Monday, August 15, 2005

Brrrrr......Belumut 13-14 August 2005

This was supposed to be a fun and easy revisit to Pelepah... Since XJ and Eric couldn't make it, decided to try something else instead and Belumut seemed near and do-able enough. We were supposed to meet early, charge up the summit and down again, camp at the base and 'nuah' until early morning, so that we can chill in a nice JB spa.... So much for the best laid plans of men and mice...

13 Aug: Meeting time- 6.45am. Due to unforseen circumstances (ahem), who we shall not name, we finally passed through Woodlands checkpoint at 8am. Reached Larkin at 9am, and realised that we had no choice but to cab to Belumut if we wanted to make it down before it got too dark. Was pondering a tarpau lunch of Marrybrown when...'Since when did McDonald's open at Larkin?????'...so we had one round of Sausage McMuffins. Negotiated with a cabby from RM100 to RM85, and he agreed to take us to the FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN.

Half an hour into the ride, the cab driver asked if any of us knew the way there. The beginnings of trepidation started to grow as we answered No. Figured that we'll ask directions once we reach Kluang. After one hour of prolonged discourses on how expensive it was to transport us since the petrol prices rose, on top of the highway tolls and carpark fees, reached the town. His face grew glummer and glummer as he realised that Belumut wasn't exactly next to the Kluang bus station. When we stopped at Shell to pump petrol and confirm directions, he dropped the bombshell- he wanted to be paid RM100 instead of RM85 as originally agreed, saying he thought it was a short distance only, not 25km from Kluang. Arguments about how he should have said so at Larkin didn't hold water and Ming being good-hearted finally agreed on the condition that he bring us right to the base without further whinging. The next half an hour was spent enduring comments about how far the mountain was, how rural the area looks, the possibilities of encountering tigers and elephants, and repeated questions on where to turn next right in front of the directional signs.

Finally arrived at the base close to 12pm, 2 hours behind schedule....Ming even gave the cabby a RM5 tip, for coffee before the long and presumably expensive drive back. Paid the RM40 climbing fee (for the group), gobbled down the McMuffins, and we're on our way!

The Trek


The start of the trek was a gentle incline, accompanied by the sound of running water and following a black water pipe on a trail blanketed with dipterocarp seeds. I was really happy to see all the variety and abundance of these rainforest trees' seeds, much like what's happening at Bukit Timah now. Hope lots of little seedlings sprout from them! About 45min in, came to the 4km to summit sign and the trail started getting steeper. Hit out first 'staircase', and slowly plodded our way up, some sections require the use of hands to pull on roots. Quite nicely, the staircases were separated by ridgelines, allowing us to catch our breaths in between. Staircase 2 was short and sharp, as was #3, which was preceded by Batu Mahkota, or the rock shaped like a crown, which we were tempted to name 'Ta Prohm' due to the tree growing nicely between the folds of the rock. Nice rock. We were quite high by now and on our rest stops, could see the lower hills and forests below. Staircase 4 was the killer, some clay with root sections, and very very very long... A short rock section interrupted the seemingly never ending crawl upwards, and you can detour around the left of the rocks. Sit on top for a breezy view of the valley. A last burst upwards, and we reached mossy forest (which gives Belumut it's name) and the upper campsite, which only had space for maybe 2-3 tents. A slight incline later, we reached the false summit at 4.15pm. From there, it was a 15min brisk walk to the summit, down and up a wide saddle. Jani tripped over a step on the way down and sprained the left ankle (injury #1), but refused to be left behind on the false summit so close to the end! Luckily I brought my ankle guard along...

As Ming had earlier described, reaching the summit was a case of 'walk walk walk...Oh! we've reached!!'. We climbed over one rock and suddenly we were at the summit! Climbed on top of the big rock for a really nice 360 degree view of the mist rolling over us, and had a celebratory packet of Honey Dijon Kettle chips. Too bad we didn't bring the grape juice...

