Yunnan 2001 Expedition Logbook

Logbook:

10th September 2001: Cow's Nose Cave

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe, Liu Hong, Erin Lynch

Hilary Greaves:

What happened 3 days ago? Who knows? Oh yeah--we ditched our independence and started Caving the Chinese Way. This was most noticeable in our entourage of apparently unnecessary followers--a guide to show us to a cave whose location we already knew, and several other less crucial roles. Nevertheless, it was a harmless entourage: didn't come down the cave with us and let us get on with it.

Niu Bizi Dong consists of a ~150m daylight shaft followed by horizontal development. Gavin rigged the shaft mostly off naturals, but unable to resist a last-minute up-yours to Erin's "we don't like bolts round here" "Ethics" by placing a really shit bolt with a really shit multiple-rub-point hang down to the bottom.

Eventually "rope free!" echoed up the shaft and I went down and joined Gavin at the bottom. "What happens?" "Well there's a sump down there." "Oh." "And a 10m wide passage over here." "You're a wanker aren't you?" We started surveying.

Our brand-new 9mm proved too intimidating for Dr. Huang, who hung himself up halfway down the first main hang and slowly jacked.

Erin Lynch:

I had been a bit worried about Dr. Huang. He had that "can't remember how to put on my harness" look about him. It didn't bode well, especially as Hils had complained about the 9mm being quite fast even on her stop. Dr. Huang was sporting a bobbin which he didn't know how to thread and a braking krab that he'd never used before. Liu Hong assured me he was competent, but suggested it might be a good idea if we both checked to make sure he got past the rebelays safely. It sounded like a good idea to me, so I went first, and at each rebelay helped Dr. Huang unload his stop and put his weight on the anchor so Liu Hong could abseil down and talk him through the rest of it whilst I abbed down to the next anchor and provided a bottom belay. By the time we'd reached the long hang it was clear that Dr. Huang was in well over his head. The rope was slick as snot, and Liu Hong had advised him to use his hand jammer as a safety. This was okay on the sloping first bits, but Dr. Huang got hopelessly hung up on the freehang. It took an hour of shouting in Chinese for Liu Hong to sort him out. Meanwhile, I was having a fun time, hanging in my harness, waiting for instructions while my butt slowly went numb.

Hilary Greaves:

After a while Gavin and I were joined by Erin and later by Liu Hong, and we surveyed in eventually reaching a streamway. The stream sumps at both ends of the chamber. We went up an entertaining climb or 2 looking for a "sump bypass" --hold-less mudslides with copious amounts of combined tactics required (I think we had a 4-man human ladder going at one point), but the bypass just curved round back to a pitch down into the same terminal chamber.

11th September 2001: Shima Long Gong: Team faff goes caving

Liu Hong, Erin Lynch

Twitchy bowels and misheard calls meant that Liu Hong and I didn't get underground until quite late. Hil's fine rope-protector-tastic rigging left us at the bottom of a fine pitch, halfway down a rubble slope. The passage curved away to what looked like a lake downstream and boulder chaos upstream. After poking around for a bit following footsteps in various directions, and stopping for a more than 1 hour long fag and cookie break (a very important part of caving according to Liu Hong), we concluded that Gavin and Hils must have gone upstream-- otherwise they'd have to get their feet wet.

We followed a dry "channel" of clean washed boulders upstream to the water, finding an inlet along the way. The water disappeared through a tiny A4 sized hole in the wall at the top of a meter high flowstone cascade--quite odd. We pushed on, tracking the footprints to a dynamic 1.5m jump down and across a meter wide chasm... Gavin and Hils are hard, so I wouldn't put it past them... Still farther along the footprints split, one sliding down a 60 degree, 3m long sheer rock face (non-reversible), the other set jumping sideways and up over chossy rock. hmmm... This was where I began to have my suspicions as to the origins of the footprints.

For good measure I dragged Liu Hong to the sump pool and then onward to the best looking upstream lead--a crawl (with footprints) into a bat infested chamber. We returned to the scene of the crime to find a note ordering us out of the cave with all due haste, and found a half-frozen Hils and Gavin waiting for us on the surface, rather damp from their downstream explorations.

