Jan 3, 2007

Gunung Tahan, Kuala Tahan, Pahang

Malaysia is a wonderful place to experience the oldest rain forest in the world where various species of floral and fauna are found which includes the world's largest flower (Rafflesia). As well as the many inhabitants that dwell in the forest including many species of birds, animals and the Orang Asli. Recently I have the opportunity to witness the splendor of the jungle, trekking and climbing seven of the highest peak (known as the G7 mountains). Every year thousands of people have visited and climb many of the mountains in Malaysia.

Mt. Tahan is the highest peak in Peninsula Malaysia standing at 7,186ft/2,191m. The journey from Kuala Tahan (Taman Negara National Park, Pahang) to the peak is about 130km round trip which takes approximately nine days and for the very fit seven days or less. The temperature at the peak is around 4 to 12 degree Celsius. This is the traditional route and it is the most scenic route, an alternative route from Gua Musang, Kelantan takes about four days. The best months to climb are from March to May where the weather is the driest. The park is close during the peak of the monsoon season from middle of November to middle of January.

How to Get There

From the Kuala Lumpur city you can take either the local bus or taxis via Jerantut and arrive at Kuala Tahan which will take about 5 to 6 hours depending on the traffic. Upon arrival you will need to register with the Wildlife and National Parks Department. It is compulsory to hire a guide recommended by the department; porters are also available at a price. You can either camp or stay at the dormitory or the chalets around the park. Check your camping equipment and final packing preparations. All items that are brought into the trip (can food, camping gas canister etc.) must be accounted for and garbage must be carried out. Bring extra garbage bags.

Packing List for G. Tahan climb Recommended.

1 set climbing outfit (to be worn for next 7 to 9 days)
1 set camp outfit (to be worn after bathing in the river)
1 dry fast towel
1 sweater for cold weather
1 track bottom (optional)
1 sleeping bag
1 sleeping mat
1 pair slipper
1 torchlight (led type, energy efficient)
1 windbreaker
1 set personal hygiene, toiletry kit
1 set spoon,cup,plate or billy can or mess tin
1 toilet roll (2 person to a roll)
1 lighter, swiss army knife (or similar type)
* keep an extra dry set of clothes to be stored at the hotel/car

1 set cooking stove
1 set cooking pot
1 pc floor sheet
1 pc fly sheet (for shade)
3-4 can camping gas 450g depending on cooking requirement
1 camping light or a set of candles
1 set first aid kit incl. anti-diarrhea, anti-histamine (bee sting), pain killers (fever, general pain)
any personal medical requirements (pls inform others)
1 set sewing/repair kit (shoes, hiking bag)
2 set of cameras with enough batteries to last for the journey.
Food should plan extra 2 days for emergency. Bring light or dry food, with proper nutrition and bulk.

Important: - All clothing/sleeping bags to be kept wrap in plastic to avoid getting wet either due to rain or river crossing.
Recommend backpack size for Male 55-75 liter, Female 45-55 liter. Hydration pack or 1.5 liter bottles for carrying water.

Climbing Team Members (5)
YK Low, KC Wong (my wife and team leader and chief cook), Michael Lim, Wong Hock Meow, Goh MY

Journey Log
1st March 2005, Day 1 Kuala Tahan to Kuala Melantai 12 km. 4 hours.

The members of the team assemble at my house in Kajang Town at 5am and loaded all our camping stuff in a Toyota Van and we had breakfast consisting of fish noodles. Finally we left Kajang Town at about 6am. Along the way most of the other members were catching up with their sleep and we arrive at Kuala Tahan at around 11am. Our pre-arrange guide Mr. Man Panjang a six-footer size was waiting for us at the coffee shop. After our customary hellos and introductions we had another quick round of teh tarik a popular drink, tea with milk and is pour from 1 container to another causing it to be frothy before serving it to us (mmmm tasty). We quickly did a last minute check and assemble our camping gear. We left one set of clothes in the van which was park at the chalets, a parking fee was required.
We then walk our way down to the jetty to catch a boat to cross to the other side. Then the walk up the steep staircase left us breathless, we proceed to the rangers office to register our team. We had to submit a list of our items that we are bringing for the estimated 6 nights 7 days trek up the summit as this is a requirement that we do not leave any non biodegradable items behind. 12.00 pm the weather was hot and humid but nonetheless it was perfect, our guide gave us some safety instructions that includes walking in pairs and waiting at certain points along the trail. Our team was in high spirits as we started our trek. Our plan was to stop every 1 hour for about 10 minutes for a break. Along the trail we had to pass many river bridges which provided a scenic view under the bright sunlight. We were entering deeper into the jungle with many unmarked trails only to be safely guided by Man Panjang.

