The Forgotten Trail: Ba’Kelalan–Mount Murud–Bario by foot (Part 2 of 3)

Before the existence of roads made available by logging activities, the only way for villagers to get from Ba’Kelalan to Bario or vice versa was by foot.  That trail is now considered abandoned and only used by a few locals who are still hunting deep in the jungle and the few privileged adventurers who knows about this trail.  Our trek saw us on this trail, with a detour into Pulong Tau National Park to hike up Mount Murud, Sarawak’s highest mountain.

This is PART 2 of a 3 part article:

THE TREK

According to figures that I have analyzed from the Internet, this trail is roughly 65 km one way.  For the supermans, this trail can be completed in 3 days with the last day needing to trek for up to 18 hours, which also means trekking in the dark.  This article is written based on our trek’s itinerary which was done in a casual pace clocking an approximate of 30 hours actual trekking time and 2000m of elevation gain in a span of 4 days.

The brief itinerary of our trek is as follows:

Ba’Kelalan (910m) –> via 4wd –> Lepo Bunga (1721m) –> Batu Linanit (2198m) –> Church Camp (2070m) –> Rock Garden (2143m) –> Mount Murud Summit (2423m) –> Rock Garden (2143m) –> Church Camp (2070m) –> Batu Linanit (2198m) –> Long Repung Jungle Shelter (1227m) –> Pa Lungan (1214m) –> via 4wd –> Bario (1000m)

On any given day given good weather, this is an gratifying trek with plenty of flora and fauna along the way, fantastic views with a few river crossings.  But be warned; many parts long the trail from Murud to Bario is leech territory, including the haemadisa picta, more commonly and infamously known as the tiger leech.  Miserably for us, our trip met with unrelenting rain everyday making the trails unyieldingly difficult with the trails being extra muddy and watery … and of course with these two factors, it becomes a leech fest all the way!

DAY 1 – Ba’Kelalan to Church Camp

Today was the day!  The start of our 4 days journey from Ba’Kelalan to Bario, with a detour up to Mount Murud.  We were all well-rested with round-bellied stomachs as a result of Rani’s delicious breakfast but nevertheless very eager to start our adventure.  Today’s destination would be the Church Camp on Mount Murud at 2070 meters above sea level (asl).  This would involve taking a 4WD ride from Ba’kelalan up to Lepo Bunga and then setting out on foot the rest of the way until we reach the Church Camp.

A Brief History of Mount Murud; Mount Murud is Sarawak’s highest mountain peaking at 2,423 meters above sea level.  The locals regard the mountain as a sacred and holy ground as there has been several miracles that took place there during the turning point in time where the locals were evangelized.  Since then it has became an annual pilgrimage and they started assembling wooden houses on a plateau on the mountain to what it is today, now referred to as the Church Camp.

