sign in a cave in Laos

9 June 2008

Climbing up Batu Caves Hill - Star

No pain, no gain

By Liz Price

THE STAR Lifestyle
Saturday June 12, 2004

Everything I didn’t like was attracted to me that afternoon. The mosquitoes were pestering me. The sweat bees were buzzing around me, and ants and seemed to occupy every branch I grabbed hold of. The sharp rattan endeavoured to entangle me while jagged limestone rocks stood waiting to cut me should I fall against them. Thankfully, we didn’t see any leeches.

No, we were not in some remote jungle. We were at Batu Caves, just a mere 12km from Kuala Lumpur.

Every now and again, a few like-minded souls give up the comforts of their home to spend a day exploring this sometimes inhospitable terrain. Our goal – new caves. And surprisingly, there are new caves waiting to be found, even as close as KL. Batu Caves hill is an ideal place to look.

The climb was tough, but the group persevered and found the 'prize' -- the cave entrance.

Despite the heavy development that has taken place around the hill, and the Temple Cave at Batu Caves being such a popular tourist site, the hill itself is seldom visited. The lower cliffs are well-known to rock climbers who often scale those limestone faces. But very few people go up the hill.

The terrain is not a place for the unprepared or inexperienced. We started our adventure by packing tons of gear into rucksacks. Did we really need to take so much stuff? Luckily for me the younger guys were true gentlemen and carried most of the heavy communal equipment such as ropes and climbing hardware. We had to take it, because if we did find a cave, we would need to use that equipment.

We set off, and within five minutes reached a large swamp.

“This wasn’t here last time,” remarked someone in our group.

A couple of guys battled their way through the undergrowth in an attempt to make a large detour around the swamp, but I decided that was a waste of energy, so ploughed straight through the water. I wasn’t happy about getting my feet wet right at the start of the trek, but it was a much simpler route.

We then started climbing up the hill, my feet squelching with each step. The trail rose steeply and soon we hit an area of scree, so we had to take great care that we didn’t knock any stones down onto the person below.

Abseiling down the dark cave.

At one point, we came very close to the cliff edge and had a good view of down below. We plodded on, upwards, the trees sheltering us from the hot sun. But before long we were all pouring with sweat. It seemed to take ages to reach level ground where we normally stop and rest.

I was thankful I wasn’t carrying all that heavy gear. I put my hand on a branch to steady myself whilst I took a breather and after a few seconds realised I had a swarm of red ants running up my arm. In an effort to shake them off, which was virtually impossible, I lost my balance and grabbed hold of the nearest tree. But this was no ordinary tree, it had thorns all up its trunk. I don’t know which hurt more, the ant bites or the thorns.

I nursed my bites and wounds whilst the rest of the group puffed and panted their way up the hill. Once we had a rest, we tackled the next section.

We had a brief respite on the downhill stretch, but I knew this would be short-lived as our general direction was upwards. We came into a valley of pandan. The pandanus or screwpine is familiar to most Malaysians, but probably seen from the safety of a few metres away. We were surrounded by them.

The leaves are long and very stiff with spines along the edges. They are like swords, waiting to scratch the unwary limb. We went carefully through this section, careful not to come into contact with the leaves.

We climbed up and up. We lost the trail for a while so our group split up in various directions looking for the right route.

The guy in front of me then got entangled in some rattan. It took hold of his rucksack in its thorny embrace and securely ensnared him. He asked me to disentangle him. I couldn’t. I didn’t have gloves and the thorns were so closely placed, I couldn’t grasp the stem without getting pierced. Rattan has vicious thorns, used to claw their way up the forest towards the sun. We had to wait for the next person to arrive with a parang, and cut the offending creepers off.

Our next rest was in a scenic area, but rather uncomfortable as there was nowhere flat to sit. We had emerged half way up the side of a hidden valley which was full of large limestone rocks nestled amidst a riot of green vegetation. We tried to enjoy the scene, but the mosquitoes were a real pain, with their irritating attempts to bite. I was using repellent, but it didn’t last long on sweaty limbs. The sweat bees also came to feed, I don’t mind these insects as they don’t actually bite, but they do tickle.

We had to go very carefully on the next section as there were numerous razor sharp limestone rocks, many of which were loose. These are always tricky to negotiate as you have to be careful. The slightest slip and the rocks could easily slice open your leg.

I was just starting an awkward climb of about 5m when I was startled by a familiar sound – my handphone started ringing. Needless to say I didn’t answer it, as my hands were busy hanging onto the rock face. But it was good to know that we could still use the phone, in case of emergency.

We were all rather quiet and subdued. I think the effort of climbing this hill was taking its toll and sapping our energy. At the back of my mind was the fact that if we didn’t find the cave entrance we were searching for, we might have to retrace our steps and walk all the way back down the hill. We were hoping to avoid this by finding a particular entrance, which should lead into Dark Cave, a place we were all familiar with.

Another small hidden valley appeared in front of us, and the leader sensed that we were near our goal. I was relieved and sat down to take some photos whilst a couple of men went off to scout around.

It was music to my ears when I heard that the entrance had been found. I quickly summoned the energy to navigate the last section, and began to slip and slide my way down a steep slope to join the others.

Ahead of us was a satisfying sight – a hole in the ground. We emptied our packs and sorted out the gear, then carefully belayed the rope and threw one end down the hole. We were not sure this was the right hole, but there was only one way to find out. We strapped on our climbing equipment, then the leader clipped onto the rope and abseiled down into the bowels of the earth.

He disappeared from sight, and it was some time before we heard his muffled shouts from the depths below. It was difficult to make out what he was saying, but we eventually deciphered his echoing mumbles. It was the right hole. I was so relieved. This abseil through the cave would take a few minutes, compared to a few hours if we had trekked back down the hill.

We were told that the next man could go down, so he attached himself to the rope and disappeared. Then it was my turn. I wasn’t sure how long the abseil would be. So I took a breath, stepped over the edge, and found myself dangling in mid air. Far below me I could see the light of the second man.

I’ve always enjoyed abseiling, although sometimes it’s a bit disconcerting in total darkness. As I approached the light of the guy below, I realised there was only one person, and the other light was far below. I landed on a steep slope, and learnt I was only half way down. We had to rebelay the rope at this point.

All in all it, was an abseil of about 85m. Quite an impressive drop, and the longest I had done for a few years. A fun way to end the day. It had been a long, hot, tiring afternoon, but a satisfying trip. As far as we know, we were the first people to have done this abseil so it was worth all the discomforts from those ants, thorns and sharp rocks.

No comments:

Post a Comment