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Mulu 2024 Benefit Expedition Photographer's Blog Part 2


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It had been a modest size group to begin with, now with Pete gone we were only just able to field 3 teams heading out, but even that was about to change. Frank was suffering some form of heatstroke and was unable to perspire no matter what the temperature. He had battled forward in the search for the elusive Corner Cave, but fatigue was hitting him hard. Another member had received news of a family emergency and was forced to make the hard decision to leave the expedition early. On top of this we had numerous smaller injuries with knee twinging, a nasty case of Mulu foot, Loz piercing her knee through her kneepad on sharp limestone and Lisa spraining an ankle. All this on top of the usual blisters, aches and pains, and causing more down days needed than hoped for.


Amidst the setbacks though, Becka, Chris, Stu and Lisa had pushed hard to the far reaches of Cobweb and been rewarded with ongoing new passage, including an exciting new section of stream way. Although elated, they also looked absolutely exhausted as they arrived back at camp.

Tim turned his attention to creating a safe route to the elusive Corner Cave, continuing on from Mark, Frank and Will’s efforts to cut a track through the jungle. Needed so as not to have to rely on traversing the unpredictable Melinau river water levels.

This left Will, Loz and myself to head back in to Moon cave to continue pushing the passage which Tim had dropped earlier in the week. Loz had received a crash course in surveying from Becka, Will would drag an extra 90m rope and bolting kit and I would take the camera kit. The plan was to explore and document as we went along. After an hour’s caving we reached the pitch and stopped for a bite to eat. Starting to tire of the usual nuts and chocolate used to keep up energy levels, Will had grabbed some suspicious looking dried fruit from the food stores. This turned out to be some rather odd crunchy peaches, sliced to include the stones and preserved with liquorice. Reenergised, Will rigged, first dropping in to an impressive chamber and onward through the window Tim had seen, down a mud ramp in to a further chamber that would unfortunately choke with no draught or obvious way on. We did however have a couple of hundred meters of new passage to call our own. We went to work surveying and photographing on the way out, with Will stripping out the rigging as we went. Back at the entrance we met Becka, Stu, Chris and Lisa heading back in to camp for another push at the far reaches. Loz and Will chatted to them whilst I sorted the camera kit, again leaving everything but the batteries and memory cards in the cave. A couple of hours later we were back at camp, where Tim and Frank were eager to hear how things went. Whilst Will and Loz filled them in, I headed to the laptop to back up the images, only to find the protective case the SD card was in split and obvious damage to the card itself. I plugged the card in and…..nothing. After spending several hours documenting the passages, I had lost everything :(

The track to Corner Cave cut, Will joined Tim to begin the epic bolt climb up the face of the cliff to reach the entrance. The others were still pushing and surveying in Cobweb, So Loz and I headed in to check out a couple more leads in Moon Cave.

We spent far too long trying to locate a boulder choke in ‘Super Trouper’. It later turned out we had gone too far and it was in the left-hand branch of an oxbow, of which we had taken the right branch. But we did manage to push to the end of ‘Criminal Damage’, where I dropped a short 10m pitch off naturals and made my way down through breakdown to find a potential further lead heading back under the breakdown which unfortunately would need a further rope to reach, and a large ongoing passage about 25m up a sheer wall that would require bolt climbing to check out, heading toward a blank piece of the survey.

Back at camp that evening, the others had returned and reported that they had explored all the leads at the end of the passage. They had found a few hundred meters of dry cave and around 800m of impressive stream way, which then sumped. The team later named this Serendipity Streamway.

After a celebratory day climbing to the pinnacles I managed to convince them to come in to Moon cave where we planned to have another go at photographing ‘Peaches &Popcorn’ our new find (named after our fruit snack and the popcorn calcite at the bottom of the passage). This time - success! I rigged whilst the others helped cart in the photo gear. After a few hours of photo faffing, we stripped out all the rope, rigging kit and camera kit back to camp. It was another long, but rewarding day, and finally I had some photos of newly discovered cave.

