It's all about them Pinnacles!
05.02.2007 30 °C
After another fantastically speedy connection courtesy for Malaysia Airlines I arrived in Miri and score myself a new travelling buddy in baggage claim. Well to be honest not a completely new buddy, I had met Iduna originally at Bako National Park and by sheer luck we are on the same flight - small world and all that....Anywho, we share a cab into town and source ourselves some digs. As it transpires we have both arrived in Miri with exactly the same agenda's - a trip to Gunung Mulu National Park to tackle The Pinnacles - perfect.
Gunung Mulu National Park - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Sarawak's largest National Park, Gunung Mulu is a sprawling 529 sq km's of unspoiled wilderness and home to rugged mountain ranges, deep gorges, massive caves, clear rivers and diverse wildlife. Our sights however were set firmly on The Pinnacles an incredible stone forest of razor sharp limestone towering 45m high located half way up Gunung Api.
The accommodation we settled on in Miri just happened to be run by an absolute angel called Joanne who within 30 mins of us telling her of our plan to hike The Pinnacles she has arranged flights for us to Gunung Mulu (the only way to reach the National Park is by flying in) sorted all our accommodation requirements at Mulu and booked us a guide so we had nothing better to do than treat her a few Tiger beers to show our appreciation.
The following morning we are escorted to the airport and 30 mins later land in Gunung Mulu all via a plane called, rather amusingly a Fokker 50. Our hike to The Pinnacles isn't due to start until the following morning so we spent our first day at Mulu exploring the some of the many caves on site. It's during dinner that two familiar figures come hobbling over, it's Rachel & Sarah who I had previously spent three days with on the Iban Longhouse visit. Their inability to walk was due to them just having finished the Pinnacles hike so they spent the next few hours enlightening us to what lay ahead which they described as "a bloody hard slog but well worth it".
Our time has come, we meet two fellow hikers at the park HQ - Jay and Soo-Ann both from KL and jump aboard our boat which would will take us an hour up river to the starting point of the trail. Today's hiking is a steady 8.9km amble through the forest to Camp 5 where we would spend our first night before we tackled "the big one" tomorrow. And yes it was pleasant enough, not too taxing and a nice warm up, all is going swimmingly until I got attacked by the leeches. Now I'm not one of those people who gets unnecessarily freaked out by creepy crawlies I'm generally not bothered in the slightest but leeches are my "thing". I just hate the concept that you have no idea you have been bitten until you look down and there they are, locked on casually sucking you dry. They must be able to smell my fear or maybe I have particularly sweet blood cos I appear to attract them in droves. So I was relieved to reach camp 5 de-leech my legs and feet and settle down for the evening.
Camp 5 is really nice, it is set on the banks of the Sungai Melinau river facing the spectacular Benarat cliffs. It is a hive of activity with a group of cavers on a month long research program and fellow hikers using it as their base before or after tackling the trails. Then the horror stories began, the camp was full of people who had just finished The Pinnacles and are all too glad to tell us of the treacherous feat which lay ahead. Some find it just too hard and are forced to give up or if you don't make a certain point by 11am you have to turn back otherwise you will be lost in jungle for ever to be leech fodder.
A little smiley guy heads over to our table and introduces himself, he goes under the name of Undi and he will be our guide for tomorrow. He's a really nice guy and I immediately like him, naturally we bombard him with questions to satisfy our curiosity. He assures us we will be fine, it's a hard, unrelenting slog to the top but if get an early night and lay off the beers tonight we will be dandy. Following his advice and I am in bed by 8pm frantically trying to force myself to sleep.
I hardly sleep a wink, I am paranoid that if I shut both my eyes at the same time all the leeches in the whole of Gunung Mulu are going to make a B-Line for me so I'm feeling abit jaded when Undi comes to wake us at 6am. It's noodles and chocolate for breakfast and we leave Camp 5 by 7am.
Here's the weird thing, the hike up to view The Pinnacles is only 2.5km long which on the face of it is hardly far at all but non of us are prepared for the gradient. During the 2.5km distance we cover we climb 1.2km high. We are all taken by surprised by steepness, it is more like rock climbing than hiking as we scramble over rocks and tree roots, my body is wondering what the f**k is going on. Despite the lack of sleep I soon find my pace and spend the initial 2 hour ascent bantering with Undi, he's a top guy with an awesome sense of humour so time flies. We reach the last portion of the trail by 9.15am, Undi is surprised at our efficiency despite all three of us being completely soaked in sweat and thoroughly knackered. We are relieved to see that Undi has also had the decency to break a sweat also.
A word of warning
The last portion of the trail is a near vertical climb through a network of ladders and ropes to help you reach the top. It's not dissimilar aN enormous adventure playground apart from one slip on the slippery rock could result in a long and painful fall.
All is rewarded when we reach the top. The sun is shining as we turn the last corner but Undi stops dead in his tracks "Ohh no - what's happened here" he says "what, what's up..?" we reply, "they've gone" and then he absolutely pisses himself laughing - told you he was a joker! We are greeted by a magical view as the fruits of our labour are realised. We've been blessed with a clear view so I get some decent photo's just before the morning fogs rolls in and cruelly covers them from view for the people arriving not 10 mins after us.
Proof I made it!
The decent is definitely harder than getting up there, my feet have turned to concrete blocks and my legs to big jelly snakes but we make it down in 4 hours and I only sustain one injury when I fall down a hole. Arriving back in camp 5 it's a relief to get out of the sweaty clothes and sit in the river for an hour to cool off. The following morning I feel like I've been hit by a truck, my legs, back and arms all ache from hauling myself up using the ropes. We bid our farewells to Undi and plod the 8.9km back to Park HQ feeling satisfied that we made it - afterall failure was never an option!
(L-R: Undi, Iduna, Gregory & Jay)
Next Stop - Kota Kinabalu.