Terror Treking

Trip Start May 18, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Friday, May 30, 2003

Today didn't quite go to plan from the start. I was meant to go on an organised tour with Ajay to Gunung Brinchang in the morning, but due to some confusion at my hostel the evening before I was not actually booked on the tour at all. It left without me and I was left with the option of rushing to the bus station and seeing if I could catch them before they left Tanah Rata. Either that or organise my own tour by finding another three people who wanted to share the cost. I raced down to the station but no such luck so I returned to the hostel a little deflated wondering if I should try going up the mountain by myself.

Fortunately I met Phil back at Daniel's Lodge who seemed quite keen to attempt the tallest mountain in the Cameron Highlands with me, so after a quick bite to eat it was off to the summit. First we needed to catch a local bus to Brinchang and we had a little time to kill before it left, so we did a little window-shopping. We were quite taken by the blowpipes and after a quick demonstration I decided to buy one. We joked that if we ran out of food on the mountain we could always go hunting with it. Our supply of "food" actually consisted of a small packet of Hacks cough sweets and some fruit flavoured sweets that Phil had just bought and half a pack of Smints (fresh mint) that I found in my pocket.

After the bus dropped us off we started the steep and winding climb up the tarmac track to the top of the mountain. Even in the relative coolness of the Cameron Highlands this was a very tiring and sweaty ascent. We stopped every now and then to admire the views and take photos. After walking up for a while we managed to hitch a lift from a couple of tea plantation workers in a pickup truck part of the way up. They were only going a little way up so we had to do the last 5km on our own. The going was getting hotter and we were sweating through all of our clothes and knocking back the water. We were still on schedule and quite confident that we would make it back down again by dusk, after all it should only take about as long coming down as going up...

Finally we made it to the top and were greeted with excellent views across the valleys as mist rolled along the hilltops. From the top of the lookout tower we could see for miles in-between the clouds, but there were a lot of clouds as mist rose from the jungle canopy. It was actually quite chilly this high up, so after a couple of sweets each we went back down the tower and looked for the start of 'Trail Number 1' which would take us back down to Brinchang via the jungle rainforest.

It was quite obvious that not many people attempted this trail, as it was very overgrown right from the start. I was glad I was not wearing shorts as the undergrowth was pretty sharp in places and kept snagging on my clothes. I was starting to wonder whether it was a good idea to have put on my relatively nice Levis that morning. After about half a kilometre the descent took on a far more serious angle and with no steps or handrails I started to wish I hadn't brought the blowpipe with me. It was starting to get kind of ridiculous, as we needed to grab onto vines and ridges as we lowered ourselves down the steep rock faces. There were the occasional loose boulders rolling away from under our feet, which called for the sporadic warning shout below. We both thought that this was surely beyond a normal jungle trek and more in the realms of a mountain descent.

Phil's hands were getting sliced up a little on some of the sharp thorns; some of them were over an inch long and cut like razors. Neither of us had brought any antiseptic or plasters with us up the mountain (we were woefully unprepared for this hike - see food earlier) so Phil resorted to spitting on his cuts to stop them going septic. I seemed to be avoiding most of the thorns at the start, partly because I was still hanging onto the blowpipe and not using my hands as much. However gingerly griping the spiked palm branches to lower ourselves down was sometimes the only way to negotiate the near vertical descents. This tactic didn't always work when the dirt beneath our feet often slipped out from under us and we would have to reach out and grab something (thorns and all) to avert a dangerous and lengthy fall.

The only thing that kept me going in the descent was the knowledge that at least I didn't have to come back up each of the unmanageable vertical drops over lose rocks and slippery mountain rivers. The lonely planet states that this trail "should only be tackled from the top down by experienced hikers". Experienced hikers we were not, and after we started winding through very thick jungle it was clear we had lost our way. It was the only thing that made sense as both of us could not imagine anyone calling what we had just done a hike. A quick look at a compass confirmed that if we carried on downhill we probably would not reach civilisation before nightfall as we were heading in the wrong direction for Brinchang.

Without a machete to cut our way across to get back on a correct heading for Brinchang we were only really left with one painful option - climbing back up the horrendous route we came down! To make things worse both of our shoes were soaked from having walked through the mountain stream (I stepped in it up to my knees) and we were down on drinking water - it wasn't safe to drink from the stream without treatment. Still we had no choice but to head up and get back to the summit before nightfall.

The ascent was actually quicker in parts, but more strenuous with many pauses to catch our breath and figure out how to scale some of the lose rock faces we literally slid down on the descent. It was now getting late, already way past the time we had jokingly told base camp (Elizabeth) to send out a rescue party. In our haste I was starting to take more risks on the way up and my wet shoes were slipping on the muddy footholds more often. There were times when I thought we would be spending the night on the mountain side and I found myself contemplating where would be a good place to rest. There seemed to be no plateaus or ledges wider than a few inches at this point and I couldn't imagine being able to sleep while standing against a steep slope without fear of falling.

As night fell on the mountaintop we finally made it back to the summit, discovering where we left the trail fairly early on. We were wet, very tired and thoroughly miserable. I was hoping that there would be someone manning the fenced off complex who could call us a cab to take us back down the tarmac track, but no such luck. There were no payphones on top of the hill so we realised that we had to make our own way down. The sooner we headed down the 7km road to Brinchang the sooner we could hail a taxi and head back to Daniels Lodge for a much needed hot shower.

After a couple of kilometres downhill we noticed a tiny reflective light coming from a hole in the bank on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection Phil said it was a snake looking at us - all we needed now was a venomous bite or two to finish us off! Thankfully it seemed more interested in hiding in its hole than going for us. Perhaps our mudded clothes smelled too fool to warrant getting close to. We started to pass the plantation huts and noticed a few workers walking up the road. We asked if they had a phone we could use to call a taxi but we were just avoided with bemused looks. Perhaps our clothes smelled a lot worse than I thought.

Eventually someone seemed to understand what we wanted and took pity on us, and must have called a cab. After a while a Mercedes pulled up and before too long we were on the main road back to Tanah Rata and a well needed hot shower.

Today was a perfect example of how you can meet someone for the first time and then by the end of the day owe each other your lives. It was a testament to each of our characters that we didn't give up on the way back or lose our rag with each other - even when we thought we might not make it back to civilisation that night. When I was thinking irrationally through tiredness and looking for possible places to bed down for the night, if it wasn't for Phil who kept me going I might not have made it back that night.

All said and done it's experiences like these that make you really feel alive and value all the creature comforts that are usually taken for granted. It is easy to say this now having survived the ordeal, but even when I was at my lowest ebb today the instinct to survive was a powerfully gripping and overwhelming feeling.
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