So you’ve conquered Gunung Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia. What’s next? Consider one of the most challenging hikes in Malaysia– the Mulu Pinnacles in Sarawak. But before you attempt the Mulu Pinnacles, please don’t be the idiot that I was.
When Sarawak Tourism Board invited me to climb the Mulu Pinnacles, I said yes immediately without researching any blogs. I thought it’d be just another day hike. Oh boooyyy was I wrong. It turned out to be a Kinabalu-sized hike. No, it was more difficult than Kinabalu. I was neither mentally nor physically prepared for what would be one of the best, but also toughest multi-day hikes in Malaysia.
If you Kuala Lumpur hikers think Bukit Tabur was tough, this is Bukit Tabur on steroids. Here are the essential information you need to plan a trip to the mystical Mulu Pinnacles.
The Mulu Pinnacles Trail & Difficulty
Located in the remote Mulu National Park in Miri, the Pinnacles is an extreme 3-day-2-night trek that combines hiking, climbing and rock climbing. First, you’ll need to check in at the Mulu National Park office, where you can purchase the national park entry pass. Most hikers stay at a hotel, guesthouse, or national park accomodation the night before the hike.
[Disclaimer: Everyone has different fitness levels and hiking experience. So my description of “easy” may be “difficult” for some, and my “difficult” may be easy for you pro-hikers.]
Day 1 : Kuala Litut to Camp 5
Distance: 9km | Difficulty: Easy Peasy | Time: 3-4 hours
The trip starts with a relaxing 1-hour boat ride to Kuala Litut jetty (it’s actually just a small clearing by the river). During low tide, you may have to get into the water to help push the boat along. At the jetty, you’ll embark on a 9km walk to Camp 5, the beautiful Mulu base camp. This 9km trail is an easy but long walk on flat terrain, over some rivers and across hanging bridges. But don’t be fooled by this easy walk, it gives you a false sense of comfort for the next day’s hike to the Pinnacles.
At Camp 5, you can relax, swim in the cold Melinau River, and take in the views of Gunung Benarat. After dinner, you’ll meet with your guide for a detailed briefing for the next day’s climb to the Pinnacles.
Day 2: Camp 5 to Mulu Pinnacles Viewpoint
Distance: 2.4km | Height: 1,200m above sea level | Difficulty: Very difficult |
Time: 8-10 hours return. Depart at 6.30am, return by 6.30pm
Today, you’ll join many brave warriors in attempting the steep 2.4km climb up Gunung Api to witness the wonders of the Mulu Pinnacles. I say crazy because this trail starts at a 45 degree angle that ascends for about 3 to 5 hours. There is no nice, paved, well-trodden path here. Instead, you get snaking tree roots, razor-sharp rocks, and the occasional rope to help you haul yourself up. The rainforest in Mulu is as virgin and wild as it gets. It’s beautiful, but there’s no time for you to leisurely soak in the views because there are important cut-off times at 3 checkpoints to ensure you and your group get up and down the mountain before dark.
It’s an intense climb so pace yourself. If you are moderately fit as I am, your legs will burn. It will cry for mercy. Several hikers will give up and turn around at the first stop – the Mini Pinnacles (900m), passing you as they return to Camp 5. But ignore the pleads in your head to join them in giving up, and let your kiasu determination lead you to the top! Though don’t push yourself too hard if you are in real physical pain; this is not the place to risk it.
Survived the first 2km? Good job, you have arrived at the Danger Zone! I kid you not, the last 400m of the hike starts with a warning sign with a skull. For good reasons too, the trail turns from tricky to treacherous. From here, you’ll go on all 4 to climb up a series of 17 precariously perched ladders, balance across metal bridges in between boulders, and scurry up more rocks. The only breather you’ll get here is a quick stop to admire the pretty pitcher plants. This last stretch will take about an hour.
At the end of 17th ladder, your heart will be pounding with both breathlessness and adrenalin as you’ve reached the viewpoint! Yay, no more ladders! Behold, the breathtaking Mulu Pinnacles.
