Sunday, April 6, 2014

Gunung Belumut -- A Challenging Experience.

Gunung Belumut is a mountain peaking at 1010m situated near Kluang in Johor, Malaysia. The trail leading up to it is about 6km. The total distance ascend and descend was about 12.5km.

 A hiking group had organized a climb to the mountain. Organisers had clearly warned on their webpage that the trail can be steep and tough, and is not suitable for inexperienced hikers. Me and my two friends SF and AC joined 37 other hikers from Hiking Trekking and Traveling Buddies meetup group, many of whom we have been acquainted in past hikes.

The group is made up of people who are fairly active and enthusiastic weekend hikers.  We've been to a few hikes in Malaysia, and my friends have hiked mountains in other countries. For myself, I've regularly hiked 10-15km in the various pockets of green reserves and parks in Singapore.

We met up at 5.30 am at Marsiling MRT to take the coach over the causeway and towards our destination. I had a fairly heavy breakfast consisting of two boiled eggs, a quarter loaf of bread, coffee and milo. I also packed sandwich to eat on the bus.

My backpack consists of a raincoat, 1.5 liters of water (3 bottles, each 500ml), a first-aid box containing bandaids of few sizes, a disinfectant, panadol and carbon pills and lunch. My lunch was a few cereal bars, two snicker bars and an apple. I had with me 5 packs of Pocari ion-supply drink mix. (1 pack could be mixed in with 200-300ml of water to make isotonic drink.) I brought my gloves, a hiking pole.

We crossed customs at about 6.30am. The busride was about 2-3 hours. I ate my sandwich just about half hour before we got to the destination. We reached Belumut base at about 9 am. We were briefed. Two local guides were to accompany us, one leading and one sweeper. 2pm was the turn-back time. The forest would be dark by 6pm.

The trail started easily enough. The path was clear and pretty straight. Nonetheless, I nearly wrenched my ankle because of a root. Rainforests paths are often covered over with treeroots and slippery wet leaves. We reached the first checkpoint after 45 minutes and were told that that was just the warm up.

After that, the climb started getting steep. The steps quite resembled the Bukit Timah Hill steps except that these steps were formed by treeroot and natural erosion. At near Checkpoint 2, I was already tired and lagging far behind. Maybe I should've paced myself better. My friends had to go forward or else they may not be able to reach the peak in time. There was supposedly a slower group behind me that I could wait for. (But I never saw them.) I chose to go forward at my own pace. The path all the way to summit is a very clear one, with no misleading sidepaths to get lost on.

 I was starting to resign at this point that I might never reach the top, so I might as well just enjoy the scenery -- the beautiful misty surrounds, the tall trees, the large and colorful variety of mushroom and fungi growing on fallen trees. It was wonderfully silent except for the song of forest crickets. I reached checkpoint 2 (3km). It was about 10.30-11 am. One more hiker had passed me and there was no one else behind. I haven't see the sweeper for a while and just continued walking.

After checkpoint 2, it was really hard. There were stretches of hard climbs. I had read that the slopes were 70-90 degree inclines. Now I saw it for myself. It took large steps and a lot of tree and root grabbing to haul oneself up the steeps. It was slightly slippery due to the clay-mud type of surface. Some parts had ropes but mostly not. I kept my hiking pole and put on my gloves to concentrate on this task. The sweeper was now in front of me, guiding my steps. It was still like some kind of puzzle to figure out where to put one's foot. I had to stop many times to catch my breath. And I took my water by sips as I had to make it last till I get down. At this point I was afraid it was going to rain and make things even more impossible.

Instead it seemed to get brighter. It was nice and cool, but the climb was becoming very hard. I was reaching checkpoint 3, I could hear some voice of those further up. It must be close, I thought. It was about 11.40am. I looked up and there was more steep "steps". It's only up to there, I told myself. Maybe as SF cautioned, I shouldn't have looked. It was terribly intimidating. The sweeper waited, offering a hand. I did take it but it was more of support as I didn't really want to completely let him pull me up. I wasn't a light weight (~65kg).

Every time I stopped I could hear myself in my head, what are you doing here? This mountain is too high. This is too difficult. You can't do this. You're too tired. You should've trained harder. Really cannot make it. Etc etc. There was also "are you just going to waste time standing here wallowing in self pity or are you going to move your legs?"

When I got to checkpoint 3 which was a small clearing. I wonder if I should just stop. But then why I did I just go through climbing all those steeps just to go back down? It was about noon. Is it wise to go on? I'll just walk; if by 1 pm I was not up there, I will turn around, make my way back. There were no more very steep slopes, so the sweeper went off ahead and I was alone again.

