Zhangjiajie 2003 Project Logbook


1st December 2003: Arrival at Zhangjiajie

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Zhang Yuan Hai, Lao Ying

The train arrived at Zhangjiajie at 3pm, leaving us plenty of time to carry our bags down the 8 flights of stairs between the platform + the road (future expeditions take note!) We were met by 2 guys from the company who whisked us to a minivan. Lynn, an American who'd been on the train with us was caught up in the whirlwind of hospitality + ended up at the office with us. I don't know quite what she made of the gang of businessmen who then stood around discussing how to get her from A to B, which hotels were the most convenient, and why would anyone want to go there? Zhang Hai convinced all + sundry that she really didn't want to be checked into the most expensive hotel in town, but rather to the place recommended by the LP and with that she was whisked away. I hope she wasn't hijacked by good intentions and actually made it to the park!

Hunan is suffering from severe electricity shortages which will last until the next rainy season, so lights were out throughout much of Zhangjiajie. After showing some (badly copied) maps the company men took us to a swank hotel with both water + electricity (luxury!), never mind the bellcap in a white uniform. We had a nice banquet with the obligatory melon carving + afterwards Dunks went out for drinks while I did paperwork. He was taken to a bar with good live music + 3 pretty girls who spoke english were imported for the evening. You really can't fault Chinese hospitality!

2nd December 2003: Shit Shoe Shuffle

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Lao Ying, Zhang Yuan Hai

Woken by ZH at 7:45am for breakfast at 8. 9 saw us loaded into jeeps for the journey up the hill. The road up Tian men shan is very ambitious, winding its way up 800m with 99 official corners, although a few of these aren't very noticeable. However, there certainly are a lot of hairpins, one spiral and lots of exposure. Saw a canyon which looks like it might be doable, not very big but a few waterfalls and a path contouring round to the top.

From the top of the road there are 999 steps up to Tian men Dong, which is a huge eyehole beneath the col at the head of the valley. Some sections of the steps are very steep. We were glad a team of porters was laid-on to carry most of our tacklesacks. We walked through the hole (apparently someone flew a plane through it a while ago) and down the other side to a path round the base of the cliffs to the right.

After a while the path climbed steeply and we passed a large entrance in the middle of a big cliff. We carried on ascending and then reached a major construction site and a little further on the village we were to stay at, complete with a temple and a small stone pagoda type thing which is reckoned to be about 300 years old.

After lunch we were taken on a walk to see some more entrances in the area (see surface book), including a couple in some very very big cliffs indeed.

We passed through another construction site, entering through the karsi -- the path was liberally strewn with multi-coloured turds, in several of which Duncan stepped (wearing sandals) before Erin pointed out what he was treading in. Duncan managed to scrape off the turd without getting it on his socks, but Erin didn't realize she'd got about 2 inches of pungent crud on each boot, imagining the smell to be coming from Duncan. By the time she had it pointed out to her it was half-way up her trouser legs! An inauspicious start to the trip!

3rd December 2003: 2 shafts + a goer

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Lao Ying, Zhang Yuan Hai

The day began with a bit of SRT practice + then we went to Gui Gu Tian Yan. Too many aluminium saucepans, so Dunks walked back to the temple village twice before finding the drill bits he'd forgotten to pack. I rigged GGTY while he was getting a bit of exercise. At the bottom it looked to be choked, but Dunks found a squeeze through to a small chamber with a 10m bolt climb to possible continuation. He Ying came down the shaft no problem, but didn't like the look of the constriction, so headed out while we did a quick survey. Next on the list was "Shithole" cave. While Dunks rigged I chatted with William, a civil engineer from Shandong who's working on the cableway. He says this will be the longest cableway in Asia, over 7.2km long with 800m vertical range. Construction, including buildings + roads costs 1.8 billion rmb! They have 200 workers here on the mountain top and they expect to have it open by October 2004. Some of the cableway equipment is from France + we just missed meeting a Frenchman up here. In the grand scheme of things, our pottering about in caves seems relatively unimportant, but still we've been given the best rooms in the place!

The second shaft was also choked, so we went back to the temple village (I pity the monk who's had his peace + quite disturbed -- although Zhanghai says hordes of pilgrims used to trek here in the Tang Dynasty -- 700 years ago).