The first day climb is regarded as light and easy or a warm-up to many trekkers as it has quite a fairly flat terrain with occasional steep hills but short. 4.00 pm finally we reach our Melantai campsite with enough space for about forty campers, it is surrounded by many tall trees, bushes and there is a small stream nearby which is our source for drinking water. Wong Hock Meow the oldest at 52 years arrive half an hour later. We set our camp and quickly prepare our hot drinks either tea or milo (chocolate malt drink) follow by a packet of instant noodle, this is to satisfy our stomach. And bath or clean ourselves as early as possible because the water in the jungle is always cool or cold.

Later after dinner, Wong Hock Meow our oldest team member told us that he only did some jogging for the last 2 weeks before the trip and twice trained in Broga Hillshttp://www.kajangtown.blogspot.com (hilly village near Semenyih, Selangor). If we had known he wouldn't be joining this trip. He also has the biggest tummy, sitting on the log in picture below. Rest early by 9 pm, 1 hour later we were waken up by noises, using torchlight we discovered that there were jungle rats looking for food. We were prepared; our backpacks were stored in big plastic bags, food in plastics stored in tent, careful that you don’t lose your food ration.

Camp Melantai

Journey Log
2nd March 2005, Day 2 Kuala Melantai (camp) to Kuala Take (camp) 20 km. 12 hours.

Wake up call 6.00 am but delayed till 6.45 am by then Man Panjang would start shouting "Bangun! Bangun! Bangun!" (Bangun means wake up). He knows if we start late we would have trouble reaching Teku Camp in daylight. KC woke up early and started preparing hot drinks and breakfast and the rest will begin our morning routine of packing the tents and backpack and cleaning up. This routine will have to be repeated every morning for the duration of the trip come rain or shine. In the jungle the food always taste exceptionally good especially after a hard climb. Finally, our journey started at 8.00 am, today is regarded by many as the toughest as we have to trek over 28 hills and cover a distance of 14km to reach Kuala Puteh (Camp Puteh) and then trek another 6km to Camp Teku. The trail starts just after the stream where we fill our containers with water as the next water stop is about 3-4 hours away at a stop known as Camp Tengah . There is a steep climb for about 250m, this hill was once known as "blood hill" after a trekker from Europe coughed up blood and died on the hillside. As we have not warm-up enough and carrying almost 20kg on our backs this climb feels terribly tiring Arrgggghhhhhh!!! You just can't help screaming. Man Panjang cautioned us against screaming as it might attract wild animals but we ignored him and just do it whenever we want to.

We stop at Camp Tengah for break and snack, as we lay our backpacks to the ground and remove our socks and shoes the whole place would be swarming with bees frantically landing on our gears, they are usually harmless as long as you don't touch them. Our water source is just about 20 m downhill where water flows sparingly but it is crystal clear and taste cool and fresh. Continue along the ridge and after an hour or so we reach Gunung Rajah (576m) an open patch of land, great for taking some aerial photos of the surrounding hills. Then there is long and steep descend which takes another 1-1.5 hours to Kuala Puteh. The sound of gushing water can be heard long before you reach Kuala Puteh. 2.00pm. a spectacular view of the river where you can drink, swim and rest. KC started preparing hot drinks an hour later Wong HM arrives looking tired and very appreciative when KC offered him tea and noodles. 3.30pm we were discussing with Man Panjang whether to camp or continue as it was getting late. Base on our pace we expected to arrive at Camp Teku around 8.00pm. Camp Teku was the base camp for the first successful Mount Tahan expedition in 1905. Just like Camp Puteh there is plenty of space for camping.

