A TRAVELOGUE BY WUAN THONG ONN
Destination: Gunung Tahan (2,187 m), Pahang. Highest mountain in Peninsular
Route: Merapoh-G. Tahan-Kuala Tahan
Period: 25 August – 2 September 2007
Organizer: Mountain Goal Adventure Consultant Sdn. Bhd. (MMG)
Participants: Phang Thong Wah (organizer, MMG), Joey Chew Sook Kwan, Heng Hock Yee,
Shirley Oon Boey Lay, Sen Chee Keong, Michael Tan Heng Chai, Wai Cheong Keat, Wong Hon Wan, Wuan Thong Onn, Yap Shiau Yuen, Yeo Lee Nya (11 members)
Total distance trekked: 77km
Across: 7 mountains, 68 hills, 12 river crossings
I had meant to join this expedition in April 2007 with Shirley but the organizer, Thong of MMG, could not proceed with the trip then due to insufficient attendees. I had met Shirley while participating in one of MMG’s trip to G. Kutu in March 2007 during which both of us had expressed interest.
G.Tahan has always been considered by local mountaineers as “the big one” in Malaysia to conquer. Though a lot lower than G. Kinabalu (4095 m), it is reckoned to be among the toughest to scale and months of training are required before one could venture onto its slopes.
There are 3 main routes in climbing G. Tahan: Merapoh-Summit-Merapoh, the easiest which normally takes 4 days; Merapoh-Summit-K. Tahan, the intermediate route and the one which we have used, taking 7 days and the toughest, or classic route, K. Tahan-Summit-K. Tahan, which takes about 9 days.
This travelogue is my account and impression of the expedition we took in late August/early September 2007 and represents the most challenging mountain I have scaled to date. Prior to this, apart from G. Kinabalu and G. Rajah, I have only done day treks to destinations such as G, Angsi, G. Datuk, G. Kutu and G. Nuang.
I hope this travelogue will give an insight to those of you wishing to attempt
G. Tahan for the first time.
|Day 1||Saturday, 25 August 07: Train Journey to Gua Musang, Kelantan|
|Time taken: 10.5 hrs
We assembled at KFC, KL Sentral, the arranged meeting point at about 8.00 pm and some of us, who came earlier, took the opportunity to have dinner there. Thong came in and distributed to us tents, parcels of food and other paraphernalia as part of load sharing. Together with my share, I estimated my backpack to weigh between 15-20 kg.
We boarded the train and I was surprised that Thong had opted for seats instead of sleeping berths. His justification was that he was trying to keep cost low. The train departed at about 8.40 pm. I did not have a restful night, catching short bouts of sleep due to the sitting position and exacerbated by the proximity of the train’s loudspeaker and a passenger’s intermittent snoring.
Sunday, 26 August 07: Kuala Juram to Kem Kor
|Distance trekked: 13.5 km
Elevation: 301m to 750 m
Time taken: 4.75 hrs
Night Campsite: Kem Kor
The train arrived at Gua Musang at 7.15 am after which we had breakfast at a Chinese coffee shop. A 4 WD arrived later and whisked us to the Taman Negara office at Sg. Relau. There, records of our backpack contents were taken, particularly with regard to environmentally-unfriendly materials such as plastic bags, plastic bottles, batteries, cans, etc. We were told that if our count of these materials were short at the end of the trip, there would be a fine. I viewed this regulation very positively in view of the rampant disposal of waste at campsites all over the country. This would be a very effective way to keep our mountains and other trekking habitats clean and it was to be proven right during our observation of the environment later on. I also observed that there was a fish hatchery in the compound in an attempt to restock the rivers with Kelah fish, Tor tambroides. I had worked as a marine scientist before and this was very apparent to me.
We later proceeded to the starting point, K. Juram, some 13 km away by way of a 4 WD. The drive proved to be quite spectacular by itself; the driver confidently steering his vehicle through the undulating road with the wind rushing through our faces, almost like the feel of riding a roller coaster.
10.30 am: We started our trek at K. Juram (301 m).