Innocent faces
But first, a group picture!  Here’s us with our innocent faces and stainless wears posing for a group picture in front of Rani’s house oblivious to the tribulations that are awaiting us the next few days.
Bus station
The first order of the day would be walking to the ‘bus station’ where our 4WD is waiting to take us up to Lepo Bunga at 1721 meters asl.
The grapevine
While we were waiting for our guides to pack our backpacks securely to the 4WD carriage, many local folks approached us to offer us their best wishes and words of encouragement.  Apparently the whole village already knew about our journey!
Say a little prayer
Before setting off, we joined together united in prayer along with the folks who came to bid us their best wishes.
Long and winding road
We used the long and winding logging roads which was muddy and definitely bumpy at some sections.
Out of nowhere
Suddenly out of nowhere, after miles and miles of navigating the hills, we made a pitspot at this up and coming homestay called “Tropical Jungle Hideout”.
Tropical Jungle Hideout
The Tropical Jungle Hideout can already accommodate a small group of visitors and is in the process of expanding to accommodate more.  They accept volunteers who are keen to have the ‘Borneo experience’ in exchange for providing them a place to stay.
For our motherland
The owner and his wife are from the Lun Bawang tribe, the local tribe to Bakelalan and they consider themselves conservationist and environmental activist, giving their heart to defend the nature to keep it in the way it is.  Some very wise words and reminder to us all that earth is our mother.  We have to ensure that we take good care of her as she has provided so much for us.
Finally met its match
As experienced and skillful as they are, our 4WD drivers finally met their match; the road was too muddy and the mud tires was not enough to grip out of the mud hole.
Gotong-Royong
We got off the 4WD and with a little bit of teamwork searching for large solid stones to fill the mud hole, we were on our way again in a jiffy.
Lepo Bunga
After around 1.5 hours standing on the carriage of our 4WD, our jellied bodies bounced with excitement upon seeing the site of Lepo Bunga, the trailhead for the climb up to Mount Murud.  Lepo Bunga acquired its name from the abundant flowers around its surrounding and the buildings here were originally a research center used by the Forestry Department for flowers and orchids but has since then been abandoned.
Picnic
We advised not to go into the buildings of Lepo Bunga (including the toilets) as many wild animals has found shelter in them resulting in fleas and bugs, potentially disease carriers.  For this reason, we had a picnic lunch on the expanse besides the cliff.
Enjoying their lunch
Jacquelyn and Susan enjoying their Nuba Laya (rice wrapped in banana leaf) against the scenic backdrop of the mountain range.
Flag off
The trail to the Church Camp started innocently enough with slight elevation.
Soaring high
Some parts of the initial trail had trees soaring sky high in the dipterocarp forest.
Getting steeper
The trail started getting steeper as we progressed further along the trail.
A brief rest
Finally a small clearing where we could have a brief rest.
Poser
Sing Yee posing on fallen stumps used as a makeshift bridge.
The root of the problem
An hour into the trail and we could feel the landscape  slowly changing with more roots covering the ground.
Over not on
The roots of the trees paved our steps upward.  We had to be careful not to actually step on these moss covered slippery roots and instead, over them.
Looking over his shoulder
Pak Ukong (Rani’s father) was our head guide all the way.  At over 70 years old, he is still fit fiddle, constantly looking back over his shoulder to make sure we are able to keep up with his pace.
Pitcher Plants
When trekking remember not to keep your head planted at the ground all the time.  Make it a habit to occasionally look around you, otherwise you are missing out on a lot; such as the many species of pitcher plants growing in this pristine forest.
Drapped
Over here, many of the rocks are heavily draped by moss and lichens.
Clearly paved out
Some ascent are clearly paved out for us; avoid stepping on the bright green moss!
Carpet
This rotten tree stump had a thick but soft carpet of moss, each layer clambering over each other in order to reach for the life sustaining sun rays penetrating through the canopy into the forest.
Flat surface
Some of the fallen tree trunks has been cut in half providing a very flat surface to walk on.
Carved into steps
Within the next hour, we reached a section where there was a lot of tree trunks carved into steps to make a convenient staircase over the terrain.
Group picture
We even managed a nice angle to take a group picture on this tree trunk steps.  Smile everyone!
Zigzap up
Sometimes the tree trunk steps would take us zigzagging up.
Endless
While other times its just a never-ending tiring endless steps up.
Joy Bridge
Finally we arrived at a wooden structure that looked like it has been through a hurricane with many parts of it already collapsed if not on the verge collapsing. Ironically, it is called Jambatan Sukacita (Joy Bridge in English).  The look on Gillian’s face was really that of pure joy (sarcasm).
Metal Walkway
We were told that long ago the plank walk (bridge) was built so that the pilgrims can avoid sinking into the muddy trail.  Most part of it is now replaced with a metal walkway which was extremely easy and safe to walk on.  Unfortunately the metal walkway was only for a few meters but never the less, was a luxury of comfort during that time.
CST_6290
We could feel that the trail is starting to flatten out but the mud seems to be extra soft and deep here.  We had to take extra precautions so as not to find ourselves stuck knee deep in the mud.
Breeze pass
Our local porters who are also our guides floats pass us effortlessly while we struggle to avoid every mud trap.
The junction
After about an hour from the start of the Joy Bridge, we reached this ‘hidden’ junction which leads down that has been sealed off.  This is the trail that we will take to head to Bario two days from now.
Embedded
A bit ahead of the junction, I spotted this fruit that is embedded into the soil; not sure if it naturally fell there or someone planted it there on purpose.  I made a mental note that this embedded fruit marked the junction was near at hand.
