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Expedition Blog 2010


Welcome to 2010 Expedition Blog


  • 14/02/2010

Took the Nat Geo Film crew down Lancaster hole for trial. Quote from Dan the cameraman. Its darker than I though it would be!!

  • 04/03/2010

About to set off for Vietnam with loads of gear. Hope to meet up with film crew and all equipment in Hanoi. Should be in Hang Son Doong on Thursday to start filming and exploration.

  • 09/03/2010

Arrived in Son Trach today after obtaining permissions. Awaiting freight from Hanoi and expect later today. Planning to see guides and porters soon to arrange trip into Hang Son Doong. Huge amount of equipment  for film crew and Nat Geo Mag people. Hoping to visit Phong Nha with geologist Darryl to obtain some samples for cave dating on the 10/03/10. Carsten the Nat Geo photographer may be a world class photographer but its a shame he forgot all his caving clothes!! He will have to borrow from Sweeney -brave man

  • 21/03/2010

Finally emerged from Hang Son Doong. Filming all complete. We had 23 porters and numerous guides to take the vast amount of equipment to the entrance. 50 people in total a real  nightmare to organise. The cave is incredible, quite stunning. Surveyed with MDL instruments to give total length of 7.3k. The great wall of Vietnam our obstacle last year was passed after 2 days of bolting. The 90m high calcite wall proved very difficult and Sweeney did a very good job bolting using thunder bolts in horrible calcite. No actual limestone found on whole wall and a very necky push. The height of the passage at the wall was measured at 200m, no wonder we coudn’t see the roof last year!!!. The garden of Edam was measured at 175m wide with cliffs rising 350m. Found a number of probable new species including white spiders, scorpians and woodlice. All safe and well and in need of a good wash. The film crew are happy and Nat geo magazine have taken tons of photographs.

We had a days rest and now its back into the jungle for more sweat and hopefully even bigger caves than the magnificant Hang Son Doong. Our guides tell us of many new caves so it should keep us busy for quite a while. I will try and update as soon as we return to base camp in 4 days.

  • 24/03/2010

Came back from my second trip last night. It was meant to be a four day trip with some decent rainforest walking into a depression with a cave and running water and a sandy beach to camp on – at least this is the information I was given. Better pack the wetsuit and some more generous rations than the ones we had to suffer in Son Doong.

We were Paul (Ibberson), (Howard Clarke) Clarkie and I. Our guide was our local expert, Mr Khang, ably assisted by Mr Phuong, Mr Nguyen, Mr Ky, and Mr Nghia. They had requested light loads, which should have alerted me to the quality of the walk we were about to undertake. Mr Khoa drove us all the way up to Kilometre 18, going across some rough ground. He carried out a spectacular turn around manoevre backing right into the rainforest to do so.

Before we started the guides went into major leech prevention – this is no longer necessary when going to Hang En, I guess the path is so well trodden that the leeches have been killed.

Off we set at the usual trot – our porters are true binary men – they are either full-on, running through the forest with massive packs, or else they are lying in hammocks, eating rice and smoking cigarettes. After a relatively confused start with lots of debate on which track to take, Mr Phuong took the lead and it went steeply uphill. For a long time. We got to a big tree with buttress roots – this is the turn off to Vuc Thanh, a deep shaft that is still not fully bottomed. We turned right here and went uphill some more. After three hours of uphill it was time for lunch. We had a power bar and our guides had a full meal with rice, pork, green leaves followed by a couple of cups of green tea.

Time to admire the scenery – forest everywhere, birds to be heard but not seen, plenty of leeches – about 10-15 to be removed from shoes, socks, trousers, and bags. Spiders, furry caterpillars with nasty urticating hairs and much more.

After the uphill it went “flat” according to our guides, however, this is Vietnamese for undulating (i.e. more uphill). After this, Mr Khang indicated it would go downhill and put his hands over his eyes. Oh dear, obviously quite a sharp descent ahead. Eventually we got to the edge of a good sized doline with sheer white cliffs. Indeed, it was a case of scrambling, falling, slipping, groping for tree trunks and rolling down a dry gully to the bottom of the doline. We set off just after 8am and got ther around 5pm – a fairly hard walk (the hardest he had ever done to a cave in Vietnam, according to Paul).

