An Australian hiker who was lost in a remote Malaysian national park for two weeks says he resorted to eating wild ferns to survive.
On October 18, Andrew Gaskell set off on a solo hike up the 2,376-metre summit of Mt Mulu and made it most of the way back out before getting lost. He was found by a Malaysian search team on Tuesday.
“Obviously I’m quite starving but apart from that I’m really happy to be alive,” the 25-year-old told the ABC by phone from Miri Hospital, in Malaysia’s Sarawak region.
“These last few days I picked up a few wild ferns from the jungle, aside from that I ate virtually nothing — I was getting weaker and weaker every day.
“By the end of it I was quite concerned I wouldn’t make my 26th birthday.”
Aside from hunger, Mr Gaskell said he had infected cuts on his feet, and was “bitten by a lot of things”, but had sustained no major injuries.
“At the base [of the mountain] there’s lots of parallel trails and creek crossings that make the track quite confusing,” he said.
“The sun was just setting at that time [and] I managed to get myself lost.
“I ended up spending that whole night just wandering and really got myself badly disorientated.”
The area is famous for its cave systems and there were growing fears for Mr Gaskell’s safety, although he was slow to realise the seriousness of his predicament.
“It actually took me a while to be concerned – I must be more optimistic than I thought,” he said.
“If I had a GPS or better navigational equipment I would have been fine but it was extremely stupid of me really.”
Mr Gaskell apologised for the worry he caused to his family and thanked the Malaysian authorities.
“The rescue staff have been amazing, as have the hospital staff,” he said.
He was resting at a Miri Hospital but said he wanted to continue his travels in Sarawak and Sabah.
Search for meaning
Prior to leaving for his Asian backpacking adventure, Mr Gaskell – who described himself as a “dissatisfied engineer, some-time composer, avid hiker, keen photographer, amateur footballer, aspiring writer” – wrote of his desire to “come to some sort of conclusion as to who I am”.
“In August 2016, I will be embarking on a journey beginning somewhere in Asia and heading in a generally westward direction for an indefinite period of time,” he wrote on his blog.
“My main travel goals are to have genuine cultural experiences with local people outside of the mainstream tourist attractions; and to climb a lot of mountains.
“And maybe, just maybe, in the course of my travels I’ll come to some sort of conclusion as to who I am and what I want to do with my life. And so begins my journey beyond the horizon.”
Gunung Mulu National Park ranges across 544 square kilometres of rainforest and features “fast-flowing rivers and clear jungle streams”, as well as “one of the largest limestone cave systems in the world”.