Tree stumps
There are some parts of the trail set with tree stumps to aid in crossing the muddy terrain.
Hello again!
Suddenly out of nowhere as if someone up above was watching over us and seeing our predicament, the metal walkway started again!
Collapsed
The metal walkway was placed next to the structure where it had already collapsed.
Plank walk
Towards the middle, the plank walk was still in good condition, and had the added benefit of a roof over our heads to shield us from the sun.
The end
All good things come to an end; so the pleasant plank walk ends here.  It was a good ten minutes of comfort walking while it lasted.
More mud
For remaining plank walk ahead, structure had totally collapsed so we had to settle with walking by the side where all the mud awaits.
Detour
There is even a part where the sides are impassable, forcing us to take a detour into the forest before coming back on the trail.
Knee deep
The mud was really deep in this area and there we not many support that we could use to step on.  Gillian has both her feet almost knee deep in mud.
Left or right?
4 hours has gone by since our departure from Lepo Bunga, and finally we arrived at a junction which has a set of newly built staircase.  We were told that the trail to the left of the staircase would lead directly to the Church Camp and is the shortest route there but even muddier than what we have experienced so far.  The trail that leads up the staircase will take us up to Batu Linanit.  At 2,198m, Batu Linanit’s viewpoint was just as good (if not better) than any of the other views from the other peaks including the summit.  More importantly, it an easier route (albeit longer) that is not as muddy.
Stairway to heaven
A short rest at the base of the stairs.  The stairs seems to go on forever with the end  nowhere in sight. I shall name this ‘The Stairway to Heaven’.
Saw dust
It was a grueling 10 minutes walk up the staircase which I am not complaining since its dry and without mud!  A lot of wood and recent saw dust on the peak was evidence that there were people still working on improving the trail.
Batu Linanit
Here is what the view is like on Batu Linanit (2,198m asl).
Superb view
The view from up here was superb, we took our time taking turn standing on the huge rock for a better vantage point, taking pictures from every angle possible.
Fluffy Cotton Clouds
View of the rolling mountain range covered in fluffy cotton clouds.
The mysterious Batu Lawi
Looking westerly, peeping out mysteriously from the under the blanket of clouds was one of the two twin-peaks of Batu Lawi, the scared mountain of the Kelabit Highland of Bario.
Down??
The trail from Batu Linanit to the Church Camp was all descend for an hour.  I was already making mental preparation that we would have to climb this section again when we will head for Bario in two days time.
We're here!
After an hour of descend, finally our eyes caught sight of objects with foreign colours from behind the trees.  Alas it was the Church Camp!  We were overjoyed at the sight and immediately all pain, all soreness was magically healed!  Coincidence? Maybe not!
The Church Camp
I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the whole area.  In my opinion, this should be called a village rather than a camp!  There must have been close to a hundred houses here.
Reked Meligan
Reked Meligan, or more commonly known as the Church Champ is able to accommodate up to 1500 people at any one time.  There is a biebbial pilgrimage and prayer meeting which draws the faithful of all ages even from all over the world even as far as Africa.  I’m amazed that even old folks would make their way up this mountain through all that arduous trail, testing their fitness and their faith. In my humble opinion, climbing a well-defined trail such as Mount Kinabalu was far easier!
Deserted
When we arrived, the whole place looked deserted, like a ghost town.  The only sign of life was a house churning smoke out of its windows I assumed was where our porters are and that is where we should head for.
No electricity, no water
There is no electricity, neither is there any water supply. The houses here are built to be a shelter; four walls and a roof, just enough to be a comfortable shelter.  The only toilet available is located near the church, which was not very far from the house we stayed in, but can extremely inconvenient at night as there are no lights and its freezing cold.
And on this rock I shall built my Churc
And on this rock I shall build my Church; At the end of the camp is a small valley and over is where the main Church stands.  We were told that it is able to accommodate up till 1500 people which is approximately the number of pilgrims that comes up for the biennial prayer meeting.
Fireplace
All the houses have a fireplace, but there are no chimney or any passage that provides ventilation for the smoke to exit the house, instead, relying totally on the opened windows.
A bucket and a pail
This is how we took our bath; a bucket, a pail and rainwater from the nearest pond.  With that, the only thing left to do was to search for our own private little ‘corner’ as most of the houses were uninhabited at this time.  We were the only signs of life in the whole camp!  I found my ‘secret corner’ after combing though almost the whole camp.  But the challenge for our long deserved bath didn’t end there … the biggest challenge was to bath in the ice cold mountain water!
Source of water
This is the pond where we source our bathing water.  Yes we realize the water is brown, but its a necessity for us to freshen up after the grueling sweaty and muddy climb and be able to get a good night’s sleep.  After all, we had another 2 full days of trekking to go.
Round table
As we arrived at the Church Camp late, and by the time we settled ourselves, dusk was catching up fast.  Our kind hearted porters sympathetically prepared our dinner for us while we quickly had our icy cold showers.
Hot tea
The typical hot tea becomes we so often take for granted brings abundance of comfort to our cold numbed bodies.  The temperature was at 13 Celsius just as we were about to sleep but I suspect it dropped further during the wee hours as I woke up a few times and found myself shivering!  Nevertheless, we just had to suck it up and try to get back to sleep.