12.15 pm: Reached Kuala Luis (306 m), 5 km from K. Juram. For lunch, I had 2 oat cereal bars. This was to be my staple, monotonous lunch diet during the entire week long trip.
2.20 pm: Reached Lata Luis (558m), 6 km from K. Luis. Up to here, we had completed all the 4 main river crossings across Sg. Juram necessary to reach the summit. They were at most knee deep and did not prove difficult for me. I noticed that the river water, though clear, was tea in colour due to humic acids leached from the forest vegetation. I was assured it was perfectly drinkable in its natural state. Following the lead from Thong, we went barefooted to keep our shoes dry. Walking on the uneven rocks at the riverbed this way was initially a bit painful for me but I quickly got used to it. Not my shoulders, which were getting fatigued from lugging the heavy 60 litre backpack; this was only the second time in my trekking life that I was carrying such a big pack.
3.15 pm: Arrived at Kem Kor (750 m), 2.5 km away and our campsite for the night. After setting up the tents, we took the opportunity to have a refreshing bath at the river beside the camp. For dinner, Thong prepared a rice meal with sardines and mixed vegetables. We even had mung beans “tong sui” for supper, much to our delight. Thong was very adept at cooking and I was to learn later, to our good fortune, that he had worked as a chef before. I had expected standard camp fare like canned beans, eggs and bread but Thong’s culinary experience was to be the highlight of every cooked meal later on.
It rained that night and much to my relief, the tent held on very well.
I had a bad experience during my first camping night at Desaru, Johor
while participating in the EcoGames adventure race in July 07. My tent
leaked badly and I had to squat in the wet tent for almost an hour before
the rain stopped
Monday, 27 August 07: Kem Kor to Summit of G. Tahan
|Distance trekked: 18.5 km
Elevation: 750m to 2187 m
Time taken: 9.5 hrs
Night Campsite: Summit of G. Tahan
We had an early breakfast of bread
with baked beans and cabbage. This was the day of reckoning, the assault
on the summit.
8.30 am: Arrived Kem Permatang (874m), 2.5 km from Kem Kor. Terrain from here onwards was mainly uphill.
10.30 am: Reached Kubang (1406m), 3.5 km away. From here, the trail started to get muddier.
11.15 am: Reached Belumut (1493 m), 1.5 km from Kubang. At this campsite, I fell waist deep into a mud pit and rescued myself by pulling on to tree roots and plants. Sen was with me and had a good laugh. Had lunch. The trail continued to be muddy and steeper.
2.00 pm: Arrived at Bonsai (1705m), 5.5 km further on. Compared to Belumut, the trail from here was beautiful, with bonsai trees set against green rolling hills. It started drizzling at about 3.00 pm and I quickly donned my lightweight poncho but kept my head uncovered to enjoy the light cool breeze. I was more concerned that my backpack would get wet.
Around this time, Lee Nya, an adventure racer and seasoned mountain biker together with Michael and I, who were in a group, started to feel the effect of the long trek. Every ten minutes or so of climbing the hills, we would find ourselves exhausted and had to rest to regain our strength. It suddenly dawned on me that we had reached a state of what runners call “hitting the wall”. Our muscles were slowly depleting of glycogen, the fuel needed to sustain muscle contraction. We were performing like an engine running with a blocked fuel injector. I rummaged through my backpack and picked out some dried apricots and a small bar of dark chocolate. I helped myself to some and offered the apricots to Michael and the chocolate to Lee Nya. Like myself, they related to me that they felt more energetic later.
3.45 pm: Reached Botak Hill (1943 m), 3 km from Bonsai. We stocked up
with extra water here as there was no potable water source at the summit.
We continued to soldier on, wet and cold from the rain.
