I arrived in Shillong on Monday and got drunk with everyone at the Centrepoint bar! I woke up feeling seriously ill. I helped load the bus. It was tough and wiped me out. It was disappointing to note that non of my other compadres had the slightest hangover!
Down with the Flu
I slept the entire journey to camp. I had no inclination to eat and went straight to bed on arrival. I woke in the morning completely unable to do anything. It wasn’t a hangover afterall…it was flu or a virus or some kind. I needed to shit all the time. It was sunny so I went and lay on the grass near the toilets and fell asleep. I missed the briefing, breakfast and I didn’t care. Oh blissful sun and sleep. I didn’t really notice the fever much which was good. Peter Ludwig and Thomas Arbenz came to my aid and with the help of camp guru Addie constructed a tarpaulin shelter over me to keep the sun off. That was so sweet. I slept all day. Got up from my grassy perch to stumble back to the camp quarters and slept all night.
By Thursday I felt much better and decided not to go caving, in order to fully recover and replenish energy levels. So I stayed in camp with Peter and Des and we built a sauna structure.
It became apparent that others were becoming infected with the deadly virus and it was to cause some problems in the first week of the expedition, with people dropping like flys for a couple of days at a time. I got my illness stint out of the way at the start and fortunately I recovered and was fighting fit by Friday!
I went with Peter and Annie to do some shaft bashing (a term used to refer to decending undecended surface shafts to see if they break into cave).
I got the opportunity to do the rigging and use the drill. Both the pots we decended were blind. Although Annie had to rescue me from the bottom off one, by pulling on my legs, when I got my upper body stuck down a in a pool FULL of large cave shrimps. Well…I mean you have to have a look to see if it goes….don’t you?
Down with the Thoo
Went with Mark Brown and Peter to drop Krem Labbit (Khaidong). This was a blowing hole that was first noted in 2002, but was still undecended. I’d pulled it as a lead off JRats list of “things to do”, under which he had written “this needs to be sorted!” and was really keen to go. We got there and the pot was steaming, a thin mist of hot white steam. Really excited I got changed into my caving clobber.
Again under the watchful eyes of Mark and the Austrian ‘UberRigger’ Peter, got the drill out and rigged the cave. Down a 30m pitch, a short 5m drop to the top of a large shaft. The first section rigged I decended about 25m through the perfect vertical half pipe, to a ledge where I exhaused the drill battery through inexperience and didn’t have enough juice left to put a rebelay in. I put a rope protector on the rope instead, to minimise the rub point, and decended past the ledge another 7m to a lip of rock. Below the lip was the celing of huge chamber below, and the rope dangling in open space below me, wasn’t long enough. I joined two ropes together and threw the line down. I was pretty sure it had got to the bottom, but I was too scared to decend further. Firstly, because my only rope protector was above me and I thought the rope would rub on the lip. Secondly, because I didn’t really want to do a freehanging knot bypass in that situation. And anyway I rationalised, it would have to be rerigged anyway and lets face it…..the cave went!
Its the mental process of exploration. So curious to see whats there…..but have to weigh up the risks involved.
So I went back up to report to the team. Peter came down to the ledge, down to the lip and agreed….come back tomorrow. Correct decision!
N.B: A vertical pot that takes water is called a Thoo in Kahsi the local language. Thoo is often pronounced Flu. Given the state of health in camp and my second day caving after being ill… the perfect name for this large (as it was 50m pitch) was “Down with the Thoo”.
I returned to Labbit (Khaidong) with Henry, fresh battery power and more rope. I finished rigging the rebelay at the ledge and this gave a freehang all the way into the chamber. I decended to the bottom, which in actual fact was only another 25m or so. Henry followed and we set about surveying (Mark, Annie and Des were surveying in from the top to the main chamber).
Whilst I sorted out the notebook (refered to as doing ‘book’) Henry went off to investigate “It goes” he shouted. He’d found a streamway! We surveyed downstream. It was starting to get waist wading deep when we quit for the day.
Meanwhile Des had spotted a HUGE fossil passage going off from the chamber that we had totally missed! It was a good lead.
NB: Labbit means Bat in Khasi
I returned to Krem Labbit with Danish caver Torben and Henry and armed with wetsuits we continued to push the downstream passage. The passage undulated and changed shape and form frequently. The passage had a slow run of water. It had formed a series of gour pools, through which we waded. Sometimes we were wading up to our nipples and sometimes we were knee deep.
We reached a section of passage where we were waist deep in water with 2m of air space above us the passage was about 1.5m wide.
