Our ambassador William leads his own mini expedition in Borneo. Can he reach the top of Kaliman's highest mountain?
Bukit Raya is the highest mountain in Indonesian Borneo, and part of Indonesian 7 summits. With a modest 2278 m. Then one might think that the mountain is easy to climb, but then one must think again! The very hilly terrain means that there are about 3000 effective altitude meters to the top, and this in muddy, overgrown jungle that gives a lot of resistance. Not to mention temperature and humidity.
Do you see where the path goes? Without a local guide from the Dayak tribe, it would have been hopeless to find out - even with GPS.
The mini expedition to the relatively unknown mountain starts already in the regional capital Pontianak in West Kalimantan. Normally, it takes 9-10 days to climb the mountain when you include the transport stages from the coast. Before I even landed in Indonesia, I spent well over 100 hours on specific planning. It should be said that there are two main ways to climb the mountain: You can engage an English-speaking guide via a regional travel operator. The guide will follow you all the way from Pontianak, and of course take on the role of expedition leader. Then you release the language challenges, as well as the administration of the extremely cumbersome transport and food logistics. Alternatively, one can do it in the difficult way, as I did, by taking on the role of expedition leader himself, but only renting a local guide on arrival in the last Dayak village. Then you have to have steel control on all the details, and it involves, among other things, requesting special river boats with crew, finding accommodation in the villages, purchasing supplies for the guide and the carrier (the guide requires at least one carrier), arranging paperwork and necessary permits from the national park, and not least continuously negotiating all prices - in Indonesian. Traveling there alone, without being able to speak the language, is almost hopeless, but for a budget adventurer most of the time is possible, as long as one is willing to put up with a good dose of frustration and adversity along the way.
The start of the boat trip from Serawai to Rantau Malam. The boat used is called a "kelotok", which is a long and narrow wooden boat with a special propeller that just goes below the water surface. This is the only possible means of transport when the water level is low, but then it is possible to arrive even when the water depth is only 30 cm. Several times along the way we had to get out of the boat to push, after we got stuck on the rock bottom.
It is difficult to describe everything without it being a whole book of it, but the following scenario describes some of the things you have to go through:
"I have already been traveling for three days since I left the regional capital on the west coast. 12 hours in the night bus to Nanga Pinoh, and two long day trips counter-current in river boats in the jungle. Now I am sitting on the floor in a simple tree house in the small village of Rantau Malam. Around me there are at least ten local villagers from the Dayak tribe, who are the indigenous people of Borneo. They are spectators of the sacrificial ritual held every time someone tries to climb Bukit Raya. No one can speak English, and I feel terribly far from home.
The chief and the shaman come into the room, and the shaman keeps the chicken to be sacrificed soon. He spins it around my head several times. The chicken feels frantically with the wings, and the others humble in the shaman's ritual song. The chicken is put on the canvas in front of me, and a large, rustic ritual sword is brought forth. The chief cuts the throat of the chicken, the blood falls out of the neck and into a bowl in front of me. The atmosphere is extra characterized by the tropical rainstorm on the outside, with thunder, lightning and raining rain that leaks through the roof.
The chief and the shaman wearing the special ceremonial dress. The sword and the bowl of blood lie in front of me. To the left of me (outside the picture) are two ladies and partake of the chicken, as an hour and a half later became a great feast jointly with the villagers. The two pillows in the left corner were my bed for two nights, where I lay on the floor without mosquito nets.
The chief starts smearing the chicken blood on my face, on the clothes, feet and hands. My comfort zone is pushed a long way, but I haven't traveled completely here to throw in the towel now. As I think he is finished, he dips the sword into the bowl of blood, brings it up to my face, and indicates that it is going into my mouth. I stare at the rusty sword, dripping with blood, closing my eyes, and yawning. I bite my teeth together over the sword and open my eyes again. The taste of rusty metal and warm blood hits my tongue immediately. The chief stares intensely at me, the shaman is still singing, and he has also started throwing rice grains in my hair."
When I finally woke up on day 4, ready to start the actual hike into the uncrowded jungle, I had slept pretty badly. It may be that I did not tolerate the chicken blood particularly well - at least I had strong diarrhea all night. I felt quite marked by the last few days. Long transport stages, unhygienic food, little sleep, dehydration and very large language problems. How much worse can it be?
Here is my little expedition team. The boat driver, the guide and his carrier. All from the Dayak tribe.
William continues his mini expedition in southern regions.
When we started walking in the morning the sun was already high in the sky, the temperature well above 30 degrees, and the humidity was sky high. It took me no more than 15 minutes of quiet walking up the muddy backbones before my shirt was soaked in sweat. As a chalk white Norwegian, who was still acclimated to 15 degrees of cold and dry Norwegian air, this was a hard start to the tropical adventure. The stomach was still very arguing, and I quickly noticed that the body was not completely satisfied. However, there was not much else to do with it than to continue walking and hoping for the best. A comfort was at least that the temperature gradually dropped as we reached higher elevation.