11th September 2001: Shima Long Gong: Meanwhile--team no-faff rok'ard also goes caving

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe

We started surveying down the obvious wide-open stonking great river passage downstream. :) The going was not always straightforward--the water occupied most of the width of the passage, so we were often traversing on ledges above, at or just underneath water level. After ~150m we crossed the passage at some (very aesthetically pleasing) rapids crawled under a ledge on the left-hand wall and crossed back to the right-hand side. Then the proper ledge-traversing began, and took us a further ~150m to a sump. If we'd had a bob I'd have stuck myself in it, but didn't fay it without. Nice bit of passage though. We did wonder where Erin and Liu Hong could possibly have got to, but didn't let it spoil our appetite for suveying big nice passage. Then returned to the entrance chamber, scrambled round in the boulder choke for an hour or so just for a laugh, and surveyed up the entrance pitch.

12th September 2001: Shima Long Gong: Upstream Reprised

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe, Liu Hong, Erin Lynch

The plan was to double team the cave. Hils and Liu Hong would photo, and Gavin and I would survey. Originally Liu Hong had been planning a rest day (although he neglected to mention it), but when we told him we wanted his help underground, he rose to the occasion, screeching the jeep to a halt, turning round, driving all the way back to the hotel, sweet talking his way past the gate gestapo, and skillfully maneuvering through the hordes of tourists swarming the park's roads, all to get his SRT kit so he could be a model and flash monkey (Ed. Note: Ironically, none of those pictures came out).

Gavin and I headed off upstream deciding to survey the first bit along both walls since it was difficult to see where the boulders ended and the wall began. Again I followed footsteps, this time noticing the burnt-out torches along the way. Doh. We surveyed up to yesterday's lead, where Gavin spotted another (less batty) way on, following arrows along the sand to the right. Unfortunately, this was a Lariam-lead, actually just curving around the top of the sump pool's banks. We reached some rocks that I recognized and it was "Well, do you want to go back and survey the bat infested shite?" The answer was no.

We headed back to the entrance, or at least we tried to, ending up 180 degrees out. Retracing our steps I foolishly trusted some holds that had held my weight before, and landed on my back (thankfully) wedged above a very large drop after two hand holds and a foothold gave way simultaneously. It seemed that our trip, which to that point Gavin had declared "efficient", had entered a twilight zone in which nothing could go smoothly. Thankfully, whilst we were surveying the second wall, Hils and Liu Hong arrived (Liu Hong busily sawing off a stal) and helped us sort out where the heck we were. The passage was a jumble of boulders and getting from one to the other, much less down to a wall (what wall? I thought that was a fallen slab) was a bit tricky in places.

13th September 2001: Domestic Bliss

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe, Erin Lynch

Today we moved out of the hotel to our new home for the next week--? ? Cave. It's a shelter cave in a small doline, often used as a sheep pen by the look (and smell) of things. It's pretty ideal caver digs: a large roofed area where we can spread out our mountains of gear, old stals to use as washing lines, enough flat space so that we don't have to smell each other's sleeping bags (something I wouldn't inflict on my worst enemies after a year of solid expeditioning), and even a natural chimney for our fire.

Liu Hong is super cool because he not only arranged this camp for us, he then left us there without any minders, a few minutes walk from several pits.

Our camp was outfitted in style thanks to the entourage. They ran around in Haiyi village, searching out bargains, and in no time we were the proud owners of a wok, 3 bowls, and 15 liter water container. The plan was for Liu Hong to bring enough food every evening for a hearty dinner and a breakfast of leftovers. We'd originally thought that a local could bring us breakfast, but the mayor decided we were laowai ripe for the gouging, and set a price tag of 100 Y per day. Ouch.

14th September 2001: Shi(t)zi Dong

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe, Erin Lynch

Erin Lynch:

Legend has it that long ago a wandering band of artists and musicians were caught out in the rain, far from any village. They sought shelter in a cave but in the downpour the ground gave way, and the cave sunk into a deep pit taking the unlucky musicians with them. Now, on particularly wet days, you can sometimes hear them playing their mournful music.

Now, I don't know about most people, but I certainly sympathize with them. Eternity stuck in this muddy hole would make anyone a bit down.

Movement 1: Rigging in G major. Rustle, rustle, rustle through the trees. Cue big rocks falling a looong way. Whizzzzz BANG! Cue the hammer, ting, ting, ting (fermata). Not one, but two bolts-- what will the accountants say?

Movement 2: Wellies in Mud. Gloop, slop, slurp, slime, squelch--wellies and plimsolls in wet mud, sinking up to our knees.

