China Caves Project - Hong Meigui Joint Tianxing 2002 Expedition Logbook

Logbook:

The original intention of the expedition had been to film a connection between The Great Crack 'Di Feng' and the Great Doline 'Xiaozhai Tiankeng' near Xin Long town, Fengjie County. There had been five previous thwarted attempts. This time high water levels in August prevented work in the Great Crack and it was unclear what previous China Cave Project Expeditions and the French teams had already found in the area. This made it difficult to come up with alternative plans. One suggestion was for a group of us to go to Tianxing, a completely different area and continue exploring Qi Keng Dong. This had been first descended in 2001 and subsequently explored to a depth of 536m by Hong Meigui cavers...

25th August 2002

Brian Judd:

I left the hotel in Xin Long at 7:00 am with Mike,a driver and tourist manager to try and find my rucksack, camera, sandals and various other bits of other people's gear which disappeared the day before from the entrance of the cave that Chris and I had found last year. Gavin had been filming inside at the time with Steve, Mike and I.

There are several problems on my mind. All of the roads to the cave are being remade. It is impossible to go the same way Chris and I went and we have to go a long round about route to get back to the area of the cave. There are no Chinese with us who know the way and it is very easy to miss a turning. I manage to miss a turn of course, so we waste valuable time bumping back along the way we came on an extremely bad road.

Mike can be a little undiplomatic. The day before he said the Chinese reporters were imbeciles to Mr Han and was threatening to inflict violence on whoever had taken the bags. So far he's calmer than I am. Last night Andy suggested to the team that 4 would leave today for Tianxing as there isn't enough to do in Xin Long with the Great Crack in flood. Erin and I had talked of this option earlier in the trip but thought it had been ruled out. (One of the team had been fairly blunt in what he thought of us) I haven't packed yet for the bus and in addition in the rush I can't find my wallet which is either in a safe place or in the top of the lost rucksack. I'm hoping 800 RMB and 100 dollars isn't too much temptation to a poor farmer. I can't even find my SRT kit which I left in the tackle store. I'm hoping somebody has moved it and knows where it is.

The Chinese think (and I hope) that the bags haven't been stolen but moved by someone to keep them safe. The question is who has got them? There's quite a few farmhouses scattered about and it's not easy to drive to them. The first few houses we try know nothing and have seen nothing but one of the farmers comes in our jeep to show us other houses. It's raining quite heavily. We drive up another track to another set of houses and still no-one knows anything about the bags. I wonder if my house insurance is all risks and will cover the loss. I doubt it. My travel insurance only covers medical emergency.

Finally we go to a solitary house and there inside are our bags and a smiling farmer who has kept them safe. I'm asked to check the bags and everything is there except the wallet. So I worry about that all the way back to Xin Long as the time creeps on to our proposed leaving. Mike stops the jeep to take a GPS reading of a cave entrance and goes off to have a look at it while I fret.

Back in Xin Long Steve, Martin and Erin have packed our group caving gear so that's a relief. I learn that Tom and Andy Lewington have been chosen to come with Erin and I. This isn't the ideal team because Andy hadn't expressed much enthusiasm to go and Tom had changed his mind. Both didn't say so at the time. Steve and Martin were more keen but they're deemed more important for the film and the available PVC suits only fit Tom and Andy. We promptly call our team the Unphotogenic Cast Offs. At least my SRT kit has turned up but where is the wallet? I go through every item of my gear in it's three bags several times. Finally to my great relief I find the wallet in my zip up trousers. At 2:00pm we climb into a crowded public bus with a mountain of equipment while Gavin films us. I wonder what the story line will be? Rats leaving the sinking ship just before some vast cave is found in Xin Long? It is the start of our adventure back to Tianxing and Qi Keng Dong.

continues...

Erin Lynch:

When we arrived in Enshi after a mere 6 hours we were infomed that A) there were no buses in the right direction that evening, and B)we were at the wrong bus station anyway. So with the bags in a three wheeler and the 4 of us in a chase car we relocated to a dodgy bus station hotel replete with prostitutes in folk costume. (The lads claimed not to have noticed them) We were repeatedly warned to lock the doors and be in by 11 pm, which did not make us feel any better about the locale.