It’s Mother Nature’s work of art. The Pinnacles is a series of 45-meter high, razor-sharp limestone spikes that grow miraculously out of the ground into the sky, reaching mid-way up the slopes of Gunung Api. Backdropped against the gentle green of Gunung Benarat, the cold, grey spikes rising angrily yet peacefully look almost alien-like. I’ve been to limestone mountain ranges in Guilin, China; Halong Bay, Vietnam; and around the islands of Thailand, but the Mulu Pinnacles is truly unique.
After a 30-60 minute rest, you’ll start making the long hike down. If you think going up was difficult, going down is worse and takes twice as long. You’ll have to do all the climbing backwards.
I was really struggling on my way down. After 4 hours of uphill climb, my legs felt like bricks. I was stumbling on rocks and falling all over the place. Knees bruised and calf scratched, I was a complete mess. But as soon as I returned to Camp 5, I was showered by an immense sense of accomplishment. I did it, and I have the scars on my legs to prove it.
Day 3: Camp 5 to Kuala Litut
Same route as Day 1
Today, your legs will ache but sorry legs, there is still the 9km walk from Camp 5 back to the jetty, where a boat will be waiting to bring you back to the National Park entrance. Start your hike at 8am as the boat will be there by 11pm or so.
Don’t want to go back yet? If you have more time, you could stay a few more days to chill out at Camp 5. There is also a one-hour trek to the Melinau Gorge. Or, extend your trip to trek the Headhunter’s Trail.
Was the Mulu Pinnacles hike worth it?
Whether or not the view of the Pinnacles is worth it depends on how difficult the hike was for you! Honestly, for moderately fit me, the hike was very, very, very challenging. I’d love more time to enjoy the views, but we were only allowed a maximum of 60 mins. So personally, while hike was worth experiencing, the pay-off was not very high. Nonetheless, I do feel a strong sense of achievement for conquering the Mulu Pinnacles. This was one of my toughest physical challenges yet, and I’m really proud of myself for persevering (and not crying) through the pain.
Will I do this hike again? Probably not. However, I absolutely loved Mulu National Park and I want to come back to explore other trails.
Be warned: The Mulu Pinnacles is not for the faint-hearted; not for anyone with a paralyzing fear of heights; and not for first-time hikers. Some people may even say the Mulu Pinnacles is not for amateurs. I disagree. Many amateur hikers have summited the viewpoint before. This adventure is as much a mental challenge as it is physical. I think anyone who is moderately fit and has a strong determination stand a good chance of conquering the Mulu Pinnacles. Though I do recommend amateur hikers to train first!
I’m not gonna sugar coat it, the Mulu Pinnacles is a quite a risky climb especially at the danger zone. When I was climbing up and down between ladders and rocks, all I could think was – one misstep; I fall into the rocks at the wrong angle, I may be a goner.
True enough, there have been unfortunate cases of accidents and deaths at the Mulu Pinnacles. In 2018, an elderly man died after falling down a ladder and injuring his neck on the rocks. Due to bad weather, helicopters could not airlift him out from the accident site, so 10 rangers had to carry him down to Camp 5 on a stretcher.
It’s a scary story, but what’s great about Mulu National Park is that its experienced rangers and guides follow a very strict safety protocol. This includes a minimum age of 16, cut-off times, minimum 3 litres of water, and the guides maintaining the right to instruct to turn around if you miss the cut-off times. My guide, Duncan from Tropical Adventures, was terrific. He was strict in making sure that all of us were safe, but was also really good at motivating us.
True story: During my hike, I met a lady who got leg cramps mid-way up and could barely walk. She and her boyfriend missed the cut-off time, but insisted to continue the climb despite being in pain. The pair ended up stuck in the mountain after sunset, got caught in a storm, and had to inch their way down in the dark. A search and rescue team was deployed to save them, at a cost of RM200 per person, per hour. All of us made it down by 4.30pm, they only returned at 8.45pm with complete exhaustion. Moral of the story: Listen to your guide, they are there to keep you safe and alive.
How to do the Mulu Pinnacles
There are two ways to hike the Mulu Pinnacles – tour group or independent.
Tour group: This is the easiest and most straightforward option. Book your hike with a tour company like Tropical Adventures, and they will sort out everything for you including flights, national park pass, meals, boat transfers, and accommodation. The Mulu Pinnacle tours are usually 4-day-3-nights, which includes a visit to the amazing Mulu show caves (it’s worth it!). The guide will also prepare all your meals at Camp 5, so you don’t have to carry your own food.