Hilary Greaves:

Lift foot. One less plimsoll than before. Sink arm into mud up to elbow, retrieve plimsoll with loud squelch.

Erin Lynch:

Movement 3: Joys of Photography. Zzzz... Pof. Zzzz... ? Fuck it didn't go off again. Click. Damn. Try it again. Zzzz..., Zzzz..., Zz, sputter. Bang, That'll fix it. zz... Could you light the formation? Fuck the tripod rock moved. Fuck I can't see, it's misting up. Could you move a little to the left, no right? Okay on 3, Pof, pof, pof. Repeat X 12.

Movement 4: Sump Surveying. Squelch, squelch, sploosh. A sump, a very muddy sump. Rrrsnap, gloves coming off. Brush, smear, ?, trying and failing to find anywhere at all to wipe your hands, the survey instruments, etc.

Squelch, one pair of wellies this time instead of three. Wo... oooooooooooooooooo.... A six second echo, and plop, another sump. Time to jack.

Movement 5: Muddy Pitch Surveying. Cue the strings (or rather "string" singular). Zsh, jammer sliding up rope, zsh, jammer sliding down rope, Zsh, zsh, Zsh, zsh, shit. Click open the jammer, chisel, scrape, plop, out goes the mud, chink, put the jammer back on the rope, sigh with relief that the other jammer held, try again.

Ting, ting, ting, little rocks and debris falling, Below! Plonk, rock hitting helmet, whiz, rock falling a very long way, SMACK!, rock leaving a big rater in the mud. On station. Oh, great.

15th September 2001: Thingy Wet Cave

Hilary Greaves, Erin Lynch

Erin Lynch:

The entourage arrived, as usual, and sat around, as usual. Liu Hong said, "They are waiting for you to put down the rope." I replied, "We are waiting for them to leave so that we can get changed." Knowing glances were exchanged, and five minutes of privacy ensued. All too soon the crowds were back, this time armed with cameras to photograph the rigging from every conceivable angle. "Could you move a little to the left? Hold it there--great!" A beautiful overhanging tree trunk gave a nice long hang straight into a tree. The rope had twisted somehow and Hils remarked, "I'm fucking dizzy" as she twirled her way down the 60 odd meters, two bobs dangling from her.

The pitch landed on a slope of person-height vegetation. Luckily it was mostly harmless and we were able to trample it down in no time flat. There were three entrances visible in the doline, and we decided to start with the nearest. It had a definite draft and looked quite good.

Hilary Greaves:

So in we went. As soon as we got out of sight of daylight the passage got very pretty, and we decided it was high time for a 90-minute camera sesh. This was excellent fun--we snapped some gour pools with various lighting conditions including underwater flashes, some mud formations, the nice shaped entrance passage backlit by daylight. It would all have been perfect if only Gavin had been there to get annoyed by it.

By this point we'd reached a lake (actually the start of a long static canal series, tho' we didn't know it at the time). Erin agreed that we'd survey out (just to humor me I think, but no matter), so we got in our inner tubes and paddled furiously into the unknown. This was wicked fun. I was loving it.

All too soon we reached dry land again, Erin in front of me. "Guess what I've got?" "What?" "A bolt climb." "Hmm. Have you got anything else?" "No." Oh. Bollocks.

Fortunately she was lying. She also had a sump. Or what looked like a sump. You couldn't quite see the far corner from where we were stood. In any case, I was buggered if I was going to let a cave as fun as this one turn us around without a fight. We had no rope, and in any case Erin was adamant that, "I'm not bolt climbing in China."

So I went for a float around the "sump" pool with a firm intention of sticking limbs in it to search for air the far side, like you normally do, right? Unfortunately the inner tube had other ideas, and allowed me about a foot's worth of spare limb once you'd subtracted all the bits of the leg that were constrained around the tube. And I definitely wasn't going to get out of the tube. That would mean getting wet.

In the mysterious far corner, though, there was air space. Not much--a 60cm wide by 30m high right-angled triangle of it--but some... It was apparent that having got this far, it was my job to go first. Erin's only comment was, "I really hope that doesn't go." I knew the feeling. I knew it because I'd felt the same one the day before, in whatever-you-call-it-shithole-cave, where Erin pushed a second squalid muddy shithole-type-place to a second sump. That one hadn't gone far, and Erin had taken pity on me and Gavin and not insisted that we follow her, grade 1 surveying it instead. This duck was not to be so considerate--tragically it wouldn't let me return the favour. A decent-sized chamber to a calcite almost-duck and then big, big, BIG.....

