Category Archives: Low’s Gully

Eastern Plateau Expedition 2015, Mount Kinabalu

We went up the Eastern Plateau of Kinabalu last weekend. Managed to shoot a lot of photos and some short videos.

For your information, I used Openshot video editor, an open source application in my Dell Ubuntu 14.04 laptop. Photos and videos was shot using a China made video cam, Action Cam RD990.

I hope you enjoy the video!

Low’s Gully Movie – The Abyss : To The Ends of The Earth

It took me another 2 weeks to gather all this information. In 1994 a British Army expedition to Borneo’s infamous Low’s Gully went disastrously wrong. Three books and one movie was made based on the event. As I have shared with you the three books, this time, I would like to share with you the movie.

The movie is entitled “To The End of The Earth : The Abyss”, was produced in 1998 by a group of European actors.

The Abyss

The Synopsis:

Low’s Gully Movie - The Abyss : To The Ends of The EarthIn 1994, a British Army expedition of 10 men set out to become the first to explore Low’s Gully in Borneo – a 1.6-kilometre-deep canyon, stretching for 10 kilometres off the side of Mount Kinabalu. Armed with 10 days’ rations and a video camera but without radio and flares, they descended into the abyss …

Setting Out

Low’s Gully was created over a million years ago when a massive glacier carved a huge canyon on the side of Mount Kinabalu in northern Borneo. Known as the ‘Place of the Dead’, local legend tells that it’s a resting place of their ancestors. Today, it remains one of the least explored gullies on the planet.

In 1994, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neil and Major Ron Foster put together a team of 10 soldiers to explore the gully as part of a British Army expedition. The aim was to climb the mountain and abseil into the top of the gully, before trekking along it back to base – all in just six days.

The plan was to travel light, so they decided to forgo radios and flares and take just 10 days’ rations. Of the team, only one man, Lance Corporal Richard Mayfield, had any real climbing experience and two of the soldiers had never even abseiled before.

Low’s Gully Movie - The Abyss : To The Ends of The EarthIn February 1994, with just one day’s abseil training, the team began the 4100-metre ascent to the mountain’s summit. The path up was just 13 kilometres long but rose steeply. Regularly scaled by groups of tourists, Mount Kinabalu is not considered a tough climb. Yet it proved difficult for many of the soldiers who had spent only three days acclimatising to the heat, altitude and humidity.

On the morning of the third day, Operation Gully Heights reached the summit and the men saw for the first time the task ahead of them. Neil, recognising that the climb had taken its toll on some of the men, decided that Mayfield and the younger, fitter men should forge ahead and begin their descent down the gully, while the remaining five men rested before catching up. It was a decision that would divide the team for good.

Mayfield’s group began to abseil the 1.6 kilometres to the gully floor. Each of the five men carried a length of rope. The plan had been to leave the ropes in place as they descended to provide them with a means of ascent back out if they needed it.

But as Mayfield’s team pressed on, it became clear to him that with the two teams separated they would need to remove and reuse their ropes in order to reach the bottom of the gully. Reluctant to take this drastic step, and with no radio to contact his commanding officer in the first group, Mayfield climbed back up to inform Neil of their predicament. But with Neil’s team still too tired to begin their descent, he ordered Mayfield to continue to the gully floor, saying they would follow.

With just four days’ rations left, and with the team divided, Mayfield began to realise that Operation Gully Heights may have underestimated Low’s Gully. It was a point of no return. If they descended to the gully floor would they make it out again?

In The Gully

Low’s Gully Movie - The Abyss : To The Ends of The EarthWhen Neil’s team finally began their descent they had only three days’ rations left. And with novice climbers, they made slow progress.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the gully, the advance team were waiting for the others to catch up. But when they failed to show and with their rations running short they realised they were no longer on a training exercise. It had become a fight for human survival – they had to try and make it out of the forest alive.

As the first group began to negotiate their way out, they met with the gully’s unique weather system. Mists over the mountain gave way to torrential rains and with nowhere else to go, the water poured down into the gully. Soon, the stream that they had planned to follow out turned into rapids. Hemmed in by the forest, Mayfield’s team attempted to follow the fast-moving water, abseiling down waterfalls and traversing the sheer rock flanking the water.

Ahead of them, Mayfield’s team had become trapped between two waterfalls. Up to their waists in water, the drop ahead of them was too dangerous to attempt and they couldn’t climb back up the previous waterfall. So Mayfield, using his climbing skills, decided to tackle the 13-metre rock face that rises from the side of the gully.

