- Elevation: 2,423 m (7,949 ft)
- Prominence: 1,967 m
- Ribu category: Tinggi Sedang
- Province: Sarawak (Malaysia)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
Mount Murud is the highest peak in the Kelabit Highlands and, indeed, the highest peak in Sarawak. It is part of the recently-created Pulong Tau National Park although at present there are no significant Park facilities or anywhere near as many travellers as you would encounter in Mulu National Park. However, with incredible flora and fauna, stunning rock formations, unbelievable panoramic views, and ample shelters to make carrying a tent with you quite unnecessary if you hike from Ba’kelalan, this is one of the finest hikes in Borneo, if not the entire Malay archipelago.
The first known successful ascent was in 1922 by Dr. Eric Mjoberg, a Swedish naturalist and then curator of the Sarawak Museum. Another curator, J. C. Moulton, had tried and failed twice previously to reach the summit in 1914 and 1920. Since 1985, Murud has been the ‘venue’ of an annual Christian prayer pilgrimage organised by the International Revival Meeting, and it is this large collection of simple wooden houses high up the mountainside known as ‘Church Camp’ that makes finding shelter very straightforward indeed.
There are two main routes up the mountain, and although getting to either trailhead is quite difficult, there are regular flights from Miri to the highland towns of Bario (sometimes mis-spelt Bareo) and via Lawas to Ba’kelalan (sometimes mis-spelt Bakalalan). Despite its considerable height, the mountain is not climbed regularly and, without local contacts, arranging guides can be difficult and time-consuming (especially for solo travellers) unless you want to pay a premium by booking an expensive tour online in advance.
Both Bario and Ba’kelalan are very close to the Indonesian border and there are actually permitted trekking routes which cross over the border (but you are not able to get an official Indonesian visa here and must return to Malaysia afterwards). The eastern slopes of Murud itself are technically in Indonesian territory although the regular trekking routes do not pass by here. In 2018 it appears that the authorities are not allowing foreign nationals to cross over the border for tourism purposes.
Anyone interested in pitcher plants will adore Gunung Murud as there are a large number of species alongside much of the trail. These include Nepenthes murudensis, muluensis, lowii and hurrelliana. Apparently September is a particularly good time to see rare orchids in bloom on the mountain.
Looking at the map and the basic facts, Bario (1,085m) really ought to be a better starting point as it is the largest town in the Kelabit Highlands (and even then more like a village) so you would expect there to be more potential guides available. However, guides are very few and far between, and you may need several spare days to find reliable and knowledgeable local guides who are actually available for what is a multi-day expedition.
The much better starting point is actually Ba’kelalan (885m), a smaller town than Bario but actually much better for getting to the top of Gunung Murud. Gukang is a recommended local guide who is very experienced, speaks good English and in 2018 charges RM150 per day for his services (not including food and transport).
If you a considering a traverse do bear in mind that whether you start in Bario or Bakelalan, if you are not returning to the same starting point, you will have to pay any guides and porters an extra two days of wages for the time it will take them to walk back from Bakelalan to Bario (or vice versa). For most single hikers – or even many small groups – this can put considerable strain on one’s budget. Groups of 4 or more are likely to find a traverse of Gunung Murud more affordable and within one’s means.
Bario-Murud summit-Bakelalan (or vice versa) can be done in 4 full days but you will need a minimum of six free days to allow for flying in at one end and flying out at the other and 4WD will be needed at at least one side.
The following is an account of the simplest, quickest and cheapest way to get to the summit and back which is from/to Ba’kelalan. Apparently, the population of the Ba’kelalan area is 1200 across 13 villages, the largest of which is Buduk Mur next to the airstrip with 300 people. Day Zero is reaching Ba’kelalan (via plane from Miri via Lawas (three times a week) or Bario (once a week) or else via 4WD from Lawas) and Day 4 is back out to Miri and onwards home. Therefore you need 5 days from/to Miri or possibly KL depending on flight connections, 3 of which are hiking days.
Day 1 – Ba’kelalan to Church Camp via Lepo Bunga (4-6 hours or 8-12 hours if not using 4WD)
If not using 4WD (which in 2018 costs a hefty RM350 for the one-hour journey to Lepo Bunga but will fit in a large group if some are willing to sit in the back of the truck) then you have a long day ahead of you with several hours of trekking along wide tracks in potentially direct sunlight. From the Ba’kelalan airstrip you need to take a left (not right to the sign for Lawas) and then pretty much all the next turnings you need to stay right. Eventually you will reach the dead end at Lepo Bunga (1,715m) where there are three wooden houses.
These wooden houses were constructed by the National Park authorities just a few years ago, yet have by 2018 already turned into accommodation for hundreds of swallows who have built nests everywhere inside, even in rooms with framed photographs in them! Nevertheless, should you have a problem with transport then these shelters will be acceptable for a night. The views here are quite nice as you are already quite high up.