Erin Lynch:

How to describe the duck? It was, well, quite wet. I'd been expecting wet-that's why we had the bobs. What I hadn't expected was the cold. This wasn't your nice, warm, summer runoff... it was downright frigid. Paddling to the duck my hands went numb. Getting into the water full stop was quite unpleasant, and going through the duck, with only my nose and helmet (crammed full of survey instruments) out of the water... well, I won't go into it. The whole experience was heightened by the pleasure of dragging my bob through. This involved bracing my feet on the ceiling, my head half underwater, and heaving until it mercifully deformed and popped through. The whole time my carbide had decided to go from "fine" to "super blowtorch", filling the duck with smoke and a 4 inch long flame, but at least there was a brisk draft to keep the air breathable.

Hilary Greaves:

The far side of the second duck, in the big stuff, there was a mud bank and some walk-able passage. This was nice as it enabled me to remove myself from the flying donut-belly configuration I'd been floating in since Duck #1 (remounting my bob in a sensible-looking comfortable, upright position had been way down on my list of priorities, below several items reading "Get Out of Water A.S.A.P.). We stomped along a mud bank, re-launched and floated through the Root Canals an extended section of ~70cm airspace canal passage, and out into more big stuff...

Erin was up ahead of me. "Woohoo! Through trip!" I'd have thought she was taking the piss, but for the fact that no one could be that cruel. Sure enough < there was daylight. Lots of it in fact. True it was very high daylight, but daylight nevertheless.

We were standing at the bottom of something you could variously justify calling a pitch, shaft, doline skylight (probably a bit too uncharitable this one), or maybe climb... scramble... ?? My hopeless optimism machine kicked into gear right on cue, and I decreed that this might be climbable and that I wanted to eat chocolate in the sunshine. The second half of this was certainly true. I eventually conceded that the first half was bollocks after we'd scrambled around some mud slope of increasing steepness for a while. Bugger. That must mean it was time to start surveying, with no chocolate-in-sunshine break either.

Erin Lynch:

But before the surveying began, it was time for more scooping. I suggested peaking our noses downstream. Hils said, "What? I hadn't noticed that." Normally you'd notice 20 meter high, 10 meter wide passage but it had been overshadowed by the rest of the chamber. The way down led over a cascade of pretties. "How do you feel about walking on pretties?" "It's China, what else are we supposed to walk on?" "Slime, like yesterday." No slime this time, only gours, clean washed rock, and lots more water, along with some rather large ribs and a femur? They looked like they'd once belonged to a water buffalo. I was just glad that bones was all that was left, as China an be a bit of an odoriferous place at times without the help of rotting carcasses.

Hilary Greaves:

The really obvious glaring in-your-face 20 by 10 m passage (yeah, all right :) ) seemed to continue... there was more water and a more detailed nose-poke would have involved getting back in the bobs, which we could otherwise delay for all of a couple of minutes while we surveyed all of a couple of legs, so we decided visual inspection from the end of the lake would be plenty. By smacking the side of my head to stun my Q40 into action, I could see for maybe 50m to a calcite wall and what look like it might be passage curving away to the left. Since we were going to want to drop the pitch from the surface anyway to survey the whole connection, there seemed no harm in leaving a wide open storming big lead for another day.

Erin Lynch:

So we began the survey, "Right 2, left uh, fuck knows..." ... "We're professionals." Surveying in bobs can be quite fun, but also quite cold, so I preferred to seek mud banks wherever possible. On one of these I miscalculated the angle of repose of a wet Erin on a slimy mud bank, and was sent sliding into the water up to my chin. I think it may be worth practicing steep slope bob entry techniques for future such misadventures. Perhaps a running forward jump? Or would a slow fall backwards from toe holds in the mud be better? In any event, Hils made her contribution towards the advancement of bob caving techniques by perfecting the head-wedge technique for anchoring oneself to a floating survey station, and things proceeded apace.

Hilary Greaves:

A mere 20 legs later and we were back at entrance #1. Breathing that lovely fresh air once again. in the pissing rain. And thunder and lightning. In a perverse way, I was glad to be already drenched through and shivering, because it that meant how much worse could it get right? "Do you think it's a good idea to be hanging on rope in a thunderstorm? I don't know." Well, let's think about this one. We're anchored to the largest tree around, and hanging in a cave entrance, and connected to said large tree by some metalwork and a rope stretching from tree to ground which is probably wet enough to be actually quite a good lightning conductor. Maybe we should get scared then.

