Complicatedly simple, or simply complicated?

Friday, December 28, 2007

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Sarawak/ Mulu Trip (Part I) - Day 1-5: The Pinnacles Trek

I had to overcome a lot of inertia writing this post because seriously, how do I even begin to START?

Ok so we embarked on our journey by flying to Miri on 7/12 to spend a night before flying off to Mulu the next day. The moment we reached the Mulu Park Headquarters, i was struck by how liberating the whole place made me feel. Little huts and cabins connected by boardwalks mushroomed out between tall trees and grass. So contained yet so connected. I so loved it.

The highlight for the trip was supposedly the Pinnacles Trek, which took us months of indecisive planning and physically involves climbing the low peak of Gunung Api (about 1200m) to view the picturesque (I only quote) limestone pinnacles. Many travel books give stern warning about it being uber strenuous, with steep climb and sharp limestone blahdeblah. They say something like Only fit people should attempt the climb, but people with perseverance and determination usually make it. And keiko and I thought, whaddahell. Well, other than climbing INexperience, love for food, laziness, and ample storage of body fats; PERSEVERANCE, my friend, is the only thing we have. So we jumped on the bandwagon.

We were scheduled to start the trek on 9/12, and it was going to be a 3 day thing. The first and third day involved jungle trekking to and fro the starting point of the climb. The soonest we had all the registration settled, we kinda went cold and then spent the rest of the week intensively psyching ourselves, trying to mentally resurrect our bodies, which at that point of time felt absolutely sluggish and had acquired a glob-like consistency after months of bumming around.

We were SO going down.

Anyway, we had 2 days before the Pinnacles Trek and we took it easy visiting show caves, swimming in the river and whatnot. On the first day we visited Langs Cave and Deer Cave, which is apparently the largest cave passage in the world. It was absolutely humongous and the soonest we got to the middle of the cave our nostrils were attacked by the pungent smell of guano - years worth of bat poo from the 5 millions of bat hanging upside down above our very heads.

The people walking through the caves looked like ants. Madness!

I love this picture the most. Thin streams of water were cascading down from the roof of the cave. It was breathtaking!

On the second day, we took a longboat to visit Clearwater and Wind Cave.

That is keiko posing for a shot while secretly checking out the boatman sitting at the back.

The next day, armed with backpacks and 3 days worth of quick fixes (think instant noodles & biscuits), and with much trepidation, we started the Pinnacles Trek. The first day was easy enough - a 1 hour longboat journey, followed by a 3 hour trek across leech-infested muddy terrain to Camp 5, where we spent the night curling up in our sleeping bags on a thin mattress and being feasted on by a battalion of mosquitoes.

In the evening, we had a briefing session with our guide, Jerry, a very nice Penan guy who really took care of us during the whole trek. In retrospect, the RM 90pp that I spent on guiding fee was probably the most well spent ringgit in the 2 weeks I was in Malaysia. No seriously, after you get to the end of this post you will know. Anyway, he gave us a lot of warnings, even saying that the journey was harder than Mt. Kinabalu, because of how steep it is and also the sharp limestones. By that time keiko and I were starting to get really antsy and asked gazillion questions to calm our nerves. How steep is the terrain? Has anyone died there before? What if we don't make it?

I thought that this couldn't be much harder than Mt. Warning in Australia. The altitude is about the same and I thought maybe the terrain was just going to be steeper. Heck, at most I would just break a leg. The terrain spanned a total of 2.4 km, which seemed dismal enough compared to Mt. Warning, which was 8.8 4.4 km.

BUT MAN, was I in for a rude surprise. The next morning we set off at 7am for the climb. Our guide had already gotten downright technical with all the figures. Fit people normally take 3 hours to climb up, and maybe 4 hours to descend. The not-so-fit would take slightly longer, up to 10 hours for the whole thing. The 2.4 km terrain consisted of 200m of more or less flat grounds, 300 m - 1800 m was to be the most challenging part of the ascent, and 2 km onwards was near vertical with 14 metal ladders to assist the climb.

By the time I got to about 400 m, I was starting to think, OK THIS IS SO NOT FUNNY. The terrain was steep beyond belief, and instead of rather well-constructed steps like Mt. Warning, this one was so steep, we literally had to pull ourselves up every single step of the ascent.

Ok you know what, I am not even going to attempt describing it. Whatever image you have conjured in your mind up til this point of time, it is WORSE.