We could smell them before we saw them. Bats! Bat guano has a very distinctive pungent smell. We rounded the corner and I have never seen anything like it. The walls were throbbing, throbbing with bats. Now, bear in mind the dimensions of the passage! They were half a metre away from your face on both sides. It was seriously scarey. They were on the ceiling, on the walls and as we disturbed them some started dropping off into the water……And did you know?….Bats can swim! Now I had to laugh, they use their wings in the water and do a kind of breast stroke their little bodies rising and falling out of the water….they swim to the side and somehow climb out, up the wall. Its quite unerving.
We continued to survey and a bat flew into me and landed on my face. AUUUUUUGH I screamed. It was just so weird.
Well the cave is called Bat Cave after all. We surveyed 700m before heading out.
Massi the mascot
Meet Massi! Someone brought the skull of a cow into camp.
JRat brought it to life and Massi was born! Massi became our mascot. He was given oranges for eyes. The locals made him a body and a bat like cape and he was propped up by the fire for the entire rest of the expedition.
NB: Massi means cow in Khasi
The Return of Roger The Labbit
The second wave of team members arrived by Sumo from Shillong and we had a party! Next day I went back down Labbit with Scot Roger Galloway, Simon (expedition leader) and Megalayan caver Lyndsay. We combined a pushing and surveying trip with a photography trip.
The bats had moved on. The same section of passage looked empty, strange without them. We pushed the streamway to a sump pool and, as it was low water, Roger was able to identify a way on, where we were able to climb up and into a boulderchoke. Here, there were two ways on. The first was found by Lyndsay up through the top of the choke to a small chamber with a way on in walking sized fossil passage running along a joint. The second, found by me, was down through the choke into the streamway again. This is the way that we surveyed, it went a short way to another sump pool which had a way on through a long duck in shoulder deep water and clear headspace and a very cold and HOWLING draught, it had to go somewhere!
Meanwhile Torben had started to survey the huge fossil passage with another team and it was emerging that it was BIG and showed no signs of stopping or breakdown.
Annie and Rog singin’ Hairy Mary
Listen to “Cod Liver Oil and The Orange Juice” by clicking here:
Scottish Folk Songs
Well of an evening Annie and Roger would entertain us with a plethora of Scottish folk music. The favorite of most of us was “Cod Liver Oil and The Orange Juice”. An absolute classic. Perfect around the camp fire! Its very catchy and became a bit of an expedition song tune. By the end of the expedition we all knew the lyrics and were able to sing along!
Luuvvvin’ it Laaaaaabit!
Roger, Me and Yorkshire Dave went back and found that our draughting downstream lead was in actual fact upstream. By now it was a good 2 hour caving trip to get to the pushing front 3 hours out, which left only 3 hours or so to push and survey. We followed this upstream inlet to a rift. We climbed a fair way but then were unable to continue do to overhanging boulders jammed in the rift. Dave had a look and we concluded that may be possible for us to push the sump pool area on the other side, the real downstream, although its wasn’t draughting and didn’t appear to be draining either. We’d have to come back and try and find a bypass somewhere.
We got back to camp and in put the data. This put our rift close to an undescended pot on the surface called Kneewreker2, which Roger himself had identified in 2002!
The lightning show started at about 9pm. I said to Roger and Annie, who were sleeping next to me on the bamboo bunks, that it might be a good idea if we rig up an extra tarpaulin over our bed (given that I had got rather wet two years before from rain).
The Rain itself didn’t start until about 1am, but it was a full on storm. Roger woke me up….”the tarpaulin is full of water”. I rolled over muttering ‘good that means its working’…..”no” he goes “its REALLY full of water”. Sure enough looking round and about water was pissing in from everywhere. I moved onto the floor and then under the table to keep dry. The rain didn’t let up all night.
The trailer after the first night’s rain
The rain and storms continued all day. The camp was sodden. Stuff was getting wet everywhere. All sleeping bags got wet. Clothes, papers, gear – everything was drenched. People split into two camps. Those that were industrious and bustled about getting extra tarpaulins to rig makeshift solutions, and those that did nothing. I fell into the latter category, figuring that way too many cooks were in the first category already.
I spent the day under the table in the sleeping quarters with Annie and Neil and we had a really good laugh. Nearly everyone was in high spirits actually. I did seriously wonder if it was ‘expedition over’ and if the roads would get washed away.
The rain and more HUGE storms continued into the evening. Everyone got really pissed on beer and whisky. There was much merriment and much singing. I spent ages chatting to Danish Louise and later Neil and I shared a spliff and listened to people singing from the other room combined with the rain against the tarpaulin. I felt lonely for cuddles and warm and fuzzy from the dope – and it was both pleasant and difficult all at the same time.