Independent: This might be the cheaper option, but it requires more planning on your part. You’ll have to book everything independently, including the flights, accommodation, guide, and sort out all your own meals. Independent hikers will do the 9km hike to and from Camp 5 solo and bring their own food. Nonetheless, you’ll have to get a guide for the hike from Camp 5 to the Pinnacles. You can book the Camp 5 accommodation, boat transfers, and guide on the Mulu National Park website here.
Whatever you do, please don’t be that stupid tourist who purposely went off the trail, got lost in the rainforest and sparked a two-week search and rescue operation.
Staying at Camp 5
Camp 5 is a very basic base camp located in a gorgeous location! I could spend days here with a good book. The river is cold and refreshing, and gives you the most satisfying bath after a sweaty hike. Besides the Mulu Pinnacles, Camp 5 is also the base camp for the Headhunters’ Trail. Here’s a few things to know:
- Things to do at Camp 5: swim in the river, hike to Melinau Gorge, Headhunters’ Trail and/or Mulu Pinnacles
- The rooms are dorm-style with bare mattresses, so bring a sleeping bag or use a sarong as a blanket.
- There is a basic kitchen with boiled water and cooking utensils, but no fridge. The only food the office here sells is overpriced Maggi Mee and Coca Cola. If you are an independent hiker, bring your own food supplies. Guided hikers don’t have to worry about food as your guide will cook a hearty meal for you, though you might want to bring your own snacks!
- It gets quite chilly at night or when it’s raining, so you’ll need a light jacket.
- You can rent a mosquito net for RM10 a night.
- The toilet is again, basic but clean. Bring your own toiletries.
- There’s no place to charge your electrical devices, bring a powerbank and extra camera batteries.
- Alcohol is strictly off-limits at Camp 5.
Hike or not, Mulu National Park is a must-go
The Pinnacles sounds too challenging for you? Don’t worry, from caves to waterfalls and easy do-it-yourself trails, the Mulu National Park has something for everyone. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must go; it’s one of the best national parks in Malaysia, really pristine and well-maintained.
Besides hiking, another highlight is the 4 Mulu caves – Deer Cave, Lang Cave, Wind Cave, and Lady Cave – each more magnificent than the other. There’re also the amazing bat exodus, night walks, mesmerizing boat rides, and a Penan longhouse where you can buy artisan handicraft. If you want something more intense, try your hand at the 4-day-3-night Mulu Mountain Summit.
For a little luxury, there is the Mulu Marriot, the only Marriot property located smack bang in the middle of a virgin jungle. There’s a pool, there’s a bar, there’s the sound of birds and the towering trees… Trust me when I say it’s breathtaking.
What to bring to Mulu NATIONAL PARK
For the hikes:
- Proper hiking shoes with grippy soles. Your guide will not let you hike in sandals, because the rocks are really sharp and may cut your toes. I use Lowa Renegade hiking boots.
- Torchlight. I use Biolite rechargeable headlamp.
- First aid kit and medication
- Energy bars (so important!!!)
- Gloves to protect your hands during the climb
- Raincoat. I use a knockoff Northface raincoat from Hanoi :p
- Insect repellent. There may be leeches.
- 3L of water
- Day bag. I use Lowe Alpine Airzone Z 25L.
- SMALL and LIGHT camera. You do not want to be hauling a heavy camera up the Pinnacles.
For Camp 5/park accommodation:
- Light jacket
- Sleeping bag/sarong/blanket. I used a sarong and it was sufficient, though I had to use my bag of clothes as a pillow.
- Towel, toiletries and other personal items
- Powerbank, extra batteries
- Cash and IC/passport (no ATM here)
- Optional: snacks, food, swimsuit, Yoko Yoko/Tiger Balm…
- Enthusiasm, determination and a love for nature <3
Get more packing tips: How To Pack Light Like A Pro
Shoutout to Montanic Adventure Store for the awesome hiking gear! Check them out if you need reliable and quality hiking equipment.
That’s all folks. Enjoy the Mulu National Park, and be careful at the Pinnacles. Good luck!
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