Wow, I'm really stretching this out aren't I? Well this is the last one, I promise!
Day 4 was our big day: the day we head out to the Pinnacles. As I explained earlier, the whole trek is about 3 days up and down, so today we were planning on reaching the base camp by evening and resting for the climb the next day. Our journey started from the Reserve HQ, where we were all bundled into these small boats. They were similar to catamarans, except without the outrider. They were long and could only carry about 5-6 people if they sat one behind the other. The famous rainforest rains had struck that morning, forcing us to wear our bright yellow ponchos which we had purchased the other day from the store. They were more like brightly coloured polythene bags folded together, but they did the job. Of course, R being the professional camper/hiker extraordinnaire, he had an actual poncho which made us look rather silly. Either way, we were off in the boats, the three of us and two others who were joining us for the hike. The journey was broken into 3; the first stop was at a small local village that was selling handicrafts, and the second was at another set of caves along the river. We were joined by 2 other boats, filled with people who were only coming this far; the next leg would be only the 5 of us.
We got off the boats and climbed up the wooden walkways to the next set of caves. 'Beautiful' is the only word that comes to mind when I remember them now. The fact that nature could form such artistic formations makes me question how our brains process art and beauty (perhaps a post for another time). The first cave we saw was 'Wind Cave', named so because in the middle of the cave there was a gian skylight-like opening on the roof of the cave, which generates a strong internal breeze within the cave. Our guide told us that rescue workers train at this cave opening by rappelling down the entrance. I wish I had a good picture to show you just how daunting a task that appeared!
We then went on to the next cave, a smaller one called 'Lady Cave' (named so because the shadows formed looked ladies apparently), before moving onto the bigger 'Clearwater Cave'. This cave had a underground stream running through the cave, bringing back memories of Tom Sawyer and old Famous Five books. On entering the cave we had to cross a small bridge across the river. Our guide pointed to the source of the river, which was shrouded in unlit darkness, and told us that 'adventure caving' happened here. Eight hours of climbing and swimming in the darkness, with just harnesses and torches! Gazing into the utter blackness, I could only imagine the levels of bravery or sheer lunacy required for someone to do that.
|Dude looks like a lady?|
|On the bottom right you can see the underwater stream|
A quick lunch, and the rest of the boats headed back while ours headed up the river. We went on for another hour or so, apprehensively watching the skies to see if there was a chance of it being clear the next day. We had heard that the group that were at the camp site today coudn't climb because of the rain, and we were worried that the same fate would befall us.
After an hour or so, we were looking for some sort of jetty which would indicate our boat journey had come to an end, so imagine my surprise when suddenly the motors cut, and the boat just drifted to the bank where our guide politely signalled us to get off the boat! Nothing to stand on, so we just pulled on the bamboo shoots jutting out of the mud, and somehow scrambled to land. The guide gave us our bags, pointed us in the direction we should go, and left us. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous now; there was just a barely-there jungle track, and a small sign with an arrow. So, we picked up our bags and away we went. After an hour we saw the first sign post that said "8km". Eight kilometres through the jungle, with nothing but a mud track and a few stones to show the way. I was psyched! It was extremely exhilarating to trek through that, climbing over tree trunks and crossing small streams, the odd moss-eaten wooden bridge along the way. We doubled back on the river a couple of times, so our old friends the rope-bridges were there to greet us. However we made good time, and within two hours or so we had covered the 8.5 km's and arrived at the clearing that was Camp 5.
|They called this a 'path'?|
|The view from Camp 5|
The camp was nothing much to look at but the surroundings were beautiful; right at the river, and under the massive Mt. Mulu. Beautiful view, and very scenic; we unpacked in our rather spartan quarters (we basically got a rubber exercise mat as a bed) and divided the rations for the next day (we had to prepare our own meals for the hike; they provided the kitchen). Our guide gave us a quick run through of what we should expect for the next day. We were to leave around 630am, that is, if the weather held up. The climb would be 2.4 km long (whoa.) and we'd climb to an elevation of about 1.1 km as well (whoa). I can't remember the exact breakdown, but it was something along the lines of: first 30% is easy, next 50% harder, last 20% super hard. Day 5 was going to be very, very interesting.
We feasted on Maggi and tried to sleep, though the cold and lack of blankets/pillows etc made it a lot harder than I thought it would. I slept fitfully at best, and before I knew it, our 5am wakeup call had arrived.