The first 10 kilometers we followed a muddy motorway up the mountain. It was so steep that I couldn't quite understand that it was possible to get here on two wheels, but suddenly a local totally whistling passed on a tired motorcycle. Here it was certainly also possible to "cheat" by hitchhiking with a check out until where the path begins. Then one would soon have saved 3 hours walking and 400-500 height meters. It was not an option anyway; the mountain would be climbed for its own machine.
The first night seemed perpetual. I had to get up several times to do what I needed, and that which, in the comfort of a toilet house, is enough to drive a lot becomes more demanding in the jungle. It rained heavily all night, so I had to be as quick as possible so as not to get sticky. I walked barefoot out of the hammock and crossed my fingers so that I didn't step on a spider or snake. The blood crucible was light-hearted to suck on my feet, but it was just to accept. It was a peculiar mood to squat in the jerky jungle, barefoot in the mud, the boxer on the ankles and the rain dripping down the back.
Footwear is important on all trips, and the jungle is no exception. Here I used a tropical military boot specially designed for jungle use, and it was an excellent choice. The blood crucibles were extremely ongoing, and after only half an hour of walking, 30-40 pieces could come on each leg. They are not dangerous, but there is a lot of blood and pig if they get free access to bare skin. There is also a certain risk of infection with all open wounds. High socks and pants stuffed into the tightly-knit military boots are a good solution!
The next few days were heavy. It was terribly annoying, because if it hadn't been for the food poisoning then I'd have been fine. It is surprising how much you can tolerate during daytime discomfort, with long stages, heavy packing, rain and leeches, as long as you know the day can end with a big meal in camp, a good night's sleep, and then wake up rested the next day . On the other hand, it's amazing what the body is capable of doing, even with little sleep and food. Anyway, I had to make the most of the situation, and since I was so determined to do so, just take one day at a time and treat myself as much rest time as possible every night.
I had it with my primus as a backup, but it is always nice to bring up a campfire. Even in a dripping wet rainforest one almost always finds something to make a bonfire off - as long as one knows where to look. Dayakene taught me many tricks.
We had high camp of approx. 1350 meters above sea level, where we stayed overnight before and after the peak. It must be one of the worst places I've ever slept on. Absolutely everything was sticky, and the ground was plainly covered in leeches. The wasps were also very ongoing and swarmed around me. In the evenings, a special golden wasp appeared, which was twice the size of the normal wasp. One stabbed me on the forearm, and one area the size of a fist swelled up for three days. Then it was not very pleasant either. With the exception of the hammock, there were almost no frisones.
Pitch up to 2278 meters above sea level. offered around 1100 effective altitude meters, and in this extremely humid elevation zone the vegetation is extremely dense and impenetrable. Many parties were almost vertical, requiring a mix of cleavage and unsecured climbing. Finding safe grips to climb up safely was a big challenge. Half of the trees and roots were rotten and loosened immediately. When one found a safe grip, one had to make sure that one did not place his hands on a spider, ant colony or other undesirable being. Slowly, but surely it went up. In several places we had to crawl longer stretches along the ground to get under trees that had overturned. When lying on the ground and looking up at the underside of a overturned tree, one sees considerably more creepy crawlers than one sees from the top. When I saw a spider the size of my palm just 30 cm from my face, I felt a small lump in my stomach. Fortunately, all the big spiders left me alone. After all, they are rarely aggressive, but only defend themselves if they come too close.
When we reached the top, we had gone into raining for the last few hours, and it was relatively cool. Fortunately, the rain stopped right before we arrived. It was incredibly nice to put on a dry and warm woolen sweater. At the top there was no view, but we got a well-deserved break from the intense jungle. I regularly cheered with joy when I reached the top. The guide said that I was the first Norwegian to stand at this peak, and that made it a bit extra in the stomach. 1/7 of Indonesian 7 summits were in the box!
First Norwegian on top of Bukit Raya. The highest mountain on Kalimantan and one of Indonesian 7 summits.
Once you have reached the top you are only halfway, but it is a great milestone, and it does wonders for your motivation. We returned to the high camp, spent the night there, and the following day we went all the way back to Rantau Malam Village. We did not arrive until 9 o'clock in the evening, and my legs were so tremendous that I could hardly stand upright. 4 days without significant nutritional intake, and 10 effective hours of walking down the mountain with 1600-1800 height meters last day were in excess of much, but it was at least completed. Well back in civilization, the weight showed that I had gone down 6 kg in the jungle.
The well-known coffee pot over the campfire. I always start the day with a cup of coffee, but this trip I had to settle for watching Dayakene enjoy the black-burned Indonesian coffee. Unfortunately, coffee is no-no when you have a bellied stomach.
Bukit Raya and the jungle at Borneo have taught me a lot. I have spent many nights in the jungle before, in very different parts of the world, but nothing has been near the rudeness here in Borneo. Absolutely everything is sticky, it rains almost all the time, and the leeches really help make life uncomfortable. Nothing dries either, so moisture discipline is extremely important. It is imperative that you manage to keep at least one complete set of clothes dry, so you have something to sleep in. If the sleepwear also gets wet, then the fun is really over...