MALAYSIAN EXPEDITION 1996 SUMMARY
by Chris Johnson (edited by Alan Gray)
This summary of the 1996 expedition covers only the cave exploration of this expedition, provides a background of Malaysia both as a country and geologically and also serves as a, somewhat long, introduction to the 1998 expedition.
A reconnaissance of the area was made by Martin Rhys � 1 June 1996 to 9 June 1996
17th November - 6th December
Purpose of the Expedition
To locate, explore, film and survey previously unexplored cave systems within the Perlis Region of the Northern Peninsular of Malaysia; an area that is known to contain caves but has had little exploration, and thus its caving potential is unknown.
Main Expedition Members
Team members were all from Axbridge Caving Group and included:
Martin Rhys (organisation, driving and finance)
Roger Gullidge (organisation, filming)
Paul Hodgson (tackle, survey)
Duncan Hooper (first aid)
Chris Johnson (expedition log)
Also present for part of the expedition was Liz Price who currently lives in Kuala Lumpur.
MALAYSIA - A Short Background
Malaysia has been uniquely singled out by nature, the monsoon winds creates a unique climate. The winds that arrive from both the north and south meet on the Malaysian peninsula and have a dramatic effect on the weather producing a heavy annual rainfall and high humidity. This climate is ideal for tropical rain forest, which once covered the whole country, and therefore it�s diverse animal and insect life. Its climate has also enabled the Malaysian inhabitants, for thousands of years, to develop the production of rice-paddy cultivation. Rubber and oil palm plantations production by Malaysia has exceeded the rice cultivation in the world market but remains the backbone of the village life in Malaysia.
Malaysia has abundant mineral and forest resources. Peninsular Malaysia has long been one of the world's largest producers of tin; in the early 1990s it ranked third after Brazil and Indonesia. In 1993 mining contributed about 8.5 per cent of GDP. It employs less than 1 per cent of the labour force. Malaysia is still one of the world's leading suppliers of tin, although production has declined sharply, from 70,000 metric tons of concentrates in the 1970s to 28,500 tons in 1990.
Visitors and tourists visiting Malaysia are greeted with friendly smiles and welcomed with warm hospitality. The Governments environmental policy should not be criticised - deportation could be enforced. Be warned - selling drugs is a capital offense - offenders will be hanged. The beaches are a tropical paradise and the mountains overlook the jungle landscape. Orangutans still swing through the jungles and elephants and rhinoceroses roam the plains. At present the wealth of diverse species of animal and plant life is still impressive, but because the majority of them are living in the diminishing jungle their existence is threatened. The task of national parks will be to protect what remains of the irreplaceable flora and fauna.
The rice paddies and strangely structured limestone formations are predominant in the Perlis area. It is the northernmost state in Malaysia and only 795 sq. km in area. Due to the intensive agriculture and kind climate the agriculture yields high quantities of rice, sugar and large amounts of rubber. The coastal villages provide fish. About 78% of the inhabitants are Malays, while 17% trace their origin to China. A subterranean tourist attraction in the Perlis area is the cave called Gua Kelam (Dark Cave)where electric light illuminates the impressive formations.
Geology of the Perlis Area
The limestones of the Perlis region are of two contrasting formations Chuping and Setul. The Setul mountain range runs along the Thai border on the western side of Perlis. This Setul limestone is thick and from the lower Palaeozoic; it dates from the Ordovician - Lower Devonian period, i.e. 450 - 350 million years ago, and is therefore one of the oldest limestones in Malaysia. It has thick soil cover and vegetation, and provides a rugged terrain, with protruding rock pinnacles, sinks, cliffs and wangs (dry valleys usually surrounded by cliffs). It forms the long Setul Boundary Range, which runs into Thailand. The highest peak of the range is Bukit Pelarit, 553m, with Bukit Wang Mu at 540m. The outcrop is generally less than 5km wide in Perlis. There are extensive caves, which are guided by major bedding planes with dominant north-south strike.
The younger Chuping limestones outcrop in central Perlis, and are pure carbonate. They are thinner and more massive than the Setul limestones, which results in abundant isolated cliffs with stunted vegetation, which stands out from the coastal plains and flat paddy fields. They are from the middle Permian - early Triassic, 250 - 210 million years old. Tin is the only important mineral to have been exploited in Perlis, but it never contributed more than 0.7% of the total ore produced by Malaysia annually.
Geological Map of the Northwest Region of Malaysia
The Setul Boundary Range is honeycombed with extensive caves, which contain the tin bearing alluvium. In the Kaki Bukit area the alluvium contains detrital tin derived from the contact zone of the Bukit China granite by weathering, and later distribution of the debris. The deposits are found now in valley bottoms, caves and underground rivers. They were worked extensively by Chinese miners, who penetrated thousands of metres into the hills looking for the workable alluvium. This type of mining is unique, being carried out in caves deep in the hills - cave mining on such a scale is known nowhere else in the world. The Chinese settlers probably first worked the tin in the 19th Century, but European miners first came to Perlis just before the first World War. The Chuping hills have no tin, but have been extensively worked for guano.
