And now, the main purpose and highlight of my Mulu trip, The Pinnacles. I had wanted to the Summit trail but I did not have sufficient time, so I settled for this. But after looking at the images I found on the internet, I knew I wouldn’t even call it a compromise. I was pretty sure I was in for a real treat.
It wasn’t high, only a 1,200m height gain from camp 5 where we set off from in the morning. It wasn’t a long hike too, only 2.4km. Sounds simple enough from the numbers but a closer look would tell you that this was almost a vertical wall. Yes, I had read that it involved scrambling and going down on all fours. There were ladders to bridge areas where it would otherwise not be possible to cross or climb. I was really looking forward to this.
But before this, we had a 8km hike to our camp ground. The boat dropped us off and our guide, Biogo, assured us it was a short hike. Well, it wasn’t that tough as it was relatively flat ground but I had a little issue with my shoes. They were really slippery, especially when I walked on timber planks with thick growth.
Beng Lee was fast and it wasn’t long before he and Biogo both disappeared into the far distance. Annette and I paced each other and had a little chat every now and then. The trail was pretty well marked by huge river pebbles, so we had no worries about losing our way. We tried to speed up a little as we wanted to reach Camp 5 early and I was so looking forward to jumping into the river for a good swim. I had been up and about since early morning and I could really smell myself now. And trust me, I didn’t exactly like how I smell right now.
It wasn’t exactly just a walk through the rain forest. We went over two suspended bridges too. We were told there were still leopards in the forest and they lurked around Camp 5. It was a mixed feeling, kind of hoping to see one and yet that little bit worried about bumping into one. Except for birds, insects and some really artistic roots structure, we saw no cats, big or small.
It wasn’t a tough walk but the amount of walking and running I had done the day before and today was getting to me. I was just glad that this was all flat ground. The only thing that made it that little tougher was my backpack which was really weighing down on me now. It wasn’t exactly that heavy, only 12kg at most but it felt much heavier now. Just when I thought we were down to our last 1km, my relief was short lived. We had a little hill to cross before we reached our destination. Well, it really wasn’t that bad but I guessed I was just tired.
After about 2.5 hrs of walking, we found ourselves our Campsite. Beng Lee was already all washed up and looking refreshed with Biogo. Our accommodation wasn’t as bad as I imagined. There was even an exercise mat provided. I brought my own sleeping bag so I just layered that up. While the ladies got ready to go for a bath, Annette and I went to the river. The water was so cold but it was definitely refreshing.
When we made our way back to camp, the guys had prepared dinner and I felt really bad. I had brought freeze dried food but Beng Lee, Eil, Wong and Ai Ling had proper dinner prepared. They cooked rice and vegetables and canned fish. We were invited to join them for dinner and I was really glad to be hiking with the group. I guessed all I could do was volunteer to help with washing up.
We decided to sleep early as we had an even earlier start tomorrow morning.
Sigh, I hardly slept. It was way too early and I guessed my excitement kept me up too. I washed up, packed the stuff I needed and I was almost ready. The guys prepared a sumptuous breakfast again and they made extra for lunch. I took some rice and made myself hot soup. I wasn’t that worried about lunch as I knew I didn’t need much. And this was how we looked before we set off. All smiles and ready to go.
We had two time checks. Firstly we had to reach the ‘mini pinnacles’ within an hour. This is the initial ‘test’. If you did not make it even at this early stage, it would be best to turn back. There were miniatures of the limestone structures and I guessed you wouldn’t go back entirely empty handed even at this stage…. yes… photo time again.
And as you probably guessed, I made it. I wasn’t as fast as the rest of the group but there I was. I paced myself and made it in pretty good time. However, there was no reason to be please with myself at this point as this was not even halfway through. Perhaps only the first quarter. We took some photos, had a short break and was told to leave a bottle of water behind to lighten our load.
The first section was a tough start and I was already almost on all fours most of the time. The start to the second leg was surprising more manageable. Remember the second time check? Now we had to make our way to the first ladder before noon. I was pretty confident we had plenty of time but i didn’t want to be over-confident. Again I paced myself. Biogo was real fun as we joked and laughed along the way. I had Annette with me and I was making her keep to my pace too as she had a tendency to go faster and faster. Hope I wasn’t too much of a nag here.
At the first ladder, there was this huge sign that said to turn back if you were past noon. The worry was that you would not be able to make it down before sunset and it would be tough to descend in the dark. I fully agree as the ground was pretty wet from the days of raining and we were plain lucky that we had a pretty clear day. Even so, it was really slippery.
The rest of the way up was really all vertical. We had to make use of the ropes around to hoist ourselves up and I finally understood the need for the ladders. The rock walls were really all vertical but what made it different was that it wasn’t one huge piece of rock. They were ‘needle’ like and you need the vertical ladders to go up and the horizontal ladders to bridge one point to the other. A bit of a balancing act here too.
As I was on all fours all the time, I was making sure I did not squash any bugs where I stepped and where my hands laid. I was also washing my hand whenever I find any water ponding in small crevices on the rock surface. It was nice and cool.
Just as we were almost to the peak, I turned back and looked down where I had come from. That was when I realised how high up I already was and the view behind me all this while was breathtaking. I couldn’t help but stop to snap away. A few hummingbirds caught my eye and they were tiny, darting about. I had a feeling Biogo know why I smiled.
And finally, after hours of hard work, I reached my goal. And trust me, it was beautiful. I once told a friend no matter how many places I had been to and how many rainforests I had been through, how many millipedes I had seen, each place had its own beauty and a reason to take my breath away. And here, this was a view I never though I would witness on my own. And this was a pure creation of Mother Nature, nothing man-made and perhaps a structure we would never be able to create as perfect no matter how hard we tried.
And yes, it is beyond what words can describe and at this point, the best re-production would be my amateurish photos.
We took our time taking photos and having our lunch. There was a pair of lovely squirrels who were trying to get at our lunch boxes attempts after attempts. Oh, but they stunk pretty bad. Nice to look at but no, not getting anywhere near me while I feast away. After a quick bite, I made my way to the other corner of the peak. The hummingbirds were there again. I took some photos from that corner.
Soon, it was time to make our way down. I knew I was going to have a lot of problems making my way down and I was right. I took my time making my way down the ladder but that was really not the hardest part. I could not understand how Biogo was able to move so fast even though his shoes were much worse off than mine. But I had so much fun with Biogo. We took our time and he was making silly jokes. We talked about the river waiting for me to jump in. And we had a little story going on about how he was gathering his monkey friends at the river to celebrate for me. Really really lame stories but they kept me going and took my mind off how tired I was.
I took a long time but I made it back to camp 5 in one piece. The rest of the guys cheered for me and it felt good to be welcomed back. Guess I didn’t have much of a choice. You could choose to go up or not but coming down, you had no choice. And yes, I wanted a swim at the river.
The cold water was soothing my tired muscles and I was taking in the sight and sound of the river rushing past me. At that moment, I sincerely thank the Lord for bringing me here and giving me that moment of peace that I knew I needed badly.
It was not the end of the trip. After a hearty dinner, we chatted till late before heading to bed. The same 8km trail walk awaited us early next morning.
I felt a bit sad as morning dawned and we made our way back. For me, it wasn’t just leaving camp 5. It was the day I leave Mulu entirely and fly back to Singapore. In short, back to reality for me. The same walk through the rainforest, the same river boat ride. But a very different feeling.