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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16 thoughts on “Chronological history of Low’s Gully Expedition

  1. Thank you so much for the Low’s Gully info…. just wonder can we go to Low’s Gully?? very keen to go there after back from KK, I have chance to view from the side…. is very nice!~!!

    Oliver

  2. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to go there, unless you have a very special permission from Sabah Park Authorities. And, as far as I know, Low’s Gully is NOT a walk in the park. People almost lost their lives there…

  3. Actually I have new information. A japanese expedition climbed almost halfway down Low’s Gully, or Commando Cauldron in 1984, successfully. They also couldnt reach the bottom though

  4. The 1994 rescue of the climbing party was not conducted by the Malaysian government, it was carried out by the British Military and led by Commander Michael Elesmore of the Royal Navy. Without Commander Elesmore’s prior knowledge of the gully the mission would have failed, they nearly gave up as it was; the search had gone on for many days and the military had proposed more than once to call it off.
    The reason for the demise of the one party was that they were not experienced climbers, neither was the leader; it was a desperate situation and a book entitled “SOS” was written by the leader of the expedition, Lt. Colonel Robert Neill giving full details of the expedition.
    A documentary was also filmed concerning the rescue and aired in England a few years after the incident.

  5. Adding details to the previous comment:
    in 1985, Pinfield, Reece and Elesmore descended the gully. During 1985, Pinfield spent every weekend climbing at the top of the gully while working under Elesmore as instructors at the Outward Bound School, in Kinarut; Pinfield was the most fit of the team and led the climb out along the ridge where descending in the very bottom was no longer possible. Once out of the gully, the trek out is also very difficult.
    The Malaysian Government did participate in the rescue, but they did not go into the gully, they searched only the jungles below the gully; the Malaysians feared the gully and would not go in, neither did they have the equipment or people to do a rescue on the scale that was organized by the British land forces based in Hong Kong. The whole rescue is quite complex, and in Michael’s words, “I was only part of the rescue that ended up locating the men, there were many people involved”. In the end, even the SAS was called in to descend the gully, but the men were found shortly before by helicopter after daily passages over the area that Elesmore had indicated that they would have gotten stuck in. The men had been stuck in the gully for over 20 days at that point. Food was lowered in and two days later they were lifted out. It was a dangerous area to try and helicopter in, and to the merit of the Malaysian government they sent in the helicopters. I have tried to tie together the many details of this rescue with out making it lengthy, but again, the rescue was quite complex.

  6. This is a nice article but unfortunately rather biased towards the pull-through team’s account. I was part of the team that descended the gully in 1998. Yes it was a seiged style trip, so good effort by the pull-through team, but its not true to say that our trip avoided the gully bed. The pull-through team would have used our equipment throughout their trip, so its a shame not to acknowledge this. They must have taken pretty well the same line, as we followed the gully bed throughout. I should add also that the film reviewed elsewhere on the website (“The Abyss”) was about our trip, not the military team. And we only had one of the original military team with us, Richie Mayfield. You can find my account of the trip at http://www.safetysteve.co.uk/page11.html. A small sub-group also descended the entire gully via Commando Cauldron, the most direct route, and completed this as a pull-through. As far as I’m aware this bit hasn’t been repeated, but lets face it, abseiling is no big deal anyway. It was a really enjoyable adventure though in a beautiful place. In 2000 we climbed a fantastic route up the gully wall which we named the Crucible.

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