GLOSSARY OF EXPEDITION RELATED MALAYSIAN WORDS
anak bukit - hillock gunong - mountain
bukit - hill sungai - river
gua - cave
Wednesday 20th November 1996
The team visited Gua Kelam (Dark Cave) in the evening, parked the van at the back entrance of the Show Cave, changed and walked between some lakes towards the cave entrance. It was 7.50 pm before we arrived at the cave and now totally dark. It was with some trepidation that we followed Liz into the water, which was flowing, from the cave resurgence. The water flowing from the cave was quite a sizeable stream and could almost be classed as a river (some four metres across and one metre deep and flowing quite fast). The cave is a resurgence, and is next to a section of Show Cave, which consists of a 370-metre tunnel though the hill, which takes a very large and fast flowing river from the Wang. A suspended walkway, above the river in the Show Cave, once took a railway and was built by miners to transport the ore extracted from Gua Kelam and surrounding mines. This walkway was constructed such that minor adjustments to its position, to allow for the rise and fall of the water level, could be accommodated by adjustments of the suspension wires. The river in the Show Cave takes perhaps five times the volume of water escaping from Gua Kelam and is the start of the main water coarse, which flows along the bottom of the hills we planned to explore. Gua Kelam is not part of the show cave but was used extensively by miners to gain access to ore bearing areas. As a consequence there are large sections of partially submerged and submerged railway line and rotten beams; the water was very deep in several places underneath the track. The main parts of the cave were surveyed by the Malaysian Nature Society at 3.5km. The railway track was suspended from steel pins, which were driven into the wall of the cave; these were very useful in maintaining our balance as we progressed through and up the passages. A wire line at or above head height, with plastic restraining tags was evident along most of the main streamway. Apparently when in flood this is the only way to get down river. Further into the cave (30 minutes) we entered a very large dry section up to 200ft high and 50ft wide with cracked mud floors. We pursued the cave as far as the Nature Society had surveyed - where our path was blocked by a very steep calcite and mud bank perhaps 80ft high. Paul and Chris climbed the bank and pursued the continuation at high level for about 300ft before turning back at a deep-water section across which a continuation could be seen. Railway tracks were also evident at this higher level indicating the possible existence of significant passage beyond. We hoped to return to complete the exploration and to survey.
Note: We did return, later in the expedition, [Saturday 30th November] only to find the passage was heading north, was very close to the cliff face with tree roots coming through and terminated in small chambers and chokes after only a short distance. Furthermore when we eventually saw the cave survey produced by the Malaysian government we found this section had also been surveyed.
Saturday 30th November.
We decided to try to find the upstream sections of Dark Cave; which we hoped would head in a southerly direction. We entered the cave at 10am; only a short, level walk to this entrance! We headed straight back to the climb we pushed on our first visit only to be disappointed that this was in the opposite direction (north). Tree roots were found at the end of the passage and we suppose we were very close to the cliff face above the resurgence.
We surveyed the section (which had not previously been done by Liz or the Nature Society) and followed the compass in a southerly direction. Roger and Duncan found an engineered passage and followed it to an opening in the cliff face about 50ft above the entrance, which would provide easy access for filming. Martin remained, by himself, in between both parties to inform them which route the other had taken. Paul and Chris followed the compass and headed south and made the connection we were looking for, and returned for the others. We headed upstream almost exactly due south (in support of our theories). The streamway south of the sump showed more evidence of major mining engineering than the north side, with concrete structures and suspended railway lines. We followed a high-level ledge upstream past a small cascade and then entered the streamway by a concrete doorway-type structure. We continued following the stream south through a high rift until a large lake was found with railway and pipe structures in a very poor condition. The railway had decayed and fallen into the bottom of the lake. Several pipes were suspended around the wall about two and a half metres above the water. Originally the railway would have gone across the centre of the lake. The way on was a 10-metre swim keeping well clear of the debris. The stream was regained and a very large diameter pipe (about half a metre) accompanied the stream. Soon another, much larger, lake was found 100 metres by 25 metres (we later found out, when measured by Liz using a plumb line, at over 30 metres deep). Across the pool an amazing walkway had been constructed using the submerged pipe as footing and cables and pipes as handrails. It reminded us of something from Indiana Jones! We crossed the walkway and continued southwards again. The passage was shallow and low, half-filled with water and showed no significant water flow. We followed the passage for about 60 metres. The passage was getting lower and less inviting. No draught was evident.
Liz brought with her the survey done by the Malaysian Nature Society in 1992. This showed we had explored just about all of the cave and a few little mining passages not shown. It showed the final passage as about 250 metres long, and the stream entering via a small sink in a Wang not marked on the map. Possibly it was only passable in the dry season because no draught was evident. We theorise that the majority of the stream enters the large lake from the fault line at greater depth; perhaps a fruitful place for cave diving.
