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Mulu Caves 88The first lightweight venture, this was to prove the way forward for the next twenty years.

During November 1988 a six strong team visited the Park. Working closely with National Park’s staff in the region of Gunung Api 16km of new passages were discovered, explored and surveyed in a four week period.

The first task for the group, set by the Park management, was to attempt to establish a link between Clearwater Cave and Cave of the Winds. The two caves were separated by only 40m on plan but a link would increase the total length of the Clearwater System to 58km which would allow Mulu to claim to have the longest cave in southern Asia; prestige for the Park and added tourism potential for the area.

The connection is made | photo © Matt Kirby

The connection is made | photo © Matt Kirby

Work in Cave of the Winds revealed a new entrance from a doline and some minor passages, however, extensive searching in and around Illusion passage at the point closest to Clearwater revealed steeply dipping and tight bedding passages which were choked with loose boulders. A decision was made to put a team into each cave and to attempt a voice connection. A late start saw both teams enter the cave at dusk. Heading for the appointed positions the Cave of the Winds team were amazed to meet the Clearwater team heading towards then having emerged from one of the bouldery squeezes in Illusion. They had followed the only obvious lead from King Seth’s Maze, up a small 3m climb, which lead to a tight vertical rift. This emerged in the dipping bouldery beds which had been seen from the top. So the link was established and the first through trip between the two caves was made with all the group making an exit via the Clearwater 1 river. An exciting trip was made downriver in the dark back to base camp at Long Pala.

The rather dismal Leopard Camp | photo © Matt Kirby

The rather dismal Leopard Camp | photo © Matt Kirby

Following the success in Cave of the Winds the team headed to a forest camp outside Leopard Cave to commence the searching of the slopes north from here. The group split into three with one team heading into Clearwater via Snake Track entrance to investigate the massive 100m pitch known as Ronnie’s Delight. The pitch has been descended in 1984 but not pushed beyond its base. A descent was made but ramps from its base led, via awkward climbs, upwards for 100m to another equally impressive pitch which was not descended due to a lack of rope, it was estimated to be at least 100m. This pitch was named Deep Thought.

Whilst the Ronnie’s Delight team were in Clearwater a three man team headed north from Leopard Camp. The first success was the relocation of Clearwater’s northern exit where a powerful cave draft was found emitting from boulders. Unfortunately at the time it appeared the entrance had totally collapsed, however, not familiar with the nature of the entrance the team didn’t realise it was necessary to crawl between loose boulders to gain access; much easier from the inside as one could head for daylight.

North from here a new cave was discovered Birthday Cave. Although not extensive this cave give encouragement to the team that bigger things were to be found. Further to the north Imperial Cave was relocated. This had been explored during the 1978 expedition. Above this another small cave was discovered, Noah’s Cave, which appeared to be an upper level of Imperial Cave but was not connected.

Winged Formations in the Flower Shop, Blackrock Cave, 1988 | photo © Matt Kirby

Winged Formations in the Flower Shop, Blackrock Cave, 1988 | photo © Matt Kirby

200m north from Noah’s Cave leaves were seen to be swaying in a breeze on a ledge 30m up the slope. Investigation revealed a small entrance with a healthy cave draft and a poisonous centipede standing guard. This was the break which the team had dreamed of. Blackrock Cave had been discovered and this entrance, named Centipede, led upwards to another entrance, the Hayloft,  and onwards to reveal 14km of large, impressive low-level passages all explored within only eight days. A large river passage, named Firecracker, headed north for 2.2km in a straight line but exploration of this could not be completed before the team had to return home. Southwards led to a steep bouldery ramp (the Eagle’s Ramp) which headed steeply upwards for 135m to end in a blank wall, however, a small hole was noted in the roof, a hint of things to come. At the base of the Eagle’s Ramp a muddy side passage led into a streamway which formed the upstream continuation of the Clearwater River some 3.2km to the south. Unfortunately this streamway, named ‘Black Magic’, ended in a sumps both north and south after a short distance. Other large passages were left for another day.

Back at Camp another team had headed up-slope for 300m above Leopard Cave to discover a new entrance which was choked with calcite after 80m. It was named the Python Passage Exit as this is thought to be a continuation of Python passage in Leopard Cave.

Unfortunately the expedition was not without incident. Whilst working in Blackrock Cave one of the Park guides stumbled and broke a leg whilst descending a steep boulder slope. This led to a full scale rescue which took 24 hours to bring the patient to surface and a further 12 hours to get him through the forest and down river to hospital. Fortunately the he made a full recovery.

Expedition Members

The 1988 team

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