DAY 2 – Church Camp to Summit to Church Camp

Today was the day we will summit Mount Murud.  For myself, it was not the excitement of conquering the 2,423 meters above sea level summit.  Having hiked many other mountains well over 3000 meters, it was the trail and the natural features of the landscape that fascinates me.  Before that, at 2,143 meters above sea level, about 300 meters short of the summit is an area littered with a lot of huge rocks and that area has been aptly named ‘Rock Garden’.  This was the same holy ground where it is said that the rocks moved and rose while God presented a revelation to the worshipers there in 1985.  Needless to say, I was excited to see these rocks with my own eyes.

A word of caution; please do not try to summit without having anyone that is familiar with the trail in your group.  The route to the summit is not very frequented therefore overgrown grass, fallen branches and even tree trunks are very commonplace therefore there is a high possibility losing the trail.  The natural trail ends upon reaching the plateau where there are more rocks and less soil.  Only a person who is accustomed with the route to the summit would be able to lead the way, otherwise you might just end up going in the wrong direction.

Start here
The start of the trail to the summit was located at the bridgehead that leads to the main church.  I looked at my watch, it was exactly 7.00 am.
Mud pool
Immediately upon entering the forest, the trail was even muddier than the trail the day before.  The mud pool looked like quicksand waiting to swallow its next victim.
Salomon Gore-Tex
As careful as we are, some parts of the trail was just impossible to avoid stepping into the mud.  I was glad that Salomon Gore-Tex trail shoes proved its worth by preventing the insides of my shoe from turning into a slush party.
Mud party
I was glad that the ‘mud party’ lasted for only 30 minutes.  No joke navigating those mud pools to avoid getting stuck in mud!
Pitcher plant species
Like before, there were many different species of pitcher plants growing in abundance.
Avoid walking on moss carpeted stumps
Whenever possible, we avoided walking on the moss carpeted stumps as they are very slippery.
Mud slide
Since it has been raining for weeks, the trail was extremely wet at certain part of the trail and can be mud slide all the way down.
Go green!
Meanwhile, other parts of the trail involves clambering up vertical sections where you would have no choice but to grab hold of anything, including the moss covered roots.  Go green! Paint your hands green!
Hazards up above
Always be vigilant when trekking; hazards are not only on the ground.  Always remember to look a few meters ahead.  Warn the person trailing behind you in case they did not notice the hazard.
One wrong step...
At some sections, we’re just walking along a narrow trail on a ridge where we have to be careful, one wrong step would mean slipping down the slope where injury would be quite significant.
Warning
We were told that some of the huge trees in the forest were targeted by people aiming for its timber.  So the locals used this as a way to mark the trees so that these trees should not be touched.
Little Brown Mushrooms
A green moss covered tree trunk with small little brown mushrooms.
Big Black Mushrooms
A green moss covered tree trunk with big black mushroom!
Pitcher Plant Mug
Gigantic pitcher plants as compared to the size of my hand.  It is literally as big as a mug.  Pitcher plant coffee anyone?
Change of terrain
After 2 hours of hiking, I felt the terrain changing; we were stepping on rocks rather than soil here.
Intertwined Trail
Of course there’s still the occasional root intertwined trail.
Chop chop
The trail to the summit is not frequented often.  Most locals would only stop at the Church Camp for their errands and not go all the way to the summit.  Therefore there is always a risk that the trail is overgrown by plants and the trail would not be visible.  Please ensure that you do not try to summit without anyone in your group who is familiar with the trail.  In the picture, Pak Ukong chops down the branches that has fallen and was blocking our trail.
Stream
Soon after, I spotted a small stream among the foliage.  I thought to myself that we must be approaching a river.
Bigger Stream
As we progressed, the stream became bigger, there were a few times where we had to follow the trail of the stream.
Rocky Terrain
Ah, finally.  The jungle opened up to a rocky terrain.  The stream appears to be coming from the top of this rocky path.
Jumping jacks
We had to jump over some parts of the stream extra carefully as the surface of the rocks is slippery.
The seas parted
Eventually we arrived at a section where it looked as if the jungle was parted leaving on the rocks for us to walk on. I was not sure if my other group members realize it or not. but suddenly found myself breaking out in cold sweats as I realized that this path that we are walking out would turn into a raging river and waterfall if it starts to rain!
Wash wash
Small holes on the rock surface provides small pools of water; perfect for us to wash our dirty hands and splash of refreshing cold mountain water on our face.
Group picture
But first, a group picture!  Let’s hope the rain doesn’t come down on us and wash us away!
Steady climb
The trail from there onwards gets tougher; jumping from rock to rock with a steady climb upwards.
Steeper incline
Some other parts has a steeper incline, nevertheless we were appreciative that its on rocks not mud.
Patterns
Prior to approaching the Rock Garden, this section of rocks had a lot of white and orange lichens on them making for a very attractive terrain.
Misleading signs
By 10 am, we reached the first sign (literally).  In my opinion, this sign is badly designed and is very misleading.  First it says it’s a no entry zone, yet it says follow the diverted trail.  So am I supposed to follow the arrow or is this a no entry zone?  I’m guessing that the sign is trying to say that we should not continue on the straight path, instead we should use the other trail where the arrow is pointing.  Another problem with that though, this sign is not secured to any post, so it could have been moved! Another reason why having someone that is familiar with the route is important.
Flat area
We followed Pak Ukong’s lead and arrived on another flat area, this time with alpine vegetation all around us.  I was intrigued with the large plastic pipe that was on the surface, I wonder if this pipe used to supply fresh water to the Church Camp?
Vertical climbs
Just when we thought we had reached the end of vertical climbs, another one comes our way!
At the distance
Finally, Pak Ukong points to the rock formations in the distance.  We are almost there!
More mud pools
And just when we thought we are really almost there… What? Some more mud pools?
Gotcha
Even at this altitude, the mud pools are still as deep!
Another forest
We never imagined that a distance that looked so short could be so long in reality.  By now the sun came out and we had another forested section to get through.  We could feel the intense heat that was glaring down on us.
Rock Garden
At 1100 hours, we finally arrived at the Rock Garden at 2,143 meters.  The weather was cruel and it was having fun with us; by now the clouds have started to engulf us.
Monkeys
The trail around the rocks were soft and muddy, so we found ourselves jumping from one rock to another instead.
Thumbs up
Pak Ukong climbs to the top of the highest rock in the area and gives us a thumbs up!
Dragon
It’s true that the rocks there resembles a lot of formation.  The rock in the center reminds me of a dragon head that is overlooking to the west, making attracted by pretty Gillian that is resting on its tail.
A frog?
This particular formation reminds me of a frog.  I know it doesn’t look like what, but somehow I feel that it is.
Rhinoceros
This reminds me of a rhinoceros head.  Can you see it?
More pitcher plants
More pitcher plants in this area.
Poison
In case you’re wondering, no, you shouldn’t the water that are inside the pitcher plants.  That’s because it is a solution that would consist of digestive enzymes which are highly acidic.