Monday 2nd December.
After a few attempts a young lad took us into a cafe and introduced us to a middle-aged Chinese man, who spoke remarkably good English. Not only did he speak good English but also his father was a machine operator in the mines. He took us over to the entrance to Dark Cave that Duncan and Roger had emerged from a couple of days ago, and said the building next to us was the miner�s lodgings (now a barn) and that the miners entered the mine through the entrance to Dark Cave. He also said that, in the past, the big lake was pumped out and was 200 metres deep with many working levels below; this is why Liz�s 30 metre tape didn�t reach the bottom!
He told us stories of chambers with seven or more levels, several hundred metres deep, and of the miners who fell from the scaffolding to their deaths. Some bad accidents would kill ten or more if scaffolding collapsed. He said that all the mines were interconnected (as we had seen i.e. the gates) by natural and blasted passages. This confirmed many of the things we had suspected. The whole area is an enormous network of underground passages, huge natural chambers and of incredible industrial and archaeological interest. Even the lakes at the top of the Wang Mu trail were man-made as a result of some open-cast mining in the distant past. The modifications to the streamways and pipes were for flood control and transport of ore as slurry - although originally the ore was transported down the hills on people�s backs.
EXPLORATION ALONG THE WANG MU MINER�S TRAIL
Thursday 21 November 1996
We explored along the Wang Mu miners path. Foh Thye was the name of the mining company that exploited the caves in the area to obtain access to silt rich in zinc and tin up until as little as 15 years ago, when the price of these metals dropped to a level where extraction by the method detailed below became unprofitable.
Note: The deposits were washed into the cave systems during erosion of the upper layers. The watercourses have subsequently cut new cave systems at lower and lower levels, leaving pockets of metal rich silt. The miners were therefore exhuming ancient fossil caves and not necessarily destroying natural cave passages. The miners did make some passages and sump bypasses, and, as we later discovered, they modified some of the active streamways by building sluices and constrictions - we think to control pulses of flood water from endangering workers further down in the system. They were either not interested in, or respected the natural formations because, where they existed, we found them mostly untouched. We found the modifications and engineering involved were absolutely fascinating - but more on this later.
During the early mining days the metal rich ore was carried by people down the miner�s track. The miners made a rough walkway from large pieces of limestone of irregular shapes and sizes, which filled in the gaps between natural outcrops of bare stone. The path involved a couple of easy climbs and was so uneven and narrow it could never have been passed by pack animals. After about half an hour of walking and about 130 metres of ascent we came to some pot holes of about 20 metres depth four metres across and seven metres wide. These showed no signs of exploitation by miners and since this was a reconnaissance trip we did not carry ropes or SRT kit with us and could not explore them further. After a further � of an hour we came to a large depression with a lake in the bottom. We all carefully descended into the depression where we could see the remains of an old corrugated structure. After a bit of poking around we located a slot which took water. Duncan and Paul went down to explore the cave with the limited kit that they had. The cave was mostly high level passage near the surface with other entrance points visible. The stream was followed until it flowed into a small hole and had no visible ways on. Duncan and Paul emerged from the hole and after another � hour of walking we descended into a fairly deep depression. After some exploration of various holes and depressions of limited extent we found a doorway-sized entrance with the remains of a rotted ladder descending 20ft to a stream. We clambered down and followed the stream which was of moderate size for about 200 metres until it descended steeply down a tight and low calcited passage at an angle of about 45 degrees, which may have been passable with proper caving equipment - we were only using torches and in our shorts and tee shirts at the time. A passage to the left was then followed which split into two. The passage to the right degenerated to a crawl and looked like it was just a pocket, where ore was extracted. The passage to the left assumed larger dimensions and after some easy climbing downwards came to the head of a 60ft pitch. Beyond, the passage appeared to be much larger and the roaring of water could be heard below. We resolved to return, thinking that this site had more potential due to the large lake nearby, with appropriate equipment and returned to the surface and our guide.
The entrance that we had used was once part of the Foh Thye Mines and according to Liz will be known as Gua Foh Thye or Foh Thye Cave. It is in the Wang Mu area in Mikim (district) of Titi Tinggi, about 4.5km south of Kaki Bukit.
A further 15 minutes walk along the trail brought us to another miner�s entrance by the remains of old mine buildings (rotted corrugated iron). We entered a rather complex series of dry passages, which we followed to a lower section of quite large dimensions (17 metres high and 7 metres wide). One direction closed down but the other continued to a section of narrow blasted passage and a drop of about 10 metres to a substantial stream passage. The blasted section was drafting very strongly towards the stream passage. Again we resolved to return and headed back.
GUA WANG ULU
Saturday 23rd November
After our introductions we followed Hymeir and our new translator to a small rural community near Batu Putch Buaya, in the Wang Bintong area, where four resurgences emerge from the base of the cliffs below the rain forest called Wang Ulu. The water from these resurgences keeps large areas of paddy field supplied with water.
