The Longest in Loei: Tham Khuha Wari 31 December 2008

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This cave has been bugging me for months. Despite two previous trips I still hadn’t reached the end of what seemed to be a bog standard Thai temple / show cave. 

The howling draught and a couple of power cables were a big clue that the cave probably went through the hill to a second entrance. On my first, brief, reconnaissance visit I turned back at a crawl over a dry gour dam as I had left the Boss with the car at the foot of the hill. A month later I persuaded the Boss to come up to the cave, but she refused at the crawl with the comment, that can be loosely translated as, “You can come back here with your friends, I’m not going through that”. A quick solo look revealed another 100m of passage to a second crawl over another dry gour.

 
On New Year’s Eve I had a friend available for a caving trip. After two hours driving over the hills from Phetchabun to Loei Martin and Ivan were parked at the bottom of the steps which lead up the hill in Wat Tham Khuha Wari. This temple, in Ban Sam Nok Chip, amphoe Wang Saphung, appears to be unoccupied. The short ascent of 100 steps to the entrance indicated that the two explorers were not in peak physical condition, but at least the caving shouldn’t be too strenuous.
 
At the top of the steps there are two small meditation caves with the main cave up a bit further on the right at 47Q 815440 1900623 altitude 418m. The entrance opens into a large abandoned passage typical of many caves in this area. These large fossil caves in Loei would make an interesting research project as they indicate that there was once a huge cave network in the region, but now there only these few remnants scattered over a distance of 50km between 400m to 450m altitude.
 
The plan had been to go through the cave, confirm the second entrance and then survey back. However, as we set off into the cave a man carrying a small baby followed along behind Ivan. I don’t think his wife was too pleased by his fervour for exploration, but he coped very well indeed though I’m not sure how they got through the crawls – perhaps the baby was made to crawl for itself as it didn’t sound too happy after one of the low sections. With hindsight perhaps we should have lent him one of our spare lights. The second entrance was successfully found about 50m beyond where I had turned back on the last visit. Two power cables run through the cave to supply a temple on the other side of the hill. A quick GPS fix and then we went back through the cave to the main entrance and returned our new companions to the rest of their family.
 
Whilst kitting up for the surveying a group of four teenagers arrived. They set off for a quick look at the cave using the light from two mobile phones. Ivan and I were seriously over equipped with Petzl headtorches. Surveying, using a Leica Disto and Shetland Attack Pony, progressed steadily along the large passage, through the crawl and along the smaller passage the other side. About half way to the second crawl we took the survey up what was expected to be a short inlet with lots of dry gours. However, this passage continued for some distance to reach a chamber with false floors. We followed the draught up, what is for us, a very small crawl into a fault controlled chamber. This was starting to get more like Mendip than Thailand. The draught appeared to be coming up a 6m pitch at the back of the chamber. To the south progress could be made along a rift before clambering down into a decorated passage – a bit of cave that could have come straight out of St. Cuthbert’s Swallet. At the far end of this passage the way on was up a 10m rift climb, much too serious for us equipped as we were with just T shirts and no helmets. This part of the cave needs looking at with proper equipment and the pitch needs to be descended.
 
Back in the main passage the survey was swiftly concluded to the second entrance. The through trip is 400m long and we surveyed 575m of centre line. Another 50m of unsurveyed passage gives a total length of 625m, the longest cave in Loei province.
 
(Survey of Tham Khuha Wari)
 
The temple on the other side of the hill has signs to three other caves plus Tham Khuha Wari. What is of interest is that the name Tham Khuha Wari has ‘Tham Nam’ (Water Cave) in brackets after it. Is there another, lower, cave that has a stream? Does this cave link to the fossil cave above, perhaps by the 6m pitch in the fault chamber? Looks like I’m going to have to find another friend and have another visit to this area.