In Borneo, deep in Sarawak’s Gunung Mulu National Park, lie the most spectacular caves on earth. Over millennia the flow of water draining from the slopes of G.Mulu towards the sea has cut deep gorges through the Park’s limestone mountains and, within the rock itself, a complex network of vast caves has been formed.
The 1978 expedition report came to the following conclusion; “…it is a strong contender for the title of the largest cave passage in the world.”
As time went on it became clear that Deer Cave did indeed contain the largest genuine cave passage in the world. A further survey in 2009, undertaken by the Hoffman Institute of Western Kentucky University, confirmed the dimensions.
The 2009 survey effort increased the known passage length to 4.1 kilometres and connected Langs Cave, another show cave within the park, to the Deer Cave System. The maximum cross sectional area was in the large southern passage. This was documented at 169m wide with a ceiling height of 125m. The northern passage registered the greatest ceiling height at 148m with a cross sectional width of 142m.
The main entrance of Deer Cave was measured at 146m and the Garden of Eden Entrance was measured to be 140m in width. The survey revealed the existence of an un-ascended 305 meter high aven in the roof of the upstream passage. The highest elevation roof passage was measured at 226m above the main cave trail.
The truth of the matter is that there is no accepted measure for the largest cave passage, all is subjective opinion. At the best there is a single cross sectional measure at the widest/highest part. To be definitive a set of criteria would need to be established by which large passages could be compared.
This would have to include setting a length over which the passage was measured and then defining average dimensions or a volume, perhaps by laser scanning techniques.
Most importantly, it would be necessary to agree a set of rules as to what constitutes a ‘passage’ in the first place otherwise Nasib Bagus (Sarawak Chamber) would surely be the largest passage in the world at 700m long, 400m wide and 100m high. Along with Api Chamber, at 300m long, 200m wide and 120m high, these great chambers are just large sections of a collapsed passage.
So, if we exclude these types of chambers then we should be careful what passage elements we do include such as junctions, skylights, avens, alcoves and cross rifts which all distort the true dimensions of a borehole-like passage.
Unlike the longest cave in the world, where one cave stands out way above the rest, the largest known passages of Deer Cave, Gebihe System, Hang Song Dong, Gruta do Janelao etc. are more difficult to compare. As it was in 1978 it is the same today, Deer Cave is still a strong contender for the title of the largest cave passage in the world.
Sarawak / Mulu National Park
The Mulu National Park is one of Sarawak’s greatest attractions. Mulu’s major claim to fame is its spectacular limestone caves. The caves of Mulu command a long list of superlatives including the world’s largest cave passage (the Deer Cave), the world’s largest natural rock chamber (the Sarawak Chamber) and the Clearwater Cave, the longest cave system in South-East Asia.
The spacious Deer Cave at 1000 metres wide and 120 metres high can contain London’s St Paul’s Cathedral five times over. The 60 metres high “shower” continuously pouring from the roof near the “Garden of Eden” is one of the many spectacular views within the Cave.
Besides the magnificent displays of limestone formation of stalactites and stalagmites and Land Cave and Wind Cave, Mulu National Park is also a paradise for naturalists and adventurers who love jungle trekking and mountain climbing. The Park has 1500 species of flowering plants, including 170 species of wild orchids and 10 types of pitcher plants. There are 67 species of mammals and 262 types of birds, including all eight species of hornbills.
Miri and Limbang are the two main entry points to Mulu National Park. From Miri, visitors can either fly by scheduled Twin Otter flights operated daily by MAS or take the express boat and motorised-longboat all the way to Mulu.