Mike Meredith

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Past Presidents of the Union Internationale de Spéléologie

Mike Meredith, 79, was found dead at his house in Kuching, Sarawak, on the morning of Wednesday 11th January 2023.

Mike was born on the 19th. July 1943 in Hereford.  At the age of 11 he obtained a Scholarship to Monmouth School, and went on Cambridge University, gaining a 2.2 in Natural Sciences in 1965.   He then took a year out, first teaching English as a Foreign Language to immigrant children and then working on an assembly line at Cadburys, followed by a year gaining his PGCE, starting work as Chemistry Master at Burnley Grammar School in 1967.  Boys in the 6th. form introduced him to caving, – his initiation was down Boggarts Roaring Hole – and he soon became a leading light in the Burnley Caving Club, with his Morris Minor Traveller loaded with cavers and equipment most weekends.   In 1970, disillusioned by Burnley Grammar School dropping the Nuffield approach to science teaching, he spent the summer ‘temping’ at Whernside Manor Scout Caving Activity Centre, in Dentdale, before applying for the job of Chief Instructor.  During his interview there was consternation – The Scout Association could not appoint someone who did not ‘believe in God’!  Fortunately, the issue was fudged, and Mike duly appointed!  He spent the next five years as my Deputy.  As well as doing pretty much every cave system in the Dales, most of them many times, Mike was a very active member of the CRO.  I remember in particular a time we were called over to the Lake District, where a youth had fallen down a particularly nasty open mine rift above Coniston.  Mike was the volunteer lowered with a stretcher to the jammed boulders 70 feet down, and then hauled back to the surface with the casualty.

In 1973 we organised two caving expeditions to the Vercors and the Chartreuse in France, and en-route called in on an old man – Fernand Petzl – making ascenders and descenders in his domestic garage.  Mike returned on his motorbike and came back with panniers bulging with them. But by this time he was fed up with the lousy pay, and in 1974 quit his job and left for a life in France. Caving continued to be central to his life.  He played a major part in the difficult rescue of the bodies of two French cavers from the Gouffre Berger in 1975.  After learning French at Grenoble University  in double quick time – Mike became a superb linguist – he started work with Petzl – still a small, but rapidly expanding company now run by Fernand’s sons, Paul and Pierre.  He continued caving, doing much exploration with the Furets Jaune de Seyssins.  Mike was at the forefront of developments in caving techniques and equipment, publishing his book ‘Vertical Caving’, with English, French, Spanish and German editions. In 1978 he moved to Austria, becoming Petzl’s representative there, and caving with the Salzburg Caving Club, making some good discoveries, in trips of several days each, notably the connection between Gamslöcher and Kolowrathöle, with a whole system of horizontal passages on the way.

My own connection with Mike continued, and on annual trips to France, and later Austria, we were able to call on his local knowledge to make through trips of the Dent de Crolles system, and many others.

I was able to repay Mike by inviting him on to the 1980/81 Sarawak Expedition to the caves of Mulu.  He made a breakthrough in Benarat Caverns which resulted in the opening up of a vast system, plus many more discoveries, well documented elsewhere.

Mike was President of the Union Internationale de Spéléologie (UIS) Cave Rescue Commission from 1981-87.

Returning to Europe Mike resumed work with Petzl in France, then in 1984 came out to Mulu again.  While I floundered around like a red hot beetroot in the tropical heat, Mike took to it like a duck to water.  At the end of the expedition Mike and I sat down with the Head of National Parks, Dr. Paul Chai, and asked what the department wanted us to do next.  Paul replied that they wanted one person to come for several years and help them develop tourist facilities in Mulu. Mike jumped at the chance!   Funding was tricky as the Sarawak Government had no money for it, but back in France the winter of 1985 was really cold, and impelled Mike to leave for Malaysia that March. The next year was spent teaching English as a foreign language at Sekolah Menengah Sains in Raub, Pahang. Finally, in September 1985, Mike ‘s Mulu job gained the funds required and he set to work. In the next five years, among many other projects, he opened up Deer cave, Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave to visitors, and became the ‘go to’ person for any and every expedition planning to visit Sarawak. With Jerry Wooldridge providing the photos they published Giant Caves of Borneo in 1990.

In 1990 Mike handed the baton of Mulu Project Officer over to another British caver – Dave Gill, and spent a year working on a commercial venture with Richard Hii – Tropical Adventure – to expand tourism in Mulu, and being Mike he backed this up by working on an MBA from Durham University.  However his real skills lay in conservation work, and from 1991 until his death he worked on a continuous succession of projects for various agencies, not only in Borneo but also in Laos, Madagascar, and including a visit to North Korea to advise on the establishment of National Parks. He was especially proud of his work in assisting aspiring conservationists to gain professional qualifications.  At the end of his life he was working on statistical models of rare animal distributions, notably tigers.

A modest and unassuming man, he will be sadly missed by his many friends and family.

Ben Lyon