Erin had rigged the pitch, and somewhere in my mind was a logic that ended with "therefore it's fair to let her go out of the cave first," and I assumed this as the natural order of things. this is actually true, but as I shivered in the entrance passage (slightly warmer than the doline), clutching my bob, singing out-of-tune songs and waiting for the "rope free!" call, I wondered whether buried in a dark subconscious corner of my mind had been a though train more along the lines of "get Erin to go up the rope first so that maybe in the mean time the storm'll subside a bit and reduce your chances of being part of a lightning conductor..." ... I think not, but I wouldn't blame an onlooker for being skeptical.

Erin Lynch:

Meanwhile, I was having quite a jolly time on the rope. My electric had given up the ghost ages ago (have I mentioned how fun it is to illuminate your instruments with a carbide whilst floating and trying to hold position... it requires something like three arms, two heel hooks, and a chin hook for good measure.) Well, 30 seconds after going out into the storm my carbide was inoperable, but at least there was the lightning to illuminate the doline. Big crashing forks of it splitting the sky, lots of it... so much that I couldn't discern individual strikes to decide how far away it was, and in any case it was coming from all directions around the doline.

I had these thoughts as my companions as I dragged my sodden, metal-laden frame up through the thick foliage on the doline floor. On the long hang it was prussik, prussik, bang! and a flash of light, by which I could see the ground falling away beneath me... so much farther to fall should a strike melt? the rope. It felt like there was a rub on the pitch, but it was just the branches of a tree. Passing it I kicking and shoving the branches out of the way until it was possible to prussik up a step, at which point they sprang back slapping me full in the face with their rain-laden leaves.

At the rebelay I was glad I'd rigged it long and easy to pass, as I had to do everything stop-action, waiting for the next lightning strike to make sure I wasn't going to accidentally do something stupid. After all, plummeting to your death when the rope is severed by a huge lightning bolt is one thing, putting your jammers on upside down and going splat is quite another.

Hilary Greaves:

The "rope free" came surprisingly quickly -- or maybe not so surprising--when in my turn I was on rope surrounded by the thunder and lightning orchestra, I understood. This was one fucking scary place to be and I have never prussiked so fast in my life. On getting to the easy-to-pass rebelay, I was so relieved to be at the top of the hang and almost off rope that I decided to get myself hung up on it, with my long cowstail clipped into my foot jammer, my short cowstail too short to reach the maillon, and too much rope stretch on the upward rope for me to put any weight on my croll...

I was very glad to eventually be standing on "solid" ground. I was similarly happy to see that Gavin had rescued our bags of dry clothes, so all we had to do was stomp the few hundred metres back to camp in our already-drenched-so-it-doesn't-matter-anyway caving attire. The entourage had other ideas, however. They'd been lying in wait back n the road, and upon seeing our lights, came charging up the track in their Jeep to meet us. The verbal language barrier was total, but it was fairly obvious they were saying "get in, we'll give you a lift." My reply of "you can't be serious. We're already drenched, we'll drench you and your car and anyway it's only 200m to camp", however, went unprocessed I think. They stuffed our wet inner tubes and wet bags on the parcel shelf and we parked our very wet bums on their nice dry seats.

Sure enough, 200m later the jeep stopped. The thunderstorm raged outside. I opened the door but was pulled back inside. This time we took it they were saying, "you can't go out in this weather. Sit here and wait for it to stop." This I found absolutely hysterical, although with uncharacteristic politeness I contained my mirth. We've surveyed through cold underground water, including swimming in it, we've prussiked 50m through a thunderstorm, now we have this nice, "oh good, trip's over, let's go home get changed out of this sopping wet stuff and drink beer" and you're telling us that no, we have to sit in our wet clothes in a car for a couple of hours because... because if we went out in the rain we'd get wet?? Give me a break! :)

We assured the entourage that we had nothing to lose ("we water" accompanied by a squeezing-out of oversuit cuff was the best I could manage, but maybe it worked), and stomped off in the direction of camp. For the first time I managed to navigate straight there, with not a single wasted step. And then we got dry. And ate. And drank beer. Which was nice.