Brian Judd:

1. We were too busy lugging thirty odd heavy bags up the stairs.

2. In fact we went out for rather a nice round of street food and a couple of beers without any trouble.

26th August 2002: The Unphotogenic Cast-Offs

Left Enshi at 7:00am. Erin turns down direct bus to Wulong and will later regret it in the full knowledge of hindsight. This would have cost 1000 RMB and was thought too expensive. The way we're going involves a few changes of bus with our 30 heavy bags. The initial leg to Qian Jiang costs 500 RMB and arrives at 3:00pm. From there we have to change bus stations (of course!) and travel across town to get the bus to Pengshui. We get to Pengshui at 6:00pm, but not at the place we need to catch the next bus (of course!). Brian goes in a minibus with the bags to the next bus station. On the way the mini bus breaks down under the strain of trying to go up hill with our bags. Luckily after awhile the driver manages to get it going again having removed part of the floor and unpacked and repacked the bags. In the meantime the others have taken a taxi which makes a few extra errands and then gets lost. Brian arrives at the bus station and guards the bags while wondering what has happened to the others as the Chongqing bus (the one we want) prepares to leave. As it revs it's engines to go the others turn up. Erin attempts to get us on board by pleading, arguing, starting a small tussle with the conductor, standing in front of the bus as it drives off and finally tears. (It was a good act wasn't sure myself if they were real or not.) The bus still drives off but this performance has attracted a large crowd and before long the police arrive. They attempt to sort the situation out but the taxis they try are too small for our gear. A 'bread' van offers to carry our gear but hasn't got the necessary certificate to go to Wulong and would be fined if stopped. Then the policeman in charge of foreigners turns up. He manages to commandeer a large bus just to get us out of town and apologises that two of the drivers friends will come too. We eventually get to Wulong at 11:00pm just in time to get a hotel food and beer. Tom and Andy are starting to moan ( the hotel is more scabby than the Xin Long ensuite bedrooms but there is no comparison in price only 10 RMB to stay here.) They're also unhappy because they were told it was only a days travel to Wulong (and of course they weren't really volunteers to this sideshow.) It's true a days travel was optimistic but it's hard to be precise when travelling by public buses, contending with roadworks and landslides. The other option of travelling down to Fengjie and catching a fast ferry was abandoned because of the bad road situation between Fuling and Wulong.)

27th August 2002

Brian up early to see if we can get bus to Tianxing. Amazingly finds it outside hotel and about to go. Quickly rousing others we load up and head off leaving Erin to sort out some things in Wulong and follow. Bus stops in Jiang Kou. We pay 50 RMB. For some reason it's not going to Tianxing. Go to Mr You's hotel but he's not in. Have horrid cold and semi cooked breakfast but manager helps us get a small minibus to Tian Xing. Somehow we fit ourselves and all the gear in and arrive in Tianxing at 9:30am at a cost of 80 RMB. We sort gear and go down Qikeng Dong at 3:00pm. Tom and Andy say walk to cave is 15 minutes not 5 like Brian said from village. Brian re-rigs top three pitches, Tom does Wet Pitch, Boulder Pitch and the next one. Andy rigs Tardis and Brian rigs Julia to top of Laptop Pitch. Out at 8:45pm to meet Erin who had bus trouble or the lack of them. Tea, beer and bed. Tom and Andy moan about cave and mud and living conditions!

28th August 2002: Super Sonic

Erin and Andy took two bags to rig next pitches from Laptop. Tom soldered Hong Meigui drill switch but bearings were seized because of lack of grease and a gear tooth was broken. Brian freed bearings and Tom reassembled - it seems to work! There was also some electrical work to provide light in the farmhouse, sorting of gear and washing of clothes. 5 hours later Tom and Brian followed Erin and Andy to catch up with them at the top of Drink. E&A went out while T&B carried on down. Tom rigged most of it to nearly the bottom of the 90m Sonic Screwdriver pitch while Brian carried the bags and got cold. Out at 11:00pm Tom and Andy moan about cave and mud and living conditions! It's getting to be a rather comical ritual.

