Hiking Gunung Murud. Why not? Truth be told, I have become less confident in engaging hiking activities on my own resulting rejection of some opportunities that came my way last year. Also, my health issue requires active outdoor participation. When I signed up for the hiking trip, it was merely to boost my confidence level and understand my current body resistance to extreme conditions. Here are my chronicles of hiking Gunung Murud, Sarawak.
Gunung Murud is the highest mountain in Sarawak measuring 2,424m high. It is located at the boundary between Miri and Limbang Division, in the Kelabit Highlands. There are two routes for those interested in hiking Gunung Murud. Ba’kelalan – Summit – Bario or Ba’kelalan – Summit – Ba’kelalan. We did the former, which turned out to be harder than the latter.
27.02.2018 – Day 1: Kuala Lumpur to Miri
Since my last hike took place almost 2 years ago, I took the whole night to find my hiking gears and pack my backpack the way I wanted it to be. Around 7am, I kept my backpack in my car before driving to the Palace of Justice for I had an appeal hearing scheduled before my flight departure at 5pm. However, the hearing did not begin until 3.15pm and I had to re-schedule my flight to 8pm.
After winning the case handsomely, I drove my car to Putrajaya Sentral and used the park and ride facilities, which is very cheap if compared to parking the car at the airports. The costs was RM6/day. I arrived at Miri International Airport, Sarawak at 11.00pm, from where I took the Grab car with Kak Ezit and Danny who were waiting for me at the airport. At Dillenia Guesthouse where we stayed the night before leaving for Bakelalan, the crew distributed the ration and weighted our bags as we could only take 10kg baggage each.
28.02.2018 – Day 2: Miri to Lawas to Ba’kelalan
We reached the airport before 6.30am. After weighing our luggages, bodies and hand carry bags, we were all set to fly to Ba’kelalan, a rural area of Sarawak from which we would start our hiking.
Tips: For MASwings flight, each passenger is allowed only one piece hand baggage with weight not exceeding 5kgs. As for the checked baggage, only one baggage was allowed not exceeding 10kgs.
Our flight left Miri at 9am and reached Lawas at 9.35am. Our team were the only passengers on board, so we were free to roam the plane from front to back. After disembarking the flight, the airport attendant distributed the transit passes to us all.
I thought it would be a long stop but we were asked to board the Twin Otter plane for a quick flight to Ba’kelalan. As at the date of this publication, MASwings has stopped all direct flights from Miri to Ba’kelalan indefinitely.
From the airport, we walked for 5 minutes to Apple Lodge Guesthouse where we would stay for the night while waiting for the second group to arrive the next day. The next hours were spent cleaning ourselves, sleeping, playing cards and preparing lunch and dinner. While the rest of the team slipped into their dreams, I found it hard to sleep due to the heat. It was so hot in Ba’kelalan at noon.
The view from our room on the 1st floor.
As impressed as I was during my stay at Labang Guesthouse, Bario, I also took notice from the wall of fame on the first floor of Apple Lodge Guesthouse that most children of the owner studied abroad.
Later that afternoon, we walked around the village after handing over the list of hikers to the cat-infested Ba’kelalan Police Station. The locals were very friendly and willing to be taken photos with. Before going back to the guesthouse, we stopped by at the groceries shop to buy bottles of mineral water. It is not advisable to bring the mineral water from Miri because of the baggage limit constraint. The price of 1L mineral water was RM5 while the 0.5L mineral water was RM3.
At night, our local guide Pak Gokang briefed us on the trail of the hiking and it was then that we learned there was a landslide about a week ago which limited access for the 4wd to reach Lepo Bunga. According to Pak Gokang, we would have to walk along the logging road all the way to Lepo Bunga. The plan was to continue trekking to Church Camp from Lepo Bunga the same day.
The night continued with everyone participating in the UNO game. Rolls of laughter broke the silent of the night as the player teased one another. The best part was the rules kept on changing for every round. To inject some excitement, I proposed a rule that the last two standing players would have to cook nasi impit after the game. The lucky players were Danny and Saidah and we could not thank them enough for staying up to cook the nasi impit.
01.03.2018 – Day 3: Ba’kelalan village to Lepo Bunga
The profile of the trail found at Ba’kelalan village
Ba’kelalan -> Natad Gurkha Resting Point -> Pa Rebata Camp 1 -> Lepo Bunga Camp 2 -> Church Camp -> Mount Murud (2,424m)
The group picture without the delayed team members.
Perhaps we had exhausted our lucky stars by the third day when the flight taken by the third group was delayed. They only arrived at Ba’kelalan slightly around 2.30pm. We left Ba’kelalan village almost immediately after the second group arrived. At this juncture, everything seemed bleak as we were told the 4wd would try to drop us at the farthest point the 4wd could reach. At 4.00pm, the 4wd stopped near Pa Rebata Camp 1. So, the landslide was real and the steep ascent to Lepo Bunga was no joke. The expected journey to Lepo Bunga takes 2 hours, as we were told.
The landslide at Pa Rebata Camp.