I was informed later that Heng had assessed that his existing physical
condition was not able to sustain him on the trek. He had decided to withdraw
from the expedition midway between Permatang and Kubang. Heng is a big,
burly guy (I guess more than 100 kg in wt.) with tough mental constitution
and had attempted challenging mountains such as G. Liang East & West,
G. Rajah and G. Stong. I was to learn later that he was also a most caring
person. He related later via e-mail to us from Bangkok where he worked,
that when he was turning back to Sg. Relau, his main concern was not himself,
but how the rest of us were able to cope, especially with the rain and
Tuesday, 28 August 07: G. Tahan to G. Gedung
|Distance trekked: 1.5 km
Elevation: 2187m to 2055 m
Time taken: 3.5 hrs
Night Campsite: G. Gedung
To enable us to recover from the tough trek the day before, Thong had allowed us to sleep in and to take it easy on this day. We woke up to see the sun finally coming out, much to our delight. We took the opportunity to wash and dry our clothes, now reeking with sweat, using water from a stagnant pool.
Then, it was photo session galore! It was group photos, individual photos, posed photos and candid ones, mostly taken with the G. Tahan signboard in view. The girls, especially Joey and Shiau Yuen, struck out a variety of yoga positions, cheered on by others. Wai, who had been pretty quiet until now, was busy composing shots. I figured him to be a photography enthusiast judging by the way he manoeuvred his Olympus. There was also this famous sea of clouds spreading like fluffy cotton below us which had every one furiously clicking their cameras. Most spectacular! Instead of breakfast, we had vegetarian bak kut teh & “hor fun” noodles for brunch.
11.40 am: Time to descend. The trail towards G. Gedung was magnificent with rocky terrain dotted with bonsai trees, pitcher plants and colourful flowers. In the distance, I spotted some of the others. Joey, a petite girl who was forever smiling, was a picture in contrast, her huge backpack seemingly overwhelming her. Wong and Shirley were very apparent with their trekking poles. Along the way I stopped to have my photo taken by Michael alongside the wreckage remains of a plane, a well-known landmark. It was fine weather and both Michael and I were slowly getting sunburned in this open landscape.
3.15 pm: Arrived at G. Gedung (2055 m), 1.5 km away, where we decided to put up for the night. Thong had advised us of not pitching our tents at a very obvious flat spot due to its exposure to strong winds and opted for a more sheltered rocky spot. The original flat spot was later taken up by another group. The water source here was a mere trickle from the ground surface but was clean and adequate for consumption purpose.
It rained that evening and it was another cold and windy night. Thong prepared what he called Chinese nasi lemak for dinner. The rocky, sloping nature of the ground caused some discomfort for me during the night as I kept sliding towards the tent’s edge in my sleep and had to readjust my sleeping position every now and then.
Wednesday, 29 August 07: G. Gedung to Teku
|Distance trekked: 11 km
Elevation: 2055m to 280 m
Time taken: 8.5 hrs
Night Campsite: Teku
We woke up early to witness a build-up of a magnificent sea of clouds below us, even more dramatic than the one seen at the summit. More photos were taken. After a breakfast of “Tau Chim” noodles, it was time to pack up for the next destination, Teku.
9.00 am: We started on our trek amidst beautiful weather. The descent here was steep and treacherous. Thong had earlier reminded us to be mindful of assisting each another during this part of the trek; I slowed down my pace to keep in tandem with others. Certain sections were almost vertical walls with aluminium ladders and ropes to assist in the descent. It was here that we met a group of fellow adventurers ascending from the opposite direction, some apparently visually impaired. We were to learn later that they were attempting some sort of a Malaysian record for the blind to scale G. Tahan via the K. Tahan-Summit-K. Tahan route. Very impressive!
10.15 am: Reached G. Reskit (1,279 m). The trek continued with a series of steep descents and ascents.
11.35 am: Reached G. Tangga 15 (1650 m), 2.5 km from G. Gedung. This mountain is aptly named as a number of aluminium ladders are attached to the steep rock surfaces to assist in ascents and descents, though our count revealed less than 15 ladders! I would nominate this mountain to be the most aesthetic within the G. Tahan complex. The rock pinnacles, bonsai trees and moss-like vegetation made it look like a scene from a Chinese landscape painting. Thong, Shiau Yuen and I spent a considerable period of time here taking photos and admiring its beauty.
12.45 pm: Reached G. Pangkin (1463m), 1.5 km further on. Had a quick lunch of my usual oat cereal bars and continued the trek together with Shiau Yuen. The trail here was within thick forest vegetation, constantly downhill and slippery along many sections. Animal dung and signs of digging by wild boars could be seen. This was a long, relentless stretch that we wanted to quickly get over with. We quickened our pace as we did not relish the prospect of walking in the dark here.