Roger and I decided to drop KneeWrecker2 to try and get an easier way into the system. I did the rigging and the two Scots Roger and Derek surveyed in behind me. There was a constricted entrance which took me a while to rig at the bottom it went to a really tight crawl and a downclimb followed by open canyon to a pitch. At the bottom an amazing daylight shaft could be seen. It was stunning! This must have been what it was like to see Alum Pot from Dolly Tubs for the first time. I then scrambled down to the top of a rift and rigged down this (really enjoyed rigging that bit) and IT CONNECTED…..WOOO HOOO!!! Yes… there it was the survey station! It breaks into the downstream end of Labbit.
Meanwhile Torban, Louise and others were pushing other fossil parts of Labbit and the cave was growing and growing. I was trying NOT to see it as my cave….it was our project, but it was so hard not be really proud of how little Labbit was growing up, like a baby getting older and maturing. Now with two entrances. Really really happy!
101 ways to kill a Labbit
Went on a tourist trip with Roger to see what had been discovered at the fossil southern end of the cave. Roger and I went down into the second streamway that Annie had surveyed a few days previous with Derek. Rog and I completed the muddy climb above the downstream sump left by Derek and shut that lead down. We then walked up to Agrophobia now the largest known chamber in India. It has 3 waterfalls coming into it through the roof in various places. Its really cool to see. The end is a massive area of breakdown and a boulderchoke. I had a poke about but was unable to find a way through. With time though it could be pushed. We went back to our leads and met up with Henry.We pushed upstream to a calcite choke, we pushed a couple of smaller inlet crawls that got to small and Henry did a bolt climb that ended in a short phreatic passage with a choke at the end. All leads in that area exterminated we left.
Louise, Torban and Derek had meanwhile started a crawl which I was convinced having poked my head down it will connect to the Snongrim Subway in UmIm6.
The downstream leads were drying up. We needed to try and kill them off. Henry, Roger and I returned via KneeWreker2 for a final push. We pushed the leads at the top of the boulderchoke found by Lyndsay, which didn’t go. Then we pushed the sump pool and hammered out a crawl to try and bypass the sump. It didn’t go, it was just an oxbow. Downstream was done, all leads exterminated.
The Mercy Seat
Neil Pacey and I took to psyching ourselves up on expedition, of a morning, after breakfast and before departing for our trip of the day, by listening to a Johnny Cash rendition of Nick Caves song “The Mercy Seat”, a mournful ditty about going to the electric chair. Roger, Annie and Louise soon joined the morning routine and together we all sang:
And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I’m yearning to be done – With all this weighing of the truth,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,
And anyway I told the truth,
And I’m not afraid to die.
You can hear a snippits at:
This kicked off a rather BLACK humour amongst several of us, about death and dying.
The song was more pertinent to the cave that Neil was pushing as loose boulders would fall down the rift pitches. Despite rigging with drop zones in mind, one large rock had hit him square on the head. He wasn’t injured.
Neil Pacey and Jrat’s project was a cave called Tyrton Rynkoo, which means Summit Bird. However it was never refered to as this it had various nicknames; Krem Grim, Wrinkled Turtle and Tinkle Winkle. In essence it was a tight dodgy rift which dropped into a HUGE boulderfilled passage with mud slopes that were really slippery. Neil and JRat had worked the best part of 10days shaft bashing the hell out of the hillside with no success prior to this as well. So it was with a great deal of caution and curiosity that I went down to see the cave, my first trip somewhere other than Labbit so far on expedition.
There is a section in the rift which Neil aptly named “The Mercy Seat”. Its a wedged boulder on which you need to sit to get onto the pitch head. Above you are a large number of boulders loose, just waiting to go down the pitch. The Mercy Seat itself is only held in place by mud. Its one at a time and careful careful careful through this section. Its fairly tight too. Quite commiting.
Once down, we pushed the passage up to a terminal choke. Back down the passage a way was found down through boulders to find water, we followed this until we reached a junction and another stream passage. The pushing of this was left for another day and we retreated back up the rift.
Annie, Henry and Dr Kate did a final push on the crawl in Labbit and connected it to UmIm6!!! I was over the moooooon…I knew it!!! I’d pushed that crawl from the other end 2 years previous! We called it the Khaidong Metro because it connects to the Snongrim Subway. Its a 0.5km crawl, but its significant because it means that The LiatPrah/UmIm system is now 22.2km making it the longest cave in India.
Annie and Me
Girls are great to cave with and this year has been awesome in India with a fine collection of women cavers. Annie, Louise, Kate, Fiona and Jane. I particularly bonded with Annie (who is in SUSS anyway) and Louise from Denmark.
