Caving in Mulu

 Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Hi everyone!

Mulu was my final destination on Wednesday and it was going to be a long day of travelling. Bennet and I left Nanga Bankit at 6m, picked up some people on the way to Song and after a two hour layover I was on the boat to Sibu arriving at 11:30am. I quickly grabbed a taxi and made my way to the main bus station, jumping on a bus leaving in 15 minutes to Miri from where I would take a plane to Mulu the next day. All in all, total travel time was 15 hours that day but the bus ride was very comfortable, passed quickly and allowed me time to write.

I chose Mulu predominately to do The Pinnacles Climb that I had heard was going to be one of the hardest things I would ever do. It is located in Gunung Mulu National Park, a 30 minute flight from Miri. “Mulu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes incredible caves and karst formations within a mountainous equatorial rainforest. Mulu National Park also has the largest known natural chamber or room – Sarawak Chamber and it is 2,300 feet (700 m) long, 1,300 feet (396 m) wide and at least 230 feet (70 m) high. It has been said that the chamber is so big that it could accommodate about 40 Boeing 747s, without overlapping their wings.”

The flight was quick and upon arrival at park headquarters I was disappointed to hear that The Pinnacles Climb would likely not happen and that they also would not have accommodations for me for the next two nights because I would have stayed at Camp 5, where The Pinnacles departs from. I had signed up for the climb about six weeks before my departure and in fact had to switch my itinerary around to find space for me to join because it is such a popular activity. However, as the date approached I was the only one to have signed up and the trip would not go without a minimum of three people. I was given other options but the wind was out of my sails and I needed some time to digest the news before I reacted. I went to my room, showered and decided to go back to the park headquarters and this time speak with the Australian man I had corresponded with for the past six weeks, expressing my frustration. All to say that Jeremy and I each empathized with the other’s situation (they had not held space for me as they didn’t want to lose income) and he went above and beyond trying to get me onto trip the next day with an independent guide. This would also get me back to park headquarters in time for my flight to Kota Kinabalu on Sunday.

I was appreciative and then had time to shower, eat and relax before I was headed with a group to Deer and Lang’s Cave, another expedition I had signed up for. Our guide Eugene was amazing and our hour walk through the rainforest was informative and stunning.  

To the right, a walking stick insect. Below, a lantern bug.

We arrived first at Lang’s cave, the smallest of the show caves but its rock formations are well worth seeing. As well, “the cave is relatively small and well-lit so it offers good opportunities to see some of its inhabitants such as bats, swiftlets and even cave-dwelling snakes.”

Below, the famous Adam & Eve formation in Lang’s Cave. Use your imagination..

Next we visited Deer Cave “with much to see on the way to the cave, including more superb rainforest, jungle streams and an ancient Penan burial cave. When you reach the cave entrance you are left in no doubt that you are about to enter the largest cave passage in the world. Deer Cave is simply huge – it is just over 2 kilometres in length and never less than 90 metres high and wide. The main chamber, which is partly lit by sunlight, is 174 metres wide and 122 metres high. This is the area where deer used to shelter so the local Penan and Berawan people named the cave Gua Payau or Gua Rusa (Deer Cave). 

A winding path follows the natural contours of the cave floor and leads to the “Garden of Eden” where a hole in the cave roof lets in a shaft of light that allows the rich green vegetation to thrive. Another feature is the famous profile of Abraham Lincoln, which guards the southern entrance of the cave.” 

Just outside of Lang’s Cave is a tall cave where over a million fruit bats live and at dusk they make their exodus, one of the most amazing things to see. Using their echolocation and in groups of maybe 300,000 at a time they swirl in the cave using their echolocation, then exit making ribbons in the sky. The downside of this is the sometimes overpowering stench of guano in the cave, also known as bat shit. Deer cave was incredible but towards the end the rain came in and the guano was blowing onto our bodies, faces and into my eyes. Who knew my day would end in shit? Lol. To make it better though Mother Nature decided to open the heavens and show me the true definition of a rainforest. I decided not to wait it out and walked the hour’s hike back by myself in a disposable poncho that ended up not really helping. I reveled in the beauty of the lush rainforest as I walked alone in the setting sun, enjoying the rain.

