Mulu National Park – an overwhelming nature!

Gigantic limestone caves, majestic karst formations and an unsurpassed biodiversity, all set against a backdrop of mountains covered by equatorial rainforest, make the Gunung Mulu National Park one of our absolute favorite UNESCO World Heritage sites in whole South East Asia.

We take a cheap flight from Kota Kinabalu and are picked up by our crazy trekking crew – three super fit, funny and highly energetic Malaysians in their early 20s. Yes, we are only two but we have three guides. Two of them are the seniors and they need to train their junior colleague….that’s the official reason…we believe the unofficial reason is that they just like to hang out together, which makes the crew just more sympathetic. In the next three days they will guide us through this amazing habitat, show us a wide range of jungle creature, cook our dinners at the campsite, explain us the origin of Mulu’s vast cave system and make us laugh at every possible occasion.

So what is to see in Mulu? Here are our highlights:

The Mulu Caves

The Mulu national park is famous for hosting the world’s largest underground chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, the world’s biggest cave passage, called Deer Cave, and in general for possessing one of the longest cave networks in the world. OK, so we are talking big! How, big exactly? Well, seriously big: In the Sarawak Chamber, you can park 40 Boeing 747 airplanes and the Deer Cave can comfortably fit five times London’s Saint Paul’s cathedral.

Directly after our arrival, our guides take us to the park entrance to start on a first easy 3km walk over wooden planks which leads to the Lang Cave and the Deer Cave. Only when seeing the enormous dimensions with our own eyes, we begin to apprehend why Mulu is such a special place. After spending an hour in the enormous passage of the Deer Cave, we continue our path to the open air observatory. Here we enjoy a fantastic sunset and a spectacle begins, which again appears to be otherworldly: Out of the gigantic opening of the Deer Cave, swarms of bats take to the sky. Well, swarms is not the right word to describe what is happening. The sky darkens when ten thousands of bats, which form a hunting party, spiral slowly upward from the bottom of the cave over the top of the mountain ridge like dark clouds of smoke to finally descend into the jungle in their search for mosquitos and other small insects. Every time we think there can’t possibly be more bats left, the next swarm escapes the cave and rises to the air. In total, roughly 3 million bats live in the Deer Cave. This natural phenomenon is simply fantastic.

On our way back we become witnesses of Mulu’s biodiversity. We encounter a green viper, a striped viper and two mating primeval insects, which are each larger than my hand. Also we learn, that thanks to the millions of bats, the mosquito population inside the park is usually really low. A fact that we highly appreciate as insect repellant would be washed off within five minutes given the sweat that continuously runs down our faces. Temperatures are high and humidity is close to 100%.

The next day we start early and hit the river with a small longboat. The river has not much water, so that we have to get out and pull the boat at several places. “We” means, Maria sits inside the boat and “motivates” us while we do the physical labor. Finally we arrive at the Cave of the Winds, which features impressively tall stalagmite formations. We continue to the Clearwater Cave, which gives birth to the Clearwater River. The Clear Water Cave is the longest cave in whole Southeast Asia. After visiting the cave we relax by taking a swim in the river and have lunch at the river shore before taking the boat further upriver. After an hour or so we arrive at the point where a beautiful rainforest trail leads into the jungle towards the Camp 5. This is a camp roughly 8 km into the jungle which serves as starting points for a lot of different hikes, including the hike to the famous Mulu Pinnacles.

A short stop on the way brings us to a small village where the people sell several handicrafts that can be of use in your daily lives, e.g. blowpipes with corresponding small darts. I am pretty sure, in the jungle nearby you will find the according frogs to prepare poison for the dart. We even try and shoot once, it is fun!

The Mulu Pinnacles

The Pinnacles in the Mulu national park are a collection of 45 m high limestone needles that cling to the side of the Gurung Api Volcano. Their ghostly appearance in between the clouds reminds one of a silver-grey petrified forest rising high above the encircling thick green vegetation.

The trek to the pinnacles sounds like a piece of cake: Only 2.4 km separate Camp 5, where we spent the night, from the Pinnacle view point at 1750m. However we get suspicious when we have to get up early for a just after sunrise breakfast. Our guides explain that we have to turn back in case we don’t reach the viewpoint by noon.

What’s wrong here? We have more than 5 hours to cover only 2.4km. So what’s the trick? Ah…well…this is when they mention these 16 ladders which we have to use to cover the steeper parts. Next topic are the ropes and the parts which you can only manage using hands and feet. That’s also when we understand that we will have to cover roughly 1200 height meters within these 2.4 km. So 1 m up every 2 m forward. Got it. That’s tough.

Well, we want to do it so we get started. The first part of the trail is still quite flat and leads to the thick rainforest vegetation that we already could admire yesterday. Soon the ascent begins. At first the forest grows even thicker than in the plane that we came from. After an hour or so, the vegetation lightens a bit. The path becomes rockier and full of roots, and we have to use our hands to get further up. First checkpoint, reached on time. At the second checkpoint, on time again, we leave the second water bottle which we brought with us. It is still extremely hot and humid, and we feel like a waterfall generator.

From now on it is getting steeper. Ropes guide us through the rougher parts.

Finally we reach the first ladder. From here on the trek is almost vertical, with some small plateaus and deep holes in between. We marvel at the variety of wild orchids and huge pitcher plants along the trek. After roughly 3 hours we reach the viewpoint and are stunned by the breathtaking view on the silver-grey stone needles rising from the side of the Gunung Api. Clouds of mist pass by, giving them an even more ghostly appearance. We lie down in the sun, relax for an hour and have a snack, which we share with curious squirrels. Pitcher plants, rhododendron and wild orchids thrive in the rocky terrain at the viewpoint and we can’t get enough of wandering around and taking pictures.

When the sun has already passed her zenith, we begin the descent to the valley. The part with the ropes and the ladders is almost more strenuous downward than upward but it is lots of fun to use your whole body instead of only your feet. Around 3 pm we are back in Camp 5 and crave for hot showers.

The rest of the day we chill next to the river and use the time to talk to the other hikers in the camp. The next day we leave the camp after breakfast, hike back to the boat and are taken back to the pension where we have stayed the first day. After a quick shower and lunch, we are brought to the airport and it is time to say good bye to our amazing guides. What a blast! These 4 days were really amazing and made it to our overall journey highlights!

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