Words by Nur Hajar Mohamed, photos by Zainal Abidin Othman
Worth the hike, just to see this!
Each year, the amazing Pinnacles lure many avid climbers, excitement seekers and curious visitors to conquer its steep slopes and view its famous razor-sharp limestone formations.
Standing magnificently midway up Gunung Api (Mount Api), The Pinnacles, one of Mulu’s proud possession, marks as an astounding example of natural art sculptured by Mother Nature through the centuries.
Although at times partially covered by passing clouds, you can see the limestone spikes towering over the lush vegetation at a height of 45m, exuding a spectacular presence. Claimed to be four times tougher than scaling Mount Kinabalu (4093m) in Sabah, many who have victoriously completed the track to the viewpoint situated at an altitude of 1175m, would agree that the hardest challenge is not the journey up but rather the walk down.
Race Against Time
Among others, it is a race against time as the rule is to get to the vertical first ladder section, situated 2km from the starting point, by 11am.
“If we don’t get there by 11am, most people will be asked to head back to camp. This is because the walk down will take longer than the climb up and we do not want people to be caught by nightfall during descent,” explains our guide, Roy.
Flipping through the logbook at Camp 5, a stop-off point for those who wish to do the Pinnacles climb, the comments scribbled indicates the difficulty of the climb.
“Knocked my knee five times and I cried five times but after all that, being able to see the Pinnacles has made it all worth while.” Another writes, “I thought it was hard but actually its worst. But the result – the view of the spectacular Pinnacles is amazing!”
While many may suggest that the climb to reach the viewpoint requires physical strength to conquer its heights, in actual fact, mental fitness and alertness is what it truly demands.
The adventure to the viewpoint kicks off at 6.30am, after a night’s stay at Camp 5. Climbers, followed by their guides, start their ascent to the lower part of Gunung Api to the view point. Those who are still unsure of the climb can test their stamina and strength by doing the first level of the climb, which is up to the Mini Pinnacles, located at 900m. Depending on one’s fitness, the walk can take between one to one and a half hours.
At ground zero, the path up to 900m may very well appear intimidating to some. Jagged limestone formations, algae and moss-covered stones, dead tree trunks and protruding roots, are only but a few of the obstacles that await trekkers. As the path is steep, from here, climbers can gauge whether the climb, which only gets harder, is something they want to proceed doing. Come rain or shine, we have to abide by the 11am rule to the first ladder or turn back and head for camp.
In this trip, out of seven, six of us trod on. The next level is up to the 2,000m mark, which leads to the first vertical aluminium ladder that takes climbers to the last leg of the climb, before descent.
The climb from 900m to 2,000m poses new obstacles, soft ground and loose rocks. Exercise extreme caution on this path as one fall on these jagged rocks can cause quite an injury. People have been known to be sent back to camp on stretchers.
As the path gets steeper, use your hands and if must, pull yourself up by holding on tree roots or rocks. Wear a reliable and comfortable pair of gloves to assist with your climb.
The last 400m, the final leg of the climb to the viewpoint, 12 aluminium vertical ladders are fixed to rocks and trees to make the climb possible. Extra ropes are also attached at the sides of the rocks and walls for one to hold on to when going up. There is sparse vegetation at this point, with various gaps between rocks, so extreme caution is also needed here.
Once at the top, climbers are advised to soak in the spectacular sight of the Pinnacles, rest a few minutes and then make their descent. This is because the walk down usually takes longer. Take note that if it rains, the climb down will only be harder and require a longer period to finish. While the walk up will take three to four hours, the trip down can take up to five or six hours or more, depending on weather conditions. So it is a good idea to allow plenty of time for the return trip, as climbers have been caught by nightfall during their descent.
Apart from nightfall, rain also poses a problem. Unlucky for us, the clouds gave way as we headed down the last three ladders making the rocks slippery, and the ground and the ladders wet.
The wind slices through our drenched clothes, sending chills down our spines. Even a raincoat can’t save us from the weather onslaught. As warned, the descent was the hardest part of the whole journey. With the rain to worry about, we literally had to slide down some parts of the path. This resulted in torn pants, scraped knees and hands. Needless to say, it was painful.
As it gets darker, we switched on our headlights and stopped only when necessary for drinks, our knees, we could feel, were turning into jello. The stops were beginning to be a problem as each time we re-start after resting, the stabbing pain on our knees worsen.
At some parts, we had to lift our legs with our hands to go over high roots. Other parts, we had to crouch, extend our foot down and descend the jagged rocks in Sloth-motion. At this point, We decided to hum our favourite song to keep the team’s spirits up. Aptly I went for Blame It On The Rain by the infamous duo, Milli Vanilli.
The sign reads 600m. Suddenly I could see lights emerging from the slopes below. Two men in t-shirts and shorts are heading our way. It was the guides from Camp 5, who decided to come and look for us as darkness envelopes the mountain.
We felt relieved as they assisted us with our bags and guided us down the path. The stream that was once dry when we were climbing up now has water flowing through it because of the rain. I stopped in my tracks when I saw a water snake gliding by. When it was safe, the guide told me to continue until we reached the bottom.
At the camp, worried colleagues headed to the steps to check on us. Everything was fine. As we catch our breath and as our body heat evaporates through our clothes, a sign that we needed to re-hydrate ourselves and to have a shower, we just could not help but smile. Despite the gruelling and painful journey, we all knew, as it said in the book – it was all worth it.
Bridge across the river
In the middle of the mist
From the Mulu National Park, Camp 5 is accessible by longboat up the Melinau river to Long Litut. During dry spell when the river is shallow, it is a norm that passengers are required to alight and assist in pushing the boat through the rapids. The boat ride may take from 45 minutes up to three hours depending on the water level.
From Long Litut the boat ride is then followed by a three to four hour walk covering 8km through secondary and primary lowland rainforest. The trail is basically a simple walk on flat ground. A good portion of it being pebbled laden paths. The area near the riverine can get muddy during rainy season and may require a longer period to complete.
Aside from acting as a warm-up to the following day trip up the Pinnacle viewpoint, the walk to Camp also allows visitors to experience and enjoy the ancient yet beautiful nature that surrounds the area.
During rainy season, be aware of leeches. If one has found its way into your shoe or pants, salt water will be the best and fastest remedy to make it loosen its grip from you and fall off.
Camp 5 itself is situated next to the clear Melinau River that flows between Gunung Api (Mount Api) and Gunung Benarat (Mount Benarat). It has wooden shelters with raised sleeping floors that acts as dorms for visitors planning to stay overnight. The camp also provides facilities such as a kitchen, showers and toilets.
Across the river, feast your eyes on the majestic view of the 400m high vertical limestone cliff, which is the southwest face of Gunung Benarat. The entrance to the Tiger Cave can be viewed from the camp.
Stretching across the Melinau river from the camp is a suspension bridge that marks the starting point for the 11.7km Headhunter’s Trail.
What to Bring
3 litres of Water
Headlights/ Torch Light
Power Endurance Drinks
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