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Mulu 2024 Benerat Expedition Photographer’s Blog. Part 1

As per usual this is a photo heavy account of my involvement in this year’s expedition. Fuller accounts of the discoveries, trials and tribulations are being published on other threads and, of course will be written up in the journal at a later date.

Huge thanks to Tim, Mark, Loz, Becka, Stu, Lisa, Will, Frank, Chris and Pete for their help with taking the photos.

After an evening spent up at Deer cave and a good night’s sleep, it was time to head up river and walk the 9km through the jungle to Camp 5, which would be our home for the next few weeks.

Deer cave entrance

Boat ride in

Home for the next few weeks

My first caving trip would be a familiar one - in through the lower entrance to Cobweb Cave. Led by Tim, it was planned that we would do a round trip down to the stream way and back via Monolith passage. After an hour of hot and humid caving we reached the beautiful white limestone lower passages before the stream passage and took some time to grab some photos before carrying on.

Lisa in lower cobweb

Stu admiring the fabulous limestone shelving

Pete, Tim and Stu moments before the day would take a turn for the worse

As we headed down the slippery mud slopes, Pete slid and went down hard. After a loud pop and shriek he lay in the wet mud grabbing at his injured leg. After a cursory check it looked likely he had detached ligaments and tendons. Once the worst of the pain subsided, we managed to get him at least out of the wet mud. It was obvious that help was required, so Tim and Chris headed out to alert the others and organise the kit and manpower that would later be required. Surprisingly, after some snacks and pain meds, Pete announced the pain wasn’t too bad and he wanted to try and keep moving. Lisa and Stu managed to fashion a decent splint out of a tackle sack, slings and anything else they could get their hands on and would assist Pete. I had done the trip to the lower passage back in 2020, so I would move the bags and route find. After some time shuffling along the easier mud floors, we reached boulder strewn passage. A change of tactic was required and Pete managed to get up on his feet and, with assistance from Stu and Lisa, managed to shuffle through the passage. After a few hours we reached a chamber with several ways on. I had almost exhausted the options when I heard the rest of the team approaching from an impossible looking climb down and realised that even if I had remembered the crumbling traverse, that there was no way we could have continued without rigging in place.

Stu and Lisa fashion a splint out of a Petzl tackle sack

The others were delighted that we had managed to get as far as we had and soon Mark and Will were putting in safety lines, whist Pete’s makeshift splint was changed out for something a little sturdier. The entire team then went to work, gardening loose boulders and assisting Pete through the cave, to emerge in to the night sky at the upper entrance. Although relieved, everyone knew Pete’s herculean ordeal was still far from over, with hours of trekking down through the jungle and walking the head-hunters trail back to camp 5.

After a day off to recover and Pete organising his extraction from the camp to hospital in Miri, the rest of the team headed to the Upper Cobweb entrance which had been located, in the hope it would provide an easier access to the leads generated by the 2020 expeditions. Chris, Becka, Stu and Lisa would head North East, toward ‘Outrageous Junction’. Whilst Tim, Myself and Loz would head in the opposite direction and check out the end of ‘Just Deserts’ and the connection to Moon cave.

The following day, myself, Tim and Will returned to check out a few leads in Moon cave, grabbing some photos in the Moon Shadow passage as we went. Tim dropped a pitch and after half an hour re-emerged announcing we would require more rope and the passage continued down through a window. As we headed back Will dropped more potential leads, but it was obvious that Tim’s was the one with the most potential. The camera kit, srt kits and bolting gear was left at the entrance to give us an easy couple of hours trek back to camp. As we were leaving we met Becka, Stu, Chris and Lisa, who were planning on camping overnight and getting an early start on reaching the far end of their lead. They reported the passage was unrelenting and they had decided that a long push with a camp either side would be the way forward.

Will in Moon cave, just past the connection to Cobweb

Tim admires the formations in Shadow Moon

Gours in Shadow Moon

The next day would be down day and a chance to get some kit washed and dried. I hadn’t had a chance to see the famous Pinnacles, so took the opportunity, joined by Loz, to do the 1200m, trek up to see them.

Loz at the Pinnacles