The first resurgence, who�s name we didn�t know but we called it �Gua Wang Ulu�, we looked at, appeared sumped (the weather has been quite wet since we arrived) although water did not seem to be flowing; perhaps this is just the level of the water table.
We returned to the first resurgence (Gua Wang Ulu) now we had our wet suits on. After further exploration in the water and more in the bush, we were near to heat exhaustion when Roger and Duncan found a way in at water level. The rest of us followed after their initial reconnaissance (to the only chamber). We explored 300 metres plus of wet passage, wading and swimming. The initial entrance passage was a rift about 70cm wide at 45 degrees, with about two metres in air and two metres below water. Most of the upper section was narrow, allowing about 60cm to keep our heads and shoulders above water before closing down. Many tree roots came through the roof and into the water, which caught on our headsets and caused us to get tangled on occasion. On the original reconnaissance Roger was shocked by something large that swam by and touched his hand. It also brushed against Duncan and turned round and swam back up the rift. Roger and Duncan were quite spooked by this as its head looked just like that of a snake and also their movement was very restricted by the rift and the roots, but they continued to the end of the rift where the passage enlarged and a dry chamber 20 metres round and three metres high was found. It was then realised that the animal was not a fish, but a large Terrapin with a shell 50cm across, which was now resting on a low shelf. Roger and Duncan returned to the entrance for the rest of us, and we all passed the Terrapin on the shelf Paul saw an even bigger Terrapin near the dry chamber and we wondered if this was a safe haven for them. We decided not to tell the locals about them in case they were inclined to kill or eat them.
We then entered a high passage, perhaps 15 to 20 metres high in places and chest deep to swimming and about two metres wide. We followed this passage as far as we could but it eventually sumped. The high passage was interrupted in two places by lower sections; the first nearly sumped but we found a dry oxbow some seven metres long which by-passed the sump. The second low section comprised of two narrow slots side by side, which lead to a low domed chamber about four metres in diameter. Water pipes were below the surface in one place; probably laid by the locals in dry weather to feed their water supply. Several high sections of rift were explored but all narrowed and no sump bypass was located. We returned, glad of the wet suits which were just about right for continual submersion in these tropical temperatures.
Monday 25th November
We re-visited the Gua Wang Ulu resurgence to do some wet filming and survey the cave we found. We filmed bats and terrapins and went to the end of the cave we had visited on Saturday. The water was several centimetres lower than on our last visit, and a low duck seemed interesting near the end of the cave. Paul went about 4m into the duck; there was a shelf about half a metre below the surface but this ran out. Paul shouted through the small gap and a large echo returned; this is obviously the way on. We contemplated going through but there was only a 5cm airgap, we were treading water and there was some uncertainty as to the length of the duck - as it turned out we would have been in big trouble had we gone through.
Filming complete, Roger returned to the surface with Duncan to jettison the filming gear and start surveying. Martin was in the front of the surveying team, Paul taking the readings and Chris writing them down; Duncan was taking photographs. Both Roger and Duncan caught up with the survey team just before the two slots which leads into a low domed chamber about 30m from the oxbow. The slots were side by side, separated by a metre. The first was dry, just above water level and one metre high. The second was about 0.4m wide with about 0.4m airspace and about 0.6m underwater. We surveyed it almost to the end and were just about to enter the second slot when Martin said �What�s that noise?� - we were all quiet and listened. There was a glugging, slurping noise, (a sound that we all recognised but could not place - like the tidal sump in Otter Hole, South Wales) then Roger said �The water�s rising!� Paul said �Everybody back, quick!� The water , which had previously been muddied by our movements, cleared rapidly as a strong current carried the mud away. We had a frightening and rapid exit heading towards Terrapin Chamber near the entrance as the water rose by about half a metre in about 10 to 20 seconds (we had no way of knowing, at this time, when the rising would stop.) Although we had a hurried exit back to Terrapin Chamber we all kept an eye out for the person behind. Checking that they were still following at regular intervals and ready to help if required. However once in the fast flowing water we had absolutely no way of controlling our rate of exit until we reached a point where our feet could touch the ground and thus halt our headlong exit.
Two incidents then occurred :
I followed the stream and ended up in a now sumped oxbow and had to backtrack a few metres to take the dry bypass.
Martin, who was last, was almost washed away from the entry to the bypass as the current strengthened and I had to return and pull him back.
Ed - I think Chris, in his diary is being very modest in his involvement with the rescue of Martin, so I persuaded Martin to tell the story from his point of view, which puts it in its correct perspective.
