With Mawangdong completed, Roo had been up long hours in to the night processing the gigabytes of data. JJ had taken a nasty tumble and was bruised quite badly. The rigging team was knackered from setting up the pitches in to the recently discovered Tiankeng, and having to machete their way through the thick jungle at the bottom to enter the cave, and so the team took a day off to relax and visit the Sanmenhai Skylight Cluster.
Possibly more of JJ than anyone would ever want to see! Where’s that eye bleach!
Roo overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery!
Carsten entertained us almost as much as the boat journey through the beautiful river caves with his drone. Without GPS and having had limited practice flying the new Mavic 2, he very nearly lost it a couple of times as he flew it through the open entrances and up in to clouds.
We had timed our break perfectly with my wedding anniversary and so the guys set about ensuring I wouldn’t spend much of the day sober. We spotted a fantastic looking bar from the boat as we paddled past. We all remarked that if it was in the West it would be absolutely rammed with custom and that we must try to find it later.
Completely chilled from our trip we headed out to find the drinking hole we had spotted earlier, though upon arrival there was a chair across the entrance and all looked closed. A lady approached and we pointed enthusiastically to the bar and kept repeating the only word we all knew Pijiu…Beer! After a few more hand signals she threw her hands in the air, removed the chair and went wandering off, only to arrive back 5 minutes later with a case of beers for us. We chatted and drank and eventually Carsten wandered in and found us. He doesn’t drink as a rule and so wandered off in to the bar to take photographs. Phil eventually made his way over and, as the only Chinese speaker, we asked him to find out what we owed……..only to discover we weren’t in a bar at all. The property was once possibly a hotel, but had ceased to be quite some time ago and now was a private residence! We had wandered in to some lady’s home, demanded beer of her and Carsten was now wandering around her bedroom taking photographs!!!
Giggling like teenagers we paid the woman for the beer, nodded and thanked her profusely and headed off to get ready for our first official Government dinner of the trip.
Although Phil had warned us of Chinese hospitality and the need to respond to the toasts, drinking large quantities of Baijiu, a rather strong spirit of 50’ish percent proof served to us from a dodgey looking plastic bottle. I have to say after the first six ½ pints knocked back I quite developed a taste for it…..until the next morning.
Again Carsten provided the best entertainment, as mentioned he doesn’t normally drink, so watching him knocking back these huge glasses of strong spirit and keep a smile on his face did quite tickle me.
The next morning came and after drinking copious amounts of water I felt ready for the next challenge. I loaded every piece of photo gear I had in to my two expedition bags and overloaded these with flash bulbs.
The drive to the village where we would start our walk up to the Nongle Tiankeng was short and we were soon exiting to begin our walk up the goat tracks.
Phil and Joe went stomping on whilst Pete and I took a more leisurely pace. The route was steep and I was carrying around 40kg of kit. Each step was just slightly an uncomfortable height to climb from boulder to boulder and I was soon struggling and wishing I had taken a ‘point and click’ instead of all this gear. After about 45min’s I gave in and dropped one of the bags, deciding I would go back for it. Another 20 minutes of slog and we arrived at a stunning open depression with jungle around 70m below. I dumped my bag and turned to go back for the other to find Mike stomping along with both his kit bag and the one I had dropped…..I could have hugged him and I’m pretty sure I bought him a drink or two that night.
The guys had rigged a 70m free hang and a set of 5 shorter pitches to speed things up on the exit. JJ and Pete had headed over to the shorter pitches and, eager to see the cave, I elected to take the two bags down the 70. Joe advised that I should use a breaking Krab and to check the rope for damage from flying squirrels as they sometimes gnawed on in situ ropes!!!……What!!!!
I do rope access for a living and so am pretty used to exposure and technical rope manoeuvres, but as I reached the hanging re-belay I quickly discovered I didn’t have the strength to stand up my bodyweight and the 40kg hanging from me to disconnect my short cowstail. After a bit of grunting I eventually managed to connect the bags to the loop, pass the re-belay and re-connect them to me. It was good advice for the breaking krab, but even so with the extra weight on me it was quite a ride!
The newly named Hong-Kong Haiteng cave had been discovered by French and Chinese cavers. We would later be credited with the discovery and called climbers by the BBC, news agencies and their thorough research.
The cave itself was split very distinctly in to a left and right chamber and on the first day we would concentrate on the larger left-hand chamber. It would be my first go at really big cave shots and after setting up the foreground we would go on to burn up nearly £200 worth of flash bulbs on this shot alone. It may have been costly, but I was well chuffed. I was learning new techniques with every click of the button and would get to walk away with one of the first photographs taken of this magnificent chamber.
I absolutely exhausted myself on the exit out and learned after this to not be such a bull headed arse and spread out kit between us.
I visited the cave twice more to help Carsten with shots the one day and to shoot the Right hand passage the next, but the legs never quite recovered from that first days beasting.
The Left hand chamber was quite different from the right and had beautiful cave pearls and pools.
Again these large chamber shots can’t be done without a huge amount of help and I can’t thank the guys (Roo, JJ, Joe, Mike and Phil) enough for their time and all the running around they did for me.