Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Were We Doing In China

A couple of people have said that I haven't really explained what we were doing in China. I realized that I've been posting lots of things I found interesting but didn't provide much of an overview, so for those who care, and for Taco and Lara 20 years from now when our memories have faded, here is a quick overview of our China Trip.

I first visited China in 2002 to go on a cave exploring trip. On that trip I was lucky enough to be on the survey trip to the deepest point in China at the time and I did some fantastic caving. I've been keen to go back to China to do more cave exploring ever since. The fact that China is an amazing place to visit didn't hurt either.

Originally our plan was to start in China and work our way overland through Central Asia. We would start in the south and then cave with Erin Lynch and Duncan Collis in Wulong and then work our way to Kashgar and into Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, because of the Olympics and associated protests the Chinese Government denied our visa request. We changed our plans and decided to go straight to Kyrgyzstan. After we'd booked our initial flights Erin in China managed to get us some invitation letters which were good enough for a 30 day Visa to go caving. We decided that the caving sounded too good to miss so we ended up adding a somewhat arbitrary China leg to our Central Asia trip.

Our China trip was in Wulong which is in south-central China. The caves we were exploring have recently been declared a world heritage site partially because of the excellent job we cavers have done of documenting all the amazing underground passages. We were put up in a farm-house in the middle of the core zone of the world heritage site and for two weeks we explored a wonderful cave called San Wang Dong (third great cave). The family who owned the farmhouse cooked meals for us and for a toilet we pooped between boards in the chicken coop.

San Wang Dong has about 40km of mapped passages. Many of these passages have branches or pitches (vertical drops) which nobody has ever been down. Our job for two weeks was to explore these side passages and add them to the map. Erin, Lara, and I formed an impromptu team that spent most of the trip exploring one small section of the cave. It was an amazing experience. To get to the exploration front we travelled about 2 hours underground to an enormous sinkhole with huge vertical walls extending to the sky above. We came into the sinkhole about 50m above the floor and 100m below the top. We then rappelled into the daylight of the sinkhole to the green and leafy bottom before continuing back underground down another bunch of ropes.

The lead that we explored was a 40m wide passage that ended in a huge vertical drop. I got the job of figuring out how to get down the shaft, which involved hanging on a rope with a power drill trying to figure out a safe way to rapel down (avoiding lose rocks, bad rub-points, and water). It was quite a challenge but eventually we found a nice path down and were able to rapel 50m into a big chamber. None of this had ever been explored before and we did 4 trips to this chamber to map all the side passages. Because of the distance from the entrance our trips averaged over 16 hours. We did a three day rotation where we would cave one day, rest one day, do an easy trip the third day, and then a "bottoming trip" the final day.

We ended up finding a new cave which we explored on our easy days so in the end we did quite a bit of caving. All in all we mapped about 2500m of previously unexplored passages and we saw some absolutely amazing and beautiful things. It was a great experience to be able to explore beautiful underground passages that no human being has ever seen, especially in such an exotic location.

Now we are back in Central Asia continuing our travels. Our caving gear was shipped back to Canada and we are going to head to Tajikistan next to hike in the Pamir Mountains and see some spectacular high-altitude scenery.

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