After a quick dinner Duncan + I went down Gui Dong, one of the 2 strongly draughting entrances I'd been show earlier that day. A wooden ladder got us down the first pitch + then Duncan went for a furtle. After a surprisingly long time I finally hear shouts -- IT GOES! Down a climb + along a bit to a low crawl with strong draft + mouldy rat turds to a junction with 3 ways on. The most promising was a pitch, so we surveyed out + decided to come back with rope tomorrow.

Entered data in the computer + it looks like the cave is heading for Xuan Tian Dong -- a large entrance we saw on the trek up the hill. Xuan Tian has a stream coming out of it which is larger than the one we saw in Gui Dong, so presumably it will collect inlets. Very interesting stuff.

4th December 2003: Down Gui Dong

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Zhang Yuan Hai, Lao Ying, Lao Quan

Off down Gui Dong with drill, ropes, high hopes and the general manager (Mr Quan). Erin + I carefully packed our string kits in the top of a bag of rope, intending to give it to our novice, Lao Ying, to cart through the crawl, but I ended up with it -- he's a fast learner.

A day of short pitches rigged off increasingly long ropes as we used up our short ones, eventually ending up with a 62m rope on a 3m pitch. The drill put in 7 bolts (CCP's old-style Bosch with a 1.2 Ah battery), and we carried on for a little while further with rock-pecker and naturals, turning back at the head of a ~20m pitch. Still draughting well at the bottom, and very gradually getting larger.

Surveyed out, hitting the surface at about 5:30pm, just in time to get under cover for some blasting operation (Zhang Hai pointed out a large patch in the roof of the temple due to a rock landing there). The foreman directed operations through a loud-hailer, and when everyone was clear of the blasting site pressed a button which made his megaphone play "Jingle Bells". A series of noisy detonations followed, and when the blasting was over and the coast was clear, this was indicated by "Jingle Bells" followed by "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".

5th December 2003: An urgent message

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Lao Ying

Ding Ding from the Hong Shu Lin (Red Team) Club had arrived the night before with a Bosch drill + assorted rigging kelter, so he, Zhanghai + Lao Ying headed off to a new shaft near the temple while Dunks + I sorted ropes for an assault on Gui Dong -- determined to bottom it. The re-rig of the upper pitches went smoothly + in about half an hour we were at the top of the next pitch to be rigged. Dunks was one shy of an official case of the runs, so we had to do some strategic clenching, but before long 2 bolts were in the top of the pitch + he was abbing down. He cleared both lips (barely) and shouted up rope free. I went down with my 2 bags landing with a splash in both puddles + the rope definitely twanging (shorter legs). A deviation near the top + a rebelay to keep out of the water near the bottom wouldn't go amiss. From the ledge of boulders Dunks rigged a short pitch down a constricted slot. The battery died after the 1st bolt, so he had to put in 2 by hand. At the bottom he scouted ahead and found a short pitch (~3m) and an obscure crawl behind a big boulder to a short section of walking passage which ends in a boulder choke. It all looked good + we were really starting to get into the pushing when we heard shouts. Lao Ying came bombing down the pitches and pulled from his pocket a note from Zhang Hai, shouting "Hen kuai!"

Hi Erin,
It will snow tomorrow, 
be iced for one month.
So we have to be down
the mountain.
  Could you please hurry
up out and go with 
us to Zhangjiajie city.

No time to survey (bum), so we gave Lao Ying a bag of rope + sent him up. I took the drill + rigging gear + Duncan did the derigging, Lao Ying had given us the note at 1pm, and it gets dark at 6pm, so we figured haste was in order. Things went fairly swiftly until the top of the 4th, where Lao Ying started to suffer from his badly adjusted SRT kit. I was dead impressed he'd made it that far prussiking with only one foot and a completely slack chest harness. Hero! By 2:30 everything was derigged + the bags had all been hauled through the crawl + up the ladder.

Zhang Hai met us at the entrance, ready to walk down the hill. While Dunks + I threw all of our things into a bag, an army of porters was assembled. They kept bursting into the room to size up the load, but even so it was all packed up by 3:30 and we headed down the hill, bidding farewell to Lao Fu 符 and promising to return in the spring after the snow melts. He must be absolutely nails to spend the winter trapped on the top of the mountain, eating only rice + chilli, with unreliable electricity and only a bunch of other blokes for company. Zhang Hai says most of the labourers come down the hill for the winter, when ice + falling icicles make the patch far too treacherous. It was entertaining enough when a bit wet. I don't envy our porters, but they made good time.