16th September 2001: Rain

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe, Erin Lynch

More rain, so we decided to hunker down and draw surveys, willing our gear to dry.

17th September 2001: The return of Thingy Wet Cave

Hilary Greaves, Gavin Lowe, Liu Hong, Erin Lynch

After the obligatory morning's faff, we bid farewell to Gavin--off to Kunming and then Shenzen that afternoon. We headed off to go caving, accompanied by camp dude, and camp dude's best bud, who had arrived just in time to watch the western females get changed. They carried our bobs and gear and anything else they could pry from our hands, so we weren't complaining at least not until they decided to "modify" some rocks that our rope was running over by the use of a big machete.

The plan was to survey Caves #2 and #3 and derig. Cave #2 was a bust--nothing going, but it was pleasant to survey in the sun. Cave #3 was a different matter entirely...

Hils had said, "It's wet, bring your bob." so I was expecting lakes. When she admitted it was more like a squalid sump pool, I declared it could be a blessing in disguise. "If it sumps, we can walk into town and get pissed tonight." (something we'd been sorely missing with our one beer per person per day ration at camp) "Do you have any idea how good that sounds?" "Yeah." squelch.

10 minutes later we were at the pool, from which the most hideous noises were emanating... Hils was crawling through the mud and water and she'd hit a repeat of the previous duck. "Does it go?" "I don't know. If I bend down to look my crotch will get wet." Making the supreme sacrifice, she passed into the duck, which continued as a duck for quite some time. It sounded miserable, with no end in sight, and very little draft. I was still dry, so I decided as self-appointed safety officer that whilst clearly we were dying to push this lead, it was the prudent and responsible thing to jack.

We prussiked out with an audience -- was camp dude charging admission to the spectacle? I have no complaints if he was, as he carried all three bobs back to camp and lent me his very stylish sunhat.

17th September 2001: Mission: BEERY SESH

Hilary Greaves, Erin Lynch

Erin Lynch:

"Start as you mean to continue," said Hils, popping open a bottle of Dali. Liu Hong was rationing us to one bottle a day, and desperate times called for desperate measures, so we set off down the hill with empty rucksacks, full wallets, and the intention to clean Haiyi out of beer

I don't know what the locals made of us as we trooped down the road, passing the bottle between us, but we sure confounded them when we went into town, sat down at our "local" and asked for two bottles of beer.

Hilary Greaves:

The restaurant owner brought in a translator to decipher this confusing request. We explained in English and in pigeon-Mandarin that we didn't want to eat, we just wanted two beers. The translator emitted an "ah!" of understanding and nodded understandingly, and relayed the message to the owner, who did likewise. And then looked bemused. And then walked off looking confused. A few minutes later we took our own bottles off the shelf, a bottle opener appeared and the sesh began in earnest. Well, continued.

We hadn't taken a torch, because we'd left camp at 6pm, and we'd easily get back by 8 since we were only going for a quick beer and some take-out, right? At 8:15 Erin suggested that maybe we should make tracks, since it was dark. I suggested that since it was dark, there was no point hurrying any more, so we might as well get another beer in. We got another beer in.

And another.

At ~9:30 we did decide to leave our comfortable watering hole and continue the sesh back at camp. Easier said than done. Funny how turnings and rocks look different in the dark than they do in the 6pm sunlight, isn't it? The differences were subtle, but we just about picked up on them. Like, whereas previously we'd been able to see, now we couldn't.

I don't know how far we walked between Haiyi and the camp turnoff, but I'm willing it was several times 2.5 km. The beautiful?? irony was that we actually picked the correct turning the first time, but after walking ~1km up it we figured that since we didn't recognize it it must surely be wrong. (No, it's just that we're fuckwits...)

Erin Lynch:

It should be said that all of this navigation was done by the light of two flickering candles that we picked up in Haiyi as an afterthought. Keeping them lit whilst we staggered back and forth was a bit of a challenge. You can add "gyroscopically stabilized candles for beery seshes" to the list of expedition must-haves.

Hilary Greaves:

Eventually we reached the magic cornfield and another (almost) flawless camp-navigation stint took us to the cave. All those dumps in the 100m circlecentered on camp must have paid off--it's amazing how a long blade of grass becomes a landmark after a few of them :)

18th September 2001: Thingy Wet Cave 2: Second entrance, second entrance, balls to...

Hilary Greaves, Erin Lynch

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 miserable.

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.