… AND THEN IT RAINED!

We have already started pushing of for the last leg of the journey to the summit, which was estimated to be around one more hour when it started to drizzle. Immediately, our guide called for us to turn back.  He explained that the section where the flat rocky surface began would turn into a waterfall and we will be in imminent danger.

Although our hearts were disappointed that we did not reach the peak, we are thankful that we made it this far.  Another 300 more meters and we would have been on the summit.  Nevertheless, our safety is all that matters.  We willingly turned back understanding full well that our lives meant so much more.

However, ironically, it never rained.  It was just the drizzle for the short few hours of coming down but it never rained.  Oh well.  Weather was cruel and was playing us from Day 1.  It has been raining for days and we have not gotten a full day of sun at all.

Apai
Going back down was definitely much faster and we managed to arrived back at the church camp at around 4 pm.  Upai was sitting at the veranda of his house welcoming us safely back ‘home’.  He was so kind that he boiled hot water for us for our bath.  Having the ice cold bath was an interesting experience but being able to get warm hot bath to bath after such a cold climb was definitely an even heavenly feeling!
Warming ourselves up
As night falls, we retreated into the house where a nice fire has already been started.  I went over to our guides house and they were also warming themselves next to the fire.
Rani and Jayren
Rani and Jayren was preparing their dinner and since it was still early in the night, we prepared our own dinner as well.
Kitchen Helper
Gillian helps to cut vegetables and garlic next to the only source of light in the house.
Masterchef Reked Meligan
Sing Yee volunteered to be our chef for the night.  Donning her headlight and spatula, she started cooking away while the rest of us reorganized our bags ready for our departure the next day.
Happy Birthday
Unknowing to Brian, we sprang into action and started singing Happy Birthday to Brian who was one of our guide and porter.  It was his birthday and prior to this, we have already collected whatever we could offer to him such as our most ‘prized’ biscuits, drinks, and junkfood!  He was indeed caught by surprise and was speechless for us!  The look on  his face was worth more than a thousand words.

DAY 3 – Church Camp to Long Repung

Today was the day we would say our goodbyes to holy mountain of Mount Murud, go back through the same route that we used  to get to the Church Camp passing Batu Linanit and the Joy Bridge and take the detour at the Ba’Kelalan-Bario junction and make our way south-west towards Pa Lungan, the nearest village of Bario.  As the trail from Mount Murud to Pa Lungan involves a trek of more than 12 hours which means there will be trekking through the night.  Our group decided that our priorities would be our safety, as well as getting enough rest so as not to over-do ourselves, therefore we will be setting up camp for a night before finishing our trail to Pa Lungan the next day.  Fortunately, our guides know of a old shelter used by hunters along the way so we would not need to bring any tents.

A word of caution: The trail that leads to Bario is not a common trek for beginners.  First of all, the trail is hardly used by anyone ever since the availability of logging roads for 4WD to travel from Ba’Kelalan to Bario and vice versa.  This trail is only used by the occasional hunters who still goes deep into the forest to hunt.  The possibility of losing your way is high as the trail is not marked, especially areas with river crossings the trails would not be visible at all.  Lastly, the leech infestation throughout the whole trail is not for the non-seasoned trekker.

