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2006 Zhongdian Expedition Reports

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Report #3, 26/2/06

Hi again,

Our last week in Zhongdian was a whiteout - there was so much snow that we almost considered staying in town rather than venturing to the mountains for a third time, but decided instead to head for the hills and to take our skis with us. The snow however was useless for the purpose we'd had in mind for it (to find blowing holes, one needs a spate of snowfall followed by a significant period of no snowfall, so that the caves have time to melt holes - very recent snowfall is useless); its only effects were to slow us down uphill and on the flat, and to make going downhill more exciting.

We took rope and explored Dima's cave, i.e. the 70cm diameter blowing hole described in my previous email. This leads to a 20m pitch followed almost immediately by a draughting dig; an interesting prospect for a future summer expedition, but not one we had time to break through on this occasion. We then went to 'Subvertical Pot', a 110m deep cave explored by the Yunnan 2004 expedition. Peter wanted to see this cave to get a feel for what the area's Real Caves were like, and I wanted him to swing around in it because the Yunnan 2004 expedition had left some windows unexplored (and because I wanted him to get a feel for what the area's Real Caves were like..). Peter and Dima went down and found a parallel shaft, extending the cave to an estimated 130m depth.

With snow on the ground all movement was extremely slow, so that was all we had time for.

In short: not many caves found on this expedition, but one new area (the northern area) investigated and usefully ticked off, three more cavers possibly interested in the Zhongdian area, and a new international link forged. We are discussing the possibility of putting together a summer 2007 trip. Watch this space...

YT4500m, Hil (just arrived back in Pittsburgh)

Report #2, 15/02/2006

Hi again,

More greetings from Zhongdian!

Our first trip to the mountains, to the Ye Kang/Aji area, proved somewhat interesting. It snowed lightly during our trip uphill (which was lucky, as otherwise I think we'd have been short of water..). We camped in an area further north of the ground we've worked most extensively in the past. I think that the Russians were at least somewhat impressed with the karst in this area. We spent two days ascending to camp, and one day prospecting on the plateau. Along with the usual collection of alcoves and choked closed depressions, we (Dmitry) uncovered one significantly draughting hole that looks well worth a return. It began as a 10cm diameter draughting hole at the bottom of a shakehole, and 5 minutes later was a 70cm diameter draughting hole, down which one can see a pitch belling out, and rocks rattle for 3 (if you're me) or 7 (if you're Dmitry) seconds. "Ah, it is as Voronya", was Dmitry's comment.

After that (8th Feb) we made a sneaky daytrip to the two main resurgences, round in the Yangtze valley. One of these (C3-97), found on the 2004 winter expedition, I had never seen before. It was a special moment. Some 7 cumecs of water, along with a load of air bubbles, gently welling up at the base of a cliff and soon becoming a foaming torrent 50m downstream. I couldn't get the idiotic grin off my face. There is a possibility that this sump is diveable (I've been talking to some cave divers about the possibility of a 2008/9 winter expedition), but the resurgence does look a bit like an underwater boulderchoke. We took temperature measurements, to enable divers to select their kit: a balmy 54 deg F. We then went to the second big resurgence, C3-1. Beardy and I found this in summer 2002, but in summer (wet season) there is too much water for safe exploration; in winter 2004 it was explored for 1.3 km to a collection of (diveable) sumps. After measuring the temperature (54 deg here too), we went for a play in this cave, stomping up known passage. Streamways, cascades equipped with rotting bamboo ladders, stoops, flat out crawls in water, this is what I like, all very nice caving indeed!

On 9th Feb we started our second foray into the mountains, to 'the Northern Area'. This looked extremely interesting on the maps, as there are several large closed depressions marked. Also, Si Flower, Martin Hicks and I had come close to the area in 2004, close enough to see some very high quality looking limestone, but not close enough to get up onto the tops and check it out. When discussing the Zhongdian area with Gavin on email just before this expedition, the two of us had been in agreement that The Northern Area was second only to Dawa Dong (our 130m deep draughting cave) as the best high-altitude lead in the area. On the ground however, the Northern Area does not look so good. After 4 days of checking depressions, digging shakeholes and teetering our way along precarious ridges in (vain) search of holes, we decided to call it quits and spend the rest of the expedition back at Ye Kang/Aji.

It is now the morning of the 15th; 7 days left on expedition before we have to get the bus back to Kunming. We have yet to form a concrete plan, and I think we will probably do nothing today as Peter is ill and the rest of us are anyway all fucked from 12 days working at altitude without a rest. The immediate plan is to go and find some breakfast.

Artyom has put some photos from the expedition on his website: http://photo.ice-age.ru/photo.php?id=18

More later!

Yours to +4500m*, H

* I now know two key phrases of Russian: "go up" and "I'm stoned".

Report #1, 3/2/2006

Hi folks,

News from the 2nd day of expedition: The 4 of us met up in Kunming with no problems yesterday, had the obligatory alcoholic lunch with Liu Hong and caught the overnight bus to Zhongdian, arriving this morning to find... there is no snow! This year appears to be the first snow-free one in living memory. I don't know whether to be gutted, relieved or amused. I think I'm all 3.

So, we put our skis in the store cupboard and form Plan B. There are plenty of things to do in this area, so I don't think we'll be too short of tasks for the short 18 days we have here. Tomorrow we're heading up into the hills for a 2-night trip: to see if there is any snow further west, to give the Russians a chance to see some of the area's finest limestone, and to acclimatize before sleeping at 4200m on the next camp.

More later! H.