Friday, October 19, 2012


Today is the third day that we have been in Mulu. In my last sequence of Caltech posts I chose the theme throughout to be trying to teach the advanced chemistry used in my thesis work to readers with little-to-no math and science expertise. For this trip my new idea is to treat each post like a journal entry, which can uniquely provide a personal window into the around-the-world fieldwork that we are doing. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, October 17, 2012

Woke up at 6:30am. Jessica was setting up her rain gauges as I went into the research center and began separating out what we needed to pack for today’s trip to a decorated chamber within Gunung Mulu. Small 4ml vials and funnels to collect drip waters, flagging tape for collecting broken stalagmites on the cave floor, lab notebook, lab camera, ect. We covered our bodies in insect repellant then walked over to the park’s restaurant to eat breakfast. Pancakes, fruit from the jungle, tea. Then we went back to the research center, grabbed our cave packs, quickly threw in our caving kneepads, gloves, helmets, and rubber shoes, and went out to meet Syria at the boat dock.

Beautiful 15-min boat ride down the river to arrive at the Cave of the Winds. We collected a few drips at the entrance -- a fun sight for the tourist groups as they shuffled past with their park guides into the show cave -- then followed Syria off the visitor's path and into the deep chambers of Gunung Mulu.

It’s been four years since my last time adventure caving with Syria here in Mulu, and I still love everything about it -- the mind-blowing gigantic chambers, the non-stop rock climbing, the slippery muddiness, the darkness, the nervousness, the adrenaline. But it’s Syria who makes the caving incredible. She is a god-- there is nothing she doesn’t know or can’t do, and I am in constant awe. Plus she is hilarious and fun. I have looked forward to seeing her again ever since I left four years ago. One of my few idols and an amazing friend. At one point while we were walking to the next chamber she stopped suddenly. “Stacy! Come here!” How nice -- she found a 6ft long racer snake gliding along outside the path to show me. She sees everything! I’m amazed. 

We arrived in the decorated chamber after about 2 hours of climbing. Sat down, ate some clif bars, then separated out to start our fieldwork for the day. I started searching around the chamber floor for some attractive broken stalagmites. I found a few, and carried them back to our lunch spot. Then I set up a 1-liter bottle on top of a tripod over a growing stalagmite to collect a large sample of dripwater to measure its trace-uranium concentration. Syria disappeared off to explore more of the cave chambers and look for new stalagmite decorations we hadn’t studied before.

At 3:00pm it was time to begin our trek back through the cave and catch our boat back to park headquarters. Covered in mud and sweat, the boat ride back in the rain was refreshing and fun. We showered, then went to the park restaurant to eat dinner. Laksa, jungle ferns, Milo. It was 7:00pm, but had already been dark for a few hours, and the rain was pouring. We returned back to the research center exhausted. I lay on the bed for a quick nap. Alarm set for 30 mins. I woke up at midnight.