We were surveying and I was in the front with one end of the tape and had arrived at a point by two slots. I heard a noise that sounded like the Tidal Sump in Otter Hole. Roger instantly recognised it, saw the water rising and clearing. Paul shouted for everyone to get out. The tree roots penetrating from the roof made a fast exit very difficult and dangerous. As I was first in, I was last out. Duncan was in front and I�m not sure the order of the team in the middle. We all swam downstream. The water was rising very quickly and has become very fast flowing. About halfway back towards safety there was a duck (now a sump of unknown length) and just before the sump at a higher level an oxbow bypass. When I arrived there two of the party [Paul followed by Chris] were climbing onto the shelf which was the start of the bypass (our only exit). Since there were two climbing out these was no room for me and I was unable to find a handhold to stop my headlong downstream descent. I was swept towards the sump desperately trying to swim back but the current was stronger than my swimming. I saw the last person disappearing into the bypass and thought shit!!!! I called twice for help and luckily Chris heard my shouts above the roar of the water and came back into the stream and grabbed me. The current was too strong and we were dragged apart. He grabbed me a second time, and according to him, I was underwater, I don�t remember; everything was happening so quickly. Somehow he managed to get my hands onto the shelf and I pulled my self out of the stream and was soon at the other end of the bypass. I could see the rest of the party in front, at the end of quite a low passageway. Roger was shouting for me to hurry (did he think I was having a picnic!!!). I jumped back into the water, the walls of the cave flew past, and within what seemed like seconds I had caught the rest up. As our exit from the cave was underwater we turned right into Terrapin Chamber and found a high dry chamber to wait for the water to drop. After about 15 minutes an air space appeared and we all slowly made our way out, one at a time. Afterwards whilst talking to Chris he said that his thoughts, when he returned to rescue me, were that this was as good as any place to die. I have no doubt that Chris�s prompt brave action saved my life (Thanks).
This whole episode was over in only four minutes!!!
The last stretch to Terrapin Chamber flew by as we were all washed along. From Terrapin Chamber our exit rift was now impassable so we desperately searched for high ground with some urgency, but luckily the water stopped rising. Terrapin Chamber had a high section at the rear with piles of rock , which we sat on in an attempt to keep clear of the water. At the entrance to Terrapin Chamber, if one looked up into the main river rift, a patch of daylight could be seen up high; probably passable if someone small could get up there. After about ten minutes the water had dropped just enough to exit; with our chins in the water for the last few metres. We decided to take this opportunity in case the water gradually rose and cut us off for a lengthy period.
It should be noted that the only form of rescue is self-rescue; we think the villagers knew we were in the cave but were not told what time we had planned to return. We don�t think that the villagers would have been likely to mount a rescue if we had not shown up.
We returned safely to the surface slightly shaken. The weather was still fine outside, but thunder could be heard some distance into the hills (maybe miles) and large black clouds could just be made out. When we entered the cave some two and a half-hours earlier not a cloud could be seen. This pulse of water must have flowed through large open unexplored passages that extend back into the hills. This incident was not only a warning to us, but indicated the possible length of the cave system, which must lie beyond. We resolved to take as many precautions as possible in our future trips, and also take spare food with us in case we got cut off for any period.
THYE SAN MINE
Sunday 24th November 1996
After breakfast we picked up Ismael and he took us to a trail just north of the Wang Mu miner�s trail that we visited on Thursday (about 1km north of the miner�s track) The trail led up into the hills, opposite a waterfall and a large pond with some derelict buildings of corrugated iron near the pond. The path led us steeply up the hill into an area marked �LADANG HOE SEOUNG KEAT� on the map. The whole area was riddled with small holes, vertical and horizontal shafts and rock shelters.
We continued along the trail gaining some height again and passed over the top of the ridge into a �Wang�. The path followed a slightly downward sloping ridge with fairly steep wooded sides. The guide took us down a disused path to the left into a depression/wang. We descended possibly 60 metres to some decaying corrugated iron buildings; one of which houses two very large Mercedes Benz diesel engines. The guide told us the mine was in use until about fifteen years ago. A further ten metres below the rotted engine house was an open entrance with more rotted corrugated iron around and in the hole. An initial drop of seven metres was fitted with a rotten wooden ladder that collapsed when kicked. An alternative descent through boulders was found and Duncan, Roger and Chris descended. Paul and Martin followed a little later.
The character of the mine was that of multiple levels of broken rock and grit within a large fault or rift. Many wooden ladders were used to descend the rift but we still felt very exposed. We used some of the ladders if they seemed sound enough to take our weight; others were obviously in an unfit state and we had to free climb down or find an alternative route; one or two ladders gave way when we were descending! The open areas were typically ten metres long by five metres wide and between five to ten metres high. The way on/down could only be seen when the previous level had been descended. Duncan and Chris were the first to reach the bottom of the laddered section, an estimated 100 metres below the surface, where a the fault/rift intersected a small stream. The stream was followed on hands and knees along a stal floor in a totally natural passage. This passage dipped steeply down after about ten metres at about 45 degrees soaking our shorts and T-shirts through as we descended. The passage increased in size and entered the middle of a large natural chamber and the stream tumbled over a ten-metre pitch. A wooden ladder was not to be trusted so we retreated. The final chamber we reached must have been 20 metres high and ten metres across. We exited the cave and made our way back, just before it started to rain. Liz thinks the name of this mine was Thye San Mine.
