With winter abating and spring another month away, my friend Bo called and said it was time to go for a five-kilometer exploration of northern China’s largest public hole, Silver Fox Cave (Yinhu Dong). Naturally, I accepted the invitation and asked how many days I should pack for. The reply surprised me – half a day. How is it that there is a massive cave system only 90 minutes away from Beijing and I had never heard of it? Okay, so I never actually flipped through the Beijing Immersion Guide, nor have I looked for things outside of the city much since we don’t own a car. But until last week, none of my car-touting friends had mentioned it either. Since wandering around Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest the week before was a hit (see post here), I was down with exploring the underbelly of a mountain.
Whereas most caves have gapping openings that announce their presence to the world’s inhabitants, Silver Fox Cave was not discovered until 1991 when miners where conducting exploratory drilling in the area and happened upon this natural wonder which was subsequently named for it’s signature formation – a beautiful two meter long white crystal filigree that to some resembles an upside down fox. To me, it simply looked like a stunning geological wonder ensconced behind glass that sadly had not been cleaned for some time.
Despite the obscured visibility of the fox, the trek through the cave was worth the 60RMB price tag. After descending about 90 meters, we were led through four kilometers of caves in places narrow enough where I should have ducked (ouch) and others where it felt like we had entered some bizarre gothic cathedral. Even though we did not have enough Chinese between us to understand our guide’s narration, she dutifully prattled on about each formation as we wandered up, down, and around the dimly lit pathway. With each turn of the trail, new otherworldly features would appear like scenes out of Lord of the Rings – minus the orcs. Stalactites and stalagmites punctuated other formations described on illuminated signs as stone chrysanthemums, forests, pearls, goosenecks and even one that resembled Chairman Mao, or Barak Obama, or even me without the glasses.
About half-way in to our tour, we arrived at the underground stream where another guide used a cable suspended to the ceiling of the cave to pull up along the one kilometer long crystal clear water way. Though the river was not particularly deep and looked pristine and inviting, our guide discouraged us from going for a swim. At one end we could hear an underground waterfall, but even with our torches, we could not see the origin of the gentle cascade before our guide reversed course.
After another 30 minutes or so of climbing up and down stairs, we arrived at the most unexpected portion of our journey into the bowels of the mountain – a mini-sized train that looked like it had been stolen from an abandoned amusement park. Tired from our hike, we gladly sat down in the dim compartments and dutifully obeyed the conductors warning to keep our hands inside the train car at all times. Once we started moving, I shone my torchlight out the open window and could see the rough-hewn stone wall coming within inches of the train.
After we disembarked, we ascended a stairway that gave the illusion of never ending, yet thankfully did. In all, we were underground about two hours. Even on a Friday afternoon, we were able to return home in time to meet the kids after school. Undoubtedly, the kids will be demanding to go next time.
For details on how to get to the cave by bus or by car check out this entry at the Beijinger here.