Less than 15 minutes into the trekking, the rain started pour. As it was a major comeback for me after almost 2 years, my feet were heavy and I felt uneasy with my Karrimor haversack. It could be the wrong setting or that it took time for my ageing body to adjust to such load. Danny suggested that I changed haversack with Khai, whose haversack was not loaded with ration because we didn’t have much time to re-pack his haversack. I gave in to the suggestion but it did not take long before gaining the momentum to carry my own haversack.
Despite having to exert extra energy, I personally enjoyed the view which would otherwise be a fleeting view had we taken the 4wd. I loved passing by the misty flat terrain carpeted with cow grass and we had some amazing group pictures shot there!
Since night falls early in Sarawak, we continued walking to Lepo Bunga with headlamps strapped on our heads. There was a change of plan as we failed to reach Lepo Bunga in 2 hours’ time. We would stay overnight at Lepo Bunga Camp 2, a camp site with spooky presence. Since Kak Ezit, Din and I were walking next after Pak Gokang and Ainul, we were taken aback when we heard repetitive sound coming from the direction of the huts which were going to stay for the night. The sound was half roaring, half angry. I was pretty sure the sound was not that of human. Upfront, Ainul stood still and told us Pak Gokang had gone to the hut to appease whatever thing that was making the sound.
Once we reached the hut, we cleaned after ourselves, took out the food ration and cooked the dinner.
Before retiring to our sleeping bags, all of us made a visit to nearby hut with tank containing rain water. Just in case you were wondering, there was a proper toilet but nobody dared to check it out. So, we opted for the wild and environmental friendly toilet. Apart from keeping awake from time to time, the night went smoothly. The next day, the boys told me I sleep-talked and sleep-kicked Kak Niza who were sleeping next to me, which I denied vehemently. Even if it did happen, it happened out of unconsciousness.
02.03.2018 – Day 4: Lepo Bunga to Church Camp
We started the day early with the objective of trying to summit Murud peak on the same day. We left Lepo Bunga at 6.50am.
Stretching on the wet field at Lepo Bunga Camp.
The sunrise at Lepo Bunga.
There was a trail sign indicating the distance between Lepo Bunga to Batu Linanit is 3.4km and can be completed in 3 hours. Before Batu Linanit, we would pass Jambatan Sukacita. The trail was not that tough but it was really muddy in February/March, which is the raining season in the area. As my jungle survival was rusty (so did the rest of the hikers), the inclination to avoid the mud and think of the safe ground to step had taken its toll on my hiking pace. All in the namesake of having dry shoes and feet. If you are reading this before making the trip, take this from this so-called expert who completed Ba’kelalan – Bario route: Bulldoze through the mud because there is no way you would have happy feet. They would eventually get wet and soggy in just hours and until the end of the trip, unless you want to invest in that waterproof socks.
After the first few hills which had me breathing for air rather loud, the trail became flat though still muddy, if not muddier. Even with the steep ascent at first, the trail was diversified with small river crossings, ascending the natural steps, balancing on slippery tree trunks dipped in the mud, stepping over never ending tree roots. Once in awhile, we traversed through the untouched mossy forests. I also loved this trail because they were plenty macro subjects to photograph.
Along this trail, the leeches would start prying for their victims. It is best to wear leech sock to minimize the bloody bites.
By 10am, we reached Joy Bridge (“Jambatan Sukacita”) well behind the expected journey time. The guide crew were pressing for time and concerned we might not be able to make it to the summit on the same day with such slow pace. After a meeting was held between Pak Gokang, the guide crew and the organizer, it was agreed that we would not summit the same day. Instead, we would rest at Church Camp and begin our summit attack at 2am the next day.
Joy Bridge – Jambatan Sukacita
Abandoned structures near the Joy Bridge
It puzzled me why my pace was considered slow since Kak Ezit and I barely took long interval break? Our method was to count our steps to 20 – 100 steps while walking, then inhale exhale for 5 times and then continue walking.
When the decision was made and I saw no urgency to shoot for Church Camp, I walked and took more photographs than before. Jambatan Sukacita is actually a steel platform built for the pilgrimages heading to Church Camp and Murud summit. I do not know why it was given such name but I suspect after going through the muddy trail from Lepo Bunga, one would be happy to finally walk on the steel raised platform. Well atleast it makes me happy. There was also an old wooden platform which required extra caution because some of the steps were damaged. Cherish the happiness while it lasts because before you know it, you have a face down with mud yet again. We reached Tangga Linanit at 12.45pm while others had been waiting for us for quite awhile.
Tangga Linanit is a stairway to Reked Meligan or the Holy Ground, which is also known as Batu Linanit. If you were to look up at the stairway from the bottom, you would feel agitated to start climbing. But you have no choice, but to keep moving. Don’t forget to look back as the view might open itself for you to enjoy. After 15 minutes, we reached Batu Linanit (1.00pm – 1.15pm). There was a sitting area for those wanting to pray before Batu Linanit. We were lucky that the clouds made way for us to enjoy the view. According to Ainul who had been to Murud many times, it was his first time to witness the view. Here, we were reminded not to talk nonsense and not to smoke cigarette so as not to offend the djinn living around the holy ground.
Staircase to Gunung Murud.