FOH THYE MINE
Tuesday 26th November.
We had lunch and entered the cave at about 12.30pm after putting on our 3mm wet/furry combination suits. We were very warm even when in the water. We made our way to the first pitch carrying the ropes and bolting kit, and Paul and Chris each put a bolt in and Roger descended first with the video. The pitch was about 20 metres and was followed after a sizeable landing by another pitch of about 22 metres. We all descended the first pitch and bolted the next pitch; three bolts this time. The two pitches we descended were dry apart from drips and the stream could be seen and heard entering the large chamber (8m by 6m) on the right hand side. We were all a bit nervous about flood pulses and flooding in general and were careful to note the high ground; especially after sections of low passage.
The pitches we descended looked as though they may be active in wet weather as an overflow to the main streamway, which is rather narrow in places. After bolting the second pitch it was getting close to four pm and we wanted to get down before it got dark, so Roger and Duncan went down the bottom pitch for a quick reconnaissance whilst Martin, Paul and Chris tidied up and prepared to survey out from the top of the first pitch to the surface. Roger and Duncan reported that the stream took a sharp left turn at the bottom; further on the stream returns to the original direction and then sumps. However, since the cave had been used by miners they appear to have dug a high level bypass in natural rift. This was the total of exploration for today.
Wednesday 27th November.
In the entrance was the largest spider (whip scorpion) seen to date - its leg span was easily 14 cm, and its body was about four cm in diameter. We returned to the two pitches bolted yesterday and once again descended. The bottom of the second pitch (both pitches have now re-surveyed) at about 15 metres was very wet with the stream coming in above and to the right. It was quite draughty and I was almost on the verge of being cool, as I was wearing just a T-shirt and thin track suit bottoms.
We followed the stream down two cascades of about five metres until the stream entered a sump after about 70 metres. Since the cave had been mined the miners had fortunately already enlarged a bypass passage by removing sediment. (The same bypass that Roger & Duncan found yesterday) The tin ore deposit in the caves had washed in with silt thus filling some of the natural caves. The miners therefore were mostly recovering the silt, and ore, from the cave with some blasting in order to get to new parts of the cave along existing faults and passageway; thus not a great deal of damage has been done to the cave. It was common for the miners to build low dams and pipe water so as to keep passageway dry, but these pipes have all decayed and no longer work.. Old mine artifacts have been calcited into the cave and form extra and unusual formations, e.g. a calcited light bulb, wheel or pipe.
The bypass was followed upwards on hands and knees for some time until a large dry passage was reached. A fossil passage had been exhumed during extraction of the tin- rich silt and numerous side passages formed. A very large chamber was found with a large calcite wall seven metres high, which we will need to bolt before we can explore beyond. The chamber is an estimated 40 metres high and an unknown size above which we were unable to explore due to a seven metre high calcite curtain. We are considering camping in this chamber to speed our exploration. Roger explored a lower continuation whilst the rest of the group looked at all other possibilities. We think the passage heads down towards the stream below the sump because it draughts so well it extinguished Roger�s carbide light. Unfortunately time had ran out and today�s explorations had to cease since we were committed to surveying on the way out. We will return to explore further.
The ropes were left in and we surveyed out; about 500m of passage surveyed so far and a probable 1km explored.
Friday 29th November.
Martin and Paul surveyed while Duncan, Roger and Chris went back to the draughting passage with the gate in it. (the sump by-pass). The small crawling passage inclined at about 20 degrees downhill. After 30 metres or more the passage re-joined the stream bypassing the first sump. We followed the stream through mostly natural passage with some sections obviously enlarged by miners; the bore holes could be seen in the walls.
Long sections of passage were of quite small, one metre wide by two metres high, and of square section and showed signs of flooding, i.e. debris in the roof. The water level was mostly only up to knee deep with some deeper sections. The direction was almost straight and although we didn�t have a compass we suspect it is heading almost due north; the direction just before the sump. Large sections of passage appeared to be within a natural rift/fault with surprisingly few cascades or sudden drops. We passed the bottom of a large pot, perhaps 22 metres high and seven metres across, which entered at the side of the rift. The outside poles of a ladder ascended the pitch but the rungs had completely disintegrated. We suspected more mine levels were above us.
In the lower reaches of the passage explored, we found a substantial concrete structure in one of the engineered sections of passage; it was a doorway-sized opening and one metre thick. We theorised that perhaps the miners had locked off the passage by putting sleepers behind the opening so that water built up in the passage behind. This could have been blown to produce a flood to wash silt and ore down the fault line towards Kaki Bukit for processing. Other supporting evidence is the lack of feasible tracks to take the ore out of the rain forest.