Our camp site was idyllic. Sheer white cliffs all around, not one, but two cave entrances either side of a blue-green lake, a sandy beach to camp on and the noise of a small cascade from the upstream entrance to lull us to sleep at night. Dollar birds coming to have a look at us, the occasional bat squeak and a few frogs piping up with the general humming of the ubiquitous cicadas as a background. The guides got a fire going and we settled in for the night.

In the morning Paul attempted to understand where we were. Being the one with the most knowledge of the area he couldn’t grasp where the stream was coming from. We either had to be in the known Hang Vom overflow system – but had we really covered that much distance?- or else we had to be in the gap between the two ends of Hang Vom  that we have been trying to find an entrance into for a long time. The only other alternative was that the maps are all wrong and we had discovered a third stream  in between the Vom and Phong Nha systems. Unfortunately with limited communication due to language barriers we did not get much further and set off to survey the upstream cave first.

The cave started relatively small, the first chamber having three entrances, and we carried on upstream. The going got harder as the stream got stronger where the passage narrowed. We passed a small limestone bridge and a few lovely cascades. There were longish stretches where we could not stand up at all and swam flat out against the current. Eventually we were able to get up to some high level passage over large gours. Here the cave changed character and it became really large. Paul and Clarkie measured 127m to the ceiling at one point. There were sand banks at the high level, a lot of conglomerate and other non limestone and a fair amount of sizeable breakdown to negotiate. It was amazing to think we were the first people to ever survey the new substantial cave. After just over a kilometre I started to see some wildlife. First a 15cm long whipscorpion (uropygidae), then a bright green metallic grasshopper. I asked the team to turn off their lights and sure enought we could see the faint glimmer of daylight at the end.

Paul became gloomier and gloomier. Shortly before the entrance the stream came out of the left hand side of the passage. “This is where Jonathan and Martin stood last year” Paul said dejectedly as he took a photo of me and Clarkie in the Hang Vom upstream sump. I decided to double check and went out into the lake in front of the cave. Smashing entrance. Squarish in shape, a see through lake at the bottom, dotted with white and grey limestone blocks and going for a long, long way. To our dismay we had just resurveyed Hang Vom. The way back was a little less fun than going out when we thought we were the first team to discover a substantial new lead.

Back in camp, the guides sensed that we weren’t entirely happy. Not difficult as Paul had a big black cloud over his head for a couple of hours. But with the help of Glenfiddich we soon recovered our composure and decided to cut our trip short. The guides tried to talk us into another day – we could go over the road at Kilometre 18 and survey another new cave called Hang 18, where we could camp. Quite possible they were keen to get their full four day’s wages. Who could blame them – this was not their fault. Our map of Hang Vom does not have a gap at the appropriate place and is thus misleading.

The next day was a full-on trot back up the doline, luckily our packs were a bit lighter due to less food. Interestingly a lot of the way was uphill again – nobody remembered this from the way out. Just goes to show it is all in the head. Near the road we spotted a 20cm centipede, black with red and yellow legs. The guides took a very wide berth around it and so do we. This is about the only wildlife to fear out here.

Once back on the road we settled into the stop below the shrine to wait for our van to come back from Minh Hoa. We spent an enjoyable afternoon eating, drinking rice wine withour guides, recovering from the hard walk, and listening to monkeys calling in the fading light over the Ke Bang Massif. I had an amazing time.


Minh Hoa Recce

Returned from Minh Hoa district with an unexpected find of 3k of new river cave passage. Following a report on the Internet of new caves we set off in search of the discoverers. By chance we ended up in the right village meeting the right people. After lunch we drove through the scenic tower karst of Tan Hoa village. We spent the night at the home of the vice president, complete with colour TV.

The next morning we set off to walk to Tu Lan valley. A hot steep walk for a couple of hours, then down into an idyllic valley with limestone cliffs, shingle beaches, and two cave entrances, one a sink, and one a resurgence. Also told that the stream entering the sink came from another cave. Set up our beach camp and had a brew.

We decided to go for the resurgence cave first, believing this to be the dry entrance. Climbing over the entrance boulders we were immediately faced with a long canal. Luckily we had the wetsuits handy!!

