, yesterday was now no more than a short drop of maybe 2m from the overflow tunnel and less than a meter from the pipe below the tunnel. We estimated the water had risen 0.3m an hour. There was no way were were going in there! Beyond the tunnel the roof was low + although we were assured it went up beyond, we had no intention of being sumped in for the two weeks it would take levels to drop if something went awry.

Prof. Xia still wanted to have a look, but he understood our concerns, so Prof. Li and Liang Xiao Ping we appointed to the task. The boat was lowered from the tunnel into the water and thanks to the high levels the pair were able to easily scramble into it from the pipe.

FIXME INSERT SKETCH We watched as the float cord played out through the tunnel + then unexpectedly went slack. Our guys were on their way back. A few minutes later they were doing the universal rock-meets water gesture and that was it for the day. Ironically, a short way above the pipe an inscription read "1000 years good luck." Well, not today.

(On further consideration, maybe the water only came up 4m...)

Duncan Collis:

Dam #1 built 1981
~5m high with overflow over top. Water taken way via aquaduct tunnel.

Dam #2 built 1999
~8m high, floor to ceiling. ~5m thick! Water supposed to be taken away through pipe near top under a considerable head of pressure with water backed up in cave behind dam. However dam now disused as it caused flooding. A large overflow tunnel had been blasted to prevent water backing up above the top of the dam.

24th February 2005: Gua La Dong

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch

We were taken to what was originally billed as Ting Ji Dong but turned out to beGua La Dong. Quite a long drive along dirt tracks. Eventually arrived, and set off down the funnel shaped doline to the shaft proper.

Couldn't get a proper look down the shaft; it starts with a slippery gully which prevented a close enough approach. Setting off with a 20m rope and another 80m in the bag revealed a drop of 50 to 80m, but difficult to asses because stones wouldn't fall free and the view was diagonal. Started again, this time with a 150m rope. A rather scrappy descent with several ledges, hindered by the need to avoid a small stream and a couple of patches of crap rock.

Landed in a chamber, but only had about 30 minutes in which to survey due to being required to return to the jeep by 4pm, and having reached the cave rather late. Both upstream and downstream look good with large, flat passages heading off. Only got three legs upstream before we had to turn around. Looks like there's a canal ahead.

25th February 2005: Gua La Dong

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch

Negotiated a later callout for today + prepared our gear with some anticipation. ready by 10am (a record), were told the jeep had gone to Baijiaao xiaoxue + wouldn't return for 20 minutes. FInally set off just before 11am after giving english conversation practice to the landlord's daughter.

The weather was rainy and grey, so no good photo opportunities on the surface -- a shame as the far side of the shaft sports 100m+ high cliffs going all the way up to the road. Lao Xia stood on the road to prevent hooligans from tossing rocks down during our descent (not that anyone else was out in the miserable weather).

Surveyed down the shaft for ~1 hour + reached the bottom with a sigh of relief as D was absolutely busting. One leg to the near corner brought us to the bottom of a climb up into a continuing rift + then we tied into yesterday's survey + continued upstream. The canal was only waist deep but it necessitated much packing + unpacking of the various expensive bits of kit which all needed to stay dry. Two legs and I could see the floor of black cobbles/gravel sloping steeply away below the water. Looked like a sump. Duncan confirmed it + that was that. There was an obvious climb up over the sump to a traverse level, but it will require bolts. ALl rather frustrating.

We took a number of photos and D checked out a climb up to another lead which ended in an aven followed by 10m tall rift that got too narrow (probably passable for Lev.)

We decided to have a bit of a jolly downstream, despite having been told it'd already been surveyed by the Institute years ago. The Institute first worked in Luota in 1979. At that time there wasn't even a road to our current guesthouse in the middle of town. The work had continued into the early 80's and then there'd been a hiatus of almost 20 years. In '99 the Institute returned, and they've been coming here frequently ever since, and last year the area was declared a National Geopark. We had to wonder why there was so much interest in this small backwater, but Xia told us in 1976 Premier Hua visited the area on food. Presumably that had set some wheels turning.

Downstream was so noisy we limited ourselves to 20m legs, although we could have easily gone much further which each one in the first part of the survey. We soon came to a section with sizeable mud banks jutting out from alternating sides of the passage, the stream zig-zagging between them. The mud plus food debris 7m above the floor told us there was a constriction ahead. The passage narrowed, with something going of above + a detectable draught at floor level. A crawl with numerous white tadpoles followed + we called it ad day, not wanting to keep our friends on the surface waiting any longer.

26th February 2005: Paperwork

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch

Erin spent the day drawing Gua La Dong whilst Dunks did other paperwork.

27th February 2005: Metasequoias

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Lao Xiang, Prof. Xia Ri Yuan, Driver Chen Zhi Bing

Woke up to snow on the ground, but by the afternoon it had cleared enough for a trip to see two of the world's four living metasequoias. It was rough going on the icy roads to Lao Xiang's mine where we left the warmth of the jeep for a half hour trek across fields. The trees were very sorry looking indeed; one looked as through it'd been struck by lightning years ago. The larger was over 4m in circumference, and locals estimated its age at 100's of years old.

Perhaps more interesting that the trees was the chance to see the mine, one of 8 small concerns n the area. Each year Lao Xiang and his 20-40 employees extract 5-6,000 metric tons of coal, each of which sells for 260Y.

28th February 2005: Final day in Luota

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch

We finished the surveys, presented our work + packed to go. Just before dinner we caught a glimpse of Tujia actors parading up + down the street in costumes.