We proceeded, there are 7 wide river crossing and it is advisable to use a hiking pole or cut up tree branches use as a pole. Make sure your dry stuff is well tied in plastic bags just in case your bag decides to go for a swim. During the wet season the river will be too deep to cross and there is another trail which is longer and crosses many hills this should be the 2nd decision to take, the 1st is wait until the river subside and the last turn back. During the dry season it is not deep and usually reaches the waist but because the river bed is covered with rocks of various sizes you can easily slip. It takes about 4 hours to reach Camp Teku and normally this is where leeches (they like damp places) are waiting for you, this little suckers are actually harmless, just donate some of your blood. After trekking for more than 8 hours you mind and body starts to play tricks with you, your back aches, your legs begin to feel heavy, you feel and numb all over, you begin to feel like a zombie. Don't give up just one more river away, just one more hill to climb, just one more.......just one more.....! Arrrgggggggghhhhhhh!!! That feels good. 8.15pm the campsite is in sight and what a relief but still one last river to cross and in the dark, careful after keeping dry for the last 6th river you don't want to get wet at the 7th river. We quickly look around for the best place to set up camp and the most important place is the cooking area. Our stomachs were already playing Kitaro's popular drum music.

We lay our backpacks and suddenly we felt so light. Like season campers I would lit the gas lantern as it was already dark, and set up the tent, KC would prepare hot drinks and noodles, and the others would do the same routine. Setting up the tent is always priority because if it rains it will be one messy affair. If it does rain, two person would hold the floor sheet (use as shelter) while the other two would set up the tent until all the tents are up and then tie up the floor sheet over the cooking area. Cooperation is vital here. While we sat down and started to remove our shoes, (how good that feels as our feet were never dry and especially with the river crossing) and put on slippers. We ate noodles and drank tea before we proceed to the river to have a good bath; the water is icy cold. The water level in Teku River rises rapidly especially when it rains in the mountains so never spend too much time and be prepared to leave the water at a moments notice. Take care to walk carefully. Wong screamed, he slipped and felled, and with the many boulders and rocks he hurt his right big toe, it was bleeding and I think his toe nail almost came off. Everyone was very concerned and Wong was saying softly whether he could continue in that condition. I quickly took out the first aid kit and treated his wound. In my thoughts, we couldn't leave him behind as to reach the summit and back would take about 3 days and it was foolhardy to leave him behind even if he agrees. The thought of canceling this trip flash before my eves. Calmly we analyze his toe like experienced "doctors" and started to apply ointment and bandage, it looked like a golf ball. We told him to take a rest while KC prepared dinner. That night everyone slept soundly.

Journey Log
3rd March 2005, Day 3, Kuala Teku to Gunung Pangkin, 8 km, 7 hours

6.30 am Bangun! Bangun! Bangun! Man Panjang called, it was wake up time, our body feels like a ton, still aching and not responding well. Day 3 this is going to be a tough day because it is steep all the way to Pangkin campsite, you will climb 1500m in one day. Our backpack weighs heavier with some of our stuffs being damp. It feels heavier even though it is around 18-20kg. KC as usual will be preparing breakfast and the rest will be busy packing up and getting ready.

Wong was optimistic and ready to continue despite the pain. What a relief, for a moment I thought we had to cancel this for the second time.

That brings back my memory that in Aug 2004 only after 2 days at Camp Puteh we woke up at 2.00am with the river water splashing against our tents, we realize the river flooded 12ft reaching our campsite which is a rare occurrence. We spent the next few hours trying to salvage our tents, backpacks, shoes and food. Moving to higher grounds where it was infested with hungry leeches and in the night we had no protection against it by the time at 6.00am fat leeches were found on everyone. Leeches are harmless though they make people jump up in fear. In the morning we found that the damages were minimal and I lost half a pair of slipper, a damage tent, supporting pole and all of us lost 1.5 days food supply. The river was not accessible and we have to wait another day and with our food supplies low it was risky to continue using another trail. With not enough food and 1 of our members at 13 years old, we decided to turn back after waiting an extra day……….

