Building a Research Station in the Middle of Unexplored Rainforest

Base Camp Manager Ian Blessley Describes the Rewarding Challenges of Constructing Camp Foyle

The Advance Party

8 days ago I found myself at the head of the small advance party travelling up river from Tumbang Tohan (TT) and up the Mohot River to look for the best place to site Camp Foyle, our home for the next 8 weeks.  The site had to be not only suitable for a camp, having good access to fresh water, being relatively flat and having sufficient access for the rest of the team and equipment to arrive, but also had to be suitable for the scientific research we were to carry out.

The small team that came out in the first boats consisted of Tim, James, and I along with Aspor and Pac Jodi, a chainsaw operator, who has recent knowledge of the area we were looking at.  We found a couple of good sites that would have been fantastic for camp, but unfortunately were not in the right location for the research team, before we came upon our current location: a small beach leading up to an old Gaharu hunter’s camp.

Locating the Site

The area to the north of the river was relatively flat and we were in a good area for the science teams.  Aspor indicated that there may be better locations up stream, and so we continued for a little while searching a further three locations, only for them to be discarded either because of access (up very steep, near vertical banks), because they were on undulating ground or the wrong side of the river.

By about 2pm we were looking to clear some of the smaller trees and saplings to set up a small tarpaulin for the night before the rain started.  We set about marking off an area with Red paint and gave the team instructions to clear everything with in the marked area.

Disaster Strikes

All was going well when disaster struck. Pac Jodi had been brought to help out as he has been cutting trees for the local village with a chainsaw all his life ( in fact his son is now following in his footsteps), and in order to speed things up was going to take on the smaller trees.

This was clearly not what he had in mind when he took on one of the biggest trees in the area.  We managed to stop him before the tree came down but not before he had caused irreparable damage. Whilst we were trying to come to terms with what he had done, and over come the guilt of not supervising him closely enough there was a rumble and the rain started.

Aspor was concerned that the tree may now come down because of the wind and rain, so the small camp we had started was split into what can only be described as 2 hovels.  Dan also arrived around this time with more guides and the rest of the base camp supplies, making for a slightly wet and cramped night.  The guides also helpfully pointed out that I had neglected to bring salt, sugar and coffee, a cardinal sin in these parts!