Day 5 & 6
On Day 5, my body gave up on me.
As planned we started the day early, eagerly checking the the skies to see if the weather was good enough to climb the mountain. To our relief the guide said we were good to go, so we packed our backpacks, carried our 3 liters of water each and started up the mountain. However, within minutes I knew something was wrong; I could feel my muscles going stiff, and I was breathing a lot harder than usual. I was determined to keep up with the rest of the group, but within half an hour I knew I was in trouble. The climb was gentle, but for someone who is more used to walking long distances in a straight line, climbing up a mountain even for short distances may seem a lot harder than it is. Pretty soon, t-shirts were off, and my back-pack was taken by S who wasn't carrying one. The guide stopped every now and then to check on me, but I managed to convince him that I was just going to be very slow and to go ahead without me. To this day I'm not sure what exactly happened; perhaps a combination of the previous days hike, lack of sleep and breakfast. Or maybe I had grossly over-estimated my level of fitness. Pretty soon, the group had vanished from sight, and the group that had started after me had overtaken me.
|You see a way up here?|
Honestly, after an hour of climbing that mountain, I was ready to give up. The climb was gradually getting harder now, and the limestone was sharp and unforgiving. Any wrong step resulted in a sharp cut along your legs, any slip of the hands were met with the same. The path was even less defined than the previous day, but the broken branches and a few wooden posts here and there led the way. The sun was slowly coming out, but I was careful to not drink too much water. I felt like a 100kg's already!
After 2 hours I had already decided to turn back at least 5 times. The jungle was warmer now, and the climb was much steeper, intermingled with a few ropes and iron clamps hammered into the rock to serve as makeshift ladders. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of the group ahead but I had no plans on catching them; my body just wouldn't allow it. Trying to repeat the few hiking tips I had been told ("Don't stop, just keep moving forward at a steady pace, no matter how slow") I forged ahead but the one thing that kept running through my head was that the climb down is said to be even harder than the climb up.
Just after the 2 hour mark I reached the last stretch, and then onwards it was just jungle gym. Ropes, ladders, and razor sharp rocks; it was ridiculous, especially for someone who was already completely burnt out! I have never been that exhausted in my life, and I have never pushed myself beyond the limit like that! I was so embarrassed that the rest of the group had outstripped me so easily but at that time I was more concerned with just making it up the mountain.
|2300m up the mountain, another 100m to go|
Finally, after three hours, we reached the top, and boy, what a sight!
We relaxed up here for an hour or so, eating lunch. Wait, we would have eaten lunch, but we rather unfortunately forgot to pack it. So there we were, starving while everyone else around us was feasting away. Not pleasant.
After an extended picture session, we started our trek downwards. I will spare you the details, needless to say, I barely made it down; dead last but alive! My knees were shot to hell and my quads felt like they were on fire but I made it somehow, washed off, and dove into the ice cold river. What. A. Feeling. And what a journey!
The evening was spent recuperating and playing cards, and the next morning we once again woke up early and took off for our 8.5km hike back to the spot we got dropped off. Thankfully I had somewhat recovered and we made it back in almost the same time we had taken to reach the camp. The boat picked us up and within a few hours we had stumbled back into our dormitory.
The next day was spent mainly travelling, as our flight took us back to Kota Kinabalu by afternoon. We had a few hours to kill, so we made a quick trip into the city to have some lunch. We got dropped at the biggest mall there, roamed around for a while and had a quite fantastic chicken biriyani. R finally shaved his unsightly beard, if only because he was going to with S to Singapore, where the girls are apparently more attractive. I wouldn't know, as I was scheduled to fly to Colombo that night via KL.
Finally the time came to part ways, and so we said our goodbyes in the airport as R and S headed to Singapore while I waited for my KL flight. Despite it being just a week of travel, we had all seen and done so much that the journey felt ten times longer than it was! As I watched them leave I felt a strange sense of accomplishment, because this was the first time I had ever made a trip like this on my own, with my own finances. The fact that this trip came together so quickly and so last minute was just amazing; I'm so glad I decided to throw caution to the winds and just say "Yes, let's do this!".
After a few delays and an agonizing 5 hour wait in the KL airport from midnight to 5am for my flight to Colombo, I finally touched down on home soil. I couldn't wait to tell everyone about my trip, but I just knew that no matter how much I explained it all, you really had to be there to experience it. Fantastic trip, can't wait to plan another 'adventure-vacation' soon!