Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bukit Chenuang: Off the Beaten Track

14th March 2009, 3:00pm.: I gazed down the seemingly never ending dirt track that is supposed to lead us back to civilization. Nearly two hours of walking and there is no longer any sign of those familiar bits of paper that showed we were on the right track. Nothing looks familiar. Thunder pealed overhead. A storm approaches. "Am I going to spend the night in the jungle?" I thought.

And thus I find myself with this uncomfortable sensation that I might actually have gotten myself lost in the jungles of Hulu Langat.

It all started with this invitation to join up for this hike to Bukit Chenuang, a previously unknown hill located in the Sungai Congkak forest reserve on the way to Pangsun. At first I was not really keen to go for the trip having just came back from a 4D/3N trip to Endau Rompin the week before. This weekend was supposed to be for me do a little bit of R&R.

But I felt a little guilty refusing another offer from my friend who had invited me quite a number of times. Besides, my sense of adventure was nagging me to accept this offer to explore this new place so close to Gunung Nuang. Still, my aching legs were trying to persuade me to do otherwise.

First off, this is not a Trail Trackers organized trip so only a few people I casually invited through facebook messaging came along (Aaron, Audrey, Kim, Tony and Wen Chieh). I didn't really know what to expect and trust the hike would be like any other ordinary hike. Events would prove otherwise. ;)

After breakfast at Restaurant Mydeen in Cheras, near the Taman Connaught BHP station, we set off for the starting point at the Sungai Congkak Forest Reserve around 8:00am. Along the way, we sort of lost the main convoy of cars, later finding out that the rest had made a detour to avoid the RM1.00 toll after Phoenix Plaza.

By then we were about 6km from Pangsun and halted for the convoy who had lagged behind because of the detour they made. When the convoy finally caught up with us, we were just simply amazed at how many cars were in it! A wedding procession couldn't even have more, there was probably about 10 cars in the convoy!

It was not surprising then, when everyone got down and there were more people in this group than I could actively count (probably also because everyone was busy milling about too). A rough guess would put the number of people to be close to 40.
Without wasting much time in introductions and pleasantries, the group pushed off, at first walking along the tar road within the park passing rows of chalets and campsites with Sungai Congkak on the left. It was a nice enough place for a weekend getaway. All you need to do was to pay the entrance fee of RM1.00/person and RM2.00/car at the gate. Campsite rental is RM10.00. No ideas about the chalet prices.

Somewhere down the road, we encountered our first obstacle, a fallen tree with it's trunk stretched clear across the road. Clambering over it took some time and once across, we continued, shortly reaching this inconspicuos point on the road where a small path led into the jungle. There were no signs whatsoever to show it was the beginning of anything.

Trusting our 'trek leader's' experience, whom I have had a very brief conversation while we were at the fallen tree (he claims to have went up Bukit Chenuang 3 times), we headed after him into the jungle. A few meters down the trek, we had to turn back. We were on the wrong path.

"We had to take the trek that follows the slope," said our 'trek leader'.

The path initially seemed easy and well defined. Everyone made good time until we reached the streams. Here, we made another back track when our 'trek leader' lost the way again. We got back on track soon enough to find ourselves facing a steep uphill climb.

This segment of the trek is where the path becomes less clear and maintained. Fallen bamboo trees and looping thorny vines stretch across what remained of a path that appeared rarely threaded upon. Neither were there any sign of those customary hazard tapes wrapped around tree trunks to show the path.

At this point, one member of our group faltered. Audrey gave me a call via my mobile to say that Tony, Kim and Wen Chieh will be heading down, leaving only Aaron and I to finish the hike up to Bukit Chenuang for the honor of Trail Trackers! ;) With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps they had made a wise decision.

Another hour of very steep and slippery climbing plus one more chance to scurry over another bamboo tree and we were at the peak.

A Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Moment

A large metal marker marked the top of Bukit Chenuang, the only shelter available from the hot afternoon sun that beat down on us. It's already pass 12:00pm. Not everyone made it to the top at the same time. The hill had sort of sorted us out, with the 'seasoned' hikers reaching the top first and the more sedentary ones reaching much later. On one side we got a glimpse of Pangsun dam and on the other, a distant view of Klang Gates, KLCC and Ampang. The view in general wasn't great, it being obstructed by trees.

Klang Gates Dam from Bukit Chenuang

Pangsun Dam from Bukit Chenuang

KLCC and Ampang area from Bukit Chenuang

After taking our customary photos and having a light packed lunch, it appeared that is was time to get down. I say this because we sorta found that out AFTER our 'trek leader' had already gone down leaving us to follow a supposedly very 'clear' trail back. The catch is that the way down wasn't the way we came and I guess it was here where the (mis)adventure truly began!