The mountain top was enveloped in a dense mist, with ice forming on the trees, but once we broke out of the cloud, the view was stunning: cliffs + jagged peaks jutting up through a sea of cloud. It looked like scenery out of a kung fu movie + we expected to see Lao Fu waiting for us at the bottom, having flown down jumping from tree to tree. It's amazing to think people have been using the same path for 700 years.

Thankfully the 999 steps down from the eyehole were not icy + we were soon bundle into the car. On the flat it'd obviously been raining + we had an entertaining time passing a heavy truck mired in the mud up to its axles. Not that our jeep was doing much better -- all the way down the 99 curves it banged + clanged as its shock absorber dragged along the ground.

In the evening we had a call from Rich + arranged to go caving with him near Lao Zhang's family home where there's a cave with a 100m high entrance -- sounds good!

6th December 2003: Not suitable for vegetarians

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Zhang Yuan Hai, Lao Ying

Duncan Collis:

Today we were driven to Zhang's house, about half an hour from Zhangjiajie. It's in a pleasant area with lots of citrus groves and rounded hills.

Immediately we arrived a barbecue was begun, with the whole family (plus a cat and a dog) sitting with us around a charcoal fire. Huge slabs of spiced pork steak were grilled and we all ate and ate.

Meanwhile, out the back, there was the sound of a very unhappy pig. I strolled outside in time to see a knife plunged into the pigs throat and its blood spurt out into a bucket. Half an hour later its head + tail were off, its guts were in buckets and the empty carcass was hanging from a hook. Our barbeque continued; the meat was really very good.

After the barbeque, lunch was served, and then we staggered with very full bellies to see the cave. "Da Dong" ("Big Cave") lives up to its name, or at least the entrance does -- hopefully the cave will continue in the same vein. The entrance is about 60m high and 30m wide with a stream coming in from a big passage on the right. Up a flowstone climb on the left is a (currently) dry inlet.

Back at the farmhouse, all of 2 hours after our massive belly-busting lunch, they wanted to serve us dinner, we asked for a postponement of. Looks like we'll be taken good care of here!

Erin Lynch:

Dunks forgot to mention that the locals said they'd been 8 hours downstream without reaching an end, and 5 kilometers up the inlet. He was positively bubbling with excitement and speculated about racking up 10km in a week.

7th December 2003: Fond farewell

Zhang Yuan Hai, Lao Ying, Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Lao Quan

In the morning we had SRT practice for Lao Quan, who seems quite keen to join HMG. Lao Ying mentioned his Shenzhen Mountaineering Education Center club is going to Baidong the first week of 2004 and I told him a bit about the layout of the stream passage + suggested a place to bolt climb if he had time. it's weird to think its now an adventure tourism spot. Lao Ying has also been learning how to scuba dive + he said he'd find out if we could rent one of the compressors they use in Shenzhen. All too soon Zhang Hai + Lao Ying had to leave.

Duncan + I did a quick surface survey between the sink at Mi Shui Dong and Da Dong, then were back at the farmhouse for dinner at 5pm. Lao Zhang couldn't stay for dinner, so he'd asked some friends to drink with Duncan. It was total carnage, with 4 bottles between them. One couple got extremely wasted, with the wife struggling to keep up with me on the beer (only 1 bottle!) and the husband ending up puking from too much baijiu. Dunks passed out on the floor, so didn't feel poorly until the morning.

8th December 2003:

Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis

Duncan v. hungover. Heavy snowfall all day. Spent lots of time in bed, then more time huddled around charcoal burner. Definite craving for hot cocoa + marshmallows + Christmas cookies. rich arrived with much fanfare in the evening + we drank the house dry of beer (not very hard).

9th December 2003

Rich Gerrish, Erin Lynch, Duncan Collis, Peter, Carol, Nancy, Zhang Yong, local man in camo combats

Set off for cave entrance with entourage in tow. Began surveying from the end of the surface survey and into v. large entrance. Due to a number of our party being ill equipped for the rigours of river caves we opted to survey a large fossil inlet first. The local man in camo combats was duly dispatched up the terrifying calcite climb with a long sling in tow. Upon seeing his equally terrifying belaying technique however I climbed up after him to give him a few pointers.