Decided to camp at the upper site as we didn't feel like scrambling down the staircases in the dark. Which means- this is the 1st trip we actually set-up camp in daylight!!!! 5.30pm!!! WOW! Watching the mist roll in and out, was lamenting the lack of longpants and clean woolly socks, sitting nicely at home in S'pore as we were supposed to have camped at the much hotter, humid base...sighssss.... Crossed my fingers that it'll not be Nuang #2.... Jani and I tied our hammocks where we surmised there should be less wind, and we went down the path opposite the big rubbish pile to look for the water source....which turned out to be linked puddles of water.. Well, at least they look clean...was glad there was just us on at the camp then, else too many people would definitely muck up the water. Was really sad to see the amount of rubbish present, which totally spoiled the campsite atmosphere, and what was otherwise such a pretty place, which mossy trees, rhododendrons, orchids, etc. People should really take out what they bring in.

We actually showered in daylight! Hah! Was very very cold!!!!

Dinner was great- had tom yam soup made with Asian Home Gourmet instant paste (no MSG), 2 types of fresh mushrooms and chicken mushroom balls, and cooked instant rice (done in 5min!). Was supposed to stirfry some cabbage, but we forgot to bring oil from home, buy Planta at Larkin, OR get oil from the makciks at the basecamp canteen. So kinda made some cabbagy, mushroomy soup thing. Well, the tom yam was good... Nata de coco for dessert! Lychee flavour tasted much better than lime, which was like drinking detergent or something. Looked at our watches- it was only 8.30pm! We were giddy at the thought that it was still so early in the day and we had finished eating dinner... The wind picked up and we were forced to grab our jackets to keep from shivering...Oh no!

Went to bed (hammock) at the unearthly early hour of 9.30pm. Promptly woke up at midnight as the wind was HOWLING...we were all little popsicles, with the exception of TT who was snug in his Thermarest cocoon. The trees swayed gently as they were blasted by fierce winds on all sides (that's what you get for sleeping on a ridgeline). Found out later that summit temperatures can be as cold as 10 degrees C!! Dammit!!!! Why do I only have my thin thin silk liner again????? I could have sobbed, it was soooooo unfair!!! In the end, given my almost moribund state, Ming and TT unhooked the basha and passed it to me for an extra blanket, Jani had her pashmina, and Ming shifted from the open area to our little corner with his poncho, thus blocking off some wind for me and Jani. Had to wrap myself like a popiah before I thankfully sank back to sleep.

14 Aug: At 7am, it was still dark as mist lay thickly in the air. Had to use ambient light to find the pee spot as white light just bounces off the mist. Decided that some hot Milo was in order. Breakfast was an improvised potato and tomato egg scramble, cooked using water, and 2 packs of instant mushroom cheese soup (also no MSG!). Got some life back into our frozen appendages after the hot food and drink, and started the descent at 9.30am.

Jani fell again twice (left ankle once more and right ankle), and I fell once (left ankle), so it was good we had extra bandages in the 1st aid kit. TT strained his ankle as well, and three of us hobbled out back to civilisation at 12.45pm. Ming was perfectly fine! Probably because he took his time with negotiating the descent.

Showered at the base (RM0.50), had some lunch at the canteen, and arranged for a car to bring us to Kluang bus station (ask the Park staff, RM30). Alternative was to walk 3.5km through the oil palm plantation to catch the public bus (every 2 hours from 8am, RM2.50). The bus to Larkin leaves every half hour (RM7.50, 1.5 hours), they even showed us a movie onroute!

Went to Thai Village (level 3) in City Square to check if we could get a nice post trek massage, but they were booked till 8pm, so decided to have a decadent dinner at Genki Sushi instead. Massage reviews will have to wait till next time...

Trip photos and our shack faces can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pocillopora/sets/763431/


Trek rating:
Stamina- *** (mostly uphill, some near vertical sections with roots)
Technicality- ** (even kids can do it. the only rock face can be circumvented)
Quality of rest stops- *** (pretty nice views, but oh...the rubbish!)
Amnesia rating- ** (nice trees and moss, would go back if there's been a clean-up)