Nursing our hangovers, our stomachs, our bowels, etc., the usual, we crawled
out of bed a bit later than usual. The camp dude seemed to take pity on us, and
did our washing up for us.
After fettling, putting gear up to dry, taking gear down, making vague
camp-tidying motions, and going for the requisite three dumps it was possible to
stall no longer, and we had to go caving.
Again it was a game of hide-behind-the-stal to change, at which point someone
would poke his head around the corner to see what was going on.
At the entrance, Hils' skill at rock-paper-scissors shown through, and I was
left to rig whilst she sat in the sun. My first attempt would have been great
had the main belay for a 60m hang been thicker than my wrist (and no, unlike my
thighs, my wrists are not enormous) or anchored in something more substantial
than a thin layer of mud atop a loose rock. Scratch that.
The second go was a bit better. Tree to rubpoint, to big tree, to awkward
traverse, to medium sized tree and a deviation down to a sloping ledge. At this
point Hils asked, "Can you reach the gully? It should be possible to walk down
from there." Mmm. I have to say that this was one of those situations where the
steep angle distorted perceptions just a bit. The gully was pretty much slime
covered high-angle rock with zero footholds.
There was nothing to rig with, and I hate bolting, so instead I belayed to a
rotting tree root way up the slope and put in a deviation off a sapling at the
lip of the gully. At least that way the bad rub point going over the lip would
be relatively controlled.
Further down it became obvious that there was a second, more serious and more
difficult to protect rub point if I continued down the steep bit of the gully.
Eschewing bolting again, I decided to traverse out across the slimne at an angle
of > 30 degrees trying to reach a mound of high-traction mud tantalizingly
close. It was quite exciting, trying to work my way across the low-friction
surface. The bounce in the rope meant that every time I fed rope through my
descender my weight was pulled off the rock, and the mass of the rigging gear
made this even worse. Several times it looked like I was going ot peel off and
go flying into the wall, dragging the rope over a massive rub point in the
bargain. But I finally made it down and tied the rope off so Hils could walk
down with ease.
Unfortunately, she chose to abseil into the steep bit instead of traversing,
at which point the tied-off end became a problem, and she needed 3 jammers and a
lot of cursing to extricate herself.
By this time my hangover had faded to the point where I was just about
capable of operating a flash gun, but not good for much else. Hils set up a
big-passage shot for downstream. "Now I need you to fire the flash 60 times."
"16?" "No, 60." "Oh." She explained the calculations she'd made to come up with
this number and the analytical part of my brain was clearly still reeling from
the night before, because I didn't twig that she'd misplaced the decimal point.
So, I spent what seemed like forever firing flashes, and it was only much, much
later that we realized the mistake. Ah, well, at least we were using Hils'
fast-recharge flashes instead of mine which take ages.
Our first surprise of the afternoon was a pleasant one: what on cursory
inspection had looked like a deep lake was in fact wade-able--good news as Hils
had definitely drawn the short straw with the bobs. They were the trusty vessels
from Leye--it hadn't occurred to me to take the newer models from Chongqing.
They started out a bit careworn with patches and leaky valves. By the end of
Leye things were pretty dire. Now they'd been dragged/kicked through a few
additional caves, and miraculously one had the air pressure of a basketball left
in a closet for a few year, while the other two were in a much worse state. Hils
strapped them together using liberal amounts of webbing, and it still looked
like they wouldn't support their won weight. Nevertheless Hils dragged her
creation along behind her, saying she would swim if push came to shove.
Cobble streamway gave way to familiar mud banks and
then a further surprise-gorgeous gour pools: bright orange rims with deep
blue pools, the bottoms coated in a dusting of fine white powder that
disappeared into brown on touch. It was stunning.
We gingerly surveyed our way to a white-bottomed lake. It
looked like a sump, it felt like a sump, but was it a sump? There was only
one way to find out, and by the official tally it was my turn to get cold and
Contemplating the sorry state of her bobs, Hils suggested, " There's no point
in checking it if it doesn't go." True, but we could add a whole maybe 20
metres to our survey total. It had to be done.
So I paddled across the lake, feeding out tape as I went slowly towards a
cleft in the far wall. I went in a metre, the passage constricted, the ceiling
came down after 3 metres, and the sides of my bob brushed both walls, but ahead
I could see wider passage. "Shit, it's going," said Hils. We surveyed to the
constriction and I went through, wondering if there'd be a docking point
positioned so that we could use the tape to shuttle the buoyant bob.
But my concerns were wasted, as before me ther was an indisputable, no doubt
about it, sump. Hils had a reprieve.
I splashed my way back to Hils and heaved out of the bob, onto dry land. A
minute later I realized that this had not been a good move, as the tape had
silently slid from my lap into the very deep sump pool. We spent ages peering
into the depths, but to no avail. The water was too murky to see the tape, and
neither of us were willing to dive blind.
Putting off such thoughts as, "It's going to be a right pain in the arse to
survey out now," we decided to photo the gours. This mainly consisted of me
standing around, my fingers going numb, holding the flash guns, while Hils
scampered from one gour to the next, cursing the fact that we didn't have a
tripod. At long last Hils was done with the gour shots, and since I was well and
truly frozen, she suggested it might be a good time to take a photo of someone
(meaning me) floating in a bob. "You want me to float in one of the gour pools?"
"No, in the lake." "Piss off." It seemed obvious to me that the lakes walls were
too far away to show up, so you'd be left with a lone bob in a sea of
black-something easily enough faked in the warm sunshine.
Without a survey tape, we were forced to resort to the knotted tape method of
surveying, which is actually not that bad in Chinese borehole. Of course, when
we got back to the shaft it was pissing it down. Typical. There is nothing more
fun than trying to read instruments in an electric storm when two of your lights
have failed and the third is magnetic.