The next leg of our journey would be to Leye County in the northwest of Guangxi Zhuang.
Myself, Carsten, Pete and Mike opted to add a few hours to our five-hour journey to visit the impressive Buliuhe natural bridge. We enjoyed a great couple of hours being punted up the river on a raft to see this impressive sight from every conceivable angle. Well worth the uncomfortable few hours spent to get there!
Our accommodation in Leye was brand new and something quite different to what we were used to in the quite village of Fengshan.
The hotel was very modern with air conditioning and wi-fi and…..themed accommodation! Phil was in a forest, Mike had a water feature running around his room, JJ a gambling table, Joe a cinema, Roo a rotating circular bed, I had a Gym, but by far the very best was Dr Peter Smart who, not only did he have a pole dancing stage, but managed to break it whilst trying it out on the very first night!!!!
The first scanning target was Hong Meigui, the 5thlargest cave chamber in the world. Extensive work has begun to make this a show cave and where we were expecting pitches are now concrete staircases! Unfortunately, as I understand it development has ceased and the great chamber is left with half-finished lighting and debris.
Undeterred the team begun rigging a traverse to look down in to the main chamber and I went through to take a look from the chamber itself. Unfortunately, the chamber itself was filled with mist, this would become a real problem for photography in this area. Over the next couple of days, we explored throughout the main parts of the cave, following the passage to the sump area’s and side passages, eventually culminating in a fabulous through trip to the other side of the valley to emerge in a vast Tiankeng.
The final objective would prove something of a surprise for the scanning team, and cause a real headache for the photography.
The Funnel Of Light (Yuan-guang Chamber) in Mao Qi Dong would prove to be huge, measuring in at over 6 million cubic meters. The chamber itself it linked with an adjacent Tiankeng where an impressive 250m of concrete steps await. I really didn’t fancy the impact that many steps would have on my knees carrying 20kg or camera kit and so decided on the 260m entrance pitch instead. Mike suggested making a hole in a drinking bottle lid to cool down the descender when you reach the knot pass 100m above the floor and so I popped a pierced bottle in the top of my bag and swung out on to the head of the pitch. The first 30m was pretty hard work having to lift the rope to get it to travel, but after this the abseil became smoother and I would enjoy the daylight shaft in all its glory. The re-belay seemed to take forever to arrive and as I reached it I grabbed for my bottle, but alas it had worked its way to the bottom of the bag! Although warm I wasn’t too worried about the descender though and was soon past the knot and making my way toward Pete and Joe who were already in the chamber awaiting me. I’m not sure if it is because the rope had been tied off the previous day, or if it was because it was new rope, but I had begun quite a spin on the final hundred meters and once at the bottom felt pretty motion sick for a good 5 minutes!
The fun wasn’t over yet though and although I was on the floor there was still a good 20m of stretch left which meant another knot pass whilst bouncing on tip toes on the loose rocks.
Finally free of the rope Pete and Joe came puffing up the 200m rock pile and finally I got a chance to look around at the chamber but…..I could now see no more than 30 feet in front of me, the whole place was filled with mist. The entrance above was just a faint glow in the ceiling. As we were there I begun trying to formulate a way to photograph the chamber but wasn’t hopeful. Eventually I decided to give a try to shooting Phil on half way up the pitch with Pete in the foreground and joe a few hundred meters behind on the ridge. The mist was really heavy and it became obvious it wasn’t going to clear that day and so we went for the shot, and again and again, trying to make it work until……Bang! One of the mega bulbs had blown up on Phil 100m in the air. His reflector and colour gel obliterated……I’m OK…..this far away voice echoed around the chamber and so I did what any self respecting photographer would do…..made him do it all over again!
Phil would get his own back though by making sure I didn’t leave the bar until I was very very wobbly that night….poor poor me.
The final caving adventure for the week before heading off to Getu would be the Luomei Lotus showcave which had some unusual speleothems and even more unusal lighting!
Of course it wouldn’t be China without our government banquet and this would be something quite special. Instead of the usual restaurant affair we were invited in to the home of our host for a stunning home cooked meal and the entire village turned out to help celebrate in our honour with traditional dress and dance
……although some of the team should definitely have held back on the rice wine before having a go at the dancing! ;)