Loz, Chris, Stu and Becka in the Entrance chamber

Becka and Chris descend the mud ramp in to the second chamber

Becka in the second chamber

Loz and Stu at the end of the Passage

The next evening, we celebrated Franks birthday. Veno arrived from HQ with a grin and some beer and we began the celebrations. In the midst of another burst of ‘Happy birthday to you’ Vino let off fireworks and a cake and candles appeared before three tubs of ice-cream were handed to the birthday boy. Veno had flown them in from Miri, boated them down the Melinau and hiked them 9km to camp 5!


Tim had taken a look at Survex, and with the new stream way included in, surmised that there may well be further streamway below a boulder collapse in the Elephant Warren in Cobweb cave. Previous reports indicated large back voids between the boulders that could provide a route down to the theoretical stream passage. He and Will were almost at the end of their massive push to enter Corner cave, so whilst they continued on, the rest of us headed back in to Cobweb.


Chris had taken a few photos on his phone of the new stream passage, but Tim was keen to get some higher resolution shots of new stream passage. Becka, Stu and Lisa had already said they weren’t keen on doing the trip to the end again, and so we were all hoping that this would drop in to new passage and give an easier option for photographing, but alas, all the options through the boulder choke were explored with nothing ongoing. Perhaps we would all be kept busy in Corner cave and the big trip to the end of Cobweb would be forgotten.

Arriving back at camp that evening, Tim and Will announced Corner cave had finally been entered. After a number of years since it was first spotted and many man-days of work since, it had gone for 10m and then choked with calcite…..Doh!


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So this meant we needed a team to go to the new Serendipity Steam way in Cobweb Cave. This wound up being myself, Chris, Tim and Will. It was decided we would do this as a day trip, with Becka, Loz and Stu supporting us as far as the pitch down at the aptly named FFS Chamber.

The two-hour trek to upper Cobweb is bearable with heavy packs on fresh legs and we were all in good spirits. For such a large cave the entrance is, of course, a flat-out squeeze. Although not particularly tight, it is awkward with kit and does snag, as I found out when I shredded my top going through! The rest of the inward journey isn’t terrible, but is unrelentingly awkward with slippery boulders, friable limestone floors and sandy crumbling traverses.

Cobweb upper entrance

Shortly after entering, my Petzl transporter shoulder strap stitching gave way, unfortunately a common fault with the bags. Becka kindly switched her bag out with mine. We said our good byes to the others at FFS and continued on to the Rocky Horror Show pitch up at Outrageous Junction. From here onward the going gets a little tougher and less solid under foot. Two thirds of the way there and the transporter Becka had given me also failed in the same place causing me to slip. My leg was caught between boulders and I felt my knee cap pop out and back in. I yelped and clutched at my knee waiting for the pain to subside. I could walk on it as long as I didn’t rotate it, so we continued on to our objective. The cool water helped my leg and I was soon lost in taking photos. The exit however was somewhat harder and the group often had to wait for me to catch up. Chris kindly took more of my kit from me and eventually after 2hrs getting to the cave and 14hrs of caving we emerged back to the jungle. I knew the route pretty well by now, so insisted the others continue back to camp and I would just go at a gentle pace. 18hrs after leaving that morning I arrived back at camp 5. Sore, but very happy to have got more photos and that the damage wasn’t more than a pulled ligament.

Will and Chris in the new passage approaching the stream way

Tim on the pitch down in to Serendipity with Chris in the far passage

The stunning new Stream Passage




I awoke the next day with my leg stiffened up, but the bulk of the caving was done, with only the unstoppable Becka, Chris and Stu still poking around the cliffs for further leads. So, I treated myself to two down days before the final 9km walk back out from Camp 5.



Once again, I can’t thank the team enough for putting up with a slightly overweight middle-aged photo faffer. It’s been………. Emotional!