Words by Ariel Chew, photos by Zainal Abidin Othman
Enter if you dare!
The next morning dawned bright and we woke up feeling chirpy after a good night’s rest. But to my horror, I discovered my pillow stained with blood.
The view was pretty – fallen leaves and lovely trees as far as the eye can see. And when we pause to look further between the trees, we can see the tops of neighbouring mountains – bluish green from a distance.
To Give Up or Not – That Was the Question!
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who entertained the thought of giving up. Our boss upon seeing our tired faces as we rested at Camp 2 asked us if we would like to turn back to Camp 1. One by one, we shook our heads. If we proceed to Camp 3 at this late hour, it would mean trekking in the dark when the night fell. The clouds were ominously dark and it might rain at any time.
And so, we slowly got up to our feet, every sore muscle protesting, hoisted our backpacks and went on to one of the hardest journeys we’ve ever known. The rain came strong and heavy. We hurriedly donned our ponchos, mainly to protect our backpacks even though they were already protected by their rain covers. Although the rain made the slopes slippery, it had a cooling and rejuvenating effect on our tired bodies and strangely enough, made the journey easier.
There was another group who stayed overnight at Camp 3 after descending from the summit. They left early in the morning, descending to Camp 1 and then back to Park HQ. To my relief, they looked none the worse for wear after conquering the summit. After my harrowing and slow performance getting to Camp 3, I was having serious doubts whether I could actually make it to the summit.
If you stop to listen, you can hear the slow dripping of water from the rock formations as part of the process of forming a new stalagmite. Of course, this process is painstakingly long with only about one centimetre growing every hundred years. Looking at the rock formations in the cave, we guessed that the cave must have been around the block for a long, long while. The pebbles and rocks on the cave floor resembled those typically found on river beds. This was evidence that the cave systems were formed by strong gushing underground rivers once upon a time.
I decided to cross the bridge when I get to it. At any rate, by reaching Camp 3, I managed to do what 20 soldiers purportedly couldn’t. With that uplifting thought, I cheerfully packed up, don my wet trekking clothes and together with the others, left for Camp 4 after breakfast.
Camp 3 was cold at night, making it difficult for me to sleep much despite my warm sleeping bag and jacket (perhaps I should have gotten better gloves for my hands were freezing).
Similar to Camp 1, both camps have basic flush toilets and fire places to cook food but unlike Camp 1, their only source of water was the rainfall collected in several big tanks. We were thankful for the heavy rainfall on our journey; for the water tanks were filled to the brim, giving us enough water for cooking and cleaning ourselves. We used the water to fill our water containers but after applying one water purification tablet into every one litre, of course.
Day 5 ~ Hie Ho, Hie Ho, It’s off to the Summit We Go!
Waking up before dawn (3.30am to be exact) and getting ourselves out in the freezing cold to climb a steep summit was hardly my idea of fun. But that was exactly what we did the next morning. The only consolation was we got to leave our backpacks behind at Camp 4 and just bring necessities to the summit.
As we climbed guided by our torch lights, we got warmer. As Zainal said earlier, there were two false peaks to go through before we could reach the true peak. Which meant a series of steep ascends and descends that took the wind out of my sail.Still, that did not deter me from pausing to admire the soft golden glow of sunlight illuminating the lovely trees and stunted vegetation along the way. The air was crisp and utterly fresh. There were times when I found myself trudging all alone and I embraced those moments of quietness in the midst of such beauty.
On the flipside, never had I felt so helpless and terrified either. At one point, I found myself dangling on both hands with my feet trying in vain to find a firm foothold to pull myself up the 90 degree ledge. I felt the strength in my arms giving out and I tried to grip the tree roots tighter. If I were to let go, it would be one steep and long drop.
It felt like we’ll never reach the elusive summit. The false twin peaks fed us a lot of false hopes that we have arrived. But we eventually got there. Up there, the vegetation resembled adorable bonsai plants and the wind was strong and chilly. There was also an abandoned battery recharging station/shack, a tall pole that beckoned us to climb it and three poles tied together with a metal pail on top to signal the summit.
Strange, but intriguing
Back to Camp 3
All that goes up must come down. And it’s the same for mountain climbers. Our success not only lies in conquering the summit but to return safely to our point of origin.
The descent from the summit to Camp 4 took as long as the ascent earlier that morning.
We reached Camp 3 just as it started getting dark. Was it a coincidence that I always reached Camp 3 after an immensely tiring trek at nightfall? Whatever it was, Camp 3 (not the Summit) to me is the symbol of being the most difficult goal to attain.
Day 6 – Back to Royal Mulu Resort
Our final day on the Mulu Summit trail dawned upon us bright and cheery. Silly grins were firmly plastered upon our faces as we fantasized about finally getting back to civilisation.
We were delighted to see the beautiful leaf-covered paths that greeted us as we continued our descent. This must be the fantastic view we missed when we struggled to Camp 3 in the rain and dark.
Lunch was at Camp 1, and after trekking uphill and downhill for many days, it was sheer bliss to walk on flat terrain. We passed several rivers where some of us took the time to swim in them, enjoying one last river bath before going back to the urban jungle.
When time has erased all scratches, wounds and heart-stopping memories of the Mulu Summit Trail, we know that we will be back for more.
You can take an adventurer out of the rainforest, but you can’t take the love for the rainforest out of the adventurer.