20th September 2001: Shithole Quarry Cave

Hilary Greaves, Erin Lynch, Liu Hong

Hilary Greaves:

We'd been planning to leave for Qujing on this day, but the entourage wanted us to investigate one more cave, so we stayed a bit longer. It was in a quarry (hence half of the name...) -- a 200m through trip, from a pit on an un-quarried bit of hill to a hole they'd uncovered whilst digging. Our mission, which we were doomed to accept: to find out whether this cave had showcave potential, and hence whether they should stop quarrying and start touristing.

In a word, no. (hence half the name...)

Erin Lynch:

The entrance was clogged with thorn bushes and a short pitch dropped into a gloopy, mud floored rift, opening into a small chamber. The rift was the source of a great pile of wet, pebbly mud that poured into the chamber, looking all the world like a big pile of crap (of the loose, water kind we're so familiar with here in China) spewing forth from the arse hole of a constriction at the end of the rift. We stood in the chamber, gingerly looking for anywhere to place our SRT kits that wouldn't leave them completely covered in slime. It was something of a consolation that the same people who had decided we should go down this cave would be wearing our muddy SRT kits later that day. It was squalid, but I didn't get the worst of it, as I was wearing wellies. Hils was not so lucky.

Hilary Greaves:

Bloody, sodding Chinese plimsolls that are several sizes too big and falling apart, pah. I lost my right shoe several times in 30cm-deep gloop. Unfortunately in the process I also got gloop on the sole of my wetsock and (consequently) the inside sole of the shoe, reducing the friction to zero. The shoe then seized the opportunity to swivel, so that the sole of the shoe was on my instep and the fabric outward-facing part became the sole. Which was nice for walking on sharp rocks, but even nicer for walking on thorns, later...

This cave is squalid. A shitty entrance followed by 200m of (admittedly reasonable) dry passage, to the quarry entrance that actually has a turd in it, just where you want to step to climb out.

When we got to the quarry entrance (exit) we decided to let Liu Hong climb out through the turd while we went back to entrance #1 to collect the gear and derig. On reaching entrance #1, however, this began to seem less a good idea... While we'd been underground, it had been pissing down. The gloopy entrance had become a super-ultra-mingingly gloopy entranc. Not deterred by this alone (hey, we're cavers, right?) I inserted myself into the body-sized 30 degree upward sloping tube of gloop, dragging the end of the survey tape and some gear with me. CRASH. That'll be a large rock landing at the pitch base in front of me. CRASH. That'll be one landing on my foot. CRASH. That'll be one (smaller, thankfully) bouncing off my shoulder. Fuck this for a laugh. (Oh, did I neglect to mention that the first CRASH was before I'd gone into the tube, while we were innocently sitting in the chamber beyond?) I didn't want to find out what would happen if I weighted the rope, so we decided not to survey the pitch, but to return to the turd entrance and derig from the top. Covered in gloop. Shithole cave.

21st September 2001: The Chinese Way: Being a Tourist

Hilary Greaves, Erin Lynch

Erin Lynch:

Now class, today we will learn how to be a proper Chinese tourist.

Step 1: Buy a big camera and lots of film-- this is essential as your vacation doesn't count unless you record it in glossy 3x5's.

Step 2: Select a scenic spot. We highly recommend stones with inscriptions you can't read, potted plants, signs obscuring the view of the scenery they describe, and of course, rocks that look like animals.

Hilary Greaves:

Step 3: Find some cute members of the opposite sex and a foreign nationality. Extend copious amounts of hospitality to them so that they feel indebted to you and hence unable to be openly rude. Stop at chosen scenic spot, get foreign opposite-sex-member (fosm) to pose in a highly unnatural fashion and snap away.

Step 4: Select another scenic spot, identical to the first in all potentially interesting respects.

Step 5: Snap some more. Make foreign opposite-sex-member feel like they would be rude to refuse to pose.

Erin Lynch:

Step 6: Add interest by trying different combos all at the same location: fosm #1, fosm #2, fosm #1 and fosm #2 together, you and all the above combos, your friend ditto, standing, sitting, silly poses, formal poses, etc. Then move and do it all again.

Hilary Greaves:

Step 7: Goto step 4.

Step 8: Oh, dear, did I forget to put in the exit clause? Oh well, looks like it'll never end. SOrry about the infinite loop, the computer scientists left the expedition early and you can see we're oh so lost without him.