By Oksana & Max St John, from DrinkTeaTravel
Mulu National Park, also known as Gunung Mulu National Park is a popular adventure destination thanks to its amazing geological formations of caves and pinnacles. Located on the island of Borneo, Mulu National Park is home to a spectacular cave system which includes the world’s largest cave chamber, has over 3500 species of plant life and is teaming with wildlife. But it was the Pinnacles on Mount Api that really caught our attention.
The Pinnacles are a unique formation of razor-sharp limestone rocks jutting out of the jungle on the slopes of Mount Api and standing some 50 meters high. We heard that the hike up to view these odd spires was not for the faint-hearted but we were up for the challenge!
If you aren’t much of a climber, then there are plenty of other sights to see in Mulu National Park, but we opted for an all-encompassing 4-Day / 3-Nights Mulu Pinnacles Trek & Showcaves tour.
Our Experience in Mulu National Park
Day 1 – Lang Cave & Deer Cave
We took a direct flight from Kuching to Mulu with MAS Airlines and were met at the airport by our Borneo Adventure guide. From there, it was a short ride to the Mulu National Park Headquarters, where we checked into our accommodation and settled in for the next few days.
We had a couple of hours to get some lunch at the little cafe at the park HQ before setting off on our first adventure – a visit to Lang Cave and Deer Cave.
It was a pleasant walk through rainforest along a 3km wooden boardwalk to get to the Lang Cave. We took our time along the way, enjoying the rainforest around us and learning lots about the flora and fauna of the area.
The Lang Cave was pretty impressive showcasing a great variety of stalactites and stalagmites.
The Deer Cave, on the other hand, didn’t feature as many formations but instead boasted the world’s largest cave entrance of 150 m wide x 120 m high. It also plays host to a massive 3 million strong bat colony.
After exploring the two caves, we stationed ourselves at the Bat Observatory just outside Deer Cave to watch the bat exodus, an amazing nightly phenomenon when almost 3 million bats leave the cave on their food hunt. It was quite the show!
We then headed back to Mulu National Park HQ for dinner and overnight in our bungalow.
Day 2 – Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave
We awoke at 7am for breakfast in the cafe at Mulu National Park HQ, before jumping in a longboat around 8:45am to make our way upstream, stopping briefly at a nearby village to visit a local artisan market and have a go at shooting a poison blow dart!
Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave
From the village, we made our way to the Wind Cave, where we found even more majestic stalactites and stalagmites with lace-like patterns on the formations.
A short boat ride further up the river took us to the Clearwater Cave, a gem for nature lovers, with its array of cave flora and fauna. The Clearwater Cave was our favourite cave to explore. It was grand and full of ancient stalagmite and stalactite formations and offered really spectacular views throughout.
Journey to the Mulu Pinnacles Begins
After our cave exploration, it was time for a picnic lunch before we jumped back on the boat to make our way to the start of the trail that would take us to Camp 5 and onwards to the Pinnacles.
The boat journey took about 45min-1hr, we did run onto some rocks a few times and the guide had to get out and push us off. In drier months, water levels can get very low and the boats often get stuck on the rocks. We were lucky as the water levels were a little higher so it was a relatively quick journey.
Upon leaving the boat, we had a 9km walk along a good, flat path passing two hanging bridges about 15-20ft above the ground. This jungle trek took about 2-3 hours but is it was a fairly easy walk through thick forest which took us straight to Camp 5.
The location of Camp 5 was right next to the river, where we could take a refreshing dip to cool off and had plenty of time to relax and rest before the big climb the next day!
Day 3 – Pinnacles Hike
Summit day was an early start. We grabbed breakfast at 5 am and commenced our hike at 6 am, well before sunrise. Shortly after the start, the going got hard, with an immediate and very steep incline of 45-55 degrees. It’s a gruelling uphill slog with rocks and ropes, but after about an hour we reached the first marker on the hike – the Mini Pinnacles.
The Mini Pinnacles
This area served as a nice sneak peek into the spectacular views that laid ahead. The Mini Pinnacles showcased some of the same karst rock pinnacle formations as we were expecting to see at the top, but much smaller.