Once at the top we headed off down the impressive gallery until an aqueous section of passage brought us to a halt. Having been deprived of caving for over two months, my enthusiasm and Dunks and Erin's cajoling got the better of me so with end of tape in hand I waded into the waist deep water to ascertain the obvious, it sumped around the corner!

Back down the climb and on the the river passage. We left downstream for another day, hoping to connect the upstream passage with the stream sink further up the valley. After 500m or so of pretty glorious passage the main river did a U turn and looked like we would have to get wet to follow it any further. Straight ahead a large boulder pile was found to conceal another way on as well.

With tea time rapidly approaching we hurried back to the entrance, almost putting a couple of undernourished Chinese birds into orbit on the way!

10th December 2003: A wet day

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Rich Gerrish

Woke during the night to the sound of rain. It was still raining in the morning and much of the snow had melted.

We walked to the cave, noting that the river was now brown and swollen, and that the lake formed by the landslip near the sink was now welly deep over the path. To our not particularly great surprise, but considerable annoyance, the route downstream was impassable due to the water being too deep and fast to cross. We did the only sensible thing possible and returned to the farm, bought 2 crates of beer, and spent the next 10 hours steadily getting mashed up.

(see over for a map Z. Yong gave us of the tianyan 2 hrs away.) INSERT SCANNED SKETCH

11th December 2003:

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Rich Gerrish

I'd been a bit dubious of Dunk's enthusiasm about Da Dong -- so many times we've seen grand entrances shit out almost immediately, but in this case his excitement was well founded. Today was a good day. On Tian Men Shan I'd complained to Dunks that it'd been far too long since I'd last had a kilometer day -- I missed romping down passage + had forgotten how to survey at 1:2000 as opposed to 1:500.

The day began with a hangover. Dunks + Rich checked + found water levels significantly lower, so all systems were go for downstream. The stepping stones/ledge at the bottom of the entrance flowstone kept us out of the water for all but a 2m wade (unfortunately over welly deep). I'd expected the passage to narrow considerably away from the junction, but instead it just got bigger -- a huge slope of rubble with proportionally big boulders. The daylight stayed with us for the first few legs + then a second patch of light appeared to be coming form a skylight. When we reached a corner, Rich shouted it was not a skylight, but in fact a second huge entrance. We'd reached a junction where a larger stream joined the one we'd been following. With some trepidation Rich forded the stream, but all was okay, although you wouldn't want to be in the stream if the water was higher.

We romped upstream, Rich literally running with the tape measure. The passage was gorgeous -- 20 to 30m wide and 50m high. It was easy going along gravel banks with the occasional set of flowstone gours. Several places had rows of stones which may have been placed as stepping stones by the locals. The second entrance was a jumble of boulders + vegetation with white water roaring down a series of rapids, the water murky + brown. Here I saw hypodermic needle flood debris wedged between boulders, so future explorers should be careful of where they step. The boulder mound blocked the view ahead, so we do not know what lies beyond the entrance in the gorge -- it would be very interesting to have a topo map!

Downstream, the passage continued in the same vein until turning a corner. Here we could just see a thin sliver of bright light from the entrance -- it's not often you can see 600m in a straight line in a cave. At the corner there was a huge column of rock which divided the passage briefly + beyond more easy gravel banks + a slightly naughty stream crossing. We were late for dinner, but it was hard to drag ourselves away from this excellent caving. Our one regret was not having enough photographic gear -- a return with a SLR + video camera is definitely in order. Total surveyed for the day 999.90m!

12th December 2003: Shoeshop & Cobblers

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Rich Gerrish

Continued surveying downstream from our previous limit, the passage continuing in the same impressive from. A real feeling of isolation and insignificance when alone at the front end of the 50m tape, the huge roof and walls arching away into darkness ahead, the river murmuring as it slips by.

After a few legs, reached a big pool at a corner with two enormous rocks in it. no way of getting round the pool which looked like it would be a swim... Rich dipped a leg in up to the nuts and found no floor, so after much wittering, Duncan removed his furry suit and Erin stripped off and the pool was crossed -- it turned out only to be groin deep. Yesterday it was probably a fair bit deeper, although it is unlikely we would have managed to get this far in such wet conditions.