Batu Linanit & the view beyond
Sharp at 1.30pm, we descended to the Church Camp. It was a total descent making our earlier ascent pointless. It felt so far beyond what Ainul had narrated to us and we ended up reaching the Church Camp at 2.30pm. Church Camp is like a village on its own. Hundreds of wooden houses were built surrounding the church. It is the highest church camp in the world. Either I could feel the spirit roaming the Church Camp or I was scared shit by the empty houses. We were told not to venture on our own because Church Camp has its own invisible guardians. There were permanent toilets and changing rooms but we had to scoop water from the nearby river.
To clean up, Kak Ezit and I confidently went to the toilet. Right after we finished scooping water from the river, we heard a commotion like a mother having a conversation with a child from one of the empty houses. We exchanged glances and I blurted out, “Eh, kenapa ada suara budak?”. Kak Ezit answered, “Farah jangan la tegur.” She dropped the pail and the next thing we knew we were racing back to the house we were taking shelter. The boys who noticed the panic-stricken us, ridiculed us on end. But we eventually had them waiting for us while we cleaned ourselves and changed our clothes.
03.03.2018 – Day 5: Summit Attack
We slept at 10pm and I did not go to pee that night because I was too chickened out and it was raining heavily outside. The strong wind gushed the rooftop and for a moment I felt like I was in a box being thrown here and there. It was cold that night and I could barely imagine having to wear the wet clothes and shoes for the summit attack at 2am.
When the alarm rang and with the rain still pouring outside, I silently kept myself in the sleeping bag making theory. If Edmund Hillary hiked Everest because it’s there, I felt as if Murud was holding us back for reasons unknown to us. It was as if the mountain did not want us there. Look at all the problems we had to face from the flight delay, landslide and slow pace, among others. Eventually, I forced myself up and braved the cold hiking outfit.
By 2.30am, we began our Summit Attack. According to Pak Gokang, it was rare for any group to trek at night in Murud due to lurking dangers. We trekked in a file and maintained close distant from one another. And the trail got even muddier than before and the leeches were still present at 2,000m elevation. With limited vision, Pak Gokang would warn of any danger such as mossy trap, holes, slippery rock and tree trunk to the person behind him and the message would be passed on until it reached the last person. I was never fond of trekking early in the morning.
There were big river crossings which included literally climbing river stones with water gushing down. For other season, I was told the rivers are normally dried up.
At 6.20am, we were nearing the Rock Garden. Pak Gokang did not seem well as he was coughing and catching a fever. While we pushed on for the summit, the upper montane forest was replaced by the mossy elfin foresf and summit heath.
All we could see were dwarfed trees and clouds, fondly known among us as ‘awan kepuk-kepuk’. These were signs that summit was near. Little did we know we had still so much to endure before finally reaching the peak including even muddy trail, slippery big stones and enchanted mossy forest. From the Rock Garden, we could not see the peak because it was at the back of the hill seen from the Rock Garden. No wonder no one answered when we tried calling the front liners so as to gauge how much more we had to trek.
Final mossy forest before reaching the summit
Finally, we summited at 8.15am with 360 degree panoramic view. We had been extremely lucky with the views as we were told most hikers would see nothing as the cloud hides the view away.
You can see Batu Lawi from the summit. Batu Lawi is very tough mountain within the Kelabit Highlands.
We descended at 9.00am and reached Rock Garden by 9.45am. Coming down, we didn’t bother to avoid the mud at all.
We waited for the remaining hikers to come down from the peak before leaving the Rock Garden. The Rock Garden is unique because of the stone shape scattered around the area. They are in the shape of animals. Among the shapes I could figure were that of horse, seahorse, rabbit and crocodile. The tranquillity of the Rock Garden especially view of the clouded forest blew us away. The story behind the Rock Garden was in 1985, the people of Kelabit and Lun Bawang came to Rock Garden for the first time to pray. While praying, they saw the stones moved up and down and the trees changed their colours. Hence how the Rock Garden become a sacred place.
While we were enjoying the view, the silence of the forest was punctuated by Ad’s snore which sounded like a broken piston. He was a fast-paced hiker who barely kept up with our slow pace. There were many trails around the Rock Garden, so one could easily get lost in there. We walked and walked with what energy left of us. Deep down inside, we were thankful for being able to summit despite how slow our paces were. When we left Church Camp earlier, I was already preparing my mind for the adverse possibility for anything could happen.
The trail going down was pretty!
We reached the Church Camp at 2.50pm after the long walk. Normally, it would take 4 hours to ascend and less than 4 hours to descend. However, the night trekking over difficult trails had a toll on us all and as we descended most, if not all, energy had been drained. Kak Ezit and I scooped water to clean ourselves and our shoes from the water container outside one of the empty houses. It was here that we met Saidah who was in tears for arriving slightly beyond her expected timing. Being the youngest girl in the team, she was really fit and it was a surprise to us that she broke down just like that. Pilgrimage mountain is tough and it can break anyone.
Stay tune for Part 2 of Hiking Gunung Murud series to know the misadventures we had from the summit of Murud to Bario. I ended up on a wheel chair and find out why!
Read Part 2 of Hiking Gunung Murud HERE.