But after he had safely helped his companions climb out of the gully, the five men found themselves face-to-face with an impenetrable forest thicket. In the days that followed, as they slowly struggled through the undergrowth, Mayfield and one other team member became separated from the other three in their group. Unable to find them, they were forced to continue on. With no rations, they attempted to live off the forest, but with dire consequences – Mayfield’s companion became violently ill. Unwilling to leave him behind, Mayfield goaded him into going on.

Eventually, after 17 days in the gully, the pair spotted what looked like a bridge. It turned out to be a road. Exhausted and starving, they stumbled out of the forest and back into the arms of civilisation.

On their return, they learned that the other three in their party had already made it back safely. But Neil’s team were still stranded. The Malaysian Army started to search for the missing soldiers with helicopters. A Royal Air Force rescue team was also dispatched.

After 10 days of searching, a Malaysian helicopter finally spotted the second group and lowered stretchers to rescue them. It was 31 days since they’d set out. By the end, they’d been surviving off energy sweets and cough drops. They had lost a fifth of their body weight, but they were alive.

All 10 men had survived the ordeal, but in their rush to be the first to explore the gully, they had overestimated their own abilities and underestimated the unique terrain and unpredictable weather of Low’s Gully.

I check out Amazon.com for the DVD. There’s none. At last, I found two websites that provides the VHS (yes, that old) of the movie. One of the website that I contacted 2 weeks ago still did not reply my email. It costs GBP14.99. If I were to buy the VHS, I have to spend almost RM200 for one, including the postage, and still not sure whether I could receive the package. Here is the link:

  1. Inglesport – Online Shop
  2. 1 Simple Solutions

Resources:

  1. Channel4 : Force of Nature – Low’s Gully
  2. BFI Film & Database

Chronological history of Low’s Gully Expedition

It took me 2 weeks to gather all this information scattered on the net. Informations and photos were taken from Flemish Low’s Gully Expedition 2003, by David Nijssen before the French School of Canyoning for the degree of ‘Canyoning Monitor’ on 23-27th of August in Haute-Savoie, France. Original report can be downloaded here.

In 1851 Hugh Low and his team climbed a mountain about 90 km northeast of Kota Kinabalu. They travelled from Labuan to Tuaran of Abai on the coast, and proceeded on foot through difficult terrain. They did not enter the threatening canyon though, …

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

In 1960 a British expedition, lead by Commander ‘Cauldron’ explored the top 300 m of the Gully wall, descending through the gap named after the Team leader. Falling rocks proved this to be the most dangerous route and the descent was cancelled.

Commando Cauldron

In February 1987, three British Alpine climbers found the way through Easy Valley towards the bottom of the Gully. The first witnesses of Low’s unharnessed force decided wisely not to proceed.

Easy Valley

In 1991, one of these men returns with a larger expedition force, and Pinfield and New reach a narrow stretch of “about 12 m wide” in the canyon at an altitude of 1570 m. There they avoid the beginning of the ‘real’ canyon through ‘New’s escape route’ and proceed over the ridge towards the exit.

3D image of Mount Kinabalu

March 1994, two teams of five British army soldiers attempt to conquer Low’s. The first team reaches ‘New’s Pool’, but like their predecessor, must take the escape route to the end of the Gully. After 10 days they reach Melangkap Kappa. The second team still hasn’t arrived… The Malaysian army is called to the rescue. Three weeks later, when starvation was about to make it’s first victim, they were evacuated by helicopter.

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

In 1998, two men from the former expedition returned, heavily sponsored by ‘National Geographic’. Not taking any chances in this lethal canyon, the team equips the canyon with fixed ropes, staying out of the water and out of the bottom of the Gully at all costs. They make it through, using 5000 m of rope…

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

Something keeps nagging in the British military: did they or did they not conquer Low’s Gully? Undoubtedly, they achieved a great feat. But have you really experienced a football match when you move along the outskirts of the field? To make sure, the British military set out in April 2000 to pass Low’s Gully using canyoning techniques. Four Flemish civilians were part if the team.

