Saturday February 23, 2013
Story and pictures by HENRY CHAN
The plan was to meet at Gua Musang, drive to Kg Betis, take a 4WD to Kg Rekom, trek to Kem Tongkat Ali and set up tent for the night. The following morning we were to make a day trip to the summit of Gunung Chamah, return for dinner and stay overnight, then hike out to Kg Rekom to await our ride back to Kg Betis, and head home.
But plans never do turn out the way they are supposed to. My friend Kong Tiong and I drove to Gua Musang, Kelantan, the jump-off point for our trek to Chamah, late one Friday evening.
After we gathered the next day, there was a bit of confusion; first, in getting to Kg Betis, and then trying to locate the guy who was providing the 4WD ride into the interior. Somehow, we finally got everything in order and two 4WDs took us into Kg Rekom a three-hour journey on a rarely-used logging road.
A couple of orang asli settlements broke the monotony of the ride, as we waved to the friendly folks and tried to take pictures of the scenery.
After almost three hours into our ride, we came to an incline, which looked as steep as 45 or more. The bad news was that both the trucks could not make it up this slope, and a decision was made to hike the rest of the journey to our first stop at Kg Rekom.
A journey that was supposed to have taken us no more than three-and-a-half hours, without any effort, turned out to be an energy-sapping five-and-a-half hour trek.
At around 1.45pm – after lunch – we pushed off. The air was still, the road bone-dry and the sun was beating down mercilessly on us. For those who are familiar with the “Never Ending Road” at the beginning of the trek up Gunung Nuang from Kg Pangsun, this was easily 10 times worse, and I called it “The Long and Winding, Up and Down, Hot Scorched Road”! There wasn’t a spot of shade at all – all along the sides were short shrubs and it was evident that this was a result of the logging that had gone on in the area. All the tall trees were, in one word, gone! The slopes were ridiculously steep and long, and it took substantial effort to climb them, only to find that yet another hill awaited us!
This rather demoralising trek went on until about 3.15pm, when we reached our pit stop. Kg Rekom is an established orang asli settlement of about 40 people. There are roughly 10 huts, made of bamboo, some on stilts as high as four feet (1.2m) above the ground. There was no electricity supply, not even a generator, and besides the single motorcycle parked next to one of the huts, the only sign of any “development” was a tap in an open area, where a pipe supplied water drawn from a nearby stream. This is where the villagers showered and took water for drinking and cooking.
There was some confusion finding the trailhead at first, but after some directions from the village elders, we got on the right path. It followed the river for some distance, before heading uphill after a small campsite (about half an hour from our starting point) called Kem Pakma.
An hour after that, we were at Kem Tengah, our base camp for the expedition, which was pretty big, and accommodated all of us comfortably. Water was plentiful as there is a beautiful waterfall about 10m below. However, it could get slippery on a wet day.
We had just finished pitching tents when it started to drizzle. What was bearable at first became heavier as the evening dragged on and darkness enveloped the campsite. I learned an important first lesson: make sure the fly sheet is zipped up, so as not to get the inside of my tent wet when it rains!
The rain had stopped by the time I was done with dinner. After a quick wash, I headed back into the tent, and retired for the night. But it was difficult to fall asleep, and I woke up in snatches throughout the night; the sound of the rushing river was quite loud. Experts say the sound of running water is soothing, but it wasn’t helping me.
The jungle at night is actually more noisy than in the day. Most of the smaller animals – insects and reptiles – are nocturnal, and they make a cacophony of sounds. Frogs bellowing after the rain boosted up the decibels. Maybe I should have invested in a pair of ear plugs?
By 8.30am the next morning, we were all ready to begin our summit attempt. It was a day trip and we expected to return in time to make dinner. We took our daypacks and headed out in batches, with Ooi and Daniel leading the way. The initial half hour was steep, almost 40° most of the way.
An hour after our start, we came upon a crystal clear stream, the water of which was truly sweet. This is real spring water, unadulterated, natural and pure; there was no need for any purification or filtration either. As a matter of fact, it was quite possible to just take a straw and drink directly from the stream! I made a mental note to collect some of the water for our use on the way back.
Half-way to the top, there is a rest area where you will find several species of pitcher plants, some as small as 2cm, and larger ones about 10cm long. There were also spotted, black, and striped varieties. From here, it was a journey of ups and downs, valleys and false peaks.
I prefer this kind of terrain because I get to rest a bit on the downward slopes, although the thought of climbing the same inclines on the way back can be disconcerting. I reached the peak at about 1.30pm. Many were ahead of me. In fact, some were already heading back to camp as I approached the summit! But I had trekked a tough 6½ hours over roughly 15km, ascended 2,171m and made it to the top of the fifth highest mountain of Peninsular Malaysia.
I only have another 11 peaks to go before I join the G12 Club, the group of people who have climbed Malaysia’s 12 highest mountains!