Day 233: A Pinnacle Of Achievement

Wed. 3rd April 2013

Yes, I do look happy.42.2km or 4.8km which is tougher? I spent much of today contemplating just this question and in the end came to the conclusion that it is quite a close call. Marathons, of course, are run over a distance of 26.2 miles or 42.2km (and yes, the .2 really does matter) and running the London Marathon is the hardest, most challenging (but one of the most rewarding) things I’ve ever done. How was the 2.4km (each way) climb up to The Pinnacles going to compare?

Camp 5 down by the riverThe Pinnacles fall into the “weird geology” category that has fascinated us on our trip. They are a cluster of limestone pillars with razor sharp edges. Technically, they are karsts – i.e. they have been formed by water dissolving away the surrounding rock. They may only be 2.4km away from Camp 5, but that 2.4km involves climbing 1.1km vertically – or an average gradient of 46%. In no sense is this going to be a walk in the park.

Getting ready for the offJanet tweaked her back during yesterday’s walk through the jungle, as had Fay and Simon had been unwell for the past 3 or 4 days so they decided on discretion over valour and opted to stay in camp. Just as we were about to set off, Bonnie, another of our group slipped off the steps down from the cabin – a nasty accident that ruled her out too. It was therefore a group of eleven– eight tourists, Stacey our tour leader, a trainee leader and our guide – that set out from camp around 6:45.

Knackered? Now why would that be?The first 250m were straightforward enough as we walked to the start of the mountain. Sadly, that just raised the average gradient for the remainder to over 50%. Then the scramble began. I don’t know when a walk becomes a scramble becomes a climb. What I do know is that here, the jungle goes up the side of the mountain. There is a path but it is narrow and windy and crisscrossed with tree roots. Sometimes the steps are stone, sometimes you climb up using the roots and sometimes there is a rope you can use to pull yourself up. Your arms are needed all of the time.

At the 'mini-pinnacles' 900m completed in 1hr 10min - and soaked in sweatThe first checkpoint was the (underwhelming) “mini-pinnacles” at the 900m (distance) marker which we needed to reach by 8am. From, the guide’s experience, if we can’t make to there in time, we won’t be able to get up and back down again before it gets dark. We are relieved when at 7:55, Ayeh ( our guide, pronounced A) announces that the mini-pinnacles are just around the corner. We flop down on the small bench or nearby stones just happy to have a rest.

It wasn't frickin'easy!I’ve noticed before that when I exercise or in hot conditions, I tend to sweat a lot. This, however, is ridiculous. Not only have I had to wring out my flannel / sweat-rag several times on the way up but now my T-shirt is completely soaked. I decide that the best bet is to take it off and wring it out too. It feels a little bit better only damp rather than wet. For the first time, I wonder whether I have enough water even though I started out from camp with 3.5 litres in my daypack. Regardless, it’s an opportunity to put some rehydration salts in a small water bottle to help stave off cramp later.

Janet practised her wildlife photography back at campI hoped that the next section would be less steep or easier going. It wasn’t, if anything it gets steeper. I hoped that we’d get above the trees and find a bit of a breeze. We don’t. Indeed, I had to explain the concept of a tree-line to Ayeh. They don’t have that here – or we’re just not going high enough. So, we carry on, looking for the markers every 100 metres and trying to remind each other that we are making progress. Sarah, Andy and Stacey head back and that just leaves 8 of us slogging on.

The only way is up!The second checkpoint is at the base of the ladder section at 2,000m for the final section up to the summit which we need to be at by 10:30 according to Ayeh or by 11 according to the sign at the base of the first ladder. We make it by 10:15 and so we’re still on track. I have one small scare as I climb up to the ladder when a rock gives way as I push off it and am left clinging to the side of the mountain with a mini-avalanche rumbling below me.

The Pinnacles - worth the effort? Maybe. Wierd? Definitely!According to Lonely Planet, this last, ladders section, is the only part that is “really demanding”. My views on that piece of the LP guide is not repeatable in a family read blog. If it was all just one ladder after another, it wouldn’t be too bad. But it’s not. There are rocky ‘crevasses’ to cross using narrow beams and gratings. There is more scrambling and climbing to do, up vertical rock walls. Sometimes, even I found the foot and handholds a stretch – I don’t know how those with shorter limbs coped.

The Pinnacles in panoramaThe survivors!But cope we did. It was slow and I certainly wasn’t pretty but it was steady and relentless and we did make it to the top sometime around 11:30. Only now did we get any sort of view – but at first I was just too exhausted to take any notice of it. I was at the limits as to what I could manage and I’m not sure that I could have made it any further. My priorities were to drink (yet) more water and to get some food inside of me. Slowly, I began to feel better and to start to take notice of the views around.

They really look sharpThe Pinnacles were quite impressive and the view across to some of the higher peaks and out over the jungle was good to see. However, they weren’t jaw-droppingly huge and we couldn’t get right up close to them. So, those of our group who didn’t make it up didn’t miss out on that much. For those who made it, well, we enjoyed the views and the moment. The group photo does a pretty good job of conveying the mixture of satisfaction, relief and tiredness that we were all feeling by that time.

Just keep climbingWe had been warned beforehand that we would need more than half our energy for the return trip. Whilst it wasn’t necessarily harder coming down than going up, it was different and it certainly used a different set of muscles. Most of the ladders section and parts of the rest of the descent just had to be tackled backwards – facing towards the mountain and groping for footholds whilst using hands and arms to steady and then lower yourself down. Neither were we any quicker going down than coming up. It was all slow hard going and with tired legs and tired minds we had to be careful of slippery surfaces and tangled roots – and that was before it started raining.

Just glad to be back down againAnd so, the group hug photo just after we walked wet, tired and bedraggled back into camp was taken at 16:35 nearly 10 hours after leaving in the morning. We were as much relieved to be back as pleased with the achievement and the views. On removing my walking boots I was able to wring a substantial amount of water out of my socks – I have never known my feet to sweat so much. After some more water and a coffee, I headed straight into to the shower in my clothes to get clean and dry and begin the process of feeling human again.

Praying MantisJanet had spent the day exploring the environs of the the camp and polishing up her wildlife photography skills (which are now really coming on now she has a camera that is responsive enough to show what she wants). Bonnie was in a makeshift neck brace and had some interesting bruises but was otherwise recovering from her fall. At least she should be able to do tomorrow’s walk out of the jungle and back to civilisation.

So, which was harder the marathon or the Pinnacles? Although the Pinnacles took longer (and was hard), I’m still going to stick with the marathon as being harder as I was more mentally drained at the end of it and I had trained much harder for it. Also, in terms of liquid consumed, then I drank 5 litres during my 4hr 27min of marathon running but only(?) 4 litres during 10 hours of Pinnacles climb. However, that is splitting hairs – both were a challenge and both were rewarding. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to do both.

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