I got separated from keiko at around 900 m, and for the next two hours trudged the most lonely 1 km of my life. I was huff puffing my way up while trying not to think about how THIS IS SO NOT FUNNY, and focusing so hard on the numbers on the markers that for every 100 m down, I felt like I had reached another level of heaven. It was so agonising. After 1800 m, the terrain changed drastically. A lot more rocky, with insane boulders of rocks (which we were supposed to climb), sharp limestones and vertical metal ladders with ropes.

At 2000 m, I decided to sit down and wait for keiko since the other 6 climbers were way past me anyway. Half hour later, Jerry, who stuck with keiko earlier, emerged from some bushes below, bearing the bad news that keiko made her own way back after the 1800 m mark. I was alone, no more crap to sustain me through possibly the next 6 hours! NO!

For the last 400 m, I ploughed my way through insanely steep limestone rocks, half wishing that I had gone back with keiko and just forgotten about this whole thing. There was a time when Jerry tried to be funny, and waited until I successfully scaled a series of rocks before he then made a gesture to get me to look down on my right. And OH MY GOD it was a deep hole wedged by two tall limestones that I didn't notice earlier. Shit, I could have fallen in there WHAT AM I DOING HERE? I lost count of the number of times that I stared at the jutting rocks and it occured to me that I could actually physically get myself killed if I lose my footage or grip. Why am I paying money to jeopardise my life when I could be staying home making pancakes?? But the over-achiever side of my consciousness was nagging at me like a pesky fly. It was only 400 m more. Too near to let go. So I thought, bugger it. The only comfort I had was the thought of sitting down to catch my breath on flat grounds at the top. Going down was another story I didn't want to think about. Yet.

I eventually reached the top at 12 noon. Rested for half an hour and then foolishly thought, Alright! Now I'm going to take a nice stroll down this thing and then take the rest of the evening being horizontal.

Caught up with the other 6 people after 400 m down and from then on, it was downhill all the way. Our knees were so worn out after the intense climb that by then, every downward step was pure torture. Apparently because of the hard and rocky limestone soil, it intensified the impact that each step made, putting tremendous pressure on the knees, or so Jerry said. All I knew is that I sure as hell wanted to get out of that freaking mountain with my legs intact.

All of us were so drained. Me and another malaysian guy had it the worst because of our weak knees. From about 1500 m onwards, all of us were struggling so hard just to bend our knees, and by 900 m, we were literally inching our way down, taking absurdly long periods of time just make a 100 m progress. At one point I started to get delirious (in retrospect, i think it was lack of food) and was really starting to panic about the possibility of not being physically able to walk down. You know you always hear people casually say, maybe after a shopping marathon, I can't walk anymore. Not that I want to be over dramatic, but it was only until that day that I had a glimpse of what not being able to walk would feel like. Jerry actually had to hold on to one of my hands the whole time to support me while many times I fell forward from not being able to bend my knees. Curling up and rolling down the mountain actually sounded remotely tempting.

For the record, we took 13 hours in total to do the whole Pinnacles Trek. Arrived back at Camp 5 slightly after 8 pm. Needless to say, we made the last 500-600 m of the descent in darkness, with the help of two torch lights. We survived an attack by a colony of red ants too. The soonest we got to our bunk, the only thing I could manage was lie on my back and zoned out for 15 minutes totally zombified.

I am quite proud that I made it to the top and back down, albeit unglamorously and way out of time limits. Lesson learnt: Bumming around is not good enough a preparation to climb a mountain. Any mountain, for that fact.

The next day, keiko and I were idly flipping through the guest book filled with doodlings and scribblings from the past climbers. And boy, we should have read them before the climb, maybe then, we would have known better. There were reports of all sorts of bodily malfunction up there. Major retching, nausea, dislocated shoulders, and one guy who claimed to have climbed Mt Kinabalu five times actually said that the Pinnacles Trek was a shocker. Of course, when I told Wayne (who recently climbed the former) this, his mammoth-sized male ego refused to stomach this piece of information.

Oh well. So the only thing I got out of this agonising and near-death experience, the only thing I could keep, is a photograph.

There you have it. The Pinnacles. Not worth it if you ask me, but OH WELL, it may just float your boat. Especially if your favourite past time happens to be climbing all sorts of vertical surfaces.

And oh did I tell you, after this trek, my shoes had to retire. Half the soles on both sides came flapping, there was plenty of abrasion from repeatedly getting wedged between rocks, some stichings came off, and there was NO WAY I was going to wash off all that mud.

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posted at 12:12 AM by Felice

About Me



is a free spirit | is straight | loves to drink | but is a cheap drunk | loves travelling too much | lives for good food | wants to ride on a hot air balloon | hates ignorance | hates mediocrity | hates meaningless conversations | loves walking in the rain |

Indonesia, Singapore





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