Author Topic: Meghalaya 2017 Expedition Week 1  (Read 941 times)

Offline chunky

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Meghalaya 2017 Expedition Week 1
« on: March 22, 2017, 10:21:26 pm »
I had anticipated few words and lots of pictures, I apologise as I realise as I begin writing I will be doing far more of both than I had expected.

Please note that this is not the full itinerary of the expedition, but a blog made of only my experiences.

The first half of the expedition was based at the village of Sakwa, on the south Shnongrim Ridge.

Week 1

We had arrived late at camp due to the rough journey, and crash of the expedition truck, and so had hastily set up camp in the dark and discovered many of the tents were pitched on termite nests and bamboo shoots, which had made for a difficult nights sleep.
Fortunately in the light of day we discovered a clearing used by the village as a soccer pitch which made for a perfect camp site and relocated our kit before breakfast and the first days briefing.

Tuesday 7th Febuary 2017
I would be eased in gently with a photographic trip for my first Meghalaya cave, in fact the most difficult thing would be knowing what to call the cave as dependent on who you asked you would get three different names: Krem Chympe, Sielkan Pouk or Pielking Pouk. Today we would be taking a look at the upstream section. Though I didn’t know it at the time this cave system would feature heavily in my caving over the next couple of weeks. 

Paul & Urs in the upstream section of Pielking Pouk

Urs in the upstream section of Pielking Pouk

Wednesday 8th
This would be my first day in Krem Sakwa. After a pleasant half an hour trek through the jungle we fought our way through bamboo, under an impressive false entrance and in to a Doline where the actual Sakwa entrance lies. The first thing that hit me was just how hot the cave was. High humidity and around 26 degrees. As we made our way further in the temperature dropped to a more comfortable 12 to 14 degrees, but humidity would be an enemy of photography in the Meghalaya caves throughout the next couple of weeks.

I had been sent in with Georg Baeumler’s team and as ‘ferret’ I was soon diving in and out of passages to check out question marks for the surveying.
Here I have to admit that I did find the surveying side a little slow and wasn’t sure it was gong to be my kind of thing, but was more than happy to be given the job of ferret. 
Reporting back on one of the leads, a flat out mud/sand crawl, I passed on the info to another survey team that I thought I could feel it draughting , before re-joining Georg.
I had already scouted the area they were surveying and asked if I could go through a duck and check that out. They looked at me like I was nuts but humoured me just the same.
Pushing through a duck of a couple of meters I was soon following a complex system of small stream passages for a hundred meters or so which led to a large chamber and sump with one lead off. Following the lead I explored another 50m or so of virgin passage before emerging through another duck to a question mark we had looked at earlier.
I was hooked, I had just walked a couple of hundred meters of passage that no one had ever stepped foot in before, perhaps this surveying thing wasn’t so bad after all.  That night back at camp ‘Yorkshire’ Dave Hodgson excitedly told me that he had dug out the crawl from earlier and that they had broken through to sizable passage with leads heading off everywhere. Mark Tringham was the surveyor for that team and invited me to join them the next day.

Entrance passages of Krem Sakwa

Entrance passages of Krem Sakwa

Thursday 9th
We repeated the route from the previous day and again were soon making our way through what felt like a sauna to begin with to familiar passage.  As we made our way through Dave’s Dig the passage the other side opened up to an interesting mix of limestone, sandstone and coal seams. Again I was a fourth person in the team and so was allowed to go and ferret ahead. This worked well for me as it meant I could set up some flash guns and grab a quick shot as the rest of the team walked through and so would not hold anyone up by spending too long on the photos.
As mentioned on the intro we had been told horror stories of Scurrion batteries being taken off people at Dubai and so batteries had been brought in by other means for myself and a couple of others. I had been given a battery earlier that day and told it was only half charged and of dubious age and so had made sure I carried a spare in with the camera equipment. I had set up flashguns and been waiting for longer than I’d anticipated and so headed off looking for the others. I’d been gone for about 15 minutes when I realised I’d gotten myself turned around and every passage looked the same to me. My Scurrion kicked down a setting, then again and then again until it was on camp setting. Bugger my spare was back with the camera. I continued to wander for another 10 minutes and was beginning to worry that I was going to end up lost in unmapped cave without a light!
At this point I thought I could see the glow of a headlamp ahead. I cupped a hand over my lamp and could see a faint glow. I headed toward it and found the way on blocked by bamboo which broke easily as I battered my way through. I almost forgot I was lost as I stared through a waterfall in to a beautiful pool at the base of a Doline. The others would love this if I could only find my way back to them. My next ten minutes of wanderings found me in a stream way with the most awesome black rock  protruding from the walls, but I was now too worried to appreciate the spectacle. I back tracked to the other entrance and decided I would only head straight and left if there were options so if my light failed I’d stand a chance at getting back in to daylight. After another 15 minutes, with great relief, I spotted the flashing red light of one of the flashguns I’d set up earlier. Not only that but I could hear the others coming down the passage, completely unaware that I’d been missing at all.
Urs wasn’t feeling to great and they were thinking of calling it a day. I changed my battery and like a 15 stone puppy begun bouncing around telling them they had to follow me first!
As we emerged in to the Doline Mark Tringham was sure he knew where we were. We had walked past the top of the waterfall earlier and been told that you could abseil down and enter Sielkan Pouk from that point. What I had discovered is that Sakwa and Sielkan Pouk were connected and infact part of the same system. The teams who had discovered and surveyed Sielkan had never found the entrance I had broken through. This would mean we had an easier entrance to continue the surveying from which would cut out 20 minutes of walking and over an hour of caving to get to the last survey station. Also the stream way I had discovered was unsurveyed passage and would offer kilometres of new discovery over the coming days. 