The cave continued in splendid style 20-30m wide and high, the first kilometre mostly swimming. Finally we reached a large calcited boulder run in with a smaller passage to the left. This eventually petered out in a choke with signs of the surface, such as leaves crickets etc. We ate our daily ration of dung, and set off out.

Early morning wake up call from the jungle, so we got up and got the fire going for breakfast. By 8.30 we were setting off back into the entrance leading to La Ken (Ken) We were headed for a dry side passage (Dierdre) which we expected to lead into the second cave entrance, the sink.

However, Dierdre surprised us and kept going for over a kilometre in generally dry, well decorated passage. The passage was generally quite sharp and brittle so care was needed on all climbs. The passage deteriorated through a collapse area, and enlarged again, before intersecting a large river. The water was very warm suggesting it wasn’t far to the surface, however the direction of flow meant it wasn’t the river sinking at our camp. So we had to consume our dung rations again, and head off out. We reached camp at 1.30 just in time for a quick brew and off out over the hill.

We have only explored a part of the possible cave system in this small area of limestone, so we are heading back tomorrow for a longer stay to explore the two open caves we have already seen.

  • 29/03/2010

Back again to Tu Lan valley for another trip with the team now Martin, Howard, Deb, Sweeney, Anette, Carsten and Robbie. What a fantastic place. Set up camp in this idlylic spot from which we could gaze at the impressive entrance of Hang Ken. However we decided to explore the untouched Hang Tu Lan which is the downstream cave with a large river entering it. It also has a dry entrance which we explored and photographed to reach the main river cave after 200m. The dry cave is impressive with nice gours full of cave pearls. The main river passage was explored on day 1 as far as the third large gour dam and waterfall. This passage is impressive and the gour dams almost block the passage and cause fast flowing sections where care is needed. A short climb on the first gour dam requires a sling to bypass most of the current. The second dam is easily passed which leads to the third and most spectacular gour dam. This has 2 5m waterfalls and the roar of the water is intimidating when approaching this obstacle. This however can be easliy passed to reach the obvious continuation of the passage. The majority of the passage is 40m wide and 30m high and most of the cave involves swimming. The cave was left having surveyed around 1.1k of tremendous river passage. The next day a team of Martin and Anette continued to push on whilst the rest of the team visited another cave in this perfect valley called Hang To Mo. This proved to be only around 100m long but the entrance is surrounded by a series of Tufa gours and is the perfect jungle entrance. The Nat Geo photographers had a ball snapping this wonderful entrance. After this cave finished we then set off to re visit Hang Tu Lan and photograph the impressive river passage and hopefully catch up with Martin and Anette. However just as we started snapping the 3rd cascades they reappeared having succesfully surveyed another 1k to a sump. Thus the total length of Hang Tu Lan was over 2k long and one of the most impressive caves we have visited. The long swim out was interupted by trying to produce just one shot for Carsten. After numerous flash failures we decided enough was enough and we retreated to camp for a well earned dinner. The next day we all entered Hang Ken for a final push and more photographs. Howard put on his wetsuit for the trip having found a number of hairy caterpillars which he discarded. After the entrance swim he was itching all over and quickly decided to retreat from the cave and lose the wetsuit. Things got worse and the itching turned to a burning sensation and he tried numerous creams and pills with no success. The Vietnamese porters found this very amusing but finally realised the mad Englishman who was scratching all over was in real pain. The cure was heat so they built up the fire and after 4-5 hours the pain eased and all was well. meanwhile the rest of the team continued pushing Hang Ken to surface in another valley after some difficult but rewarding caving taking the total length of Hang Ken to 3.8k. In this valley another major river was met but with no time to follow this lead was left for another day. Thus the total length of caves explored in this depression was now over 6k with other caves still to be checked. We all left the following day to meet up with the main expedition who are flying in on on the 30th.