The boys had taken to giving Louise a phrase of the day to improve her English (which is pretty faultless). JizzRag was one, Teabagging another and Cunning Stunts was also one. She went to Simon….”Mr expedition leader sir can you please tell me the meaning of Cunning Stunts?”….Simon was at a loss what to say…
Anyway we went on a good old girlie trip in the main entrance of Labbit to tidy up a few leads there. It was FUN. We sang “I used to work in Chicago” and gossiped about men and caving experiences and silly stuff. Then we found another small inlet, grotty and crawlly and draughty and cold and Louise pushed it to an entrance. Annie followed and poked here head out to find a TV FILM CREW!!!! It was rather surreal.
The same day Neil and JRat found a beatiful well decorated section of passage in Krem Grim which they named “Stunning Cunts” the prize was a huge fat stalagmite which sparkled and which they named “The Glitterous!”.
That night we had a party with the TV guys who were making a news article for Meghalayan TV. Brian announced the longest cave in India and the girls proved that anything the boys can do the girls can do too…including getting traditional caver facial hair.
An interesting trip. Annie, Louise and I started by trying to dig a connection to Krem Shrieh, but it was hopeless. The dig was to hard and too far inside the cave to have any chance of significant progress. We met up with the lads team of Torban, Lyndsay and Derek and re-jigged the team members.
Annie, Derek and I then went to try and push an upstream lead that was heading towards the boulder choke in Krem Shein Kleih. We found the passage narrowed to about 0.5m wide with wading up to neck height, almost a duck. I went through first and found the passage swung to the left and into a choke with a low duck and real caver’s squeeze through 2 boulders. Looking through I could see real cave passage on the other side. Annie came in behind me for support and I squeezed through. It was exhilerating!
We named it the ‘U’Bend, because you feel like thats what you’re going through. Derek followed on after. The passage continued through two boulder collapses (which we pushed) ending in a collapse that was too dodgy to push. This added an extra 150m to the survey. I was really chuffed with myself and I just loved the excitement of it all!!!!
That night was Louise and Torban’s last night on expedition…..Booo hoooo.
The original plan of going to rig Krem Chuna had to be postponed through a lack of bolt hangers, so Derek and I set off to polish off the last remaining leads in Labbit. The first was a minging flat out crawl for 40m through soft mud in a passage half full of water! The only good part of it was that the passage was wide enough to turn your body sideways making surveying easier. Then at the end it doesn’t go! It ended in breakdown!
We then went back to a second upstream inlet lead in the same area as U Bend. The upstream passage ended in a 10m long duck. I didn’t really fancy it and I wasn’t wearing warm clothing, but my curiousity got the better of me… I mean what was on the other side? I just had to see if it was passage. Its a full on ceiling sucking duck at the end and it ended inside a boulderchoke. Admittedly it was a pushable choke, but I was FREEZING cold and the choke wasn’t draughting strongly or anything. I came back.
My teeth started to chatter uncontrollably. I was so cold. Derek gave me some chocolate and that really made a massive difference. We moved quickly back to the main chamber to go out and I warmed up.
We got out of the cave early and had just reached the road when a jeep pulled up and offered us a lift. Fantatstic! We hopped in and found out it was being driven by non other than the King of the area “Nau Sukling”. He went out of his way to give us a lift all the way back to camp. How cool is that|?
You would think that Neil would learn wouldn’t you . But no he got drunk and drawn all over again. This time we used him as a survey station…..Mark Brown calling “On station…”
Labbit – Chuna to Central through trip
I woke up early and I discovered that I had a cave survey drawn all over my feet and nail varnish on my toes. JRAT and Neil had had some fun…..Groan…I’d fallen asleep in front of the fire. This inspired jokes such as:
“The survey is in feet not metres”
“It was done in only two legs”
So anyway JRat and I made our way to Krem Chuna (now Chuni – renamed) to do the first through trip. The pitch in Krem Chuna is called Dolphin Friendly and has the hardest diviation I have ever experienced. We hanmmered out the connecting squeeze a bit further and then mae our way through the huge fossil stuff.
Starting in Agrophobia Chamber and then into “The Ninety” (a section of huge phreatic passage surveyed in a 90m leg). To 20/20 juntion leading to Disto Inferno, Daddy LongLegs and finally the main chamber or Labbit Central. We went down into the Labbit Lane drain and collected some insects and shrimps and made our way out, derigging “Down with the Thloo” on the way.
We then had to walk back to camp because our transport never showed up. We grumbled a bit on the way!!
Later that night I got my revenge on JRat by writing WESSEX (a rival cave club) across his forehead in Marker Pen.