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Peaking the Pinnacles: A Sorta Really Difficult Climb

“It’s harder than Mt. Kinabalu.” “Well, it’s different than Kinabalu.” “Kinabalu’s more difficult, but this is worse.” These are the ambiguous things I heard about hiking up to the Pinnacles, a series of jagged rock shards driven into the lush mountainside in Gunung Mulu National Park, part of Malaysian Borneo’s inland outback.

For some reason climbing Mt. Kinabalu and the Pinnacles always seem to be compared. People want to know if they made the right decision if they only chose one. Oddly, nobody (including me, shamefully) seems to ask which is more beautiful, only which is more challenging. Which is a more impressive notch on the traveler’s belt apparently.

I have not climbed Mt. Kinabalu. I found the $700-ish cost prohibitive. And I’m getting out of shape. There’s that. So I flew a little jet to Mulu, and did the three-day hike to and up and down and back to the Pinnacles. And if anyone asks me how difficult it was, oddly, I’m not sure what to say.

The hike gets extremely steep, much of it either up ladders or crags that require all limbs on deck. It’s slow going, rising a vertical kilometer over the distance of 2.4km.

And it may not be that hot, but it’s rainforest humid. I guzzled all four liters of water that I brought with me. The terrain itself also causes you mental and physical strain as you really, really don’t want to fall (which I of course did while hopping about at the peak with my camera). The rocks have the consistency of meteors—pockmarked, sharp pointy blobs that feel as hard as steel.

Suffice to say without needing to compare it, it’s a solid hike to a beautiful view. If you really need to compare it to something, I’d say it’s kind of like something in Enemy Mine. I think that’s pretty accurate, and surely illustrative to anyone reading this.

A photographic note: the humidity seems to have worked its way deep into my camera and lens, which creates the sometimes dreamlike, always detrimental Vaseline clouds in some of these images.

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