In Print

Tian Xing by Eva Hajduk
Jaskinie (46) 1/2007: 17-19
Article about the Tianxing 2006 expedition, including photos and cover.
Text of the article

The People's Republic of China is one of the greatest unexplored karst areas in the world. Due to many years of political isolation, regular exploration of Chinese caves has just begun. The type of geological formation of many regions suggests 4000m depth potential so there is certainly still something to achieve. Currently in the People's Republic of China there are several groups of cavers -- British, French, Italian and Japanese.

In October 2006, after six months of preparations, we took part in an expedition in Central China (Tianxing area). We had been invited by Hong Meigui, an organization that organizes research and exploration of Chinese caves. The "Brains" of Hong Meigui in China have been -- for a few years -- an American, Erin Lynch and a British, Duncan Collis. Apart from our Polish crew (which was the most numerous one -- 6 people) there were also Russian, Austrian, Danish and American groups participating in the expedition and exploration. The main task was the attempt to connect Lanmu Shu cave (833m deep) Qikeng Dong (920m deep) were also supposed to explore Zhuan Yan Keng (discovered last year and explored to -177m) and Su Jia Ba.

The journey to Tian Xing took us five days and by the time we finally got to the camp the exploration had begun and ZYK and LMS caves were already rigged. In ZYK cave there were long stream passages to overcome, because of which0 we had to drag with us a wetsuits. We have not even used them eventually, because in less moist and warmer (between 10 and 20 degrees) passages walking few hundred metres in it equaled a 'drying death'.

In 2006 Central China was afflicted by a long-term drought, which made exploration easier (and taking shower -- much more difficult...). The caves of Tian Xing are warm (approx. 16 Celsius degrees) and usually very moist. Favourable conditions for insects, frogs, bats and... rats -- we met those creatures even few hundred metres under ground. Formations in caves of that area was not particularly developed, however you could find a true wonders of nature (for example The Furong Cave, available for tourists and colorfully illuminated [yack...]).

The vigorous expedition leader Erin did not let us to be bored, it meant that she assigned tasks to each of us. Divided into small groups we began to explore the caves. Two cavers from Polish team was sent to approx. -500m to LMS in order to do rigging and precisely survey subsequent shafts. The other two of us headed to SJB. This cave drew our attention from the very beginning. It is situated in a valley with no outflow, among rice fields. Our task was to explore it deeper -- before that only a part near the entrance was explored. We managed to deepen it by 100m. As it usually happens, this time too we did not have enough ropes, so the next shaft we could only look into. Especially when -- without any justified reasons -- a notebook with all effects of surveying we did on that day flied down into it. It meant that the time we spent in SJB was lost, and we had to do it all over again! In the meantime it was getting better in LMS, so expedition's attention focused generally on that cave.

Also the crew changed. The group of Russians left, and Dutch came. The most of us got discouraged. The reason was -- most of all -- the problems with health. Our stomachs did not agree with famous 'Chinese food'. The adaptation phase lasts usually three weeks -- are we were going to be there about three weeks! The only consolation was local vodka with flavouring and Chinese beer, available without limits and very cheap. In spite of all the adversities Erin tried to send groups to LMS and ZYK every day. For some of us that needed a rest there was something to do too -- they were looking for new entrances after a short course of basic Chinese.

ZYK, generally horizontal cave, was lengthen by few hundred metres during the expedition. It was decided to leave it to further exploration until next year. There was a chance however to connect LMS and Qikeng Dong. Cavers set up a camp in its dry horizontal corridors 634m deep. After just one action Duncan Collis and Marcel Nawrot made the desired communications. The system of three caves, named The Tianxing System, 983m deep, became the deepest cave of China. Erin immediately ordered the next three-day camp of five people in order to connect another cave -- Dong Ba. Unfortunately this time the search for communication was hampered by nearly 100m rise in water level, caused by a newly built dam on a nearby river in Jiangkou. The team knew where the potential communication was, however the attempt to overcome the water draughts without a diving equipment was considered too dangerous. Erin hoped to achieve the first 1000m deep cave in China, but it was not possible this time. After this action cavers left LMS eventually.

The undoubted advantage of Erin's 'regime' was the exact and precise surveying of the caves, made in Survex. Thank to this we could watch the spatial relations between the most important caves on a current basis. After even very exhausting actions the essential thing was to enter survey data in the records. Some murmurs of discontent aroused, however Erin's ideas proved excellent in practice.

On the whole we took part in 19 exploring actions, during which approximately 1400m of new passages were explored and surveyed. Fully independent achievement of out team was discovery and exploration of so called 'Banana Cave' (approx. 83m deep, 250m long). This cave is very interesting because its corridors pass the nearby LMS passages and go beyond the area of the current exploration. The Polish team participated in the expedition till the very end -- cleaning the equipment and washing ropes in Wu Jiang river. We also rested few days in Wulong and visited the Wulong Geopark before coming back to Poland.

China gives the great opportunities for cave exploration. With a certain amount of money and appropriate knowledge of Chinese there is possible to organize an independent expeditions. I also recommend you to visit Hong Meigui website, where you can read a description of the expedition with a list of participants. /

Shortly after our team returned home we received an e-mail, in which Erin wrote, that she, Duncan and two other cavers had come to SJB and 30m below the end of the earlier exploration found the entrance to a shaft 491m deep which can be roped down in a single shot without touching the wall!

(translation by Bibianna Hajduk)