Friday 31 October

I sleep surprisingly well considering the uncomfortable mattress. It is not as hot as before and the steady roar of the river effectively drowns out the snorers.

(magnify) Camp Five in the morning

Breakfast is at quarter past six (and I am glad to be up off that wretched mattress) and we are off up Mount Api towards the Pinnacles by ten past seven. The signpost says 2.4 km, but that doesn’t take into account approximately one thousand meters of verticalness.

After just a few minutes the path becomes incredibly steep and it soon becomes a scramble over tree roots and rocks. Everyone goes at their own pace. I’m ahead. Roland, Chris’s protégé, follows a short way behind.

After about an hour I reach the “mini pinnacles”, a resting place with an aluminium bench in front of a one meter high pinnacle look-alike piece of weathered limestone. Dense jungle blocks out any chance of a view over the Gunung Mulu National Park.

Shortly after setting off again I hear a disturbance in the tree tops somewhere ahead and to my left. I take a few steps further and see fleetingly an orange monkey shape in the trees. (I wonder if it might be an orangutan, but it is too small. It was most probably a maroon langur – a worthy sighting nevertheless.)

(magnify) Steep climb (Photo: Rob M)

The climb is quite exhausting. The ropes, provided in places, are a great help, taking some strain off the legs. Sweat pours off me in the heat. After much toiling, I am greatly encouraged to reach the first ladder. From here it should be about 45 minutes more to the top. There are 15 ladders in total, mostly short aluminium household ladder sections laid up against the rocks and tied on with ropes. It’s quite a relief to be on something regular, but I still have to carefully watch each tired limb. There’s lots more climbing around tree roots and trunks, carefully manoeuvring around rocky pinnacles, and balancing across wooden boards over deep chasms weathered into the rock between the ladder sections, before I finally emerge onto a narrow and almost level path that curves around a rocky spire. I’m still surrounded by dense foliage – there must be a fantastic view somewhere after all that climbing, but I haven’t seen it yet. A couple of pitcher plants grow beside the path. I know I must be getting close to the top, but I still can’t see anything. The path curves around a sheer rock, between some bushes – and then suddenly – there it is.

I find myself in a small clearing dominated by a pair of standing stones in the centre. In front of me, through a gap in the bushes, is the topmost flank of Mount Api, a green expanse peppered with grey limestone needles poking through the treetops, like the ranks of an approaching army emerging out of the mist. I sit on a large rock, drink in the view, and slowly regain my breath. It’s half past ten.

The Pinnacles from Mount Api Low Peak. Drag with the mouse to pan. Use + and - to zoom.

While I’m eating lunch, a tree shrew, dark brown with a pointed nose and long thin bushy tail, comes to investigate. Half an hour after me, Mark, Rob and Graham arrive, closely followed by Helen, Ann, Chris, and Roland. We stop for group photographs, and then in the hope of beating the afternoon rain I begin to head back down, an hour after arriving, while the others are getting out their lunch.

(magnify) The Pinnacles, Mt Api (Photo: Ann Duggau)

I’m down the ladder section surprisingly quickly, and in fact I’m still looking for the final two ladders well afterwards. But the weather has beaten me and large raindrops are already beginning to fall. As I scramble down the mountainside it is rapidly becoming a waterfall. I’m soaked through and water squelches around inside my boots. It is becoming more and more slippery. I concentrate on each step and think of the aluminium bench where I plan to rest for a while.

The rain stops just before I get there and I collapse on the bench with relief and drink the last of my two liters of water that I brought and eat the hard-boiled egg saved from lunch earlier. I remove my boots, tip out the water and wring out my socks.

The final slog down to Camp Five is unrelentingly steep and slippery and my legs are starting to shake with exhaustion. I finally roll into camp at 2.30 pm to applause from Dominique, and collapse on a bench.

After a few cups of sweet black tea, I revive enough to go down to the river to wash. The rain has stopped, and I try to make the most of the sunshine to dry my saturated clothes. Rob, Graham and Mark roll into camp around 3 pm, followed by Helen, Anne and Chris half an hour after them.

After dinner, Chris gives the job of briefing us to Roland as practise for him, but the noise of the rain on the roof soon forces him to abandon the exercise.