// Murud

Facts

Elevation: 2,423 m (7,949 ft) Prominence: 1,967 m
Ribu category: Google MarkerSpesial Province: Sarawak (Malaysia)
Google Earth: kml Other names:
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Photos

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Gunung Murud (far distance) and Batu Lawi (middle distance) (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)Gunung Murud (far distance) and Batu Lawi (middle distance) (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Gunung Murud (far distance) and Batu Lawi (middle distance) (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Gunung Murud (far distance) and Batu Lawi (middle distance) (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)Gunung Murud (far distance) and Batu Lawi (middle distance) (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Gunung Murud (far distance) and Batu Lawi (middle distance) (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Batu Lawi from the air (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)Batu Lawi from the air (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Batu Lawi from the air (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Batu Lawi from the air (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)Batu Lawi from the air (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)
Batu Lawi from the air (copyright Dan Quinn / Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) September 2014)

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Bagging It!

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 Park facilities or anywhere near as many travellers as you would encounter in Mulu National Park. 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 prayer pilgrimage organised by the International Revival Meeting.

There are two 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 (also spelt Bareo) and Bakelalan (also spelt Bakalalan or Ba’ Kelalan) . Despite its considerable height, the mountain is not climbed regularly and 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.

Both Bario and Bakelalan 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.

Apparently September is a good time to see rare orchids in bloom on the mountain.

Based on the available information, Bario (1,085m) 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. During my visit, guides were very few and far between, and despite a couple of very encouraging maps of the area (at Bario airport and at Nancy Harriss homestay) I would recommend several spare days to find reliable and knowledgeable local guides who are actually available for what is a multi-day expedition.

The alternative starting point is Bakelalan, a smaller town than Bario and, from what I could gather, more expensive guides (200 Ringgit per day in 2014 according to a contact). All guides are supposed to have an official ID card proving that they are reliable and know the area. During my stay in Bario, I met only one potential guide and he had neither an ID card nor was he able to answer adequately my queries about how long certain sections of the trail would take.

Whether you start in Bario or Bakelalan, unless you are returning to the same starting point, you will have to pay any guides and porters and 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 an ascent of Gunung Murud more affordable and within one’s means.

According to one internet source, 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. This account will describe starting in Bario and finishing in Bakelalan, and given my comments regarding difficulty finding a guide, please note that it is based on local and online research rather than personal experience on the actual mountaintop. Please also bear in mind that a 4-day traverse is likely to entail 4WD at either end – preferably booked well in advance.

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.

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 pitcehr 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 Summit to Church Camp (AKA Reked Meligan).

The steep trail offers good views but the dense, mossy vegetation requires scrambling and crawling occasionally. Apparently 7 species of pitcher plants grow on these higher slopes of the mountain, as do several orchids. There are lots of steep drops and holes so take extra care. It takes around 5-6 hrs to reach the summit.
In very clear weather Kinabalu can be seen but unlikely at lunchtime (you need an extra day to allow a night camping here for early morning views). At night the lights of the Brunei coastline can 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.
From the summit it’s approximately 3 hours down to Church camp (roughly 2,000m above sea level) via the Rock Garden (‘Kebun Batu’) – a beautiful area of boulders and small, bonsai-like trees. Church camp is considered ‘holy ground’ so you are not supposed to drink alcohol or smoke here. There are 80 huts, a toilet and a church for pilgrims (1000 capacity). The pilgrimage happens in July so you might want to check online so you can avoid the dates otherwise it will be very busy indeed.

Day 4 – Church Camp to Bakelalan.

The first hour of the day is a hike up to a ridge. Then it’s an hour and a half along the ridge before descending to a timber track and Pa’ Rabata stream. Another hour of ascent follows before meeting another logging road where a right turn leads you into the forest. From here it’s 2 and a half hours down to the Kelalan valley. It’s preferable to arrange transport to collect you on the logging road so you get to Bakelalan before dark. The trailhead on this side of the mountain is Lepo Bunga (roughly 1,000m). This section of trail is a plank walkway in disrepair, but apparently being replaced with metal to allow for easier access to Church Camp each July.

The population of the Bakelalan area is 1200 across 13 villages, the largest of which is Buduk Mur with 300 people.

