Oxford University Cave Club

2002 Yunnan Expedition Reports


Yunnan Expedition news

Other Expedition reports

OUCC Home Page


Collected updates from Rich Gerrish, September 2002 (while I was abroad). Most recent at top.

Dali, Dali, Dali!!!  (19/9/02)

Hi all,

At the moment we are in... Dali! The travellers nexus of Yunnan. Everywhere you go, people at the bus stations shout "Dali" at you figuring that as a westerner you must be desperate to get here... Er, no. Before you point your finger and shout, "Bloody tourists, they're supposed to be on expedition!" We are actually just passing through here and had no intention of visiting this area which certainly does not have the potential to hold TDCITW! So we left Liuku and the Nujiang yesterday evening which was very sad as we made lots of good friends there and were treated like kings by the locals. Despite this and the fact that the Nujiang still has loads more caves that we have not looked at and could still hold TDCITW we decided to move on. The reason is two fold:

  1. The Nujiang is such a vast area and so difficult to explore that even if we spent the two remaining weeks here it is doubtful whether we could assess it properly. The area is crying out for a dedicated cave expedition to go and spend its entire time there as the potential and total area is huge.
  2. The area west of Zhongdian is our best find yet and we want to make sure that we can, by the end of this expedition, confirm or disregard whether it really is as good as it looks as far as deep caves are concerned.

Because of this we are on route there via the shortest possible route through "Dali, Dali, Dali!"

In Zhongdian we will hook up with Beardy and Gavin and try to do a full and comprehensive assessment of the area; and maybe, just maybe we will find high level entrances and finally find what we are looking for.

We looked at several caves in the Nujiang area although none of them had any great potential. The time here was not wasted however as we managed to build up an excellent rapport with the office of tourism and should we wish to return in the future our efforts have definitely oiled the cogs for future trips.

Well, that is all for now. Going to enjoy some more of the offerings that are available in this travellers haven. have already gorged on Pizza, drank red wine, listened to Bob Dylan and now, for tea, I fancy a chicken curry. Dali does, after all, have its good points.

Until later,

YT -3001m


The long walk... - 14th Sept

The last three days have been a mission and a half, possibly the hardest physical work I have ever done, comparable certainly with the hardest caving I have ever been involved with.

Day 1. Packed ridiculously heavy rucksacks with camping gear, clothes, rope, rigging gear and god only knows what else. We were then dropped off with our guide at a crazy steel Tyrolean death slide that bore us across the raging rapids of the Nujiang. Suspended by one thick steel cable wasn't a problem but the pulley device and dodgy tape harness seat were something else entirely. In the event it was actually a lot of fun until we got to the other side. To say that the Nujiang gorge has steep sides does not adequately describe the area. Many tributaries cut the surrounding landscape down into huge mountains that appear to stand alone against the main river. The ascent stared almost immediately and went back and forth up a near vertical massif. Our guide, who works for the Tourism Office, had obviously been delegated the task of accompanying us and despite carrying a very small bag didn't offer us any assistance or much respite on the slog. At about 2 we arrived at the village where we would be staying and immediately plans were laid to visit the first cave that afternoon. A good feed and plenty of Green Tea saw us almost write and thankfully, not long after leaving the village members of our entourage of villagers took our bags off us. These guys wore flip flops and even when carrying our bags still managed to set the pace. The entrance pitch was rigged and we abseiled into our first cave of the expedition. Unfortunately it didn't go much further but we surveyed it and managed to make it back to the village before dark.

Day 2. We left a tiny amount of our gear at the village on this day but still opted to pay for some porters having been told that the cave was 12Km away and that we would return to the village that night! Dropping down to a large stream we were soon climbing again on the far side but after a while our way was blocked by a couple of large waterfalls in a gorge with towering vertical sides. After a brief discussion we back tracked to where the sides were slightly less than vertical and began an hour long ascent of the overgrown valley side. Our two porters who must have been in their 40s at the very least still managed to burn us off up the monster! At the top was a small village but we didn't stop and dropped back down to the river beyond the two waterfalls. Just before we reached the cave two of the more local locals showed us their catch for the day, a beautiful wild cat, much like a small leopard. They had bound its legs and neck with twine and seemed extremely pleased with themselves at being able to show the westerners how cool they were. Despite our feelings we felt unable to voice our objections, partly because of the language barrier which prevented us from saying anything at all really but also because we didn't want to lose the relationship we had worked so hard to build. Extremely sad.