The next morning I was told by the pinnacles guide I thought I’d be going with that his group and another had cancelled. He would call his last resort and at 8:45am I was told that I could join two Malaysian girls going from another resort and I had to be at the jetty with my smaller backpack in 15 minutes. I rushed around packing what was needed for two days, taking my bigger pack to security and we were on our way. I was definitely a happy camper.

The journey to Camp 5 was to take 2.5 hours, as we were to stop at a Penan village called Bat Bungan and visit the Wind and Clearwater Caves. After that we would be dropped off and hike through the jungle for 8 kms until we reached Camp 5, the outpost on the river close to the set off point for The Pinnacles. The Penan village we went to is a real working village but there was also a small market and information boards about the Penan people. It was absolutely fascinating as the Penan are nomadic people and live by rules of basic humanity that we should all still be living by. The Penan are noted for their practice of ‘molong’, which means never taking more than necessary. There remain 1000 Penan left in the world and only 300 still live in the jungles of Borneo; perhaps they are why it feels the jungles have eyes. These are the people who kill animals with blow darts covered in poisonous tree sap (not from frogs), who track animals for days and leave clues in the jungle for other tribes people as to which trees to not damage as they will be harvested in the future and signs pointing which why they are going, which way they’ve come from etc. All the while leaving the environment in the way they have found it. I would have loved to stay with a Penan tribe, very, very National Geographic.

We then visited the Wind and Clearwater caves but I was anxious to get to Camp 5 and see what all this pinnacle build up was about. Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave is one cave and is believed to be the largest cave in the world by volume at 30,347,540m³. It was stunning and almost unbelievable. 

The journey up the river was tedious at times as the water level was low and we got out 4-5 times to push the boat. We were later dropped off at the river’s edge to walk to camp 5 and our porter who was a tiny thing with no English, no teeth and no shoes, ran off into the jungle carrying our food for the next two days. We followed him ten minutes later after changing into our running shoes but the Malaysian girls were a tad slow for me so I ended up walking the eight kms alone reaching camp 5 about 45 minutes before them. The only eventful thing that happened on my walk in was being bitten by a 1” fire ant, holy shit did I scream – the name fire ant is incredibly appropriate – my ankle was on fire. 

Upon the girls’ arrival we found our mattresses, mosquito nets and washed in the river before meeting a group of really nice people who had done The Pinnacles Climb that day.

They reiterated how hard it was, to take our time and we ended up hanging out the rest of the night until 9pm when we all went to bed for our early rise the next day. All leave for the climb at 6am and many don’t get back until 5pm, some returning as late as 8pm.

Next day proved to be the hardest thing I have done so far and I have to say I am extremely proud of what I ended up achieving. That story is for another day.

It was nice to meet you Ryan from British Columbia, brother/sister Michael and Lacey from California, Ulva from Sweden and Tim/Tom from Belgium. Hope to stay in touch and see you Lacey/Michael in Boracay.

Xoxo. Julie

What Was Spent In This Post: RM 34 (boat ride for Bennet & I to Song), RM 25 boat to Sibu, RM 15 taxi to Sibu bus station, RM 6 for lunch, RM 15 for snacks and dinner during the bus trip. RM 20 taxi from Miri bus station to hotel, RM 40 for hotel room. RM 20 taxi to Miri airport. RM 143 flight to Mulu. RM 40 for Mulu accommodations, RM 5 for 30 mins of Internet, RM 20 for Deer & Lang’s Cave. RM 17 for lunch, RM 45 for dinner and three glasses of wine. RM 45 to Clearwater/Wind Cave. Total: RM 490 / CAD $163

Question: Have you visited any caves that you thought were exceptional? My favourite so far are the ATM Caves in Belize.

4 Responses to Caving in Mulu

  1. Hey Julie,

    The pictures look amazing and your experience seemed amazing (although at times frustrating :-)). The dollar breakdown is really helpful also! Enjoy your continued travels!

    Alexiis October 18, 2011 at 8:02 PM Reply
    • Thanks Alexiis – am loving it. I’m glad the cost breakdown is useful, I sure would love to see it on some others blogs. Xo

      juliemunsch October 18, 2011 at 8:08 PM Reply
  2. Glad you had a good time hiking in Mulu and that you’ve managed to climb the Pinnacles.

    Robert Geneid October 14, 2012 at 11:19 PM Reply
    • Yes, wasn’t one of the easiest things I’ve done ;). Thanks for reading.

      Julie Munsch October 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM Reply

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