Mark descends the Doline to continue surveying the newly discovered Sakwa stream way

Dave in the newly discovered Sakwa extensions

Friday 10th
No camera today. As many of the group were suffering with stomach bugs I was asked to play mule for Diego's group and haul bolting kit and ropes for an unknown prospect an hours trek through the jungle. This would be affectionately named Dead Dog Cave as the villagers discovered it by....yep you guessed it a dog fell in to it.
We arrived to find a deep sink hole with dubious rock bridge across . I rigged a traverse line to the head of the pitch where Diego began drilling. I 'gardened' as much loose rock as I could before dropping in to a single chamber 32m deep by 25m in diameter. Diego followed, then Helja and Paul. We had a good scout about for leads and could only find a single inlet passage 2m off the floor in a small chamber. I gave Diego a boost up and he checked the passage but reported it blocked. Spotting him as he climbed out a sandstone block gave way and he lost his footing, I tried to steady him but we both tumbled over with him pinning my head to the floor with his butt! I guess you had to be there but childish giggles ensued.
Returning to the main chamber a quick survey was made of the chamber whilst Helja constructed a dead dog out of bones she had found at the base of the pitch.
As the cave hadn't taken too much time and I had promised Diego a play with his camera, we dropped the Doline I had discovered the day before and did a through trip in to Pielking Pouk via a bamboo lake in to the upstream section I had photo'd on the first day.

Saturday 11th
Back to Sakwa today with Mark T & Yorkshire Dave.
The team dropped the waterfall pitch and begun surveying the stream way.
Downstream the water was crystal clear with limestone walls and the jet black limestone boulders protruding which I had glimpsed a couple of days before. The real treat though would be heading upstream. There were few question marks to distract us and we were soon racking up over a half a kilometre of new passage. The stream way stayed shallow and we made good progress, hoping that every corner would keep pushing open passage, but kind of expecting it to close down too. After several hours we were about to call it a day when we reached a deep static pool. As reward for surveying Dave and I were allowed to run on and take a look and found that the pool reached a decorated sandy oxbow and dropped back in to a deep section of stream way. Undeterred Dave and I swam the 60m and climbed out in to even bigger decorated passage than that we had already discovered. Diner was cold and it had been dark for hours by the time we returned to camp, but we were all on a high from the discoveries.

Dave pops through an archway as we push on through the the Sakwa stream way.

Offline Duncan S

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Re: Meghalaya 2017 Expedition Week 1
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2017, 09:37:45 am »
Wooo - that's a fantastic read - cheers!
Any chance of getting yourself a slot at Hidden Earth? I'd love to hear you talk about your experiences and see more photos.

Offline chunky

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Re: Meghalaya 2017 Expedition Week 1
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2017, 05:41:33 pm »
Wooo - that's a fantastic read - cheers!
Any chance of getting yourself a slot at Hidden Earth? I'd love to hear you talk about your experiences and see more photos.

Thanks Dunc, but you've seen my bright red, stammering face just going up in front of a crowd for photo competitions right !?!

Besides this is just my memories of what was a much larger team effort. I'm sure Simon and/or Mark T will be giving a full round up for H.E and fingers crossed they'll also have some of Chris Howes photos which I only saw straight off the camera, but they're awesome :)

Until then I'll put together the other 3 weeks blog as and when I get a chance. Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment. Hope you enjoyed Finland, looked mega good fun :)

Offline chunky

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Re: Meghalaya 2017 Expedition Week 1
« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2017, 10:18:36 am »
A couple of corrections from the man himself:

Just one detail: It's spelt Pielkhlieng Pouk. This is the name used by the tribal people of Mizo origin living in the area between Sielkan and Khaddum. Pouk meaning cave. Pielkhlieng being the river. The cave is also known as Sielkan pouk - but I suspect this is more a German invention ;)  Krem Chympe is the Jaintia word for the cave - as used by the Jaintia inhabitants of Sakwa.

PS: don't worry about being press ganged into a presentation at HE. I will do it.

Thomas Arbenz