  • 28/03/2010

Met up with the second wave of the expedition in Hanoi. Everyone is on good form, rearing to go on their 10 day trip with Khanh. Delivered paperwork to Mr Bac and went for dinner with Mr Phuc, after that a beer in the Legend Bar. Read my last blog here. Signing off (back in Kiwiland now). Yours to the terminal sump,


  • 06/04/2010

Back from 8 day jungle epic, the hardest walk in Vietnam in my 20 years. No real water for 5 days, had to drink from vines and banana trees to obtain any water. Took 4 days to reach first cave. Terrain very difficult over razor sharp pinnicle karst covered with dense jungle. Had to cut a path every day. Managed to cover 1 square kilometer in 7 days walking staggering 7 hours each day. Weather extremly hot and humid. Found 3 caves with 1.5k in total. Having a well earned Coke and beer now in Son Trach. Other teams out at moment and reports of good finds by Sat phone. Hopefully all teams back at base on Friday


Vuc Tang

After last years successful completion of the rigging of the shaft and exploration of the main chamber and 10m pitch beyond, 3 of us returned this year with a small nat geo photography team to push the known lead. Said (wet) lead was ignored due to a newly discovered dry fossil pitch to the right. We followed a series of pitches 30metres down to where known lead joins passage. Here we waded through 2m-2m passage into a sustained area of breakdown. Pushing through the hanging death we broke into a large fault and bagged 600m of new fossil passage. All passage was big – we have definately hit something huge!

We left the large passage (10m by 10m) at a 25m immediate drop with another (10-25m?) pitch directly below, stream heard below and a big black hole beyong beckoning. Return with a lightweight pushing team planned on the weekend.

current depth -272m


  • 09/04/2010

Yesterday we returned from the jungle, after the exploration of one of last years finest leads, Hang Lau, explored in 2009 for 500m to a depth of 110m, ending at the head of a pitch. This year we returned to continue.

The pitch, The Long Wait, was quickly descended and the cave continued down a calcite climb where we rejoined the water that had been lost in the entrance series. Hang Lau continued, as a sporting canyon 1m wide, plunging down cascades and the occasional pitch, made exciting by the constant presence of a good sized stream. We encountered giant tadpoles, white fish 10cm long, transparent shrimps, white woodlice and yellow long-legged spiders. Also, cave-waterfall-climbing- fish, made easy work of climbing 15m cascades.

The cave finally ended in a phreatic zone of aquaria and sumps, with the substantial draught disappearing through a too-tight rift, a disappointing end. All that remained was to assist a bedraggled puppy up the pitches to exit, a tired but satisfied team.

Hang Lau – 1500m long and 330m deep, the deepest, so far, in Quang Binh.

Explored over 2 years, by – Helen, Martin C, Mick, Andy, Watto, Adam


Minh Hoa

A short return visit, to follow the previously discovered river (see 29/03/2010 above). From the village we went cross country by transit, then, a pleasant walk through maize fields. We intersected a large river and climbed up to Hang Ton, first found in 1992. A short through trip and we arrived in La Ken, an abandoned village, now a pile of new sawn wood. A walk down river found us at our first camp, next to our first objective. Unfortunately there was no cave, just a sink choked with boulders. The next morning a short walk over a col dropped us into a valley with a large river. Upstream, Martin confirmed it was the cave from the previous trip. Downstream, we set off towards the sink at the opposite end of the valley. At the first resting place we asked the porters about the cave at the downstream end of the valley, only to be told “there wasn’t one”, it also sank into boulders. So, a return was made to La Ken, we were then taken to a certain goer, a deep water cave with draught, 22m later it sumped. A very spectacular area, but not much more interest to us.


  • Xuong Valley Recce – 5 days – 9/04/10 to 14/04/10

A lightweight excursion was made to the to the Xuong valley which is located approximately 11 km due west of the Chay river resurgence on a massive fault line that leads straight to the resurgence.

The first day’s walk of approx 5 hours led us up into the high valley of the fault line following an easy going path (with the exception of a short sharp shock ascent of around 300 m) plenty of monkeys along the way. The first jungle camp utilised a small rock tube containing around 10 litres of water between 12 of us, things were looking dry again. After 10 hours of hot and dry walking through stunning gorges we eventually reached the enclosed end of the Xuong valley. A camp was set up next to a squalid water hole (only source for 10 hours walk). The valley is surround by karst mountains and cliffs, with the valley floor dotted with pits and shafts.