5.30 pm: Finally, to our relief, we arrived at Teku campsite (280 m), 7 km away and located next to a big, rock-strewn river. After setting up our tents, we quickly headed to the river to soak ourselves, having not taken a bath the last two days. The water was delightfully refreshing. Finishing our bath, we noticed groups of other trekkers trickling in and soon the whole campsite was filled with an assortment of tents, flysheets and strings of clothes set out to dry. Thong rewarded our hard day with a dinner of sausage rice with “Lor Hon Kor tong sui” later to cool our internal system.
For the first time, we were missing the coolness of high altitude camping. The early part of the night was stifling within the tents and Thong, Wong and I, who shared a tent, initially slept with our shirts off. It was only in the early morning when the coolness of the jungle air returned that we put back on our tops.
Thursday, 30 August 07: Teku to K. Tengah
|Distance trekked: 14 km
Elevation: 280 m to 379 m
Time taken: 7.5 hrs
Night Campsite: K. Tengah
This would be the day of the big river crossings across Sg. Tahan. We were instructed to ensure that our belongings in the backpacks were adequately water-proofed as the water level in the rivers could reach waist high or more, or if we needed to release the packs in an emergency. We were to do 8 crossings altogether.
9.00 am: After a breakfast of peanut porridge, we proceeded with the trek. Hitherto I have not used a walking stick but this day I availed myself to one to give better balance during the crossing. Unlike earlier, we were to go across the river with our shoes on this time.
The first stretch was a real challenge; it was wide, waist deep, with a very uneven rocky bed and the current was swift with visible eddies. This was the first time I saw Naza, the guide, giving a helping hand. He waded across rapidly, steadily holding his backpack which was rested on his head with both hands. I would not advise anyone with less balancing ability to follow like-wise. Having dropped his pack on the opposite bank, he returned to stand at a section of the river where the current was swiftest. We proceeded cautiously, first releasing all our backpack buckles so that we could dump our packs should we get into difficulties. Prodding the riverbed with our walking sticks, we waded slowly across. The stronger members would hold on those who were less steady, and slowly and surely, we made our way across. Naza and Thong were at the swifter part of the river to guide us through the current. Following these procedures, we made our way safely across all 8 sections of the river.
Part of the trekking after Teku was along the river bank which was covered with slippery rocks. I found this section particularly tricky to negotiate, especially when my trail-running shoes were not designed to give a good grip on rocks.
1.15 pm: Arrived at K. Putih (137 m), 7 km from Teku. We continued with the trek which was increasingly uphill.
3.30 pm: Reached G. Rajah (571 m). The area was quite exposed with low shrubs and I was gradually feeling the heat. The summit of G. Rajah seemed a disappointment as it was only a small bare area, however, the splendid view around it compensated for its limitation in size.
4.15 pm: Arrived at Kem Tengah (379 m), 7 km from K. Putih, with Lee Nya slightly ahead of me. At first observation, there appeared to be no visible water source. However, Thong indicated to us a small, but constant flow of very clean surface run-off, about 100 m down a slope. The camping area was excellent, large and flat and we made easy work of pitching our tents. We had a dinner of delicious yam rice before settling for the night.
To deter the possible menace of sand flies, we tried in vain to light up a fire to smoke out the pest; our poor knowledge of jungle camp craft was very apparent here. It was only later when our guide, Naza, put on a blazing flame that we learned he had used a candle to help ignite the dried leaves and twigs. We had meant to stay up to mid-night to welcome National Day with flag-raising and cheers of “Merdeka” but fatigue got the better of us and all of us were in slumberland long before that.
Friday, 31 August 07: K. Tengah to Melantai
|Distance trekked: 6 km
Elevation: 379 m to 291 m
Time taken: 2.25 hrs
Night Campsite: Melantai
Merdeka Day! This was a relaxing morning as there was plenty of time to kill since the next campsite, Melantai, was less than 3 hours away. We had gone ahead of schedule. Thong surprised us with a Mexican breakfast, tortilla, to be exact. And 3-in-1 Nescafe, tea and Milo to go with. We spent the next half hour or so taking group photographs holding the Malaysian flag to honour this auspicious day.