Just keep walking.

At about 12.30 or 12.40pm or so, I started meeting people coming down. I was glad to see them, it might mean I was getting close. They always tell you, you'll get there soon. You tell yourself, you'll get there soon.

I reach the clearing.. the false summit. That's about 5km. After that, one turns left down a small path and then a narrow way up. It wasn't steep anymore but I was tired. I was meeting more people on their way down. All of them cheered me on. SF and AC were just leaving as I got to the top at about 1.15pm. The lead guide was with me and took a picture of me standing by the marker.

I climbed up a rock to take a view. It was a cloudy day, couldn't see far and so there was not much to see. I rested for about 15 minutes, I ate two cereal bars and one sneakers bar and had finished one bottle of water. (500ml). I could never eat after a hike which was probably not a good thing. Food = energy.

1.30pm: the lead guide and I made our way down. I absolutely dreaded it, just not looking foward to going down those steep sections. It's far worse than climbing them -- in fact climbing them was quite fun even though it was very hard for me.

I caught up with my friends at the steep downs towards checkpoint 3. The descend was hard for everyone because a wrong foot hold means a nasty fall. Roots criss-crossed, slippery terrain, there were few comfortable even landings. Both lead guide and sweeper were with us.

I slide down the slopes when I could. It isn't safe to do that too much as the way was uneven and full of protruding objects like little rocks and roots. I was getting too tired. I stopped a lot to catch my breath. My friends asked me if my legs or ankles were hurting.. It wasn't that, it was that I couldn't really seem to move them properly. I starting to fear falling because my legs didn't seem strong enough to hold up when I stepped down. It seems they had a tendency to simply give way.  The lead guide was now with me. He said I had to take smaller steps, let my friends go forward.

Between checkpoint 3 and 2, it was very hard. Back to the very steep parts. I had a feeling my legs were not exactly there anymore and any step I took  however small was going to send me falling head first. I held on to trees for dear life as I stepped carefully down. At this point, it was a lot of "I probably shouldn't have gone all the way up there. I shouldn't even be here." I rested a lot. At one point I realize I might be starving, but it was a dull sort of realization because I wasn't hungry but my gut sort of hurt. I ate an apple and a few more bars. Finished half a bottle of water.

The lead guide chatted with me, telling me it will be easy when we get to checkpoint 1 but that was about an hour away. At my pace, would it be 2 hours? He told me not to worry and just concentrate on where to put my feet. I was falling down a lot due to fatigue. I wrenched my ankle about two more times on the way down. It's a miracle I didn't even tear a ligament. "You are just too tired." he said. "Don't worry they will wait for you." He offered to carry my bag but I said no, it wasn't heavy. Not anymore, since I've already finished two bottles of water.

I felt really bad I was probably keeping everyone else waiting.

Got to checkpoint 2 and both lead guide and sweeper was with me. I was wondering if everyone back at the coach would just leave if it got dark. After all, there was a time schedule for dinner and such. I wouldn't blame them if they'd left. What would be the sense of waiting for one person who underestimated this climb?There were other nonsense thoughts such as wondering if there are tigers about or what would one do if one gets stuck here when darkness falls.

The descend wasn't so steep anymore, but legs were still not properly supportive when I stepped down. I sometimes stood at a step for what seemed like ages until I was sure they were going to hold up. It's like I had keep telling them what the next step was, or else they might just not be working when I land a step.

We reached checkpoint 1 at about 5pm. I was nearly out of water. There was about 200ml left. But after checkpoint 1, it was a whole lot easier as the path was back being straight and flat. I still nearly fell a few times because my sense of balance was apparently not working properly. I didn't feel dizzy though. It was still some way back to the entrance. It took about an hour.

I was cheerfully greeted by everyone by the time I got back to the coach (~5.45pm). I thanked both guide and sweeper because without them I probably wouldn't have survived the way down. I am very grateful it didn't rain. Climbing this mountain was my physical limit and tested me mentally as well.


At the end of the day, I came out mostly tired. I had bruises on my shin and front of my legs from accidentally hitting on the fallen trees and branches as I was crossing them or when I don't notice them. My right shoulder was strained from reaching for tree branches and pulling myself up and down. Both ankles were in pain from the near-sprains -- I iced them when I got home. The aches lasted about a week.

I have bought ankle supports. I realize I probably have to think of ways to take in food while on these long hikes -- maybe bring something easier to consume than dry cereal bars.

Please read these blogs if you thinking of climbing Belumut:


Rina Tang said...

Awesome! What a great workout. I can visualize the scenes like I'm there too. I would never do it. Way to go!

Ravenblack said...


- Liz