The Pinnacles (or not in my case)

Day 18/19, Sat/Sun, 14/15 Jan 2012 – Mulu /Camp 5 /Pinnacles /Mulu

Hopefully I will get all the facts right as I am catching up with the blogs today (3 days later), this is my first multi day post. Firstly I will start with two confessions, just to get them out of the way nice and early;

  • Firstly, I did not finish the Pinnacles (yes I know yesterday I said I wasn’t going to do it !) I chickened out, failed to take concrete pills, whatever it was – I quit when it got scary.
  • Secondly, the battery in my camera went flat on the boat ride to the walk to Camp 5…. I have some photos but not many.

So, if you have arrived at this blog post via some search engine and are looking for a triumphant tale (with pictures) of the Pinnacles climb, then this is not the read for you!

Saturday

Up earlyish after a good sleep, surprisingly cool considering the heat of the day, I even pulled the blanket over me in the early hours for some warmth.

I met the English guy from last night for breakfast, I have totally forgotten his name – hopeless! We were planning on doing the second cave tour together after breakfast and then planning the rest of the day. While I was sucking down my third coffee the two girls who arrived in the dorm late last night, due to the night walk, sat down at the table next to us, so I went and asked them what they thought of the walk and if it was worth the $$. in return they asked me if I wanted to do a 2 day 1 night Pinnacles trek, leaving in 30 minutes as they had to have a third person or they couldn’t go. I said yes, then rushed to pack….

My daypack is too small !!! I had to take a mandatory 3 litres of water plus clothes, first aid kit, food etc etc. I had to make a few hard decisions to fit things in and grabbed the small light camera rather than the GF1, sadly I did not check the battery! There was also no food choice at the park and no shops nearby either, so food for 2 days of walking was 3 packs of 2 minute noodles, a bag of peanuts and 2 small packets of biscuits ! I just think of all the stress I went through with pre-run meal planning and shake my head…

I met Skylar and Alexandra (S and A) out the front of the park, paid our guide (Oondy –  that was how his name sounded) and off we went up the Melinau River in one of the outboard powered canoes. S and A are both in their early twenties and are on holiday from teaching English in what sounds like a rather remote part of NW China. They were only marginally better prepared than me for this trip ! But they were good fun, interesting and I really enjoyed their company.

The boat man and our meagre day bags

The first part of the journey took in the remaining two of the big four caves, Wind Cave and Clearwater. Wind cave was very cool, some awesome formations inside and one I would have liked to have spent more time photographing – however, my camera expired just after the entrance ! No tripods were allowed anyway so it would all have been via flash which would ahve been less fun.

All other photos came from Alexandra’s camera. Unfortunately we did not have time to do a proper download so I only got some of the later shots.

Clearwater cave is equally as awesome, this cave system goes for over a hundred kilometres and apparently there are some massive chambers, again I would have loved to have had some time in here, especially with a tripod. The trips through the caves were fairly quick as we were on a mission ! after a quick lunch of fried noodles that we bought before jumping in the canoe we were off up river. The trip took another fifteen or so minutes before we parked up in the jungle at the trail head. This section of the jungle is pure primary rain forest – so cool !!

The eight km walk took us just under three hours, we stopped to look at a host of interesting bugs and plants on the way and the guide knew a lot about the jungle and its inhabitants. We arrived in Camp 5 mid afternoon and pretty  much went straight into the river for a swim to cool down. Unlike the larger rivers I have seen the Melinau is crystal clear – just don’t drink it ! Camp 5 is surrounded by towering limestone peaks on three sides and the river and jungle on the other. The camp has been there for a number of years and has 4 bunk areas, a kitchen and a toilet block (with proper loos!).

There were about a dozen other people staying there, some having completed the Pinnacles that day were nursing sore legs and stories of hardship and sweating more than they have ever sweated in their lives ! After an early dinner, during which a gecko fell from the ceiling and landed in a plate of vege – to much hilarity, we were chatting with some of the other walkers when one of the guides brought in a small bird of paradise he had caught with his hands, it was a stunningly beautiful bird ! He gave it to S to hold who promptly,  shrieked, let it go and it flew away. Soon after that it was into “bed” under a mossie net for a totally sleepless night. Apart from another inspiringly heavy rainstorm, we had rats (or something) rattling around outside in the middle of the night.

Sunday

Up at five am for a breakfast of two minute noodles and water to drink (no coffee, yikes !).

Just after 6 we – S, A, our guide and another party of two and a guide set off under torch light and into the jungle. The trail is marked in 100 metre sections and basically has 200 metres of flat and then almost straight up. It is roughly 900 vertical metres in 2k, for those who cannot work it out it is STEEP ! not only is it steep it is also rooty, rocky and slippery. If you take the steepest, rootiest bit of the waitak’s on a wet day, change the clay to rock, some of them razor sharp, quadruple the number of roots, make it 10 times as long and add 100% humidity, this is what the Pinnacles walking section is like. There is no respite – at all. The whole trail is only 2400m’s long yet has 1175m of vertical gain, fit walkers are expected to take 7-8 hours – to cover 2.4k !!!!  At the end of the 2.4k is a series of sharp limestone pinnacles pointing to the sky, some (apparently !) are very tall.

I was pouring sweat by 6.30 am and it was still close to dark ! I am so glad for all the bush running I have done in the past year as it really paid off on this section of the walk, it was hard but I was pretty Ok when we got to the climbing section after 2 half hours. On the way up at one of drink stops we saw a small group of red leaf monkeys playing in the tree tops, very cool, almost worth the trip !

