OUCC Alternative Expedition News

14th August 2000

From Tim Guilford

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Here's a few bits and pieces about our trip to Central Asia, 

It was meant to be a recce trip, so me. Lou Maurice and Ben Lovett spent 16 days walking around limestone plateaux in South Eastern Uzbekistan looking for a potential new area to return to. The place we had chosen, on the advice of "local" cavers was in the general area occupied by Boybullock (my spelling), a 1300 metre deep meander, and Festivalnaya (680m deep, I think). But the unexplored plateaus we visited were either not unexplored at all, or, when they were, were very shattered. In the last few days of the trip we switched our objective then to attempting to push two caves with more obvious potential. The first was a big cliff entrance we had climbed up to at the start of the expedition, and which ended in a bolt climb up an aven. A day's work and several interactions with the resident Lammergeyer later, we concluded the cave as blind.

The second cave was a "famous" cave known for its historical importance as the hiding place of Tamerlan the Great (some geezer who saw off Ghengis Khan's Mongol Hordes in the 1400 century). The cave, Tamerlan, was located in a deep gorge more than 1200 metres below the plateaus, and was a large fossil resurgence cave intercepted by the gorge's downcutting. It had clearly seen centuries of habitation of one sort or another. But at the end, a huge hall supposedly containing the largest underground lake in Uzbekistan, proved dry (little snow last winter) and we were able to access a small rift crawl and inlet aven. We aid climbed the aven, and two others beyond it, and entered a new passage leading out over the huge hall. an airy bolt traverse took us round to a ledge then down to another dry crystal pool above the void, with a 10 metre calcite wall, overhanging at the top, in front - the source of the now non-existent water. Another aid climb later and we were sitting on the floor of a huge horizontal passage stretching into the distance (500 metres as far as we pushed it in fact), 25-20 metres high and the entire floor crystal white. An almost dry river of calcite travertines and crystal pools.... We took off our boots, put blue rubber gloves on our feet (as you do), and tiptoed into some of the most fabulously decorated passage I have ever seen. It finally stopped at a 30metres long pool, which I waded through to find a high level passage needing more aid.... We'd passed a junction which also went to a going lead: a short pitch down onto another huge passage with, you guessed it, a completely white crystal floor stretching off into the mountain. But we'd run out of time...

700 metres of pure splendour: the Great Silk Road.