From Lepo Bunga, a trail leads into the forest and is at first quite wide. However it soon narrows and gets progressively steeper, with some tricky narrow logs that are used as simple notch-cut ladders. In 90 minutes of less you should have reached a ridge known as Joy Bridge or Jambatan Sukacita (2,075m). This is a great spot for a short break and there are lots of beautiful pitcher plants from this point on. It is also where the old wooden walkway to Church Camp began. This has rotten over the years and is slowly being replaced with more durable metal sections of trail. The old wooden sections that remains are in various states of disrepair so take extra care and stay near the centre of the wooden walkway sections.
The easy-to-miss junction with the Bario trail (2,110m, on the left) is less than 30 minutes after the start of Joy Bridge. Another 30 minutes and you will be at the foot of a steep wooden stairway (2,175m) with a sign for Reked Meligan (Church Camp) at the bottom of it. From this point, the views open out and after just 15 minutes you will reach an airy top known as Batu Linanit (2,240m), which means ‘uncovered’ or ‘peeled’ rock, as this stone was cleaned of mosses by local people.
The panorama from atop the rock is superb. A few kilometres away is Gunung Murud, down to the right of which is Batu Lawi, and further right it is possible in clear conditions to see Gunung Mulu, the second highest peak in Sarawak. Looking back down from the way that you have ascended you may be able to make out a peak with some bare rock showing in between the trees. This is the highest point of the new road connecting Ba’kelalan with Bario which is still under construction.
From Batu Linanit, the trail leads down to Church Camp (2,090m), the usual place to stay before making an attempt on the summit the following morning. It takes less than an hour to descend to Church Camp which is ‘holy ground’ or ‘Reked Meligan’ to local people. There are about 50 simple wooden houses and two churches – the old one ‘gereja lama’ and the new one with ‘haleluyah’ written on the side of it. There are also two separate toilet blocks those these are still simple and you normally need to collect water for flushing from the streams. From near the new church there is an excellent view of the highest slopes of Gunung Murud which are still around 3.5km away (in a straight line). You are not supposed to drink alcohol or smoke here. The pilgrimage happens every other July (i.e. once every two years) so you might want to check online so you can avoid the dates otherwise it will be very busy indeed with potentially over 1,200 pilgrims.
Day 2 – Church Camp to summit and back to Church Camp (7-9 hours)
If there was somewhere decent to camp near the summit, then it might be possible for really strong hikers to set out early and hike Murud from Ba’kelalan in two very long days (Day 1: Ba’kelalan to summit and Day 2: summit to Ba’kelalan). As there isn’t, the common sense approach is to spend a second night a Church Camp rather than finishing in the dark after a gruelling second day.
From Church Camp, the trail leads down (easy to miss the junction – it’s a right turn off the wooden walkway next to the sign and before the new church) in boggy, narrow terrain. There are lots of logs and rocks that need clambering over. After around 2 hours from Church Camp you will have reached a pleasant spot known as ‘waterfall’ (2,150m). In dry conditions this is a nice stream but during the rainy season this really can turn into a waterfall, despite it not being particularly steep. The trail then leads up the stone bed of the stream and follows a water pipe gently rising up towards the Rock Garden (‘kebun batu’).
The Rock Garden (2,340m) takes about one hour to reach from the waterfall and is an incredible spot of rocks and bonsai-like trees. Numerous, large, weathered stones are spread out over a large area, and many of these large rocks are so peculiar in shape that it is incredible to think that they have not been sculpted by somebody. One looks like an animal about to leap forward; another resembles a cartoon cartoon with a cheeky expression, others are simply weirdly abstract. All around are pitcher plants – Murud is apparently home to 7 different species in total. If you look back down the trail you should be able to see some of the more prominent roofs of the buildings at Church Camp, and Batu Linanit peak to the left of that. It is a great place to take photographs but if possible get to the summit first and take you photos on your way back down.
The summit is just 30 minutes beyond the Rock Garden. Just before the summit, the trail re-enters boggy forest briefly before re-emerging in an opening just below the little top with three large boulders and the obligatory summit signs. There is a very deep crevice between two of the summit boulders so do take care. If the sky is cloud-free then you should have a wonderful view towards Batu Lawi and also to the Bario valley in the distance. In exceptionally clear weather Kinabalu can be seen but it is unlikely at lunchtime (you need an extra day to allow a night camping here for early morning views but as previously mentioned there are very few suitable camping spots). At night the lights of the Brunei coastline can apparently be seen.
There’s a blue sign ‘Buduk Murud’ at the very top, several rusting fuel drums and an ammunition box left by the British Army near the summit. There is also a metal memorial plaque to Dr Judson Sakai Tagal, a greatly respected local doctor and politician who died in a helicopter crash in the Murud area in 2004.
A lesser peak just a couple of hundred metres away is just 15 metres or so lower ( approximately 2,408m).
From the summit it’s approximately 3-4 hours back down to Church Camp the same way you came up.
Day 3 – Church Camp to Ba’kelalan (4-5 hours or 8-10 if not using 4WD)
Although most hikers reach the summit of Murud during the often hazy late morning or early afternoon and therefore miss the finest views from the top, Day 3 offers the perfect chance to get some great photos just after sunrise from Batu Linanit. Back to Batu Linanit from Church Camp is only around 40-50 minutes, so if you set out shortly after 6am you should be back up there to enjoy the views over distant valleys as the early morning mists swirl over the distant ridges of both Sarawak and Kalimantan.