On the “climbing” section I managed the first 2 ladder sections and 3 of the rope sections before realising I was finding it harder and harder to go on. I wasn’t freaking out or anything but after talking to the guide, who said it got harder as it went on, I decided to stop while the going was good and before I slowed the others down on the descents. Looking back I am pretty sure I could have made it and been fine, but I am in Borneo, an accident out in the jungle here is not something I want to ponder for too long. I know I made the right call, and am disappointed in myself a bit, but at least I made it part way up and conquered a wee bit of my fear of heights.

Oondy, our guide at the section I decided not to do (that is not a blood splat btw 🙂 )

 Me deciding to bail while Skylar starts up

After I pulled out the guides told me to head back down to Camp 5, with health and safety in mind I descended down the 3 rope and 2 ladder sections on my own and unwatched, then back down the mountain. I took a number of breaks on the way down, mainly because I was in no rush, the view was restricted for most of the journey, so not a lot to see. If I exclude the break times it took me 3 hours to cover the approximate 2km’s. The descent was far harder than the ascent, both the rocks and the roots were very slippery and I had a few twitchy moments on the walk, falling over meant the likelihood of a nasty cut on the rocks. I got back to Camp 5 with no issues just before 12.00 and went straight to the river to cool down, all my clothes were already drenched so I did not bother getting out of anything but my shoes and socks.

The others all arrived back an hour and a half later, as S and A and I were only on a one nighter after  a breather for them we and our guide started making our way back along the 8km trail (flat, thank God) to the boat.

About a km into the walk I saw a flash of movement on the edge of the track and saw a 2 metre snake slither off into the undergrowth, thankfully in the opposite direction to me. I said a bad word very loudly ! After discussing it with the guide later he said it was probably a cobra….

My first snake is finally done ! I have been waiting and waiting to see one to get the inevitable out of the way. Nice that it was a decent sized one, and even nicer that it heard me first and chose to go the other way.

We knocked the walk to the boat off on in just under 2 hours, which gave me about 8 hours on my feet today, considering my diet of noodles and biscuits I felt pretty good, though once back in the park I didn’t do much more than eat and lie down !

I am disappointed in myself for not finishing it off, however, I enjoyed the day, it was hard, but fun. I AM pissed off that I have no pictures, though.

Mulu Caves

Day 17 –  Friday 13 Jan 2012 – Miri – Mulu.

I have been away from the internet for a few days so am having to play catch-up on what was a very regular posting regime.

My last night in Miri was marred by a total lack of sleep. It was a noisy night outside, lots of street noise and a prolonged thunder storm which featured the heaviest rain I have heard. Thankfully the downpour was only short lived, but the mosque was its reliable self and kicked off its morning call to prayer at 4.50 AM.

After breakfast I shared a taxi to Miri airport at 7.00 AM with the Swiss guys from the other night, which got me there far too early, but at least it was cheaper and I was only going to hang about the hostel anyway.  The plane was virtually empty and the flight only lasts thirty minutes and was pretty smooth. There was a lot of high cloud but we stayed below it so there was a good view of a devastated landscape most of the way. There is a lot of palm oil plantations in Borneo, though fortunately as we approached the park the natural forest seemed to be prevailing.  There were a few very cool windy rivers on the way, I cannot believe how some of them snake around so much, especially compared to rivers like the Waikato that run quite straight in comparison. (photos from plane not worth posting !)

I got to the park later morning, checked in and staked my bed in the dorm room. I am in a space with five beds, three of which were subsequently taken by some young Canadians who were on the flight and the final one by Skylar (you will meet her tomorrow).

I was considering doing the Pinnacles walk, but have decided against it, I am not enjoying the heat and I have not allowed myself the required amount of time in the park to do the walk, everything I read suggested it is a two day activity, but the park stipulate two nights and three days. It is also quite expensive, so I will save the bucks and aim to do Mt Kinabalu in a week or so.  I will do some of the smaller walks here instead.

In the afternoon I took the first of the guided cave walks, for the four big caves you have to go with a guide, which you naturally have to pay for! The four caves are split into two walks, one done in the morning and the other the afternoon. Our group had about fifteen members which was larger than I would have liked but we had a fairly leisurely time so it kinda worked out OK. The walk to the caves took about 45 minutes, we saw very little wildlife and I assuming that is due to the number of people in the group.

A stick insect, about the only thing I saw, but very cool.

Langs cave is the smallest of the four caves in park but had fantastic stalagmites and stalactites, as the group was so big it was nice and slow so I lingered at the back and used the tiny tripod I had brought with me (no tripods allowed !) . The guide was OK, but I missed a lot of the commentary as i was at the back of the group the whole day.

Deer cave is the biggest cave passage by volume in the world, and I am going to say it is huge !!! the cave houses around three million bats and the smell is pretty overpowering. The walk through the other cave was quite impressive, different again to the caves i have seen so far.

After the cave we all went along to the bat viewing area to await the bat exodus which occurs almost every night between 4.30 and 6.00.  After a boring almost hour and a half the guide came running down to the area calling “the bats are coming, the bats are coming”. We asked how they knew this was about to happen, I was thinking they could tell by the action of the birds or a strange sound or some other method passed down through the generations, but no, they have a camera in the cave !

Over an hour long period the bats (all 3 or so million) fly out of the cave in waves of a few thousand at a time, they swirl in long spirals  into the forest to look for food, between each wave there is a gap of a few minutes.  Circling above and diving and hunting the bats on the edges are a few bat hawks looking for their nightly feed.  It was I am going to say an awesomely awesome site !

After the bats it was a quick walk along the path in the ever increasing gloom back to the lodge. I had dinner with an English guy I got talking to late in the wait for the bats and then an early night and a great (though medicated) sleep.

This is my first night in a dorm !!

http://www.mulupark.com/htm/cave_activities/index.htm#langs