10.30 am: We proceeded to our last campsite, Melantai. I was with Shiau Yuen most of the duration of the trek. The route was uninspiring and muddy towards the end. On a brighter side, Thong, with his trained eyes, was able to capture some photographs of the rare, giant flower, Rafflesia, in its early stage of bloom. However, Shiau Yuen and I, mindlessly trudging on, failed to spot any.
12.35 pm: Arrived at Melantai (291 m), 12 km away. This was the campsite I love most, even though it was purported to harbour a fair share of leeches. There was plenty of flat, smooth ground for tenting and an easily accessible, beautiful stream flowed next to it. The quality of water here was as perfect as could be, very clear and not tea-coloured as with the earlier rivers. As it was still early in the afternoon, we took our time to set up the tents, did our washings and frolicked in the stream. Some of us also took the opportunity of bright daylight to nurse the wounds and sores inflicted on our legs over the last few days: leech bites, bruises, cuts, minor sprains and loose toe nails.
Dinner that evening was sausage and seaweed rice with sweetened chrysanthemum tea later on. To pass the night, we had a joke-sharing session which had everyone in stitches. The jokes were really Malaysian in character, related in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia! As with the Teku campsite, it was initially warm and stifling in the tents but cooled down later towards the night to allow for a comfortable sleep.
Saturday, 1 September 07: Melantai to Kuala Tahan
|Distance trekked: 12 km
Time taken: 2.75 hrs
Finally, our last day on the trails! Thong dished out his last meal of the trip, a breakfast of fried meehoon with some leftover tortilla from the previous morning.
9.15 am: Started our journey towards our final destination, Kuala Tahan. This was a long, monotonous trek that never seemed to end. Having heard about the abundance of leeches on this trail, I put on new leech socks for the first time. I had bought the socks a couple of years ago but had not made any attempt to use them. Michael was with me at the front, scorching the trails at a furious pace. I even saw him run at one section; maybe he was utterly bored with this flat, uninspiring section of the forest and wanted to finish as quickly as he could. I was fairly close behind him for a large part of the trek but lost him when I stopped to remove 3 leeches which had gone past my leech socks and were creeping towards the inside of my shorts. Holy cow! Had they gone in, I would have looked like a woman having her periods without sanitary protection! I did a thorough inspection, removing my shoes, leech socks and socks and pulling up my shorts. Fortunately, no more leeches!
Further on along the trail, I passed what looked like a small orang asli settlement, scoured the area, but found no signs of activities. I also noticed this enormous monster of a tree, its buttress roots fanning out a few metres wide.
At long last I could detect signs of civilization: walkways with aluminium steps, wooden bridges and sound of motorized boats. However, it seemed a long while before I could reach our final destination signaling the end of our expedition.
12.00 noon: Arrived to see what appeared to be buildings of an eco-tourism resort and was surprised that I was actually within the Taman Negara main complex at Kuala Tahan, (12 km from Melantai camp). Not finding Michael anywhere, I headed for the provision store, bought two chilled cans of Coca-cola and downed them like an alcoholic needing his fix. The remaining team members slowly trickled in. We reported to the authorities, had the contents of our backpacks inspected to ensure that we brought back all the trash and proceeded to cross Sg. Tahan to check into our hostel.
Prices across the river are more down to earth compared to the up-market rates at the Taman Negara Mutiara Resort and motor boat operators do a roaring business ferrying people across the river. We had lunch at one of the many floating restaurants and later went souvenir hunting. We bought little as choices were very limited. We then hopped back across the river to the Taman Negara complex for sight seeing and more photo-taking. Michael and Lee Nya also joined Yen, one of Thong’s friend helping him part-time, for more fun at the river. Yen was leading a tour group to the National Park on that day.