Beyond the pool, started to hear a distant roar, which turned out to be due to a combination of an increase in gradient, the stream following a narrower channel, and lots of big boulders.

After some clambering around on the rooves of houses, we got back down onto a sandy floor, and couldn't help but notice something was missing: the river. Also, the ceiling had risen considerably, we estimated it to be about 80m high, but who knows?

We were amazed by the number of shoes in the flood debris, so that bit of passage is "The Shoe Shop". Another clamber over boulders and a stroll around a scummy lake and then we stopped for baozi.

Here the main trunk seemed to end, but there were several ways on.

First we went down a small streamway straight ahead, which gave us a series of climbs down and traverses around scummy pools to deal with. Rich had fun playing lucky-dip stepping-stones on a submerged perforated false floor using a long stick on a probe, only to find the next pool even bigger and deeper. We left a (hopefully) permanent station and went back to our lunch stop.

Second we went up a slope to the right into a big fossil passage which soon ended at a big choke with several interesting holes in it. However, there was an obvious route round to the left which led to a climb down boulders towards a black space. Here Rich totally shat himself due to not being as hard as chinese farmers, who had obviously been here first. Left the survey here and turned back, stopping on the way out to see where the river disappears. It turns out to go surging off down a 1-2m wide rift, which Rich traversed into for a short distance before it became too intimidating -- a slip would be fatal. We decided to call this the "River Inseine". Out at 8:30 ish well pleased with another day of excellently sporting caving in an utterly gobsmackingly big cave.

13th December 2003: Trash compactor

Erin Lynch, Rich Gerrish, Duncan Collis

Had a bit of a lie in, then met some local officials + promised to send them a copy of the survey (see back of logbook for address). Think they thought we were showcave developers.

On the way in we checked out several leads: Climb up flowstone just before knacker deep wade pinched out; gours in Cobblers led to narrow passage with v. deep pools, low airspace + no draft; 3720:1 boulder choke v. interesting -- Dunks found a way along it following the RH wall. The LHS is perhaps even more intriguing with gusts of warm draft.

From Rich's final station we surveyed along a rift which suddenly broke out into a huge echoy chamber --well, actually it wasn't that huge, but first appearances can be deceptive + from our perch along a ridge looking down on house-sized boulders, it certainly looked enormous. We thought we'd hit the jackpot, with huge trunk passage running off in both directions, but to the E what looked like big black space was in fact a rubbish choke. The way on there lay down a 20m pitch into a sheer walled rift with a fetid pool at the bottom. It was strewn with garbage + put us in mind of the trash compactor in Star Wars. Not wanting to find out what savory delights lay below the surface, we opted to go west instead.

Here the passage narrowed to more manageable proportions + before long the big boulders gave way to a gorge with a totally jammy ledge to one side -- Beggar's Canyon. We could see a small static streamway below + when the ledge ran out we had to backtrack + then back + foot along it. It's been a long time since I've caved in proper rift + traversing along this one was pure pleasure --- tons of nodules + footholds and just the right width. You would have had to try hard to slip.

From entering the big chamber we'd been following a very strong draft and where the rift gave way to boulders + then boulders to big black space, the source of the draft was revealed to be... Cobblers. We'd somehow managed to miss this 20m wide passage yesterday. We'd looped around + Beggar's Canyon + the Detention Level were just one big flood overflow above the flood overflow we'd surveyed the day before (Dagobah). The mind boggles at the amount of water this cave must take in the rainy season. Water backs up from the 2m wide x 20m tall River Inseine, goes along the Shoe Shop to the 20m tall x 3m wide Dagobah which also backs up + then it flows along Beggar's Canyon with enough force to carry large tree trunks into Detention Level chamber. Totally awesome.

14th December 2003: Trip into town

Duncan Collis, Rich Gerrish, Erin Lynch

After a beery night and a lie in, caught the bus into town. Costs 3&yuan;, runs every 10 minutes, and takes about 40 minutes. The bus to catch back is the one headed for FIXME INSERT CHARACTERS (   jia   ).

A pleasant stroll around, some pop and some baozi and a visit to the web bar. Highlight of the day was the meat market we walked through, which had a stall selling all manner of unusual flesh, with several dog carcasses hanging above a cage of glum-looking live gods, as well as flattened-out smoked cats, civets, musk deer, a pangolin and what looked like the head of a beaver, as well as several others we couldn't figure out.