One of our guides relaxing over the Melinau River
Looking back at my hike up to the Mulu Pinnacles, I realize it’s probably one of the hardest, diciest hikes I’ve ever done so far. Something should have clicked in my head when I saw the sign that said the trail up was only 2.4km but would take 8 – 9hrsreturn; but when you’re in a steaming tropical jungle trying to evade leeches and bees attracted to your sweat it’s easy to not think too deeply into things. Quite the once in a lifetime experience in the sense that I don’t feel the need to do this again!
Crossing the first bridge on the way to Camp 5
After our visit to Clearwater Caves we made our way towards the trail head to begin our journey into the jungle; there a minor delay as our boat got stuck along a shallow part of the river. Luckily our guide expertly guided the boat back into the current and we were brought to the trail head that would take us to Camp 5.
Our guide pushing the boat off the rocks into deeper water
The not obvious start of the trail
Once we get off the boat and make our way into the jungle I immediately miss the breeze in my face from being on a moving boat and start sweating bullets. The trail all the way to camp is about 9km and luckily mostly flat; but with the lack of scenery it felt a little like a slow sticky slog. Don’t lose focus though, as possible ‘hitchhikers’ looking for free food in the form of leeches may visit as it did one of our lucky group members! If you happen to get a leech on you here’s a super useful tip I learned, put some drops of ‘minyak kapak’ (axe oil) and watch it shrivel up and slink away! No panic necessary. The oil is made mostly of menthol and eucalyptus which does give it a very strong smell, but to me this stuff is magical. The oil ‘heats’ your skin upon application, similar to the cream you put on for sore muscles but can do so much more. Rub it on your head to relieve headaches, or on your belly to relieve stomach aches, and in the jungle rub it on a leech for the easiest way to get them off you especially after they’ve bitten in. You could also try to flick them off, but where’s the fun in that.
This way to Camp 5
Crossing the second bridge
The highlight of the trek to Camp would be managing to take a photo of this lizard just chilling on one of the trail markers. Look at those spines!
Lizard on a marker at Mulu National Park
After about 3hrs of hiking we reached Camp 5 which was situated next to the Melinau river. All sweaty from the hike, I thought it would be refreshing to dip in the river. The water felt incredibly cold! Not particularly keen on shocking my body with such a temperature change I opted for a quick shower and fresh clothes instead. Camp 5 is essentially one long open hut with a kitchen and eating area, and separate sleeping areas that are raised. As I took off my shoes and climbed up the wooden steps I noticed some bees at first and then a lot of bees… Turns out that the bees are attracted to sweat, and if you try to shoo them away they can get aggravated and sting. So if you can find your sweatiest group member and have them stand there to attract the bees away from you that’s an option.
After a shower and some delicious dinner made by our multitasking guides, we went to bed to prepare for an early start the next day. We did not bring bug nets and I found mosquitoes feasting on me throughout the night as I found it too hot to be in the sleeping bag; but as luck would have it heavy rain came with mother nature blowing cool wind through the hut. So I then managed to get a few good hours of sleep. We woke up at 4am to eat breakfast (and stuff my pockets full of biscuits) and hit the trail at 5am with our guide and headlamps.
All dressed up and ready to go!
There trail up to the pinnacles wastes no time in getting right down to business. It is a steep incline all the way up. Hiking in the dark I didn’t really notice until daylight came but most sections require scrambling (using your hands) with ropes and ladders to help you along the way.
A blast of flash
The trail consists of very jagged rocks that are sharp and I was really mindful of my footing. Our progress up and back down the trail was slow due to the steepness of the trail and the humidity. As we got closer to the viewing point, metal ladders and iron rungs appeared helping us along. This section was like a via ferrata, only without the safety of a harness. This is where the hike gets dicey; on one memorable section there was a thin metal bar about 2 metres long we had to cross with a big drop below and a rope on the side to help. Based on this I really wouldn’t recommend this hike for those who are afraid of heights. There are a total of 15 ladders to climb before reaching the viewing point.
Making our way up the trail with the help of ropes
An iron rung and rope to help climb up this steep rock
Climbing up one of the ladders
After about 4hrs of hiking we finally made it; the jungle opened up and revealed what we came to see. Jagged limestone rock about 45 metres high jutting out of the jungle canopy: the Mulu Pinnacles. After a few echoing yells of delight, the more difficult part of the journey was next. Getting back down to camp!
Soaking in the view of the Mulu Pinnacles from the viewing point
It would be another 4hrs of hiking downwards back to camp but we made it eventually. Normally groups stay two nights to complete the Pinnacles Trek, but we were determined to return to the hotel. After scarfing down some lunch we made our way out of the jungle on the thankfully flatter, easier path back to the start of the trail. By nightfall I was relieved to be back on the boat heading towards the hotel which meant a nice hot shower and more milo to drink!
- Start early – we started the hike up to the pinnacles at 5am. If we didn’t have an early a start, we wouldn’t have been able to complete the trek and head out the same day. If you’re staying for two nights, still start early so that you can go at a safe and steady pace.
- Wear gloves – the trail consists of lots of sharp rock, rope and ladders. We bought some cheap work gloves and I was so glad to have them or my hands would have been wrecked.
- Bring at least 2L of water – the humidity will suck the hydration out of you. Our guide had to run back to camp and bring some water to group members that ran out of water and became very dehydrated.
- Energy snacks – stay energized with snacks, nutrient dense is best such as nuts or energy bars. You don’t want to run out of gas and coming down can be more energy than going up.
Boat access. Travel by boat along Melinau River to trail head.
9km from trail head to Camp 5. 2-3hrs. Mostly flat and easy.
2.4km from Camp 5 to Pinnacles viewing point. 4-5hrs. Steep incline, difficult.
View below peeking through the jungle foliage
For more information on visiting Mulu and going on treks you can visit the Mulu National Park site here.