Note: We later found the remains of a rail system in a much larger dry rift above so our final theory was that these structures were to control flood pulses from endangering workers further down in the cave system.
We returned, after pushing the cave passage for about 700 metres. On the way out we noticed a considerable amount of rain had fallen and swollen the stream entrance of Foh Thye Cave, but not to dangerous levels.
Sunday 1st December.
We entered the cave at 11am and headed straight for the stream. We returned to the swim near the limit of current exploration at which point Martin and Paul elected to survey back while the rest of us pushed on. (Martin & Paul had a large distance to survey back to the previous last point of survey and many readings had to be taken since in the majority, the line of sight was short). After swimming the short section a stream enters a rift of narrow dimensions. Some distance above the stream, foot-holds had been moulded in the wall from a clay/concrete type material, which made traversing very easy. After perhaps 50 metres of high rift the stream entered a larger chamber and went down a cascade. In the bottom of the chamber a concrete blockhouse-type structure has been built and the stream sinks through a hole in the bottom through an opening � metre square. We now consider these intermittent constrictions are a form of pulse or flood control to protect workers further down in the mine.
The hole through which the stream passes was a short pitch requiring a ladder, (and very wet, even in the low water conditions when we explored it.) Since we didn�t have a ladder we climbed over the wall, made from concrete blocks, and continued up a large passage well above the stream level. After about 20 metres ascent up a muddy slope (one set of footprints of some age were observed) we came to a short traverse over the top of the rift with the stream some 40 metres below. The upper passage continued through knee-deep mud (still showing one set of footprints).
A short climb entered a dead-end with fine formations including many helectites, (quite a rarity in Malaysia.) The main passage continued and narrowed somewhat (no footprints in the mud!). A strong draught was evident and suddenly we entered the very top of an enormous chamber from which the stream could be heard at the bottom. The remains of a ladder and some of its supports descended the steeply sloping floor. The chamber was an estimated 50 metres downslope, at an angle of 40�, to the stream and about the same width.
The floor of the chamber consists of knobbly mud formation hardened by calcite. We were able to climb down some distance, and the knobbly bits changed to thick mud. The descent became too dangerous for us to continue without a hand line so we returned to the others who had nearly reached the pitches, descended on the inward trip, when we rejoined them.
On the way out we decided to explore the one remaining unexplored side passage near the entrance. This passage was a mined tunnel about two metres high and one metre across. The remains of an old generator or motor were found. Further on a large, metal barred gate was found (thankfully left open). The passage became a bit wet with 12 to 16 cm of water in the bottom. Further on a local enlargement/chamber provided a choice of direction - straight on in mined passage or up a 45 degree slope of much larger dimension and littered with wood, corrugated iron and wire.
We split into two groups; Paul, Martin and Chris ascended the slope to a level landing above a drop of ten metres to where the others had emerged below. The chasm was square-shaped and possibly partly mined ; 3 metres across and 12 metres wide. The chamber continued high above. Across the chasm a very large chamber could be seen; our lights (both electric and carbide) could not pick out the other side or its upper limits. This section remains to be explored because it was now time to make our exit back down through the rain-forest before dusk.
It was 5.15pm when we left the cave (six and a quarter hours underground). It rained quite heavily on our return walk.
Tuesday 3rd December.
After slogging up the hill and changing we were ready to enter the cave at 10am. The ground was very wet and as soon as we entered the cave we realised the volume of rain that had fallen up here must have been great. It was obvious that the water had been higher earlier - enough to have backed-up in the main stream course and flowed down side passages. The original plan was for Duncan, Roger and Liz to push the main stream as far as possible and survey while Paul, Martin and Chris were to scale the chasm near the entrance and push the enormous rift, with the hope that we may converge further along with the stream team. Due to the water levels the stream team decided to abort their push because of lack of knowledge about flood possibilities in some of the smaller downstream passages, which were known to flood (debris right up to the roof) and the recent memories of the near disaster in Gua Wang Ulu.
They decided to descend the pitches, have a look at the water levels in the main stream passage and video, photograph and survey the lower chamber (which Liz was quite keen to see). Paul, Martin and Chris could continue as planned. The side passage leading to the chasm was flowing with water today and there was a considerable waterfall at the side of the chasm. Chris found a way up the ten metre high obstacle blocking our progress by climbing up through the waterfall and traversing across. Paul followed and we rigged a ladder; which almost reached the floor. Martin tested the ladder and brought the rest of the kit up that way. We were a bit disappointed to find that the passage/floor to the chamber plunged back down to a lake after a few metres and the remains of a major platform was suspended in a very precarious state in front of us.
