In Print

Some you win and some you lose - Tian Xing tales by Rob Garrett
Depth Through Thought Vol 16 (3) 1 March 2006
Describes connection of Liu Chi Aokou Xia Dong and Lanmu Shu Dong.
Text of the article

It had been a long expedition. After the early success in connecting Liu Chi Ao Kou Xia to Lan Mu Shu Cave prospects had looked good for getting a 1km deep system. Lan Mu Shu Cave had been pushed down to the master cave which had sumped 100m upstream of Qi Keng Cave to which we still needed to connect. Several tantalizing leads had been pushed both at depth and higher up with the lure of a possible connection enticing us ever further into grim gnarliness but always an impenetrable forcefield seemed to deflect us away whenever we got too close. Then, with time running out we found the 'real way on' An obscure hole through boulders led to a short pitch then a short rift which belled out unexpectedly into a large space. On the previous 2 trips this had been partially explored and found to be a shaft 50m across and around 200m deep that split partway down into various disjoint trouser legs. Now we only had time left for one last pushing, surveying, derigging trip and we would only be able to explore one possible way on but it looked good: a draught, a shaft and a stream all heading towards known passage. All it needed was some explorers.

As luck would have it, it was myself and Duncan Collis who had the pleasure of this final push. Everyone else was praying that the derig part would go well and so spare them from the burden of yet another trip into the deep. An uncharacteristically early start saw us trudging through the rain on a trip that had epic written all over it. At the entrance we nearly jacked as the normally dry streambed was in full turf brown flow. Unfortunately it was still passable, as was the low wet constriction and the 200m of spray lashed pitches which get you into the big stuff. From here it was easy going all the way. And so, a few hours later we found ourselves shivering at the base of one of the trouser legs, rain lashing everywhere before gushing down another pitch where we would follow. We'd been hoping for some nice simple horizontal development to carry us to our goal and drop into known cave at the head of a high rift but instead the passage contracted into a series of awkward cascading pots. We descended about another 100m until the cave went horizontal with no further height to lose. However, things were looking decidedly sumpy. Time was getting on, and we still had to survey out and derig but we knew we must be close and there was still a draught?

Ahead the stream slipped into a small rift only passable low down. Then there was brief standing room before it was all crawling. Around a corner and the roof lowered further into a wet muddy crawl with about a 6 inch air gap. Very easy to dig under normal circumstances but not today with the cave in flood and 700 vertical metres waiting behind us to be derigged. I clawed experimentally with my hand but it was clear we were going no further today. With Qi Keng so close to our grasp, the survey later showed a known inlet maybe 50m away, it was time to head out, the connection still elusive.

The derig started well but quickly fell into farce as I managed to drop the survey notes back down the last pitch which I then had to rerig only to find the notes sitting directly under the full force of the cascade. Both rigging and derigging the extreme deviation that avoided the water also involved an additional soaking, just to add insult to injury. Once back to the trouser leg we left the water behind and 200m of prussiking soon warmed me up. Although this was broken by the interminable tedium of rope hauling as an increasingly preposterous pile of rope would be paellaed onto ledges again and again and again. Hours passed as our numbed minds and fingers went through the motions, learning to recognize each rope and mentally placing it in the cave according to how gritty or muddy it was. The brief burst of joy when another knot is reached and the resigned desperation when a knot jams and the rope has to be lowered a precious few inches. But on the whole everything went very smoothly with teamwork triumphing over tedium.

Finally, after the 20 hour mark had slipped past unnoticed, our ultimate goal had was close at hand. The rope was almost all in place at the top of the much loathed, aptly named, Comedy of Errors pitch. There would be great rejoicing all round when the others heard the news that they would not have to descend that pitch again. Except for one small hitch. With the pitch derigged and only a few score metres to go the rope snagged and wouldn't come free. I lowered, tugged and tweaked, coaxed and threatened but there was nothing for it except to redescend which meant rerigging. Laboriously I stirred my mind into action fumbling to tie the necessary knots and lowered myself over the edge. Fortunately, the cave was feeling generous as the offending jam was only a dozen metres down and before we knew it our job was done. We each selected a not-too-heavy tacklebag, turned our backs on the mountain of rope that nearly blocked the passage, and headed for the surface with a new lurch in our stagger. We hardly noticed the soaking water on the remaining pitches and by the time we were halfway through the 400m entrance crawl we were feeling rather good. We felt even better when we met the next wave of the derigging party who had come bearing gifts. They were quite pleased when they heard how far we'd managed to derig some 200m further than the consensus had predicted. Then, finally, the surface where the final derigging party was just setting off and, more importantly, beer was waiting. Not quite the celebratory beer we'd been hoping for but well-earned and just as welcome nonetheless. "Right." said Duncan, "Time for a sesh!"