29th August 2002: Pulled Muscle

Tom and Brian set off at 12. Tom pulled a muscle in his arm on boulder pitch when his Stop slipped on the muddy rope. He goes out while Brian carries on to be joined by Erin and Andy at the top of Sonic. Brian descends placing a sling on Sonic, a sling and two bolts for the 10m Rani and a thread and two bolts for the 50m Master. The 17m Ming the Merciless gets a sling, a two bolt traverse and a dodgy rock bolt rebelay. (Didn't bring any spits so have to redrill.) The dodgy rock bolt rebelay later fails fortunately on Brian as he unclipped his safety line having passed the belay on the way up. Finally to Pitch Out of Time and new ground. A two bolt traverse and a Y hang followed by bolt rebelays keeps the rope out of the water. Ran out of battery power at about -060m, carried on down to -090m but the pitch continues out of sight. We're now past -0600m depth in the cave and Tom owes Brian 3000 RMB having bet the cave would end before this. (It's never paid) A slow climb out to emerge at 1:00am. Andy and Tom are still unimpressed by the cave and the hotel (and the food).

30th August 2002

Day of rest while planning and preparing for big push tomorrow. Ring Andy Eavis to get more gear which he promises to do, sort out flights and exchange news. Tom gets very upset over a mix up in flights because he wanted to be out in time to go with people going to see the Great Wall. Eventually it's sorted out and Madam Tan is contacted to change the ticket dates. There is a good deal of banter about the prospects for the cave or the lack of them, the money the expedition is saving by having us here and who should benefit from it and the living conditions. Moaning seems to be the basis of a whole humour. The weather has been brilliant in Tianxing with blue skies everyday but Tom keeps saying that the other team must even now be in the Great Crack being filmed by Gavin while we're here pushing a squalid cave etc, etc. He misses his mates! Andy Lewington has accidently hammered through the wrist sling on Tom's bolt hammer while putting bolts in on the 28th. Tom's had the hammer for 15 years without damage. There is plenty of slagging off of Andy 'hammer smasher' Lewington, who is apparently remorseless. Andy reckons a hammer that old is dangerous and should be thrown away!

31st August 2002: Loosing My Religion

An early start in which Tom carried on rigging down Pitch Out of Time taking a 20m rope to add to the 106m already in. Erin, Brian and Andy took photos and tried to cook the food that had been taken in previously. The lighters had got wet in the BDH container because the lid hadn't sealed properly. After a while they were dried out using Andy's boiler suit and Brian's camera rag. (Andy had cunningly kept his cotton boiler suit partially dry by bailing out the pools at the top of the pitches onto the others before descending!) They were just about to tuck into Chilli Con Carne when Tom shouted to come on down. Brian quickly wolfed his food down and abseiled to join Tom, while Erin and Andy continued surveying. The pitch was pretty splendid and although 160m deep was broken up into manageable steps by rebelays. Tom stopped moaning about the cave and started to enthuse.

However as soon as Tom and Brian set off to explore the passage changed character and they headed into a narrow horizontal canyon. There was a hint of fossil stuff above them but it couldn't be reached. The narrow passage continued down a couple of climbs, through a squeeze, past some inlets and over some deep sumpy water. After 1km and more clean washed passage they had not reached any conclusion. Starting to feel guilty about exploring without surveying (well Tom was) they turned back met Erin and Andy who'd surveyed down the pitch apart from a couple of missed legs. Brian and Tom the surveyed another 30 legs which only covered 277m before getting cold. (We were all wearing thermals and cotton boiler suits except Tom who had a thin nylon yachting oversuit. It was much warmer and drier than previous explorations in May and June) Erin said she was tired at the bottom of Pitch Out Of Time. It's a hell of a place to feel weary 700m down having abseiled in and she was slagged off mercilessly although she had a good female excuse! The men then carried out bags of surplus rigging gear in preparation for derigging tomorrow as we're running out of time. Despite tiredness Erin organised Brian to survey the missing pitch survey legs. Last person exited the cave 15 hours after entering at 1:00am

1st September 2002

Cleaned gear, slept and rested. Erin discovered she'd had money stolen from her room yesterday. This is the second time she has had money stolen in this village. Suggested police be called not in much hope of recovery but to show we think it is serious. The thief is careful to only steal money and nothing western. Erin input the survey data so we know the cave has a surveyed depth of 707m plus more which is unsurveyed. There are various bets as to how the cave will end. 'Too low'- Tom, 'Flowstone blockage'-Erin, 'Breakdown'-Andy, 'Sump'-Brian.