Paul rigged a rope and Chris descended with care, kicking and pushing the rotten beams as he went - which crashed and slid down into the lake, the wood sinking without trace. The remains of a platform 5 metres above the lake still hung precariously and debris could be seen in places under the water. We estimated that the fault chamber we were in was up to 100 metres high, 20 metres wide and 50 metres long, with a fine echo. High above we could see what looked like a continuation of the chamber and a huge rock bridged a gap about 30 metres up. Our lights were unable to illuminate the top of the chamber in places and we suspected the chamber reached almost to the top of the hill. (The cave entrance was at the bottom of a Wang and the passage/fault ran Northwards under the rising hill.)
The far side of the lake could not all be seen so Chris traversed and swam to the other end, taking care to tie the rope on to some miners pegs in case he became tangled in debris under the water. The other end of the lake terminated in what may have been the start of a passage, but was sumped. Above at the far end was a passage with a door in it at the same level as the remains of the platform (15ft above). The walls of the lake were vertical and very slippery with mud. It was impossible to climb up so Chris came back.
At a higher level above the platform, the miner�s steel pegs, from which remains of the platform still hung, were in quite good condition so it was decided to attempt a high-level traverse. Since Martin and Chris were the only ones equipped with SRT kit at the time and it was Chris�s idea, he was lumbered with attempting to rig the traverse; about 25 metres on very steep and vertical muddy rock with unequally spaced pegs as anchors. After an hour or so of struggling Chris got to within about two metres of the ongoing passage when the pegs ran out completely. Paul struggled round the obstacle course with the bolting kit with just a belay belt and makeshift cows-tail, and found it harder going than he had at first appreciated - especially when his carbide light set fire to the gas pipe, which supplies the jet, when he was half-way round! After a spot of fire-fighting Paul managed to pass the bolting kit to Chris who tried to put a bolt in, but the surface and his clothes were so coated in mud that everything became hopelessly slippery and the bolt clogged with mud. We left the rope rigged for another attempt, on the last day, and returned to Martin who had had a nice sleep!
It was nearly time to rendezvous with the other team so we made our way down to the first pitch, exploring side passages as we went. Most passages ended in low, Mendip crawls and small pockets where miners had extracted ore. One large passage on the left three quarters of the way down to the entrance streamway, seemed much more exciting. It was steeply ascending, natural passage narrowing to five metres by 5 metres at the limits of visibility and was draughting. This was leading in a Northerly direction and could have been a route to some higher level workings or the way on into another part of the system. Unfortunately the miners ladder had completely decayed and the climb up was very muddy and dangerous. Paul almost made it to the top where it levelled off, but the climb was too exposed and the handholds too friable. We had some difficulty coming back down and Chris slid two metres at one point, when a foothold gave way. This has potential and could be scaled if footholds were cut in the mud and a rope fixed for the descent.
By now the other party were almost overdue so we headed straight back to the first pitch. Roger, Duncan and Liz had by this time finished at the bottom and had de-rigged. We met them struggling back with the bags of rope, SRT kit, video, lights and cameras - so we shared the load out and headed back to the entrance. The stream team reported very sporting conditions at the second pitch with much more water than previously, but the stream beyond the sump was not appreciably higher at that point and we were tempted to continue the main stream push. Since they had told the back-up team they would be videoing in the Gower Hall it was decided they should keep to the arranged plan. Things could have been tricky if the water rose and they were cut-off downstream, because we would not even know where they were. As it turned out their trip was not very good - Liz�s light hardly worked and, more importantly, the video light packed up as well. Duncan managed to take some still photographs of the Gower Hall, so not all was lost, but the big day was not as big as it should have been! Liz stated that this cave contained some of the thickest helicitites she had ever seen in Malaysia as well as the most glutinous mud.
Out of the cave at five pm after a seven hour trip and we carried half the kit back down the hill.
Wednesday 4th December.
Paul, Duncan, Roger and Chris went back to Foh Thye to retrieve the rest of the kit we couldn�t carry down yesterday. Roger, with Duncan belaying him, made the last two metres of the traverse and we all went across (the 50 metre rope was just long enough to tie-off at a miner�s peg) thus completing the traverse.
The doorway was some form of flood control - the brickwork was about 3ft thick and had a pipe and valve at the bottom. The last repair of the doorway had a date scratched in the rendering of 02.10.1970. The door was probably steel and had been removed for its scrap value. The date was interesting because it means the mine was active in 1970 in October, which is monsoon season. Also, mining at this late a date would not have used porters to take ore down the miner�s track by hand, so we concluded there must be a major route down the rift, probably by rail or in pipes as slurry.
After a hundred metres or so a tricky climb entered a small, natural chamber with a few nice formations. The way on then returned to the water level, down a slope and the passage leading on was sumped. A high-level by-pass up a steep, muddy slope would have been possible but we had run out of kit, and it was time to head back and pack. We de-rigged the traverse and cleaned all our muddy kit in the waterfall by the chasm. A couple of slings were sacrificed at the ladder pitch with the last man (Duncan) abseiling on a double rope and pulling it through.
We headed down the hill with all the remaining kit and Martin and Liz picked us up at four pm.