Wash wash
Every house would have a metal barrel outside of the house that collects rainwater which is used as drinking water (boiled of course) and also to wash the essentials such dishes and cutleries.
Selfie
While waiting for the others who are finishing up their packing, some of us took the opportunity to snap our last few pictures at the Church Camp.
Say a prayer
A little prayer is a must before we depart for any destination.  We started on our day’s journey sharp at 7.00 am.
Batu Linanit revisited
By 7.40 am, we arrived back on the top of Batu Linanit.  Obviously, we took the chance some more photo opportunities there.
Stairway to ...
Then there’s long staircase back down.  The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is now the stairway to ….
Back at joy bridge
By 8.40 am we arrive back at the trail of the Joy Bridge.
Junction
By 9.00 am, we found ourselves back at the Ba’Kelalan-Bario junction where we had to take the trail towards Bario.  From here onwards, it was all downwards and where the horror awaited for us.
Innocent descent
At first, it seems fairly that it’s a fairly innocent descent.  Worn out old red-white stripped markers wrapped around trees can be spotted.
Fallen trunks
There are the occasional fallen tree trunks across the trail where we would have to climb over.
Going under
And also the occasional tree stumps where we would have to go under.
Slow progress
But most of the way it’s a steady descent down, come parts were quite steep so progress was slow.
The nightmare begins
It was here that our nightmare began.  Slowly we began to notice worms crawling on our shoes and pants only to realize that they were  actually blood suckers leeches.  Some of them were even waiting on leaves (see pic above)  so they could attach themselves to our upper body.
Infestation
The whole trail was literally INFESTED with leeches.  There is no escape from them, no matter how careful you are.  The moment you stop to remove them, more will ‘hop’ on to you while you are stationary.  There is no choice but to just keep moving, even if it means knowing the leech is already in our shoe, or in our pants.  We definitely feel it the moment these leeches bite into our skin, like the bite of an ant, constantly pinching and sensation of blood oozing out from our veins.
Peek-A-Boo
The whole trail is covered with a lot of fallen leaves and branches, it is near to impossible to spot any leeches that are hiding under all that rubble.
Loose soil
As we progressed down the mountain, the forest floor starts bear more soil; loose and wet soil in our case.
Rolling down the mountain
Some parts of the descent looks and feels like it is never ending.  Again, progress is slow as we don’t feel like we want to roll down the mountain!  Slowly but surely, that’s what I always tell myself.
Who wants to party?
But we can’t go too slow either, otherwise we’ll have a party of these ferocious leeches on us!
A Hiking Stick's Purpose
Hiking sticks would definitely be very useful in this terrain, especially useful for sections where there are nothing to grab hold of.
Abseil
We had to abseil without the assistant of ropes down some of the rock face that are too high for our foot to reach.
Grab whatever you can
The descent seems to go and on. Those of us who does not have any hiking sticks are reduced to grabbing hold of mossy tree roots by the side.  I checked my watch, it was already 12 noon.  We have been at this descent for 3 hours!
Music to our ears
Just below this slope, Pak Ukong said. Those few words were really music to our ears.
Express lunch
And true enough, at the end of the slope was a small are that was flat enough for us to stop to have our lunch.  Knowing that we still had a long way to go, we had an express lunch which was already packed in plastic bags so all we had to do was to eat out of it.  Saves us the trouble of using plates.
Smooth sailing ... not
From there onwards, it was smooth sailing; except for the ferocious leeches!
Uprooted
We passed by a tree that seems to have been recently uprooted, judging from the soil that was still hanging on to the roots.
Unusual looking tree
We also passed this unusual looking tree trunk.  There are no other tree in this area that has its roots above the group, so this particular tree was definitely out of place.  Upon further deliberation, I made a conclusion that it was the top of the tree turned upside down.
Waiting
Pak Ukong takes a rest below one of the tree while we were busy removing the leeches on us.
Firestarter
Pak Ukong pointed out this tree to us; it had white sap trickling out from its trunk which had already dried out.
Firestarter
He took some of the sap and explained to us that these sap are very good fire starters.
High above
By 3.00 pm, we were in the section of the  forest where the trees reaches so high above we could hardly see the canopy.  Trees of this sort can only mean that we have already cleared the mountain and are in the primary forest now.
Bears
Pak Ukong pointed this mess to us.  It’s an old tree trunk that has been forcefully uprooted to reveal the inside of its roots.  This was the work of a bear, probably searching for ants to eat.
A marker
We arrived at this tree which seems to be larger than all the other trees around.  It had around it the red-white tape written with a marker pen says Long Repung / Pa Lungan to the left and Camp 2 to the right.
River crossing
Shortly after that, we came to our first river crossing.  The cold water was refreshing and soothing to our tired feet.
Sun beam
The sun rays seems to be penetrating the forest by now and we could feel the humidity around us.
Enjoying the cold water
Another small river crossing, another chance to wash our shoes and enjoy the cold water!
Jungle Shelter
We arrived at the ‘shelter’ at around 7.00 pm when dusk was just about to give way to the night.  We hurriedly prepared our dinner and prepared our sleeping area.  The shelter was basically an area that had floors made out of bamboo that is attached to each other, and half walls only on two sides of the shelter.  By now, the cold has crept in and I had don my 3 layers of clothing, ready for the coming drop in temperature later in the wee hours of the morning.
Other critters
We were warned to be on the lookout for other dangers that usually hang around the shelter, such as the fleas (as shown in the picture) which usually feed on the wild boars and sure enough, I managed to catch two of them on my body.  Other than that, there’s the rats that tried to invade our area while we were sleeping, attracted by the smell of our food.
Preparation
Before we slept, we were briefed about the plan for the next day.  What time we leave the shelter would be largely depending on the weather.  The guides explained that in the trail ahead, there was one big river that would be impossible to cross if it was raining; the level of the river would be too high and the current too strong.  Therefore, the plan was to pack up and leave the shelter by 5 am so as we have enough time (and some allowance for anything to go wrong) to reach Pa Lungan before night the next day.

This was the most miserable night for us all.  By 2 am in the morning, it started to rain… heavily.  The wind was blowing from all sides and I was shivering from head to toe.  I wasn’t able to get any sleep at all and ended up sitting down, leaning against my own backpack through the night.

