Application for Grant Aid

Submitted on: 27 Feb 2019

Expedition details (GPF2019a-008)

Expedition Name (& Club): Anglo-Malaysian Mulu Caves October 2019 (Mulu Caves Project)
Destination country: Malaysia
Region: Sarawak, Borneo
Lat: 4.0691 Long: 114.8419 Elevation: 600 m
MEF funding: none

Leader: Mr. Frank Pearson
Total cavers: 12
Cavers ≤25 yrs old: 3
Cavers 25-35 yrs old: 3
UK/nonUK cavers: 12/0
Eligible for grant aid: 0
Alex Pitcher nominations: 0
Expedition dates: 30th Sep 2019 - 10th Nov 2019
Duration (days): 42
Man-days in field: 432 Man-days travelling: 72
Brief Expedition objectives:

List a short summary of the main Expedition objectives.

Continue the progress of the Anglo-Malaysian Mulu Caves Project in exploring and surveying the caves of Whiterock and Benarat from the base of Camp 5 in the Mulu National Park.
To locate and explore the 4th level of the Whiterock section of the Clearwater Cave System. The 2015 expedition discovered the 4th level close to the eroded surface of Gunung Api, as yet this level has not be found deeper in the cave though several leads show potential.
Explore leads in the Blackrock section of Clearwater, a section of cave that has not been explored with modern lighting. This rarely visited section connects Whiterock with Clearwater Cave to the south and needs a thorough reassessment.
Push 2 unexplored caves on Gunung Benarat and push leads in Moon Cave, and review possibilities in Benarat Caverns.
Search the Melinau Gorge for cave entrances in the north end of Gunung Api with the possibility of connecting with Wonder Cave, previously pushed from the Hidden Valley to the south.
How can the GPF support your Expedition?:

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

The caves of the Mulu National Park, a World Hertage Site, form some of the most extensive systems in the world and as they extend beneath an equatorial rain forest, are part of a unique ecosystem. The Mulu Caves Project has been exploring, surveying and carrying out scientific research since 1978 in partnership with the Forest Department and National Park employees. All this work is recorded in expedition reports and on the Mulu Caves Project website. The Project has enabled hundreds of cavers from the UK to experience and be a part of the exploration and research of these cave systems.
All expedition members pay their own way and Mulu is an expensive expedition. Any grant aid offered the expedition would be used to purchase surveying and caving equipment. Mulu presents harsh conditions and equipment regularly needs replacing.
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.

The Mulu Caves Project is a partnership between British cavers and Malaysian cavers, the Sarawak Forestry Service and the Mulu National Park. A key objective is to further explore, survey, research and preserve this unique forest and cave environment. Malaysian cavers take part in each expedition and employees of the Forestry Service and the National Park are also introduced to caving by the British cavers. The National Park and Forestry name the entrances discovered, and all the surveys and research data gathered are shared for the good of the Forestry and Park, who use it to further their status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for local travel and tourism. A requirement for the caving permit is to produce a report of the expedition's work to be given to the Forestry and National Park, a preliminary report should be produced in the field. A Memorandum of Understanding is signed by all members of the expedition and ensures that survey data, research data and photographs are made freely available for our Malaysian partners.
A major breakthrough in Mulu came with the discovery in 2014 of the 4th level in Clearwater Cave - known as the Creedence Series. This was partially discovered in the Whiterock part of the system in 2015 though it broke out on to the surface and has yet to be discovered in the main part of the system under Gunung Api. There are numerous places in the system where access to this upper level may be discovered. Since 2015 no concerted effort has been made to do so. This is a huge blank on the map and there is plenty of evidence that it is there, for example, large shakeholes high on Mount Api seen from the air suggest as much.
The Whiterock expeditions in 2017 and 2018 left several leads around the lower Whiterock River level and in the vicinity of the major Northern Line passage these are very promising and need exploring. The Whiterock River ends in a sump as it flows on down to Clearwater; a by-pass would be a great discovery. An objective for numerous expeditions has been to locate the northern entrance to Whiterock from within the system and outside in the Melinau Gorge close to Camp 5. This too will be an objective.
The rarely visited series of passages that connect Whiterock to Clearwater, Blackrock, has not been explored with modern lighting. The members of the expedition that initially found this series urge further exploration of this complex collection of caves, confident that a close look will provide important discoveries in the area close to the connection with Clearwater. The April Mulu expedition, based at Park Headquarters, will also look at this area from the Clearwater end. Their work may direct our objectives in Blackrock.
The 2017 expedition to the Hidden Valley explored Wonder Cave beneath Gunung Api. This was a highly significant exploration of a remote part of the National Park, and the cave passage followed a line directly heading to the Melinau Gorge. The 2018 Camp 5 expedition attempted to discover a possible entrance from the gorge that could connect with Wonder Cave. This attempt failed but in doing so it opened up further possibilities that need exploring. A connection here would, indeed, be a wonder!
On the 2015 Camp 5 expedition a cave entrance above the forest line was identified from the air entering the Gunung Benarat side of the Melinau Gorge. Attempts to climb up into it were thwarted by the lack of bolting equipment. This too is a very promising lead into Gunung Benarat, in a part of the huge limestone mountain that, as yet, has no discovered passage. Also in Gunung Benarat is an undescended pitch in Moon Cave that was prepared in 2013 but not dropped due to lack of time. This needs to be descended. Hurricane Hole on Benarat also houses a huge aven - The Mother of all Voids that has yet to be ascended. This is also a key objective. Gunung Benarat was last searched and explored in 2013. These two objectives are very clear though, if time and numbers permit, Benarat Caverns may yield more cave to a thorough investigation.

