Saturday, 31 May 2014

Be like Indy

A caver emerges through this tiny opening from the complex of caverns beneath.

A caver emerges through this tiny opening from the complex of caverns beneath.

Ever dreamt of being a serious explorer of caves? Of clambering through mysterious rocky passages, National Geographic style?

THERE is much more to caving than just walking in touristy caves on well-lit concrete walkways. If you want to explore nooks and crannies that are off the beaten path, the Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) will be organising a special 20th edition of its annual Basic Caving Course (BCC) this June.

In the course, you will be equipped with helmets, headlamps and protective clothing as you walk, climb and crawl through the many caves at Kota Gelanggi near Jerantut, Pahang.

This writer went for the BCC at the same place last year. Initially, I was fearful when I heard that part of the course would involve clambering through tight passages on my hands, knees and, yes, even my belly. And that there would even be underground streams and mud too.

But, as it turned out, the most difficult parts of the course turned out to be the most exciting. By the end of the weekend program, most participants had not only survived mud crawling, but were revelling in it!

It helped that my two biggest fears – that of guano and roaches – were minimal in the many caves we explored there. And the organisers were a bunch of passionate volunteers who knew how to have fun – think about playing sepak takraw with a balloon in a telematch.

Rock art: Preparing to descend into a cavern below.
Rock art: Preparing to descend into a cavern below.

My mindset was forever changed by the course. Before this, I imagined caving as walking through huge entrances like those at the Mulu Caves. But I would never have imagined that after crawling through a tiny hole in the ground, there could be a series of magnificent caverns underground.

I really felt like a latter-day Indiana Jones discovering some Lost Ark, especially since some of the caves also have mysterious legends and myths associated with them.

But caving is not just about the physical aspects. A strong point about MNS is that it also educates participants to better appreciate the fascinating yet fragile ecology of caves. And how we can all help preserve them.

For instance, caves do not get sunlight, so the only source of nutrients for life inside is guano from bats. It’s a sensitive, finely balanced ecosystem.

So if visitors drop some nasi lemak inside a cave, it’s like putting a bomb of nutrients inside which can end up overfeeding and even poisoning some of the creatures there.

And did you know that without caves, we may not have durians? This is because fruit bats, which live in caves, are the ones doing the unseen, unappreciated work of pollinating durian flowers.

The highlight of the caving course is to crawl through a narrow passage filled with water and mud.
The highlight of the caving course is to crawl through a narrow passage filled with water and mud.

Course details

The Selangor Branch Cave Group of MNS will hold the special 20th edition of its annual Basic Caving Course (BCC) over two consecutive weekends in June 2014:

> June 14 (8am – 1pm): Introduction and theory sessions at the MNS headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

> June 21 - 22: The actual caving sessions at Kota Gelanggi, near Jerantut, Pahang. Participants will depart from KL at 8pm on June 20.

The Course encompasses the following:

> A workshop on cave geology, flora/fauna, archaeology, conservation, caving techniques and “single rope technique” (to climb or descend caves).

> Abseiling down a 20m cliff with modern techniques used by cavers.

> Exploration through different caves, starting from easy walks to hard-core “fun” crawling at Gua Penyu, Gua Balai, Gua Tongkat and the majestic Gua Kahwin.

The BCC costs RM290 for MNS members and RM360 for non-members.

For registration and further details, call Sok Yin (012-905 2531) or Rajiv (012-205 5436).

A caver clambering through a tight rock tunnel.

Important notes:

Transportation is to be arranged by car-pooling among participants.

Terms and conditions apply for any cancellations. Due to safety concerns, abseiling is subject to participants meeting the group’s safety guidelines.

A helmet (like those used by construction workers or cyclists) plus headlamp and torchlight are compulsory for all participants. A full list of things to bring will be provided by the organisers.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Caves , Caving , Adventure , Environment


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