The cave itself was huge and very windy when it closed down to a narrow crawlway. Despite our excitement at the prospects, even though we knew it would never match our expectations, we were not to have enough time to explore it fully. The roof of both large chambers were covered in screeching flapping bats of immense size and scared the living daylights out of me when they almost flew into my face in the confines of the crawl. Needless to say the floor of both chambers was covered in two inches of very smelly and obscenely slippy guano that made falling over more likely and also decidedly less pleasant. Thoughts of Histoplasmosis and other infections of tropical nature were pushed aside for the time. When we finally returned to the small village the head man there was determined to get us to visit a third cave so despite wanting to return to Liuku the following day we agreed to stay the night and take a look at it the following morning.

Day 3. Up again on very weary legs and off uphill... The entrance to this cave was far closer to what we were after being a large pitch of indeterminate depth. Having enjoyed all the swinging around on rope fun in the last two caves I was forced to let Hils enjoy this one. Gutted. I sat at the top as she attached practically all our ropes together in order to reach the bottom. 55m down she hit the floor and the cave ended shortly after. I relayed her discoveries to the entourage using a combination of broken Mandarin, mime and pictures and seemed to get the message across. Derigging quickly we headed back to the small village and downed some rice and hunks of pork fat. Yuk. Up again straight after we headed back to the first village where a hasty repack of bags and exchange of money and we were off again unported back to the river and Tyrolean. Hils managed to be so slow on the descent that another guide took her bag off her. I thought about feigning injury to blag my pack off on somebody else but I opted to prove that westerners were not all soft by keeping up with the guide who was now almost running down the hill with Hils' bag, BIG mistake! By the time I reached the bottom I was in absolute bits. My face must have been bright red with exertion and I was not entirely should whether I would throw up and then pass out or vice versa.

Back across the river and back to Liuku for a much needed wash. I don't think I have ever sweated so much in my entire life and all the clothes I was wearing were all entirely drenched. I couldn't find a single dry patch with which to wipe my brow!

Tomorrow is a rest day, phew! But we will be off again the day after, although only for the day. The Nujiang is still very interesting as far as deep caves are concerned but I think we will have to turn our attention to the far North of the river, something that means even harder carries over greater distances... If we do find going caves there I doubt if we will be in a fit state to explore them!

Take it easy folks,

Yours to -3001m,


Part...XIIV? - 7th Sept

Hi all,

Just returned from our camping trip to the mountains. Huge spectacular limestone peaks on all sides with no surface drainage at high level. Unfortunately the only caves we found were rock shelters so the whole thing, despite being mindblowingly beautiful was a little disappointing.

Beardy and Gavin managed to find a cave at 4200m or thereabouts but had no torch to check it out beyond the reaches of daylight. It is however ongoing and apparently gives out a draft... A return to this area is guaranteed, to look at this cave for starters but also to try and access the massif from the Yangtse River side. There is obviously enormous subsurface drainage in this area but getting into it looks like it could be quite tricky from first impressions.

To the future... Myself and Hils are returning to Kunming today with a view to heading off to guaranteed caves in the Nujiang at the soonest possible opportunity and Gavin and Beardy are off to recce yet other areas in this enormous mountainous wilderness.

Take care y'all,


News just in... - 5th Sept

Hi all,

Just a brief note to let you know the latest. Hils and Beardy returned from the bus recce having visited a major resurgence issuing several cumecs of water 150ft above the Yangtze on the far side and south of the mountains me and Gavin have been trying to get into. Hypothetical depth potential in this area given it is limestone all the way to the summit is at 2500m+!!!!!!!

Gavin and Beardy have gone on another days recce to find an easier route in and me and Hils are going the hard way with big packs in order to camp at the base of the mountains and do a proper recce tomorrow. To say that morale is high would be an understatement at the moment.

Yours to,