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.

The Mulu Caves Project has a long history that began with the Royal Geographic Society's expedition to Mulu in 1978 and there have been over 20 further expeditions since. At least every two years, and some times twice a year with expeditions to Park HQ and Camp 5, the Mulu Caves Project has organized expeditions and produced and published reports.
Wonder Cave in the Hidden Valley was discovered on the 1978 expedition though not followed through until the 2017 expedition.
Blackrock Cave was first discovered in 1988 with the connection through to Clearwater made in 1991. This area has not been returned to since.
Gunung Benarat was first explored in 1984 and then revisited next in 2000, 2003 and 2005. Though much was discovered it has yet to yield passages that match Whiterock, Blackrock and Clearwater for length and complexity. Geology and local topography suggest that prior to the forming of the Melinau Gorge and the truncation of the caves, the Benarat caves would have been connected to those of Gunung Api. Like Wonder Cave in the Hidden Valley, Moon Cave and Deliverance, at the northern end of the mountain, follow direct lines through the mountain.
The 2009 expedition discovered the lower level of the Whiterock system and the Whiterock River. Further exploration of this level in 2013 discovered more cave passage that had been previously overlooked and the 2017 Camp 5 expedition discovered further cave passage. The downstream section needs a further look though in 2013, the upstream section, Swiftwater, showed some promise as well as it headed in the direction of the Melinau Gorge.
The 2015 expedition to Camp 5 discovered a series of passages 100m above anything that had been previously discovered and it matched the upper levels of Clearwater, Creedence. The new cave was very close to the surface and dolines broke into the passages are various points. Passages heading deeper into Gunung Api to the north were choked. To the south lies a large fault that appears to terminate any chance of a link in this direction, however, progress to the north is clearly waiting to be made.
Helicopter flights up and around the Melinau Gorge and Gunung Benarat in 2013 and 2017, along with drone photography in 2018, revealed a number of cave entrances in the gorge that are impossible to see from the ground due to the density of the forest and the highly vegated cliffs. The photographs taken on these flights have been used to identify possible sites to either climb up to or, if possible, abseil down to. Members of the 2017 Camp 5 expedition climbed to a promising site though were disappointed to discover it was an alcove. Some entrances have been climbed into and found to be blocked by river sediments, others are blocked within the entrance with calcite, while some are wide open.
All the above expedition reports are available through the BCRA library or on demand from the applicant.

Expedition Finances


Travel plans:
Most of the expedition will embark on return travel by air from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a further flight from Kuala Lumpur to Miri, Sarawak. At least one night's stay in Miri followed by a flight from Miri to Mulu National Park, Sarawak.
One member will fly to Malaysia from Vietnam and another member will fly from France.

# from UK: 10 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from UK: £6,210 Return flight from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur: £550
Return Flight from Kuala Lumpur to Miri: £80
Return flight from Miri to Mulu: £60

# from outside UK: 2 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from outside UK: £900 Return flight from Geneva to Kuala Lumpur: £500
Return flight from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur: £120
Return flight from Kuala Lumpur to Miri: £80
Return flight from Miri to Mulu: £60

Travel total: £7,110 Travel p.p. from UK: £621
Travel p.p. from outside UK: £450


Total: £4,678 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £390 Accommodation at Park Head Quarters: max. 6 nights per person: £8 per night - £528.
Accommodation at Camp 5: max. 30 nights per person: £5 per night - £1650
Food and drink: £2500


Total: £1,020 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £85 Portable generator: £120
Portable fridge: £80
200m x 9mm rope: £280
200 through bolts: £64
25 hangers: £62
25 maillons: £112
10 Karabiners: £60
2 Transporter sacs: £140
1 Leica Disto: £102

Special 1

Total: £3,200 Comments:
Special 1 p.p.: £267 Boats are required to ferry porters, personnel and equipment up the Melinau River to Kuala Litut (landing point) at £20 per boat. 12 cavers in 3 boats plus return: £120. 5 boats for porters plus return: £200.

Special 2

Total: £1,200 Comments:
Special 2 p.p.: £100 Staff fees: Local fixer who handles logistics, porters and cook at Camp 5: £1200
Exped Total: £17,208 Exped cost p.p. travelling from UK: £1,462
Exped cost p.p. travelling from outside UK: £1,291
Mean Exped cost per person: £1,434

Other Funding

Total: £0 Comments:
Total shortfall: £17,208 Mean shortfall per person: £1,434

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. Dick Willis
Affiliation: Mulu Caves Project

Reason: Veteran Mulu cave explorer from the 1980s to 2018. Frank Pearson and Dick Willis were both members of the Mulu 2018 expedition.

Permission obtained?: Yes
Referee 2: Mr. Tim Allen
Affiliation: Mulu Caves Project

Reason: Veteran Mulu cave explorer from the 1980s to 2012. Leader of 10 Mulu Expeditions. Frank Pearson was a member of Tim Allen's China Expedition in 2014 and has caved with him for 10 years.

Permission obtained?: Yes

Expedition report author: Hugh St Lawrence