After a short stop at the Mini Pinnacles, we continued along the trail for some 30-45 minutes before reaching the halfway point. From there it was another 1.5 hrs to get to the beginning of the ladder section, the toughest part of the climb.
From here our pace slowed down as we climbed the 17 ladders and sections of ropes with inclines at 55-75 degree angles. It was tough. Many parts felt like rock climbing without the gear.
Every 100m took us about 10-15 minutes, but we moved slowly, respecting our bodies and our abilities. We were glad that we were on a private tour with Borneo Adventure and were able to go at our own pace. It took us about an hour to beat the ladders and finally reach the Pinnacles viewpoint.
The views at the top were impressive. You can look out from between the trees at the stunning spikes piercing the sky and we didn’t hesitate to take some photos to mark our successful climb to the top.
We had about 45 minutes to rest, enjoy the view and eat lunch, then it was time for yet another challenge…
We’ve heard from guides and other travelers that the descent was the hardest part of the Mulu Pinnacles trek and our experience proved the rumours to be correct. Our muscles were aching and our legs were beyond tired, proving that the hike on the way down was just as difficult and as exhausting as the way up. You can’t rush it, so we took our time and watched our steps, taking a total of 5 hours to reach the camp.
We returned to Camp 5 around 4 pm that afternoon. Some groups at the Camp had returned an hour or so before us and were able to continue onwards to the boat and all the way back to Mulu Park HQ, but we were wiped. So it was another night at Camp 5 for us.
Our guide cooked us a meal while we soaked our sore muscles in the river stream and we collapsed on our mattresses inside the camp a few hours later.
Day 4 – Trek from Camp to Mulu Park HQ
We didn’t dilly dally too much the next morning. We gathered our stinky wet clothes, grabbed a bite to eat and set off en route back to the boat and onwards to Mulu Park HQ.
Our legs were still sore from the day before (and as it turned out they stayed sore for days to come), but it didn’t take more than 2.5 hours to get back to the boat. The river was high that day, so we didn’t have to worry about the boat getting stuck on the rocks and could enjoy the ride back.
Back at the HQ, we had a couple of hours to shower, change, grab a bite to eat and relax before our guide escorted us back to the airport for an afternoon departure back to Kuching.
Travel Tips for a Mulu Tour of the Pinnacles
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Mulu National Park and with the help of our Borneo Adventure guide we were able to get the most of our 4-day tour. If you are planning to add a hike to the Pinnacles to your Mulu Tour, we hope that the following tips and advice will help you in your planning.
Take Plenty of Water
Make sure you pack as much water as you can carry. The guides will tell you to take about 3L, but we recommend taking more if you can. You can always leave some at the halfway point and you’ll be glad you did on the way back down.
Wear Gaiters or Leech Socks
Some parts of the path run through thick vegetation, so make sure you have gaiters, leech socks or long leggings to stop the leeches from crawling up on your ankles! On the way there we were okay, but on the way back Max had 9-10 leech friends to deal with.
This is a tough climb so take only what’s necessary – your legs will thank you for it later! Those that want to bring lots of extra clothes or camera gear on the hike can have an option of hiring a porter to help carry your bag from the boat to Camp 5. However, the porters are not available to assist you on the hike itself, so be prepared to carry your own water, rain gear and other day trip necessities. Every pound adds a lot to an already difficult climb, so don’t overpack!
Pack Extra Snacks
Even though on our Mulu tour we were provided with a lunch and snacks (a sandwich and 3-4 chocolate bar and an apple), we would recommend packing a few more munchies if you can for extra energy. At Camp 5 there is a small shop where you can buy some isotonic drinks and additional bars.
Bring a Bed Sheet and Ear-plugs
Accommodation at Camp 5 is in a longhouse with sleeping mats set up side by side. It’s very basic, but you can’t expect much more this far off the beaten track. Most travelers bring their own bedding for the long house, and while our Borneo Adventure guide gave us a sheet to lay on the mat, we would recommend a bringing a small pillow as well.
If you’re a light sleeper, you may also want to bring ear-plugs… you may have neighbours who snore!