Practicalities

Getting there The best method is to fly from Miri into either Bario or Bakelalan in one of the tiny 18-seater turbo prop planes on the ‘Rural Air Service’. It takes about 50 minutes 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 and vice versa which takes the best part of a day (approximately 150 rinngit per person for the 12 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 Bakelalan (though it is best to avoid or simply book ahead for special holiday dates). Given my problems in finding a guide in Bario, I would recommend NOT staying at the Nancy Harriss guesthouse simply because I didn’t get very far Murud-wise when I stayed there so best try somewhere else for the time being unless you have booked a guide in advance. Some of the better places may well be further out of town. Bear in mind that electricity only come on at around 6pm (until 6am).
Permits You may be asked to sign a foreign visitors book at Bario airport. At present it appears you do not need an official hiking permit to climb Murud. However, you are supposed to take an official local guide with you (he should have ID for this) who will register your plans with local village representatives so that they know where you are going and when to expect you back.
Water sources Ask your guide for further details.
Local Average Monthly Rainfall (mm): miri

Location

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Trip Reports and Comments

2 entries for “Murud”

  1. avatar

    Unfortunately my planned hike of Murud fell apart before it began. Hopefully my trip report will point others trying to do similar how they might increase their chances of success.

    The previous night I stayed at a guesthouse opposite Miri airport so I would have a short walk over to board the plane the following morning. I was a little worried about the weight of my luggage and had been doing what I could to dry it out as much of my clothes as possible to reduce the weight. After standing on the scales at Miri airport I was told the weight was fine.

    Having previously researched Murud and found a fiar bit of information online I was confident I could complete the trek in 4 days, with one day either side to fly in and out of the Kelabit Highlands. The only treks that it seemed possible to book in advance were immensely expensive and for large groups. The Lonely Planet mentions one which is 1500 Ringgit per person with a minimum group of 4. So that’s 6000 Ringgit, about 1140 Pounds Sterling, just to get started. Naturally I expected to be able to arrange a far more reasonable price in the local area after talking with local guides and explaining that I was not with a large group but on my own. Over the border in Indonesia (just a few kilometres from the Kelabit Highlands) you can almost always arrange a fairly priced hiking trip there and then, last minute, instead of paying over the odds in advance. My mistake was thinking it would be as easy to arrange such a trip in Malaysia.

    The flight itself makes a trip to the Kelabit Highlands worthwhile. On a lovely 18-seater twin otter ‘Pratt and Whitney Dependable Engines’ written on the side you will get some amazing views over some of the most remote areas of Sarawak. You need to be sitting on the left side for the best views but, given that lots of goods are transported this way and their weight is in lieu of some passengers, you may well find that there are a few spare seats on either side of the little plane.

    The first thing to look out for is the Mulu range – seen from a very different angle and of great interest, especially to those who have perhaps just been trekking in Mulu Park. It is an immense area, and the summit peak looks even more remote from above, surrounded by endless forest, than it feels standing on top of it.

    After you have passed Mulu, next up is Batu Lawi (2,040m) – sometimes spelt Batu Lawih locally – a fantastic twin rock pinnacle on top of a mountain. The lower ‘female’ peak can be climbed as part of a 4 or 5-day trek from Bario but the taller ‘male’ peak requires expert rock climbing skills and ropes. Just to the rear of Batu Lawi is Gunung Murud itself.

    There is no door between the passengers and the pilot so you will see the whole approach and landing. Bario airport is a nice, peaceful little spot, feeling very much in the middle of nowhere. The temperature up here at over 1000 metres is very pleasant. The local Bario rice and pineapples are much sought after.

    There were a couple of other tourists leaving as I was arriving but other than them I didn’t meet any others. There are several places to stay in and around Bario so I decided to walk into town and have a chat with whoever was around and find a place to stay based on what I could find out from local guides.

    The town itself – village really – was exceedingly quiet – all the shops were shuttered and there were very few people around. Later I found out that they were all working in the fields at this important time of year, but it was quite a surprise as I have read reports of guides actively approaching tourists to propose treks in the area.

    The first sign I saw for a homestay was the Nancy Harriss, so I strolled to the house and had a chat with the friendly Irene, a former Mulu guide. I told her my intention to climb Murud and she said she knew just the chap to be my guide, an experience local guy. Things were looking up so I checked in for the night and waited for this guide to appear. The cost was 70 Ringgit for the room including all meals. Nobody else was staying there.