DAY 4 – Long Repung to Pa Lungan, Bario

We were woken up at 4 am, I must have dozed off for awhile.  The rain seemed to have stopped which was a indication that we should take this chance to pack up and go.  This was the last day of our trek which will lead us to our end destination; Pa Lungan, the closest village of Bario from where we were.  We quickly devoured some biscuits and chocolate bars so that we are not trekking with an empty stomach.  The heavier breakfast will come later.

First obstacle
The first obstacle of the day was a river which was wider and deeper than the ones we crossed the previous day.  It was knee deep; we thanked God that the river has swelled enough for us to cross.
Tree trunks
I have a feeling that hardly anyone uses this section of the trail.  There were many more fallen trees across our trails.  And these fallen trees are much longer than previous ones; so much so that we had to take a long detour around the tree trunk each time.
Walking in streams
There were also a lot of small little streams that we had to walk in.  Perhaps the heavy downpour last night had some contribution to this.
Left or right?
Same as yesterday, the foliage on this trail is very dense; it is easy to lose our way.  There were many sections on the trail where there were many forks (such as the one shown in the picture above).  If it wasn’t for our guides, I would have just walked straight on to the left.
Maze of trees
There were even more fallen trees here that we had to squeeze over and under many of the trunks.  I felt like we were in a maze of trees!
Lost count
Yet another stream to cross.  I have lost count of the numbers of streams and rivers that we had crossed by now.
Revelation
After 1.5 hours of trekking through the dense forest, at 6.30 am, we spotted a roof from the jungle opening in the distance; it was our pit stop for the morning.  It is another jungle shelter but this particular shelter seems to be newer than the one we slept in the night before.
Jungle Shelter 2.0
This shelter was made of solid wood and looks much tougher than the one we stayed in the previous night.  It was raised on stilts  with a considerable amount of height from the ground; its floor was our waist level.  All corners had thick wooden walls sheltering from any possible draft.
Peace
At one corner was a fireplace which we quickly put to good use.  Our guide started the fire and in no time at all, we were able to enjoy some hot coffee and shortly after, our breakfast!  On the wall, written with yellow paint are the words “Indonesia Malaysia Damai”, which means Indonesia and Malaysia at peace.
Sun beam
Sing Yee stands near the fireplace where the sun shines into the shelter, warming everything it touches.
Makeshift bridge
While we were busy enjoying our breakfast, unbeknown to us that our two other guides were already at the next river crossing to make a makeshift bridge.  The river looks very wide, widest river that we had to cross.  The water was brown so I wasn’t able to gauge the depth of the river, but I’m guessing the depth would be up till around our chest.  The bridge was finally ready at 8.30 am.
Stress-test
Our guide Brian walks across the bridge with his heavy backpack (he is also our porter) to give it one last stress-test to make sure it is safe for all of us to cross.
Bamboo Forest
Across the wide river was the giant bamboo tree forest.  This must have been how it felt like being in Kyoto’s infamous bamboo forest.
Swamp
From here onwards, it feels as if we are in a swamp.  Many sections of the trail are just flooded with ankle deep water.  We couldn’t see what was underneath all that water so we just followed on the same footsteps that Pak Ukong was leading us on.
Left, Right, Up, Down
Left, right, up, down, everything looks the same.  No markers, no obvious trails, it would take a person who was very familiar with this route to be able to know the direction to go.
Ankle Deep Water
More ankle deep water trail…
More rivers
More rivers …
Not long now...
It was already close to 12 noon by the time we cleared most of the area with streams and water-flooded trail.  We have been at this trail for 3 hours.  Not long now, says Pak Ukong.
Always in your heart
And of course, once we were out of the water, our antagonist is always there to torture us.
Lunch
We finally stopped for a very quick lunch on an small empty clearing.  Mind you, this clearing still had leeches around, so we were vigilant while having our lunch.
The colony
Besides us was this colony of ants working hard to bring food to their nest.  Hope they would help us carry away those leeches!
Last descent
Apparently we are still not on ground level yet.  Pak Ukong says that there’s just one more descent down and then it would be flat land, and then over one last hill and that is it.
Heavy casualties
Some of us were already heavy casualties of the leeches, which includes myself.  I have not taken off my shoe since we left the shelter this morning, but I could feel the blood suckers having the time of their lives in my shoes.  Some of us even had them in their trousers and in their shirts, even all the way up the neck.
Ant Hills
We passed a section of forest floor that was covered with mounts after mounts of these ant hills.  We had to watch our steps so that we do not step on these industrial wonder.
Tropical Rainforest
It was already mid afternoon, and as we proceeded further, we could feel the mountain air slowly giving way to the hot and humid tropical forest climate.  The occasional streams that we meet was a joy to walk in.
Banana?
Is it my imagination or are there more palm and banana trees in this area?  If the latter was true, then that would mean we are quickly approaching the village.
Almost
My suspicion was on the dot as not long after that, Pak Ukong told us that we will reach the end of this forest in few more minutes.
Marshlands
Sure enough, we reached the end of the forest and into the marshlands.  I borrowed someone’s hiking stick to test the depth of the swamp, it was really really deep, all the way up till my chest at least.  We had to be really careful here, we had to make sure we are always walking on the plank.  There were some sections where the plank was deeper in the water and wasn’t really visible.
Kiss the ground
I literally wanted to get down on my knees to kiss the ground.  Never ever in my life have I felt so overwhelmed knowing I have made it through 4 days of hard trekking.  On the left was obvious sign of civilization, the foliage being cleared for more padi fields.
Pa Lungan
And then we saw it … at 4.00 pm, beautiful Pa Lungan right in front of us.
Keeping out the buffaloes
This huge gate at the border of Pa Lungan serves as a barricade to keep the buffaloes (not the one in purple) in the village so that they do not escape into the wild.  Hi Jacq!
Long Boat
There was a abandoned long boat just outside of the village; evidence that there is a river near Pa Lungan that leads to the main village of Bario.
Store
This structure looks like a house but since it has no windows, it probably is just a store where the rice stock is kept.
David & Jenni Homestay
We stayed at David & Jenni’s Homestay for the night and will only proceed by 4WD to Bario Asal (main Bario) the next day.
Welcoming committee
David & Jenni had a very warm welcoming committee.  It was such a lovely sight seeing these four-legged friends so happy to see us.
New found friends
We rested on the bench outside of the house to allow our body to cool down, just playing with our newly found friends.
Group picture!
And lastly a group picture with us still in our dirtiest condition before everyone went in to bath!
Our guides and porters
While waiting for my turn to bath, I took the opportunity to have a picture taken with our guides and porters.  From left to right: Upai, Jayren, Brian, Me, Pak Ukong (front).
Oozing
I only began to realize how severe the wounds on my leech bites were when I tried to take off my socks.  I had so many spots on both my ankles that were bleeding like they were puncture wounds.  I counted at least ten bleeders all around my ankles.  Some of the blood must have been there for quite awhile as it had already glued to the stocking.  The blood was oozing continuously and I had to cover the wounds with layers of tissue while applying pressure to stop the bleeding.