Erin wants to know how the cave will be derigged. Good question given the number of days left and the available manpower. The others don't think the rope should be dragged all through the cave and especially it shouldn't be left unwashed like last time. This causes some slagging because it is felt the China Cave Project gear lent to the Hong Meigui has been abused and not properly looked after. (Ed. note: the CCP Leye expedition didn't wash rope either) (Tut.tut.Not on my trips!-B.) What will probably happen on the derig is the rope will be pulled up the big pitches and then bagged prior to being taken out. It will be pulled up pitches using pulleys or by the strongest on a cowstail. Brian is thinking this could be a long derig for the rest of his time in China with just two people, making up for the last time when he missed derigging! Later in a phone call Andy Eavis kindly suggests leaving some of the rope bagged in the cave until another expedition can continue exploration. (At the time he was thinking of next year but now it looks like it will all happen in October.)

2nd September 2002: Keep the Faith

Tom and Brian continued exploring the narrow passage which had a certain clean washed watery charm if small by China standards. The intention was to push the cave to some sort of conclusion and derig with Andy and Erin. After travelling some time a sump was met but on the way back Tom noticed a hole in the roof above a waterfall and climbed it not wanting Brian to win the bet that the cave would end with a sump. Brian had to be coaxed across having his mind more on derigging at the time. The pair found themselves in a fossil tube liberally coated with mud and stal. The latter had not much been in evidence in the rest of the cave so this was yet another change. The passage continued for about 1 and half km via traverses and chest deep wading in water. After awhile a loud roaring sound could be heard which spurred the explorers on. They emerged at a junction with a stream passage 20m high and 8m wide. White water cascaded down a fall and there were canals in both upstream and downstream directions. A further fall could just be seen beyond the downstream canal. By that time it was 2:30pm despite an early start and they went out to meet Erin and Andy who were at the top and bottom of The Master pitch respectively. Tom handed over the bag containing over 100m+ of rope to Andy having carried it up Pitch Out Of Time and The Rani. Erin headed out followed by Brian nursing a swollen ankle made worse by caving on it. (Turned out to be torn ligaments)

3rd September 2002

We decided to leave the cave rigged hoping to be able to continue exploring it and persuade more to join the two known to be coming out in October. Washed and cleaned all the gear while Erin undid the bolts at the top of Qikeng Dong and threw the rope done to stop it getting messed with. Police and Huibang Corporation (Mr Li and Mr Yi) came to take statement about Erin's stolen money. Afterwards we had a a meal at the cafe paid for by the Huibang, fed and beered an old man and the Huibang paid for our stay in Tian Xing. Tom, Andy, and Brian walked to Furong Dong show cave but missed the cable car. They had a quick tour of the cave and took a few photos. Erin went down to Jiang Kou by car to email. The others took a taxi down to join her and then all went back to Tian Xing in a minibus. An argument ensued with the driver who wanted 50 RMB each Outrageous of course the local rate is 10. We settled for 80. Packed to leave early next day.

4th September 2002

Took early morning bus to Wulong via Wen Fu and Jiang Kou. Erin was to stay in Wulong and begin the blitz of emails to organise a new team. Brian went off to Chongqing to see Tom and Andy to the plane, buy gear for the next trip, organise flights for others coming out, try and get a new stop for Erin and see a doctor about his foot...

We think Qikeng Dong is the deepest explored cave in China. Current surveyed depth is 707m. There is more already explored and the cave has a full depth potential of nearly 1000m. It also offers deep cave sport of a type not normally associated with China!