And then back along to Joy Bridge and back down to Lepo Bunga should take most hikers 2.5 to 3.5 hours. If you have your driver waiting there you should be back in Ba’kelalan by lunchtime for a well-earned meal and rest.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (June 2018)
Starting from Bario (4 days and a tent usually required):
Day 1 – Bario (or Pa Lungan) to Long Rapbun.
This is a long day that some guides will try to make you split into two by way of an overnight stay at a longhouse in Pa Lungan. Assuming you fly in to Bario on a morning flight, I would recommend either ensuring with your guide that you can cover the distance from Bario to Long Rapbun the following day or else make your way to Pa Lungan the day that you arrive from Miri. Pa Lungan is apparently the best place for guides on the Bario side of the mountain but they may be busy when you arrive if you have not made arrangements in advance. Pa Lungan is also home to a megalithic site called Batu Ritung which is worth visiting if possible.
Allow 5-6 hours from Bario to Pa Lungan. This trek goes via Pa Ukat. 30 minutes beyond Pa Ukat take a right at the fork in the trail. It makes sense to aim for a lunch stop in Pa Lungan. 30 minutes beyond Pa Lungan you will reach an abandoned airstrip. The trail follows to the left of it. From this point watch out for leeches on your footwear and legs. The pitcher plant Nepenthes Stenophylla and rhododendrons grow in this area. The trail leads steeply up to a ridge and then down the other side to Long Rabpun. Rafflesia have been reported on this section of trail. In total it should take 5-6 hours from Pa Lungan to Long Rapbun, therefore 10-12 hours in total for Day 1 (unless you can arrange transport to Pa Lungan from Bario, or else stay in Pa Lungan the previous night). Long Rapbun is the site of a former longhouse attacked and used as an Indonesian army shelter. This shelter is often used by local hunters and lies on the banks of Pa’ Dabpur river. It has a bamboo roof so you should be able to manage without a tent however the roof may be in bad condition so best bring at least a tent sheet.
Day 2 – Long Rapbun to Camp Halfway Up.
There are no less than 6 river crossings after Long Rapbun (2 of which can be hazardous) so after heavy rainfall an extra day waiting for the level to lower may be required. Rapung river is first to be crossed – not too tough. Further on is another hunting shelter at Pat Liuk. The main river in this area is the Ulu Dapur which the trail crosses 3 times.
The ‘Halfway Up’ camp is at around 1,750m above sea level and you’ll need a tent here. There is a small stream available 10 minutes from camp but in general the site is regarded as less pleasant than Long Rabpun. Day 2 is likely to entail 8 hours total hiking and please note that there are no reliable water sources beyond this point on this side of the mountain range.
Day 3 – Halfway to Church Camp to Summit and back to Church Camp (AKA Reked Meligan).
It takes 3-4 hours to reach Church Camp from Halfway Camp, from which point you can follow the description above.
- Getting there: The best method is to fly from Miri into either Bario (direct) or Bakelalan (via Lawas but preferable) in one of the tiny 18-seater turbo prop planes on the ‘Rural Air Service’. It takes about 50 minutes to Bario and the view of the huge, vertical rock fingers of Batu Lawi seen from the left side of the plane is fabulous. Have your camera ready. There are 3 flights a day to/from Bario and 3 flights a week to/from Bakelalan. There is at least one flight per week from Bario to Bakelalan. Because of strict weight limits on these small aircraft you are only allowed 10kg checked luggage and 5kg hand luggage. You will also be asked to stand on a set of scaled in order to weigh yourself. If your luggage is just a kilogram or two over you may be asked to pay an extra ringgit per kilogram (although this does depend on how full the plane already is and you could technically be refused). The alternative to flying in is a slightly more expensive and much more time-consuming 4WD trip from Miri to Bario (or Lawas to Ba’kelalan) and vice versa which takes the best part of a day (approximately 150 rinngit per person for the 6-10 hour journey along logging roads). It takes roughly 30 minutes to walk from Bario airport to the centre of the village/town. For getting to the trailheads you either need a lot more spare time (at least a half-day on either side) or else enough money to hire a 4WD at either side. Unfortunately ojeks (motorbike taxis) are not common here (unlike in nearby Indonesia).
- Accommodation: Normally, you shouldn’t have any problems finding accommodation in Bario or Ba’kelalan (though it is best to avoid or simply book ahead for special holiday dates). The closest accommodation to Ba’kelalan airstrip is Apple Lodge which sometimes has wifi available. The Owl House Homestay in Ba’kelalan has very knowledgeable hosts.
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Join Gunung Bagging Premium here.
- Permits: You may be asked to sign a foreign visitors book at Ba’kelalan or Bario airports. At present, you do not need an official hiking permit to climb Murud but your local guide will register your plans with local village representatives so that they know where you are going and when to expect you back.
- Water sources: Available at Church Camp and Waterfall. Ask your guide for further details.
- Travel insurance: We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
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