We had our dinner again at the floating restaurant and some of us spent the rest of the night in the hostel playing card games. I slept early that night. Ironically, my stomach was experiencing queasiness here whereas I was feeling perfectly fine all the time in the jungle drinking untreated river water!
|Day 9||Sunday, 2 September 07: Bus Journey Back Home|
|After breakfast, we had a last round at the souvenir shops, returned to
the hostel to pack our belongings and headed to the bus stop for our ride
to Jerantut. Reaching the town, we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and
having time to kill while waiting for the next bus to KL, went for a walk
around the streets. Some of us decided to buy plastic shoes, popularly known
as Kampung Addidas. These are extremely affordable (about RM7 a pair!) but
surprisingly meet the requirement for trekking, though not very comfortable.
Its main advantage is the ease which it can be washed and hence chosen by
those doing muddy trails. With more time to spare, we visited the local
KFC restaurant, some of us whiling the time with card games, while I took
the opportunity to continue exploring this little town.
We left for KL
at 3.00 pm. On the bus, I casually remarked to Thong the 5 S’es
some of us may do once we reach home after an extended journey remote
from civilization: shave, shit, shower, sex and sleep. He smiled smirkly.
We arrived KL at 7.15 pm, weary but very happy and fulfilled that we have
accomplished our mission.
I would consider my participation in the G. Tahan expedition as a very successful mission. I attribute it to a combination of good planning and execution by the organizer, sufficient training and preparation on my part and plain good luck in having compatible trekking companions and favourable environmental conditions.
This was Thong’s 14th expedition up G. Tahan (he averages 2 trips a year) and I am sure he would had just about experienced almost every conceivable situation in the trips and made all necessary contingency plans. He is a real hands-on guy, he accompanied us to every nook of the trek and has a fitness level that is hard to match. His other strength is his very friendly disposition; you get to know him for a few minutes and he acts as though he has known you for a long time. One feels very at ease with a personality like his. His superb culinary skill is also a big bonus. If I must have a suggestion to improve him, it is that he should make us sign a release of liability form to indemnify MMG should accidents or other unfortunate events happen. Or bone up on his written English.
Fitness-wise, I had sufficient preparations with gym work-outs and outdoor training. I operate a fitness centre and this was not a big concern to me. Prior to the trip, I had participated in a 10-hour adventure race in Desaru, Johor in July 2007 and had made appropriate preparations. I also scaled a few nearby mountains in the weeks ahead; among them G. Rajah, G. Nuang and Pine Tree Hill. My main reservation then was my lack of exposure in camping and insufficient experience carrying the big backpack. Fortunately, this did not turn out to be a hindrance as I quickly adapted to the rigours of camp life. On the plus side, I was pleased to discover that I had lost almost 5 % of body fat on my return.
I was very fortunate in having some of the nicest people in the team; the camaraderie during our time together was incredible. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating. It is remarkable that about a dozen strangers could live together for more than a week, going through testing time day and night, with hardly a tinge of conflict.
I had been cautioned by those who had gone through the same expedition to be aware of a few issues: the difficult river crossings, the rains, the leeches and the insects- particularly sand flies and bees. None of these really had a strong negative impact on me. The river crossings were in fact a wonderful experience; the rains were there for the first few days but did no perceptible damage; the leeches were only a minor nuisance and we had no trouble with sand flies’ attacks or bee stings. We must have been very lucky or perhaps our timing for the trip was favourable.
Just about the only setback I had was the sudden fatigue I felt in my legs midway between Bonsai and Botak Hill during the ascent, which I attribute to the effect of “hitting the wall”. It was not a new phenomenon to me. My nephew had experienced it even to a more serious extent during one of our treks in G. Nuang and I myself first felt it towards the end of a marathon run at Penang Bridge some years back. Not having experienced it for some time, it really came as a surprise.
One last comment. Prior to my trip, I had envisaged the jungle within the G. Tahan complex to be enveloped with huge trees and very dense foliage. I was a little disappointed that it was less awesome than I thought, resembling much like any other forest in Malaysia that I have seen.
Finally, I wish to record the support and advice given by the following: my wife, Chhooi Leng; my gym member, Rubinee and the MNS Pathfinders coordinators.
|@ Copyright by MMG (Malaysia Mountain Goal Adventure Consultant)|