    The homestay is owned by one of Tom Harrisson’s local relatives. Tom is famous in the local area – he and his men parachuted into theis area during March 1945 as part of a military exercise by British and Merican troops to encourage locals to stand up and fight against the Japanese. There is a monument to Tom on the outskirts of Bario and he went on to become one of the best sources of knowledge of wild areas of Sarawak during the 20th century.

    At the homestay itself was a very encouraging map of the local area, with trekking routes between villages and up Murud clearly marked. The guide didn’t appear during the first couple of hours so I took a walk back into the village to see if I could buy supplies ready for the hike and have a chat with locals so I had a plan B guide ready. Unfortunately, the only shop I could buy anything from (I.e the only shop that appeared open) had little except bottled water and very basic snacks and it was being looked after by young children! I would have to wait until later.

    I continued along the road to eBario where I hoped to check my email. This, too, was closed. As luck would have it, the guide Irene had mentioned actually found me in the street. Unfortunately he didn’t seem confident about getting to the summit, especially not in four days, couldn’t tell me how many times or if he had climbed it before, and couldn’t propose a price for himself and a porter to form a team. Neither could he arrange transport to Pa Lungan the following morning, something which would be more or less essential to completing the traverse to Bakelalan in four days. His own price would be 120 Ringgit per day. Not cheap, but certainly cheaper than the 200 Ringgit per day that guides allegedly charge over in Bakalalan.

    Unconvinced, I asked him to come to the homestay after he had found a porter and got a full price for the trek and found out about the possibility of transport to the trailhead. Back at the homestay we would be able to finalise our plans with the additional use of the map on the wall.

    He never returned and Irene was also out all day, so I basically stood around or paced about waiting for news, unable to find anyone else in town with any information, and keen not to upset anyone by simply heading off for Pa Lungan myself the same day. In hindsight, I should have tried to get to Pa Lungan the same day I arrived instead of staying in Bario.

    In the meantime I read about Bruno Manser, Swiss rainforest and human rights activist who lived with the indigenous Penan tribe for several years. He went missing in May 2000 on his way to climb Batu Lawi near Bario. Many people assume that he was abducted and murdered as ‘revenge’ for his encouragement of blockades to prevent further logging in the area and his publicisation of the environmental devastation that the Sarawak state government’s support of widespread logging and palm oil plantations was having.

    The Penan tribe were particularly badly affected, being evicted from their traditional areas with little or no compensation. The problems continue to this day as the logging areas grow and grow throughout Sarawak. Anyone flying over Sarawak need only look out of the window on a clear day to see the devastation, with logging roads criss-crossing huge areas of land and immense grid-like formations of palm oil plantation. Reading about Bruno Manser probably didn’t help my feelings about where I was staying.

    By nightfall, the electricity finally came on and Irene returned. I asked about the guide and said we had not fixed a plan or been able to buy any supplies for an early start in the morning. Things just weren’t panning out and, having been standing around alone waiting for news or trying to get some information and getting nowhere, the day had been a very frustrating one. Even if the guide had returned I felt unconfident about him leading a multi-day trek from a safety point of view as much as anything.

    Additionally, I was due to fly out from Bakelalan 5 days later but given the lack of information and the cost of just one guide, let alone a guide and a porter, and the unlikelihood that it would be possible now that our preparation time was almost over, I decided to, instead of pay 480 Ringgit for the guide to just take me to Bakelalan forgetting Murud summit (and then for him to return to Bario) it would be better to simply return to Miri by plane the following morning for the standard 117 ringgit. My feelings had changed considerably and I wanted to get out of there.

    The following morning I gulped down my coffee and walked back to the airport just after first light, keen to see if there was a seat on the first plane back to Miri. I was in luck, disappointed to have failed on the mission but quite honestly pleased I was leaving Bario. It’s interesting how seemingly small decisions can alter the course of your project in significant ways. I daresay if I had found myself at a different homestay on the other side of Bario things may well have turned out very differently and the trek would have gone ahead. Who can tell?

    To conclude, if you want to hike Murud, allow a week if you fancy trying to arrange things yourself in the local area. Even if you can find a decent guide, he might not be available until the following day, or even the day after that. If you are part of a large group and have plenty of money to spend then you might aswell book a tour in advance with an online agent.

    Posted by Dan | January 11, 2015, 22:59
  2. Posted by Dan | March 31, 2011, 07:10

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