Dinner was ready by the time we had all showered.  It was the best bath we have had for days!  Although we did not have hot water, it was not as cold as the icy cold waters of Mount Murud and we finally had a proper bath.  Even as I was bathing, there was a leech that fell of my body from somewhere, I’m not even sure where it was hiding.

Dinner at Pa LunganDinner at Pa Lungan
Dinner at Pa LunganDinner at Pa Lungan

We were prepared the most appetizing dinner which we have not had for days which we chewed on really leisurely, savouring every taste of every bite, at the same time enjoying each other’s companionship sharing about our experiences throughout the journey.  Clockwise: Roasted Wild Boar, Stir-fried Bunga Kantan with Local Fern, Pork Soup, Durian Flower.

Light moment
After dinner, the ‘party’ continued as they sang the night away.  Susan took the chance to have a talk with Pak Ukong who had so many stories to share.  This was the first time we’ve seen him so happy smiling so widely since the day we knew him from Rani’s house in Ba’Kelalan.
Sing the night away
Pa Lungan is a very small and peaceful village.  We were the noisiest house in the whole village that night.  Normally, I would be worried of the noise that we were making, but I have a feeling that for village life, the singing and celebration are part of their way of life.

Tomorrow is another new day that I look forward to.  We will be departing to Arur Dalan, one of the village within the main Bario village and will stay for one night there before we all head back to our routine city life.

I would like to take this chance to thank Jacquelyn, the organizer of this trek.  Thank you so much for allowing me into your group.  Thank you also to Rani and her family, Pak Ukong, Upai, Jayren, Brian, and all the cousins-mousins who has contributed one way or another and for keeping us safe throughout this whole journey.  Thank you also to the folks up on the Church Camp which we did not get your names.  Thank you for your hospitality throughout our stay there!  Thank you to David, Jenni and family for showing us a good time at your homestay, it was a heaven of a place!  Last but not least, thank you to (in no particular order) Jacquelyn, Susan, Sing Yee, Sue Lyn, Erwinia, Kim, Gillian John, Kien Kuok, Nai Siang; thank you for accepting me into the group and making me feel so belong!  Missing everyone badly.  I hope we get to have another adventure together!

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

Just like in the end of a Disney story, this was our happy ending.  This was one of the most memorable hikes I have ever been on; both with its share of beautiful and painful experiences.  Our 4 days trek from Ba’Kelalan, up Mount Murud, down Mount Murud, and lastly to Bario was not only a trial but it was also a spiritual journey for me.  From the beautiful picturesque settings of lush green padi fields against gentle hills hiding amongst cottony clouds, to the  glistening foliage of shadow and murk and the wet air of the lush tropical rainforest filled with rivers of soul purifying water, to the great Mount Murud which looms over the land with its fresh alpine air and its bare top which hides the garden of mysterious rock creation, to the torture of the relentless bloodsuckers, and the days of mud covered clothing and wet shoes … I find myself wandering but not necessarily lost.  I have found peace and serenity by accepting the things that I cannot control.  Every drizzle of rain becomes showers of blessings, every hardship and hurdle we encounter together becomes another story of our life and laughter as we live … happily ever after.

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