Volume 46 Number 1 Article 5
Liz Lawton & Ian Lawton
Hong Meigui Tianxing 2007 Expedition
Tianxing, Chongqing County
The sound of rockfall permeates the total silence in the complete darkness. Where was that? Nowhere near us that’s for sure. What time is it? Doesn’t matter, its permanently night down here. What leads shall we look at in the ‘morning’? Are Jeff and Phil turning up ‘tonight’?
It’s another ‘day’ at Whitewalls camp in Qikeng Dong, part of the Tianxing system, Chongqing County, China. We’ve been exploring leads in the area around camp and made some good discoveries including a large, well decorated tunnel on two levels, and a tortuous narrow streamway passage to the base of yet another aven. Last week we pushed passages off the route in to camp with Jeff and Mad Phil, discovering plenty of active and fossil passages on several levels ending in either choked calcite or avens. Some of the fossil passages were romps down sandy floored canyons or popcorn and stal infested vadose passage.
The camp was accessed this year through the system explored at the end of last years expedition, that of Miao Keng. 170m of Yorkshire style wet pitches emerge into a large chamber with rock strewn floor. The water flows into a large slot to one side, and a traverse line is rigged along the lip to an acute deviation off a jammed ‘Transit van’ right at the top. This is the main pitch of 491m, 32 rebelays, one ledge half way. In the first week Liz and Rob took a drill and a rope to drop the pitch beyond that stopped the frenetic exploration last year, a couple of bolts and 20mins of awkward rift led to the Qikeng streamway and the first connection.
Some of the others then began pushing a few leads in the lower reaches, involving long swims looking for the connection to Dong Ba. We took a brew kit and some food to a strategic point in the lower streamway in case of flooding. From camp this involved dropping into the main drain, and the best comparison I can give is OFD main stream but 4x the size, and evidence of fresh gravel scouring on the walls 15m up. 100m or so of swimming, and a series of fortuitous ledges accesses the 60m abseil alongside the Dragons Mouth waterfall. This pitch drops into a huge lake which must be traversed around as the water is seriously choppy, and the atmosphere is like being on a Welsh beach in a gale in the dark! The continuing canyon passage is filled with huge blocks sculpted by the floodwaters. We left the brew kit on a huge beach-like sandbank and retraced our steps to the upstream sump and some unexplored side passages.
At the end of each camp it was a case of 2hrs pleasant caving back to the base of the shaft and get on with it! 2.5 to 3hrs of tedious prussiking led to the top of the 500m shaft (as yet unnamed) and with 170m of pitches to go it felt like we were nearly out! Each time we did the shaft it was different, from soaking wet to bone dry. In wet weather the main shaft did not suffer from the water as much as the entrance series as the sheer size of the shaft turned the waterfall into a heavy rain
In between trips into Miao Keng a small group of us pushed a new entrance nearby. In complete contrast to the other pot this one kept delivering small pitches separated by walking/crawling/climbing in rifts. Many of the trips consisted of just Liz and myself, carrying as much rope and drill-power as we could carry. We always ran out of rope just as the drill ran down. As the cave approached 400m deep and just as the survey was coming directly over a known passage we took a big rope in and discovered a 160m shaft, straight out of the end of a narrow crab-walk passage! The passages below were linked to Qikeng a couple of days later by the just arrived and fresh Russians, the second glorious connection!
The caving in Tianxing is very varied, and while there are some horizontal systems, the main caves involve large amounts of pitches down to a horizontal development. Temperatures underground permit the use of boiler suit and thermals, and limited clothing in camps. Above ground the accommodation is in a villagers house, and the stalwart Mrs Wei cooks all the meals of vegetables and rice or noodles with occasional pig fat thrown in for variety. The nearest bank and functional internet is 2hrs away by bus or on the back of a local lads motorbike! Fantastic ‘things on sticks’ (BBQ meat/veg etc) can be feasted on here with an overnight stay in a cheap hotel.
We left the expedition with the pushing continuing on many fronts, and continued our journey westwards. The complete expedition report is in Descent 200.