As September started it was team changeover time for the Kayak Borneo expedition. Myself, Tom Haywood and Nick Bennett headed out to join Jonny Hawkins to carry on the good work from the last team. We decided to start things off with the best river the last team found, the Telekosang, which was jungle steep creeking at its finest.
Jonny on the excellent Telekosang.
We soon headed out for our own exploration in an area called the Mulu National Park which is in the south of Malaysian Borneo in the a region called Sarawak. The park in an area where no logging is allowed, which we sadly found out is something quite rare in this part of Borneo. Maps suggested an epic gorge, but we didn't count on was the epic journey to get there. The only way to get anywhere in Borneo is by logging road or boat, we had to do a combination of both. Luckily Malaysia is home to some of the kindest people I have ever met, and a local agreed to come with us on our journey, house us in his village, en route, and translate for us, just because he was a kind chap.
After 4 days of travelling, we finally reached the get on to the Tutoh river and we quickly learned that the river was in flood. We a fair amount of trepidation and some large brown (literally) rapids we came to our first camp, which was where the adventure really began.
The upper reaches of the Tutoh river, in deep virgin rainforest.
During the night it began to rain, and rain, and rain. We had pitched our hammocks about 3 m from the water line, after about an hour we were about to get swept away and we had to leg it. We had to scramble up the bank a further 10m where we felt sure we were safe before setting up our hammocks again in the pouring rain and the dark...oh and the snakes. Turns out the only place we could find to put the hammocks was also a home to our slithery friends, but they were the least of our concern as the river was still rising rapidly and we were getting worried it would get to us still. After a sleepless night the river had receded again, however we estimated that it had risen 10m in just shy of 2 hrs, which is a scary thought.
Carrying on the next day with an even higher river, the river constricted to a pour over and the mother of all whirlpools and boils below. Seeing whole trees float down, disappear, the rocket back out of the boils like the proverbial sword from the lake make us a bit jittery about running it. Seeing as there was no portage possible and a walk out would be equally as unlikely, we could do nothing else but sit on the rock, sharpen our parang (not a euphemism), and wait for the river to drop. Eventually we decided to roll the dice, this wasn't something we took lightly, but it was a decision that had to be made, and we chanced the whirlies. Luckily all went well and we soon found ourselves heading downstream again. We eventually came across a village and experienced what was the highlight of the trip for me. The people lived a very traditional lifestyle, hunting with poison blowpipes, not wearing shoes (or much clothes at all) and most of all being exceptionally hospitable. They housed us, fed us wild boar, let us have a go with their blowpipe (again not a euphemism) and most importantly told us about the grave danger we were about to paddle into. Mulu National Park is famous for the BBC series Planet Earth being film ed there...the cave episode. An apparently the river downstream in the "inescapable flooded gorge" disappeared under rocks and into these famous caves at several places. With this knowledge and what we experienced upstream we decided that we would have to try and skip the gorge.
Watch out wild boars,traditional hunter with blowpipe and bayonet.
We managed to paddle to the next village, via and awesome playwave, which was connected by a logging road and get a lift around the gorge to the other side where we paddled out along the long flat river of the Tutoh back to civilisation. We were disappointed about not being able to paddle the gorge, however our decision was vindicated by the sad news that two locals had fallen in and drowned in the gorge that very day.
Everybody loves a surf
We made our way back to Sabah (the Northern State of Malaysian Borneo) to check out another promising area called Limbang. With less jungle naivety we set about another multi-day trip down the Trusan river. After a brief scare when a crocodile jumped in the river right next to us (we were still pretty naive) the river opened up to an absolute gem, with a particular steep section that definitely got the blood pumping.
An excellent steep section on the Trusan river.
Our time in Borneo was soon up and we had to travel back to the North to again welcome in the new team and fly back. A truly eye opening trip, with more wildlife, culture, colour, terror, and water than you can shake a stick at. This trip would not have been possible but for the kindness and generosity of the Malaysian people, who bailed us out every time we got stuck, lost, hungry or just out of our depth, and it is something that will stick with me for a long time.
People of Malaysia, we salute you!
Words: Patrick Clissold Photos: Patrick Clissold & Jonny Hawkins