Day 3 saw us investigating caves; the first involved a 400 m climb to the top of a mountain to check out a dry fossil cave that was choked with boulders. (Vine cutting required to quench the thirst). Next, we visited another large short fossil cave at the base of a high cliff. The cave was home to numerous swifts and bats, it did provide for an excellent view across the surrounding countryside to give an idea of the terrain in the area. Back to camp for water collection from our latrine of a water supply, (now being used by 4 different parties of hunters and wood collectors). The afternoon was spent dropping shafts in the valley floor, all choked at around 20m deep.

Day four started with a draughting (ish) shaft which was descended 40m to a chamber, another short 4m pitch led down a hading rift to a 6m pitch. At the base of the pitch a short choke was dug through a squeeze and finally ended in a diggable choke at -70 m. We then checked out another fossil cave which again choked after a short distance, the most notable feature of the cave was its floor of calcited snail shells. We then visited another shaft which was too deep for our limited rope supply. With tales from our guide of other shafts over 100 m deep and a river cave another 12 hours walk into the mountain, the area definitely needs further investigation.

Day five, involved a very hot and dry walk out. On route out we met a number of hunting parties that had drunk all the available watering holes dry, so we put our heads down and went for Son Trach or bust.


Sweens Frollics
The last two weeks have been mostly vertical caving including superb drops into long Con and Hang Tang plus rigging the drop into Garden of Eden (Hang son Don ) Now at the dog end of the expedition proper, just two weeks photography with Nat Geo left.
Nice that most objectives completed and very few if any, loose ends left. Advised that total length of new surveyed cave this trip will exceed 15.5k, hoping Nat Geo article in January will validate all the work and effort that has gone into these trips over the last two decades. Other than being bitten, bashed, scratched, strangled, beaten nothing much else to report, although being chased by a flood pulse in Phong Nha cave was somewhat interesting. I love you all thanks for reading xxx
  • 20.04.2010
Robbie Frolicking
The last 2 weeks caving has been as always spectacular. Two vertical trips into Hang Noi Bu and Hang Du have provided varied sporting caving.( Both trips exceeding 200m depth). Hang Du lived up to its reputation and was a Delight from start to finish, sporting cascades, clean washed passage and endless small climbs and pitches, swimming, tadpole eating spiders vomit and spew. However 100 meters added to the 2009 end point plus 450 m of horizontal cave (Truly spectacular) Hang Noi Bu provided another vertical extravaganza descending down through a superb series of gun Barrel shafts, several hundred of metres of passage surveyed at the bottom sadly ending in a Yorkshire proportioned sump. (strange for a 20 by 10 metre passage)
My ears have taken some abuse from having to look after the now somewhat worn out Ian (Watto) Watson. However a fantastic time as always has been had…. one member Mr Martin Holroyd Remains in transit as the might of the Icelandic Volcano brings havoc upon the world, (6 days after leaving for home) One other member Mr Carsten pines for watching his favourite mighty eruption.
Robbie Burke


  • 06/05/2010

The final entry for this trip. Just finished a 13 day trip into Hang Son Doong. Along with 7 Vietnamese as aids I am sure Carsten has managed to obtain some class images to do the cave justice. we are all very tired and incredibly dirty after this epic. The more time you spend in the cave the more you manage to see.Sweeney managed to see a flying squirrel whilst prussiking the daylight shaft in Garden of Edam. We heard most nights an owl searching for its prey and the wing beats where interesting to say the least. I am sure it is a Terradactyl but probably the Vietnamese know better. We heard monkeys climbing around the great shaft every morning but missed out on the hornbills this time. We had a great flood one day which was pretty interesting and gave Carsten the opertunity for some amazing pictures. It was hard work but with the fantastic aid of the Vietnamese porters and guides we managed to clear the cave of our signs of our trip and a great thank you must be said to all the people who helped us during our stay in Quang Binh. Hang Son Doong is truly an amazing place and even after having over 4 weeks in the cave I can safely say there is much more to see and do in this wonder of the world. We will return to Quang Binh to continue our work and are all dreaming of what other amazing caves are still to be found in this stunning part of the world.

Many thanks for those of you who followed our blog.


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