(Re) discovering Passage in Perils.

Gua Kelam as a 370 metre long show cave at the small town of Kaki Bukit
state of Pens. For the linguists the name literally means “at the foothills” lies a cave of darkness (Gus Kelam). A wooden walkway hangs suspended b length providing a dry and easy route for pedestrians and motorcyclists to the Wan Tangga Valley on the other side of the hill. The cave is well used as it eliminates a large detour or a 500 metre dimb.  The cavern was enlarged and developed in 1935 by an Englishmen who used it as an easy route of transporting tin ore from the nearby mine. Further upstream was the tin mine we were interested in. Most of the access to the ore is through natural cave passages and initial cave exploration by Liz Price indicated a very large cave system now connected to mine passages.

The caving dub had planned a retun armed with two sets of surveying gear and a five day stay. I had only the weekend but arrangements were made and we met up in Butterworth at 7.OOam, the time of the arrival of the KL train. Next stage a bus to Kangar and then by taxi to Kaki Bukit. Here our party of six met up with the three who had travelled up by car with all the food and equipment. The beauty of this trip was its easy access - no hike-in through the jungle! Thus even though we had only arrived at 5pm we were ready to have our first look se& trip at 8pm after some tea. Liz had a sketch map of the stuff she had already found, three entrances and several going leads. Perlis is well known for its poisonous snakes and Liz and Neal had disturbed three brightly coloured ones on the way in. In the rush and confusion to back off Neal had fallen in the water and none of them had identified the type of snake. One thing was sure, the pattern indicated that it was not a Cave Racer which has a long black stripe down the length of its body.

Jimmy, our snake expert, was anxious to find the snakes aid identify the type. The M.N.S are very keen to keep accurate records of caving creatures. I promised to keep eyes open for snakes although I remained unconvinced as to the need to identify and remember the colouring before moving away. The entrance a three by three metre passage with a streamway running through, deep pools ensured wet legs and the temperature ensured wet bodies. The most important item of caving equipment in Malaysia is a lire bottle of water and it was needed.

We first looked at the stuff Liz had seen before, train tunnel passages with old metal hacks and wood debris from the sleepers. Picking our way through this could be tricky especially when the stream runs below. It was too obstructed to walk in the streamway but very unsafe to play Russian Roulette with the beams which are still load bearing and collapse when you stand on them? We reached a man junction and faced a choice - swim 30m or climb. We climbed and later looked down on the streamway now 15m below us. We had no ladder so traversed around and followed rough steps hewn in the cave side. A tin ore section was reached, red earth and obvious, massive underground mining engineering. The top level passage continues to parallel to the lower level and we split into two parties, to meet again at a large lake stretching away in two directions. Who wants to swim? I volunteered another lad followed.

“Meet you back at camp at 12pm.” It goes – well it had to, the roof was way above and full of old formations. This section was natural. We ignored the two small swimming leads and opted for the dry mine passage in between, hopefully it would connect later. 500 paces or around 250-300m later this was not the case, we went back on the surface about 10m above a slope down to a stream. We explored a little to identify the place in daylight and found we’d done a through trip and were back on the Kaki Bukit side. This was a nearer entrance to the camp although hidden in undergrowth and forgotten about. The swim would leave this as an unpopular entrance though. We went back in and explored some other leads but had run out of time to do much more than scout around and return to the Wan Tangga entrance to meet the others. Surveying on Sunday was going to be a major task and I had to surface by 3p.m to travel back to Penang. Underground by 8a.m. If I opted for the party which would take a ladder and explore the upstream section, surveying on the return trip. 3 hours later after swimming, crawling, climbing, through the oldest crumbliest limestone we surfaced again. Where were we? Old mining equipment testified to past mining activity and the compass suggested South was the way back. We split the group - Hymeir and Liz to survey back whilst Yee and I would find a surface route and I’d dash back for the bus. Horror of horrors when there was no way out at the South of the valley. Steep sided limestone wails with yet more alluring entrances. Back tracking to the North we were again met by tall sides. We were in a massive sink. However we spotted a track and knew this was the old mine path. Later on we found Chinese hill farmers with large dogs and Yee tried to question them. Having no teeth, their Chinese was difficult for Yes to understand. Still we had been given directions and a drink of water. As we descended from the hills, other paths joined us until we were on a landrover track.

An alligator like creature, actually a Minator lizard - 4ft long, was disturbed and ran off from the path where he’d been basking in the sun. Yee assured me that they tasted so good that the carcasses were very much sought after. We found a stream and guessed it would lead to Gua Kelam and it did. Back safely and an eventful journey back to Penang. Tales of broken down buses and illegal taxis but I made it back in time to sleep a little and work the next day. Thats another tale for another time.

Caving Scene In Malaysia.

The one and only caving club is a special interest section of the MNS or Malaysian Nature Society. With this background all the cavers tend to have a scientific rather than sporting interest in caves. Each new caving region is written up to contribute to the geographical, hydrological and botanical knowledge of Malaysia. Still cavers are all the same - beer cans and laughter back at camp. There are about 12 active cavers and 6 ‘used to be’s’ of which 3 live in Penang, and the rest in KL or Kuala Lumpur. The dub has a steady income from taking tourist trips around open sections of Batu Caves. All equipment is imported from Caving Supplies. Liz Price seems to be the most active caver. Another English woman, she’s a Mendip caver who’s been in Asia for five years now and has no incentive to return to the UK just yet. More news next time!

Elizabeth Daniels.

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