Application for Grant Aid

Submitted on: 27 Feb 2014

Expedition details (GPF2014a-007)

Expedition Name (& Club): Tamerlan Cave (Oxford University Cave Club)
Destination country: Uzbekistan
Region: Western Gissar Mountains
Lat: 38.7200 Long: 67.2900 Elevation: m
MEF funding: none

Leader: Mr Andrew Mawer
Total cavers: 5
Cavers ≤25 yrs old: 3
Cavers 25-35 yrs old: 0
UK/nonUK cavers: 5/0
Eligible for grant aid: 0
Alex Pitcher nominations: 0
Expedition dates: 3rd Jul 2014 - 7th Aug 2014
Duration (days): 36
Man-days in field: 180 Man-days travelling: 25
Brief Expedition objectives:

List a short summary of the main Expedition objectives.

1) To explore Tamerlan Cave upwards towards the high alpine catchment 1300 m above on Hodja Acha Burun plateau (at an elevation of more than 4000 m).
2) To gain a better understanding of the interaction between the ancient cave passages within the Tamerlan Gorge and the present-day hydrology of the high limestone plateau
3) To explore the cultural significance of the historic Tamerlan Cave amongst the local Uzbek population
How can the GPF support your Expedition?:

Please explain the aspects of the trip which make it eligible for Ghar Parau funding.

We believe that our expedition has much to offer in terms of increasing the speleological, scientific and anthropological knowledge of the region. The latter in particular is an aspect of caving that is rarely fully considered, and is particularly important for a cave of such historical and cultural significance. The expedition also focusses heavily on aid climbing, an innovation that opens up previously impossible options, but also has relatively high cost due to the need for more equipment. The remoteness of the expedition and the small team make successful fundraising essential, especially for the three younger members who graduated in 2013 and 2014. The spectacular high altitude scenery, cultural diversity and exciting cave exploration will make this a highly interesting and challenging expedition which the team will document through photography, a report and magazine articles and disseminate to wide ranging audiences through presentations.
Detailed description of objectives:

Give a more detailed account of the purpose of the trip, including any particular known caves you intend to visit, specific areas where you will explore for new cave, and scientific experiments you will attempt.

1) To explore Tamerlan Cave upwards towards the high alpine catchment 1300 m above on Hodja Acha Burun plateau

Using modern ultralight aid-climbing equipment, we will re-ascend the four known pitches of Tamerlan Cave and continue pushing upwards. Given the enormous size of the passages discovered thus far we have every reason to believe that the cave will continue onwards. The height of the plateau above gives a huge depth potential of around 1300 meters; if a connection could be made to a top entrances the system would become one of the world’s deepest through-trips.

The bottom-up approach is rare in caving, with very few caving expeditions exploring in this way. To our knowledge the technique has never been used in such a remote location: only recently have solar panels become sufficiently powerful and portable to allow for bolt climbing with electric drills so far off-grid.

We will use a combination of aid- and bolt-climbing to progress upwards. Anchor points will be drilled into the rock to provide safe attachment, and after ascent each pitch will be rigged for repeated journeys using Single Rope Technique (SRT). Handlines and life-lines will be used to protect easier climbs, and a traditional climbing \"lead rack\" will be used if climbs are sufficiently easy and well protected. Pitches will be rigged away from wet or potentially wet areas where necessary.

Cave Surveying, Photography and Conservation:
We will survey to BCRA Grade 5 standard, using a Disto-X laser range finder and compass-clinometer to work between survey points. This data will be entered into the Survex mapping system on our return to the UK to allow digital three-dimensional reconstruction. Hand-drawn records of passage characteristics will accompany the line surveys to give a comprehensive record of the cave’s features. Scientific documentation will also involve high quality underground photography for future conservation assessments.

The ~1500 meters of Tamerlan Cave explored so far have revealed impressive and exceptionally well preserved mineral formations. The preservation of these crystal pools, gypsum flowers, selenite crystals, cave pearls and calcite are of utmost priority, and all expedition members are well versed in the principles and practice of cave conservation. Conservation taping will be applied to protect passages, and future conservation strategies will be discussed with the nature reserve authorities and cavers active in Uzbekistan who may visit the cave in future.

2) To gain a better understanding of the interaction between the ancient cave passages within the Tamerlan Gorge and the present-day hydrology of the high limestone plateau

Tamerlan Gorge contains several other entrances where the cave has been intersected by deep downcutting, indicating that the cave is very ancient. We plan to climb and abseil to other entrances on both sides of the gorge to discover the wider extent of the cave and its interaction with the modern-day karstic drainage of the high limestone plateau. Accurate surveying of these entrances will allow us to create a computerised three-dimensional reconstruction of the cave system in the gorge, giving a better understanding of the scale and potential of Tamerlan Cave.

Time allowing, we will revisit several caves of the Hodja Acha Burun plateau (at an elevation of more than 4000m) explored by the Ukrainian and Russian expeditions of the early 1980s to determine how they end and whether snow levels have changed. The majority of the plateau’s known shafts were previously blocked with snow, but it is possible that changes in weather conditions over the past decade could have revealed a more promising top entrance.

3) To explore the cultural significance of the historic Tamerlan Cave amongst the local Uzbek population
Given Tamerlan Cave’s place in Central Asian history, we are aware that physical exploration can only ever yield a partial understanding of the site’s significance. The 2000 expedition filmed and photographed a fascinating but fragile pastoral culture.
We will hire an Uzbek translator to allow us to communicate with the local people and find out about their understanding of the cave, their knowledge of its history, and how the lower levels of the cave are used today.