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

They reached New’s Pools, when team leader Rafferty decided it was too dangerous to proceed and called in the helicopters. By now the ‘impossibility’ of descending Low’s inspired canyoneers all over the world. In 2001 a Canadian team takes up this challenge. They also reach New’s pools before they are forced to turn back. In 2002, a Dutch team, including ‘K2’ climbers, decided to give it a try. They too are overwhelmed by the sheer force of the elements at the bottom of the Gully and wisely opt for a ‘sensible retreat’.

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

By 2003, a team of nine Flemish canyoneers set out to go where the bodies and spirits of so many have been broken. In only five days they complete the first real descent of Low’s Gully using canyoning techniques.

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

Low’s Gully - Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

Do you know anymore attempts into the gully after this one?
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Low’s Gully Storyboooks – in three different versions

In early March 1994, five members of a British Army expedition emerged from Low’s Gully, a five mile long hell hole falling away from Mount Kinabalu in the jungle of Borneo.

However, the achievement of the five – mostly fit and able young British non-commissioned officers – in being the first to conquer Low’s Gully was overshadowed by the fact that the other five members of their team – two relatively old and senior British officers and three young novice Chinese storemen and guards – were apparently still lost in the gully.

What had gone wrong and why had the group broken the golden rule for such expeditions – never split up?

They were:

  • LTC Robert Neill
  • MAJ Ron Foster
  • SGT Bob Mann
  • CPL Hugh Brittan
  • LCP Kelvin Cheung (HK)
  • LCP Richard Mayfield
  • LCP Pete Shearer
  • LCP Steve Page
  • PTE Victor Lam (HK)
  • PTE Chow (HK)

I was really surprised to find out that there are 3 books which tells us their story. The first book was written by the first team which emerged from the gully, the second book which was written by the senior officers and the third one, by a third person, who traveled around the world, trying to find the truth about the expedition. There were apparently some misunderstandings between the team members about the decision to go into the gully – and out of it.

Personally I have yet to read all the books – which are apparently difficult to get nowadays. The last time I checked, the only place that have the book (around Kota Kinabalu) is the Sabah State Library. Amazon.com have few copies of used books,but unfortunately they do not mail to Malaysia (even Singapore).

It’s like a collector’s series of book for Kinabalu lovers. I think that these books are really a gem to have as it as a collection as it becomes more difficult to get.

This book (SOS) is written by the two senior officers. Claimed to be the ‘answers’ of the book written earlier by two of the team members who managed to get out from the gully in 10 days.

This book (Kinabalu Escape) is written by two of the team members who was in the first group.

Richard Connaughton’s book is the most important book among those 3, as he traveled around the world to search the truth behind the expedition – by getting the information from both team members.

Happy reading!

Low’s Gully – Kinabalu’s “Death Valley”

Low’s Gully is without doubt the single most dramatic feature of the mountain from the climbing point of view, and was for a long time considered to be inaccessible. Reaching more than a kilometer (3,000 feet) down and more then 16 kilometers (10 miles) in length, the gully is shrouded with an air of mystery made only stronger by its inaccessibility. Several parties, including British army expeditions, have tried to penetrate the gully from either the top or the bottom – but all failed.

Low’s Gully
Look out below: a Canadian team attempts Low’s Gully, March 2002. (Brent Raymond)

More recently in 1998, however, a joint Malaysia-British mountaineering group made another successful attempt. Their success was, in large part, due to the fact that the descent was made during the El Nino induced drought of 1998, and the climbers themselves said afterwards that in wet weather the descent would have been impossible.

Indeed some members of the expedition felt that it was not so much a conquering of the gully, as an acceptance by the mountain to let them through, perhaps due to the spiritual rituals that took place both before and after the climb. The group also succeeded in descending, for the first time, the vertical cliffs at the head of the gully that come down from Commando Cauldron.

Commando Cauldron

Other proposals have been made to descend the gully since, but Sabah Parks, wisely recognizing the great dangers involved have not, so far, given permission for any further attempts.

Though he never climbed Low’s Peak, Sir Hugh Low was the first to look down into the dramatic gully that bears his name, saying “…looking down over the ridge, I gazed into a circular amphitheater about 80 yards broad, the bottom of which from its great depth and my position overhanging it was indiscernible, though I imagine I could see down two thousand feet.”

Resources:

  1. Globetrotter Visitor’s Guide Kinabalu Park (Globetrotter Visitor’s Guides), by Anthea Phillipps
  2. Big Gulp, No Exit, from Outside Online, by Paul Kvinta
  3. Rabani HMA, from TrekEarth