8.45am Man Panjang suggest if we would like to leave some can food behind by tying it high up in the trees as this will lighten our load. We took his suggestion but some experience climbers would prefer not to. Carry about 1.5 liter of water which should be sufficient until the next water source at Wray’s Camp also known as Rest Camp or Gunung Pondok Dua. As usual before your body warms up it is tiring to do 45 - 75 degrees climb but we just kept on, only stopping to catch our breaths. From this point onwards the vegetation starts to change with more ferns, stunted trees, mossy and in some areas the ground is soft. It feels cooler and quieter without the sound of water gushing and splashing during the first two days, sounds of birds and monkeys could be heard. After climbing for about 3 hours we stopped to eat our muesli bar and meal shakes (alternative snacks for example power bar, chocolate bar or mushroom soup with bread). 2.00pm Wray’s Camp, stop for half an hour break. We filled up our water containers, one of our large containers was leaking (for your climb it would be good if you use 1.5 liter water bottle as water containers). 4.00pm Gunung Pangkin (campsite) here the place is not large like Teku Camp but enough for about 15-20 person. If you are fit and can carry extra water, you can also camp at Gunung Tangga Lima Belas which is another one and a half hours climb away. This site has a fantastic view but a very cold place at night due to its exposed position. We decided on Pangkin Campsite. Michael the youngest will be celebrating his 38th birthday today.

Michael (with youthful energy and knowing that we will be celebrating his birthday that night) followed Man Panjang (he knows a few places) to collect water for tonight and tomorrows requirement. They came back about 45 minutes later all drenched with sweat with no extra water for bath but only a wet towel for cleaning up. Unbelievable with the cool clean air you don't feel sticky and smelly, probably we have gotten used to it. After the usual hot drinks and snacks everyone sort of just laze around or take a rest before dinner. The weather started to feel cool and with fading light. KC started preparing dinner, it was one of the very best dinners we had and immediately after that we stuck candles into the fruit cake to wish Michael a happy birthday, he make a wish, took a deep breath and blew out the candles. Later he told us that he wished for a successful climb to the peak and to become successful in life. Happy Birthday Michael! Time to sleep and because of space constraint we had to camp side by side and we could hear snoring, deep breathing, sounds of quietness and continuous sounds of insects making a chorus of jungle music.

6.30 am Bangun! Bangun! Bangun! Woi Bangun! Nanti gelap sampai peak! It feels like freezing, more to come at the peak, quickly we pack up and have our breakfast. Today’s climb is around 9 hours to the peak and our target is to reach before nightfall. You wouldn't like to continue trekking in the dark at such high altitude. Next stop is Gunung Tangga Lima Belas, how the name came about, I am guessing is that from the top of Gunung Tangga Lima Belas you have to descend almost a 20-30 foot high vertical drop with only ropes, roots and the rock surface to go down. All along the journey you could see different types of flowers especially from the wild orchid species; whenever we stop to rest we would take out our cameras and take what ever that interest us. By noon we had climb up to Gedong it is rocky terrain with low growing shrubs and plants. This place is considered to be our last water point to the peak and back. Our guide told us that there are many water sources from here to the peak but sometimes they run dry so as a last resort he would go looking for it, so until then each person should carry about 3 to 4 liters of water. Without shade it is hot and be careful as we can dehydrate easily. We began to ask wheres the peak, Man Panjang with his experience, prefers not to answer our questions and gave an excuse that it was taboo to ask this question. You could see a well mark trail going over many hills straight ahead and he told us after that you will be able to see Gunung Tahan.

As we walk on the trail with shrubs and low lying plant with very hard and rigid branches you can’t help brushing those branches for hours. After 1 hour our thighs and knees began to feel sore. I remember that I had brought along a pair of knee guard and put it on, what a relief. Along the way the scenery is breathtaking with rolling hills and valleys and without civilization in sight. You will pass by a small plane that had crash there many years ago and what ever that is left of it as some trekkers of the past will eventually collect souvenirs from it. Man Panjang was not able to shed some light as to the origin of the plane. After another hour or so we came upon the view of Gunung Tahan, finally! But you still have to climb several hills before reaching the peak. At this time we are walking on the ridge slowly rising towards the peak, it is very windy and you could see the mist caressing by horizontally carried by the wind.