We are seeking advice from the Oxford School of Social and Cultural Anthropology to learn how best to develop a holistic understanding of local attitudes and beliefs.

Previous work in this area:

Give details of any previous work in this area by your own and other teams. Include references to reports and articles published on the area, and the names of any local cavers or academics with whom you have discussed the Expedition.

Despite being used by humans for many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, the speleological significance of Tamerlan Cave only became apparent in 2000, when a small team of British and Russian cavers visited the high limestone plateaus of Uzbekistan’s Gissar mountains to find and explore previously uncharted caves. On the last day of their expedition the team entered Tamerlan Cave and rapidly doubled its known length, discovering 800 meters of enormous and well-decorated passageway. Lack of time forced them to stop at a promising climb and leave two large side passages unentered.

This breakthrough in Tamerlan offers good prospects for the discovery of a major system with great vertical and horizontal potential. The large entrance is likely to represent the resurgence of a cave system stretching 1300 meters up to the Hodja Acha Burun plateau above.

Previous Ukrainian (1984) and Russian (1986) expeditions have searched fruitlessly for a top entrance to the Tamerlan system on the plateau, whilst the 2000 expedition entered a number of shafts but found them blocked by snow and rocks. This traditional approach of exploring caves from the top down has not yielded success at Hodja Acha Burun, but developments in equipment and techniques over recent years mean that exploration from the bottom is now feasible.

Article: \'The Search for Dreams\'. ou Maurice. Descent 173 (Aug/Sep 2003).
Film: \'Caving Uzbekistan\'. Total Adventure Series, National Geographic. Camerawork: Tim Guilford. Editing: Creative Touch Film: \'Blue Feet\'. Camerawork and editing Tim Guilford. Winner of BCRA film competition 2003.

Expedition Finances


Travel plans:
Location and Internal Transport
Tamerlan Cave is located at the end of Tamerlan Gorge, in the Kashkadarya region of Uzbekistan. Our transport will be provided by \'Central Asia Adventures\' a company with more than 15 years experience of providing logistical support to expeditions in Central Asia (and who provided transport for the 2000 expedition). We will be driven from Tashkent airport via Samarkand and Shakhrisab to the Kyzyal-Gaza pass. We will then travel east as far as the road allows and then walk in to our camp, at the entrance to Tamerlan Cave.

# from UK: 4 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from UK: £4,420 Visas - £90 pp (£450)
Permit admin fee - £50
Internal Transport - £500 each way (£1000)
London-Tashkent (Aeroflot) - £500 pp return (£2500)
Excess baggage (up to 32 kg pp) - £42 pp each way (£420)

# from outside UK: 0 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from outside UK: £0

Travel total: £4,420 Travel p.p. from UK: £1,105
Travel p.p. from outside UK: £0


Total: £1,070 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £268 Food - £5 pp/day (incl. translator, £1000)
Fuel - £70 (incl. buying petrol container, £70)


Total: £3,920 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £980 Masonry drills x 2 - £120 each (£240)
Spare drill batteries x 4 - £60 each (£240)
Drill bits x 10 - £5 each (£50)
Portable Solar Panel - £600
Charge adaptor - £100
800 meters static rope - £1 per meter (£800)
120 meters dynamic rope - £1 per meter (£120)
100 maillons - £1.60 each (£160)
20 karabiners - £5 each (£100)
1000 8mm through-bolts - £1.20 each (£1200)
Bolt climbing equipment (etrier steps etc) - £100
Satellite phone hire - £6 per day (£210)

Special 1

Total: £3,450 Comments:
Special 1 p.p.: £863 Medication & trauma care - £300
Insurance - £150pp (£750)
Translator/camp guard 1 (5 weeks) - £30 per day (£1050)
Translator/camp guard 2 (5 weeks) - £30 per day (£1050)
Admin Fee - £300

Special 2

Total: £1,286 Comments:
Special 2 p.p.: £322 Contingency - £1286
Exped Total: £14,146 Exped cost p.p. travelling from UK: £3,536
Exped cost p.p. travelling from outside UK: £0
Mean Exped cost per person: £3,536

Other Funding

Total: £5,000 Comments:
Target member\'s contributions - £5000 (£1000 per person). Expedition members with higher salaries will pay a higher personal contribution than younger members.

We are in the process of applying for funding from grant-giving bodies including the Royal Geographic Society, British Cave Research Association Research Fund, AC Irvine Travel Fund.

For several years caving equipment suppliers Lyon and Starless River have provided OUCC expeditions with discounted gear and we are hopeful of their co
Total shortfall: £9,146 Mean shortfall per person: £2,286

Referees and Report

Please give the names, addresses and phone numbers of two suitably qualified people whom the Committee can contact. You should ensure that they are aware of the objectives of your trip, and that you have their permission for the Committee to contact them.

Referee 1: Mr Tony Seddon
Affiliation: Wessex Cave Club, Northern Pen

Reason: A highly experienced expedition caver and diver, Tony knows all the expedition members well and has been on expeditions with most, including the 2012 Pozu del Xitu expedition led by Ben where Tony and Paul Mackrill completed the world\'s deepest cave

Permission obtained?: Yes
Referee 2: Dr Hilary Greaves
Affiliation: OUCC, Hong Meigui Cave Explora

Reason: Expedition caver with more than 10 years experience of leading and participating in foreign caving expeditions. First British woman to the bottom of Krubera at more than -2000m). Hilary knows expedition members well and can comment on our ability to achieve our goals.

Permission obtained?: Yes

Expedition report author: Ben Hudson