Volume 35 Number 1 Article 3
Kahf Hoti, Jabal Akhdar, Sultanate of Oman
Party: Paul Saville, Eric Kleiss, Bart Dundee, Duijndam, Cemal Uman, Vance Stevens
See also Part 1
In August I had made a recognisance trip with Eric into the Hoti cave. We went into the resurgence and swam through the 800m long lake and then explored a further fine 500m of fine streamway with gour pools and lakes. We had then made plans to return and do the Hoti through trip. In October and November there was a lot of rain. On one particular occasion parts of Oman saw their worst rains for 15 years. After several weeks of stable weather we set the date for the trip as the weekend of December 17th. The plan was for the group to meet at the resurgence. I left work early, and along with Elvira arrived by 7 pm. When we drove up the rough track onto the ridge that overlooks the resurgence, we were shocked to see four tents. No one was around and a pile of gear was left on the track, blocking access to the camping spots beyond. We moved a small generator set out of the way and I then noticed a container with University of Bern Geological Department written on it. So the Swiss were here. I vaguely remembered something about this in one of Andy's e-mails. We made camp and at 8 pm, the other two cars arrived, Eric and Bart, followed by Cemal and Nita. The last member of the group was Vance, he would arrive later, and was coming from Abu Dhabi. We cracked open the beers and began to plan our trip. Then the Swiss arrived. We introduced ourselves. They were on a sort of research expedition connected to the Ministry of Water (but somehow organised by the Ministry of Petroleum?). I decided not to dig too deep. More importantly, we could get some info about the water levels in the cave. They said they had been in both the top entrance, down to the first lake and in the resurgence up to the start of the main lake, and that the water was too high, so they had decided not to make a through trip. They said the lake was sumped.
Thus was a bit of a blow. Despite the severe rain in October and November, the last three weeks the weather had been stable. In any event our plan had always been to confirm the exact position of the water level in the lake, compared to our previous trip, by checking out the blow hole. Myself and Eric collected our gear and walked up the hill to the resurgence. We were quickly at the lake and put on our wetsuit and flippers. Five minutes later we were at the blow hole. The water level was the same as before, so our trip was still possible. We returned to the camp and continued to make plans and prepare our gear. We had originally intended to do a pull through, but leave thin lines on all of the pitches to make a retreat possible should it be necessary. However, we decided to rig the six pitches and then recover the ropes the following day. Everyone had been told to bring flippers, a wetsuit and a flotation aid for the big swims. Bart had only one of the three. He announced, with a boyish grin that he had purchased, that very afternoon, an inflatable crocodile!!! Bart Dundee had arrived. The others all had life jackets and I had a rubber ring. We fettled our gear and had a few more beers. No sign of Vance. Cemal said that he was always late. The next morning we were up and about at 7 am. While we were bimbling around I saw a new face. Vance I presume . He had arrived by 2 am in the morning. We ate breakfast and his family then drove on to Muscat to visit friends. The team was now complete.
By 9 am we were bouncing up the track to Hoti Sink. We parked just outside the small village of Hoti, a collection of some ten stone huts and goat pens. We greeted the village men and Vance, who spoke Arabic, told them that we were going into the cave. They were most fascinated by our large packs, with flippers strapped to their sides?!
The upper part of the cave was rough. The main passage was 30-60m wide and 20-30m high. The floor was a jumble of huge rounded boulders, ended up as a free drop which landed in a lake. This was in fact a huge plunge pool. The outlet was a further 13m pitch into another lake. The 9m pitch also had two ropes down it, but these looked too dubious to abseil down, so we used our own. However, we decided that should we need to retreat it would be safe enough for the first man to climb up. There then followed a fantastic section of streamway, with calcite cascades and gours, this was really sporting caving and I wondered if my climbing colleagues appreciated that they were experiencing such fine caving. The next 5m pitch did not have any rope on it. We rigged up a short rope and descended. This again landed in a large lake covered in a fresh layer of mud from the previous floods. The odd tree branch and chunk of palm tree stem wedged between the boulders acted as a sobering reminder of the volume of water that the cave takes when the wadi outside flows. Several of the higher level parts of the passage, which we entered when we had to climb over breakdowns, contained large colonies of bats. The cave here was alive with the squeaks of hundreds of resting and flying bats; the air was humid, with a mild acrid smell of ammonia from the bat faeces. I'd never seen such a huge colony of bats and suddenly felt quite ignorant. I didn' t even know what kind of bats these were. I made a note to get a book and try to at least learn something about bats.