Gunung Tahan signing on the guest book

5.00pm Michael first to reach the peak, followed by Goh, YK, KC and Wong arrive around 7.00pm. As soon as we reach the peak, we started to take pictures as it was slowly getting dark. We sign the log book (refer to photo) to indicate we have scale the peak. As the weather was getting cooler, we quickly found a suitable campsite to set up our tents. The weather here changes very often as strong wind always makes it very foggy and it is difficult to judge whether it is going to rain or it is just very misty and wet. The temperature was down to 12 degree Celsius and with the strong wind it felt even colder, without a wind breaker and an internal thermal wear you can get chill very easily. We try to set the floor sheet and covered by the fly sheet to keep out the strong wind but it was a futile effort. The boiling temperature at high altitude is always lower and that makes difficulty in boiling rice, a better suggestion would be to prepare porridge, alternative is to dig a hole in the ground and make sure the stove and the cooking pot is well shielded from the strong wind. Goh brought along a small bottle of liquor and started to pass it around. KC and I prefer just to drink hot chocolate. 9.00pm sleep time. From inside the tent, our feet and hands were numb with the coldness we quickly crawl into our sleeping bags. It normally will take about half an hour before you stop shivering. As we lay quietly, the strong wind make our tents sway like curtains and makes loud scratching noises. The inside of the tent feels damp due to water condensation as a result of body perspiration. Just try to get some sleep no matter how difficult, all throughout the night it will rain occasionally and if you think of peeing, well good luck.

Journey Log
5th March 2005, Day 5, Gunung Tahan to Wray’s Camp, 16 km, 7hours

7.00 am Bangun! Bangun! Bangun! like a precise alarm clock, actually we tried to get up by 5.45am to watch the sunrise but it was our unlucky day as it was too misty or cloudy. It feels cool and as cold as last night, quickly we ate our breakfast, pack up leaving our wet clothes to put on at the last. Bbbrrrrrrrrrrrrr one last look around and off we go, down with a quicker pace to warm up the body. Somehow it feels nearer, maybe we have achieved our goal but it took us 7 hours at a slower pace as Wong's injured toe begins to feel sore and very swollen, on checking we found 2 of his toe nails was coming off. On every stop we took extra pictures, my advice is to take as many as possible because when you go home you will complain that you should have taken this and that... Upon reaching Wray’s Camp, it started to drizzle, luckily it stop after half an hour. That night we just lazed around the floor sheet and gazed at the stars, magnificent view, wow........

Journey Log
6th March 2005, Day 6, Wray’s Camp to Puteh Camp, 7.5hours.

Took a real good bath at the river. Scrub from head to toes mmmm it feels good. This time another two of Wong's toe nails begin to wobble. He had almost single handedly use up the tape from the medical kit.

7th March 2005, Day 7, Puteh Camp to Melantai Camp, 6 hours.

Wong is really slowing down, today we were supposed to walk to Kuala Tahan but because of his condition we had to slow down. Gave him some heavy pain killers and some mild steroid (prescribe by a doctor friend for this sort of emergency). Tonight KC cook most of our food ration, we had plan for a 7 day trek with 2 days extra food. Everyone felt very relax as tomorrow we will be going out.

8th March 2005, Day 8, Melantai Camp to Kuala Tahan, 4 hours

Wong felt better, finally at noon we walk out and straight to the Forestry Office to report our exit. Before issuing us with certificates, they inspected our garbage which we brought out and check the balance of our stuff when we first reported in. And the final confirmations from Man Panjang only then they issue us the certificate. We gather at the van, took our time to pack and change into a fresh set of clothing. Had lunch all 6 of us eating at the floating restaurant down by the river. Going home with wonderful memories and a good experience of our trip.


Tiffany said...


You have a very nice experience for jungle trekking in malaysia's moutain, i wish to join ur trip for next round.

Thank you.

Flipper said...

Hi Tiffany,

Thank you for reading about our camping travels. We are planning our next trip to Gunung Batu Putih (Pahang). I assume you are reasonably fit and will inform you once the dates have been confirmed. Meanwhile sent your email to me at ykkclow@gmail.com or ykkclow@hotmail.com and maybe meet up with our group.

Anonymous said...

Nice reading your Mt Tahan post. Are you arranging to go again this year in 2014? If so, drop me a mail at kuotung@singnet.com.sg as I am interested to join.

By the way I am from Singapore.
KT Sim