Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The amazing journey to Hang Sơn Đoòng - part 2: First challenge & night camp at Hang Én (Swallow Cave)

I really don't know how to start my story about the journey to Son Doong. First heard about the cave in 2010, but as it was not open to the public so I totally forgot until early this year when I was sitting behind a dining table with relatives, we were talking about different spots around the world.
All of sudden someone mentioned Son Doong, and few weeks later I managed to book the tour. I did ask myself what motivated me that much to make a quick decision? Is it my wish to escape for a moment from the state of being stuck at home over the past two years? Or the great curiosity to discover something unusual, right in Vietnam, or just my pride to show how much I'm capable to do such a thing? Maybe all!

         Before heading to Son Doong we had a group photo with Ho Khanh who discovered the cave in 1990.

Now sitting at home, I still can't believe how I did that. I'm still overwhelmed with this journey, with what I witnessed over the past 7 days in Son Doong, with the mixed feelings. The first two days, back home, my whole body, especially my legs, my back were heavy like stones. I felt a little bit hurt while going up or downstairs!

              The first trekking through the jungle, steep downhill, I was struggling...

The journey is ideally recommended for everyone, who love the adventures, but looking at the level of difficulty, the possible dangers and the mental, physical challenges, I would suggest those are fit for hard long trek in the heat, rocks climb in the cave.
Talking to several members in our team, I realised some of them didn't expect those challenges that we faced over the past few days. But honestly what we saw, what we have gone through, as Vietnamese say, it's worth every penny, every bowl of rice! Believe me! 

           After quite steep downhill through the jungle, we continued our path along the dry river valley

                 During the flood season in September, the river can rise almost 20-30 m high...

                 but now the water up to our ankle...

I was struggling from the very beginning, partly because of the heat, but mostly - the steep downhill trekking through the jungle in my new 5-10 canyoneer shoe. It was hurting my toes. I was carrying only a camera bag with two lenses but after a short walk I had no choice shamelessly to pass it to Sweeney - one of our British caving experts and after that I was lucky to get Úy, my "assigned assistant" (who is actually one of two leaders of our "porter team"), he saved my life not only by carrying my bag until the last day of my journey, but also helped me moving through difficult passages in the dark cave.

           or knee, and the hiking in the water made me refreshed, esp. in the heat but later - bad for feet

                We had a short break at the village of Van Kieu minority... 

When the first downhill trekking part over, probably in 2 or 3 hours with our damn slow speed, we continued our path, hiking through the shallow river, streams, water up to our ankle, knee but at other places, totally dry. In September, when the flood comes, the river can rise almost 20-30 meter high.

               our trekking is continued along the stream or climbing over the rocks...      

                  The porter team - they are like jungle squirrels, quickly appear then disappear... 

To me, this porter team, like the jungle squirrels carrying on their back the big 40kg blue cargo as bushy tail but they quickly appear and disappear from our sight. These young men are not only super fit but also extremely entertaining during our night camps. We are very thankful that they were with us all the time, carrying our food, our tents, encouraging us. We need their smiles and me - their Vietnamese with the musical accent, typical from this area of Vietnam.  

                   The last stop before hang Én, the cave right behind us 

                   One of the entrances to hang Én 

         The rock climb seemed hard but it was the easiest compared with what we did later in Son Doong 

               Some members claimed victory on the giant rock before going down to the campsite...

                    and this's the view from that giant rock to our first campsite in Hang Én 

           Hang Én, a cave tunnelled out by Rao Thương river and a nest of thousands of swallows...

               The porter team prepare the dinner near to the water stream in Hang Én 

                They are setting fire to prepare the big meal for everyone after long trekking day. 

                The first night, the first dinner in the cave, under the lamp with many bugs flying around. 

In my previous post about my preparation for this trip, I used materials from National Geographic, photo stock from Carsten Peter, a professional photographer, (oops! sorry without permission!) but all of them together with my amateur photos can draw only a small picture of the true majestic beauty of the caves, the misted mysterious passage, the spectacular stalactites.

            The exit from hang Én is selected for filming location of Disney's Peter Pan with Hugh Jackman in this Aug. 

              During the flood, the river can rise to the rock where Adam, our caving expert stands

                Look at our team member and the exit from Hang Én, imagine how impressive the scale 

                 The beautiful river valley leads to Son Doong - our next campsite.  

          Depends on the season, you may be lucky being accompanied by a thousand of butterflies. 

            The man in yellow shirt is Mr Hồ Nguyên, our guide, Mr Hồ Khanh's older brother.  

The first night in Hang Én was quite warm, but then cooler in the morning, my sleep was not that deep but after the breakfast, everyone were ready to continue the exciting journey to Son Doong, through the most beautiful river valley passage, along the crystal clear water streams, accompanied by thousands of butterflies. The hardest parts, the most amazing moments of our journey that would inspire all of us to come.

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