Day 2 of the Son Doong experience started with yoga stretches at our camp in Hang En followed by chatter of who had had the rat in their tent last night. After a pho bo breakfast I put on my new Salomon trainers in readiness for slippery rocks and we set off towards the exit of Hang En via a sandy slope up, and rocks down towards the river. We crossed the river and after a wash out of our shoes we started the steep winding climb towards the Son Dong entrance. On the way there were a few really scary and claustrophobic bits for me but after a couple of instances where I stopped breathing I was ok. My pace was slow on the uphill and I wasn’t confident with my shoes on any steep or slippery parts. I knew that after lunch we would be descending 80 metres into Son Doong via a series of ropes and the fear that we would be in a harness and clipped on made me even more wary. I wanted to turn back.
After a lunch of spring rolls and some crackers that tasted of Belgian waffles it was time to go to the entrance of Son Doong. By the time I’d been to the toilet a couple of times Captain Caveman had already gone on ahead and our guide asked if I would help the porters say ‘May I take your harness off?’ for when we got to the bottom.
Before I could tell anyone I wanted to turn back I found myself being strapped in to a harness by an assistant guide who was fiddling about with the buckles on my thighs. It’s fair to say I have trust issues so I found the other cave expert and asked him to tighten it, as it felt loose. The rest of our group was ready and Captain Caveman and I had already decided I would go first so that I wouldn’t panic – it didn’t work. There was a little crawl of a few metres that I’d got myself worked up about and had a bit of hyperventilating as I passed my backpack to the guide, who had gone ahead. A fellow trekker was close behind me, with a Yoda backpack on, so I asked him not to come through until I was at the other side, so that I had the option to retreat if I needed. Once through it was still a little walk to the climb down which was awkward in a harness.
The guide clipped me on to a rope and then I had to lean back and walk down backwards, it wasn’t vertical but it felt it. I was shaking like a leaf and sweating – I looked into the guide’s eyes and said ‘do not let me die’ & he replied that he wouldn’t. There were 3 or 4 rope bits and I had completely forgotten what to do to unclip and clip on to the next ropes so I think I got help with a couple of those. I remember thinking not to look down but that was impossible with instructions from the team to put my foot ‘here’ & ‘there’. It was harder than I thought and I scraped my elbow when I slid down a little way because my trainers lost grip. I regretted going first but knew if I’d been last I wouldn’t have done it.
After the difficult bit we then walked on all types of rocks and had to jump across some, I was in a daze and couldn’t wait to get to Camp 1.