There were several huge breakdown chambers with house sized boulders making progress very slow. The survey had some familiar sounding names. We moved on down through Wadi Styx . With our heavy packs, the slippy mud and excessive scrambling around over big boulders we made slow progress. At times it took all our effort simply to remain standing upright. We had expected it to only take about three hours to reach the half way point and the top of the main pitches; but after three hours we had not even reached the first lake. At last we looked down a final steep slope of boulders into the first lake. We had a rest and put on our fins and life jackets. The lake was about 100m long and we were soon across. We passed through Cairn Hall and Stump Cavern, I began to feel at home. After a further two hours of boulder bashing we arrived at the top of the series of pitches that marked the half way point in the cave. There was a rope on the first 8m pitch and after inspection we decided it was good enough to use. In view of the time and the difficulty that we had so far encountered, we decided that to rig the pitches and then have to recover the ropes the following day would take too much time, and in any event we would probably be too tired; so we decided to cut up the ropes and leave them behind where necessary.
Shortly after we came to the second 9m pitch, this started down a flowstone cascade and after another few hundred metres of fine streamway and gours we finally arrived at the last 6m pitch down into fish lake. We descended a rather dubious piece of rope, the last 2m had no sheath, but since we were again dropping down into a lake, we didn' t mind. We swam down the lake and assembled on a shingle bank. This was the previous end point of our first exploration. It had taken us nearly seven hours to reach this point. We knew that the rest of the cave was relatively easy. We decided to take a rest later when we would kit up for the swim down the main lake. We were tired and could only slowly amble down the next 500m of streamway, with cascades and long lakes and plunge pools. At the start of the main lake we all put on our wetsuits and flippers. Bart inflated his new friend. The previous evening we had also managed to squeeze him into one of Vance's spare wetsuits, which was far too small for a 2m Dutchman. Luckily the cold water had already shrunk his genitals, so his eyes didn't water too much when we again forced him into the wetsuit. He looked like an oversized Captain Webb trying to do rude things to his inflatable friend.
The 8 hours were beginning to tell on all of us. We ate some food, changed our lamp batteries and tried to think of that first beer. Myself and Eric knew that the water level was the same as our previous trip, but there is always that nagging doubt, particularly since the Swiss had decided that the water was too high. No one wanted to even think about the prospect of the low canopy section being sumped, which would necessitate a return trip to the upper entrance and further 8 hours of caving.
We jumped down the 2m climb, splashed into the lake and sped off down the passage. This was a real respite and a tonic for everyone. No more scrambling around, walking on slippy rock, climbing and dragging along heavy packs. We effortlessly glided along, simply towing our packs behind us. After I 00m we came to the low section called the canopy. I went first. It was nowhere near as bad as we had remembered it, and before I was through the others had already started to follow. The air space was 15cm for around 20m. The worry was over, we were through the canopy. The whole moral of the group changed and we cruised off down the lake, talking, joking and trying to work out who, between Bart and the croc, was the dominant one. We definitely had the right gear for the long swim. The wetsuits, fins, life jackets, and our floating packs made it so easy. Within 30 minutes we arrived at the blow hole. 10 minutes later we were all through the duck and had pushed the gear through; although Bart's croc took nearly three people to push it under. We swam to the end of the lake and changed back to our shorts and T-shirts. The trip to the entrance took only 15 minutes. The climb out, up through the boulder choke took nearly 1/2 hr. We had to do this in three stages of human chains to pass the packs up and these final efforts wiped us out. Vance's pack had gained the nickname the pack form hell. I didn' t even want to begin to guess what he had in it. We had made it, we were all tired but it had been a great trip. Cemal was extra chuffed with himself. He had crossed all those lakes and pools and passed through the main 800m lake and the duck. Not bad for someone who can't swim!
We shouted out into the night to let the girls know we were out and walked down to the camp. It was 8 pm. The trip had taken ten hours. The girls had decided that because we were three hours overdue, that we must have had to turn back and return to the upper entrance. Bart inflated his croc again, it must be love we thought. We took a few photos of the group. The camp fire was already alight, Elvira and Nita had hot soup with toast and pasta ready for us. After a big feed we all sat around the fire drinking beers, smoking big cigars and passing round a bottle of malt. Later the Swiss group joined us. They had been to the Misfah Hell hole to try and explore further than the surveyed point, beyond where it was marked passage continues, but had felt that the air was bad and had returned.
The following day we had a lazy start. Eric, Vance and myself drove back up to the sink and climbed down to the entrance to recover the rope from the first pitch. Two of the village men came to talk to us. Vance later told us that they had asked why we were only three men today. Yesterday we had been five men and they wondered if two of us had slept in the cave! They are observant people and always seem to know what's going on in their patch.
Then we packed up the camp and drove over to find the Misfah Hell hole. Then we followed the track to where it ended, at a small village. We had coffee and dates with the men. I asked Vance to see if they knew of any other caves in the area, but they said there were none. Later I got Vance to ask again, but this time not to ask about big known caves, that people like us would be interested in visiting, but small caves. Then one man talked about Kahf Nahr on the other side of Jabal Akhdar, about five hours walk away. However we couldn' t get much more than that. He could not say if it was a cave that went in a long way or was just a large overhang. I found it strange, such a cave would be around the 2000m mark and on the wrong side of the hill. We made some notes and decided to visit one of the villages on the other side of the mountain to ask there. However tenuous, it was at least a lead.