2003 Yunnan Expedition Reports
Yunnan Province, China
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With the majority of the party heading up into the mountains to recce various areas that looked promising on the maps; myself, Duncan Collis, Liu Hong, Martin Laverty and Lenik Saymo took a bus round to the west of the mountains to explore the resurgence that Hils and Beardy had found the previous year.
Hanging out of the windows of the bus I scoured the banks of the Yangtze for anything that resembled cave development. After several kilometres we passed a huge surface tributary which was shortly followed by the resurgence.
After getting off the bus a little way down the road I legged it back to take a closer look. The resurgence itself is located about 50m above the road and tumbles out to form a waterfall 10m high. By the road the icy cold and crystal clear water thunders through a tiny culvert and turns the steamy heat of the Yangtze valley into something more like the Baltic. Despite having been told by Hils and Beardy that the resurgence was very large I was not prepared for the sheer scale. A rough estimate puts the quantity of water at 4 cubic metres per second. Martin assures me that it is several times larger than the Culiembro resurgence and dwarfs everything in Britain many times over. The cave is locally known as Shui Lian Dong or Water Curtain Cave and is a poorly maintained show cave with a restaurant and guest house right by it. After installing ourselves into a room and having a big feed we wasted no time in getting into our caving kit and heading off to explore.
Crumbling steps and rickety ladders led up to a large fossil entrance above the river outlet and we began surveying up the steeply dipping passage with the roar of the streamway drawing closer with each step. After 200m we popped out on a ledge above the maelstrom and gingerly traversed our way down to its edge. At this point the passage is about 3 metres wide and 10 metres high with the walls dropping vertically into the water on both sides. With no way to traverse the edge of the river we were faced with the prospect of entering the water. Ditching my camera and the survey gear I tried to crawl out onto a large, partially submerged boulder with the aid of a rotting bamboo ladder. As soon as my hand touched the rock icy cold jets of water rushed up my sleeve and spray lashed into my face obscuring my vision and setting my heart racing. Opting for a different approach I tried wading where the river was less violent. Lowering my leg into a bubbling pool it sank like a lead balloon. The air bubbles whipped into the water by the endless cascades gave it next to no buoyancy and as I neared groin depth with still no sign of reaching the bottom I bailed on that idea too. Beating a tactical retreat we discussed the possibilities by shouting over the noise of the torrent.
There was no way to traverse the edge, the water was unbelievably powerful, frighteningly cold and resembled a kayakers worst nightmare with nasty boulders and crashing whitewater everywhere. Reluctantly we concluded that trying to explore further was going to be a recipe for disaster, none of us were prepared to take that risk and we headed out amazed by what we had seen and bitterly disappointed by our inability to explore more.
Back at the guesthouse Liu Hong chatted to the locals and discovered that they have explored the cave for over 1.5km but only during much drier months. He also discovered that there was another two resurgences in the area. One was about 200m up the road and came up underneath the Yangtze itself. Due to the rainy season the swollen, chocolate brown waters of the Jinsha Jiang completely obscured this outlet but we were shown its location. The third resurgence was about two kilometres walk up the large surface tributary we had passed on our way and bubbled up into a deep pool with no way to access the cave passage without blowing bubbles.
Possibly the most exciting news however were the stories of frighteningly deep vertical entrances on the plateau 2000m above us. Faced with this information and the resurgences it finally began to dawn on me that these mountains might well contain one of the deepest caves in the world and that my childish dreams of exploring it were turning into a reality.
With all other options exhausted we were left with only one alternative, to get hideously drunk! To our amazement the show cave complex also contained a nightclub with Tuesday nights being a secret gem. As we ploughed through the Dali Red and the odd shot of Bai Jiu we began to fantasise about the worlds greatest through trip. A 1500m pitch series into a giant master cave dropping for another 600m to pop out right next to a mad Chinese Disco!
Beat that Mirolda!
Take it easy,
Postscript: Rich and Dunks and others plan a return expedition to explore the resurgence in February, when locals report the water levels are at their lowest. [Hils]