Tianxing 2004 Expedition Initial report
The Tianxing 2004 Expedition stayed in the mountainous karst area of Chongqing Munipicality, Southwest China, for two months from October 2004. During this time the expedition explored and surveyed 9,665m of cave passage. Since most of the caves in the area are predominately vertical this was a satisfying achievement. The expedition contributed to a situation where five of the ten deepest known caves in China, including the four deepest, are now to be found in the relatively small area it has been working in.
The expedition team worked well with the local people and government and also with other nationalities who joined the expedition. Not every expedition member stayed for the whole time in the field but at various times, Russian, Swiss and American cavers joined with British cavers and our Chinese hosts to work together towards the expedition aims. The expedition ended with many more expedition members than first planned but this was of benefit to all concerned and contributed considerably to what the expedition achieved.
The results of the expedition surpassed most original expectations. The expedition surveyed further in existing caves and mapped new entrances and new caves. Two underground camps were established in Da Keng at the bottom of the 500m entrance pitch, (only one had been planned) and the cave was pushed further downstream in the strongly draughting lead found in 2003. This resulted in the exploration of 1,687.18m of passage and confirmed Da Keng's position as the second deepest cave in China. The bottom of the cave turned out to be complex. There were junctions with other passages, sections containing large fossil passage decorated with stalagmites and active river passages in which cascades, waterfalls, wet pitches and long sections of swimming had to be negotiated.
Exploration in Liu Chi Ao Kou, a cave found in 2003 and left with a draughting 10m wide passage, did not go quite as expected. After exploring 250m, the Tianxing 2004 expedition found the large passage disappeared into a very large boulder collapse. Fortunately all was not lost when a way was found around this via a small passage along which the cavers had to crawl and squeeze. This in turn led to larger passages and pitches beyond. Eventually 3,485m of cave was surveyed here and the cave continues. In an attempt to find an easier route into Liu Chi Ao Kou other caves were explored nearby. All of these became sizeable caves in their own right but a connection to Liu Chi Ao Kou proved elusive.
There were also some exciting finds in the area North of Tianxing. In this case it was thought it might be possible to find a bottom or middle entrance to the caves found earlier. Numerous entrances were noted and the caves explored proved intriguing. Perhaps the best of these caves was situated in a large clump of bamboo and mature trees. A beautiful 40m shaft in daylight led to clean washed passage cascading down a series of pitches before becoming almost horizontal. Instead of sumping and filling with water, as thought possible, it continued until 1714.2m had been surveyed from the entrance. The expedition was stopped by a boulder blockage but this is probably only a temporary halt to exploration, as a strong draught in this region indicates it may well be possible to get round it.
In the event the project area wasn't expanded to the South East because the expedition was kept fully occupied in the immediate area of Tianxing and the area North of it. Expedition members looked for but did not find any cave fish this year although there were numerous white tadpoles and other animals noted.
The expedition took hundreds of underground and surface photographs and a video is currently being edited. Photographs, cave database and more information from the expedition is already published on the internet as detailed below:
This raw data will later be edited to provide a concise report of the activities of the Tianxing 2004 expedition to go alongside a printed journal of the Tianxing Caves.
Table of main explored caves with length surveyed on the Tianxing 2004 expedition:
Ten years of expeditions to Tianxing have surveyed over 30 kilometres of cave (30,190m). The Tianxing 2004 expedition added nearly 10 kilometres to this total (9,664.9m) and positioned many more cave entrances for the area database and map. All of these will provide ample exploration opportunities for the future. Another area for future investigation is derived from the fact that a large number of caves and passages have again been found in very close proximity to one another. As yet not one cave in Tianxing has been joined to another cave. This is all the more incredible as large caves often run parallel to one another and are often separated from each other by only a few metres. Trying to determine if they do in fact link up or if they were formed separately will be an interesting study in cave formation and an exploration challenge.
There is still much to be discovered in the Tianxing area. There is plenty of potential in the caves that have been explored and the possibilities of the other cave entrances have been enhanced by what was found on the Tian Xing 2004 expedition. One final point, which the expedition would strongly recommend, is that the training and encouragement of Chinese cavers in vertical techniques and in cave surveying be made a specific aim of a future expedition. We believe this is important to continue to foster an equal partnership in the ongoing exploration of Chinese karst.
The Tianxing 2004 expedition would like to thank the many people and
organisations who made it possible. In particular:
Mrs Wei and family
The people of Tianxing without whom it would have been neither possible or as enjoyable.
Lastly the many people in China and elsewhere who have helped us over the years with no benefit to themselves.