A number of metal poles heralded the way down the hill. Once, guide ropes might have been fastened to them to aid hikers up the slippery slopes to the summit but now its interiors were filled with water, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The rope is gone.

Down this track, we again had to dodge thorny bushes and fallen bamboo trees. "Where is Dennis and his parang when you need him?" :p

Crawling beneath a mass of fallen bamboo, where is Dennis when you need him?

The ones following Aaron and I behind were soon lagging far back, needing to pick leeches off and themselves up negotiating the steep slope. (Leeches were a minimum problem for me thanks to BAYGON! ;))

"HooHaa!" I shouted, hoping to get a response up ahead and behind to gage our relative positions.

Initially there were answers but later as the trail dragged on, it became sparse. Eventually we reached the rear of a small pack of members who had slowed down negotiating obstacles. We followed them to the stream, bits of paper dropped by one of the group leading the way back.

Thank you Waterfall Survivors!

It was here that we thought we lost the trail. A tree had fallen across the path with nothing to show we had to cross it. There was a moment of confusion, the 6 members in our small pack crossing across the other side of the flowing stream at various points to find signs of additional bits of paper, an imprint in the sand or a bent stem of a tree, to no avail. Finally, some of us dared to climb over the fallen tree to survey the path ahead and thankfully we found that familiar pieces of paper further down the way.

By now our huge group had splintered into smaller packs of people scrambling down the hill. It felt as if we were like survivors swimming away from a sinking ship, coalescing into larger packs as we met more people. Distant echoes of "Every man for himself!" tolled dimly in one corner of my mind.

We found the point where we crossed the stream finding a smattering of paper on the other side. We were still on the right track.

That track led us along the side of the stream for a while before branching away. A pipe slithered down from another side and followed the path. Good, a sign of civilization! We shouldn't be far.

Half an hour later, we were still following the path with the pipe running alongside. It seemed neverending!
Worse, the heavens were reveberating with the peal of thunder. A storm is coming and it's not the rain that worries me. It's the bits of paper and footprints which will be washed away by the flowing torrent of water cascading down the track, obliterating almost any sign showing our way back!

My phone chimed, Audrey smsed us to say that her group had reached the car park. It was probably 3:00pm then. Knowing that there is a phone line, I called back asking her whether their group happen to follow a long line of rubber pipe on the way back. She shocked me by saying that they never saw a pipe while trekking down!

Aaron and I quickened the pace, trusting to follow the path we were already on to get back. Bits of newspaper littered the path now, ones which we were sure wasn't dropped by any of our group. The bits of paper we were hoping to see had gone. Nevertheless it was a little too far for us to turn back now and trusting our instincts we forged ahead.

The rain came in the end. Aaron dorned his reusable poncho on, I chose to take a rain bath. ;) We were now alone. The group we were earlier with had slowed down so much they were beyond sight.We reached a fork in the road one in two we had come across. On one path a smattering of newspaper bits were strewn, on another none. Aaron and I waited for the group behind us to catch up. The rain was now pouring.

After 10 minutes, I yelled out "HooHa!". There was no response. I yelled a few more times, once more receiving no response. We cannot wait any longer, but worrying that the groups behind might go the wrong path, we left a sign, constructed of stone peebles to resemble an arrow, showing the way we went, which we seriously hope is the right way back. (I had left other signs along the way as well, bending stems of ferns now and then to show our passage, an old scouting trick)

Finally, after another 15-20 minutes, I caught sight of something I had almost lost hope of seeing... a road, civilization! And to emphasize the point, a Proton Saga sped pass. We staggered out, literally like survivors lost in the jungle for weeks (especially for Aaron, with dried up ferns lodged in his now unruly long hair!)We had exited near the car park, away from our point of entry. The time was a little bit pass 4:00pm.
At that moment another car came by and surprise, surprise. It's our 'trek leader'! ;)

Looking comfortably showered and dressed, he asked us from a drawn down window whether there were people behind us. We told him, "Yes, a great many of them." To this he nodded and to our GREATER surprise, sped off into the sunset!

Hmm... that is to be expected. After all didn't the invitation note mentioned each of us to 'take care of ourselves'? Well, "Render upon Caeser, what is Caeser's..." Perhaps some people organize trips differently then.

For the me and Aaron, it was one harrowing and challenging trip with generous elements of the 'risk', elements which we hope that we wouldn't need to factor on a Trail Trackers organized trip especially with Aurelius and Chelsina around! :)

We ended the trip with a dip in Sungai Congkak, pulling off any remaining leeches stuck on our shoes and feet before having a nice burger in one of the stalls nearby. At 6:00pm we decided to leave, meeting my friend who invited us over for the trip.

"How many people are still in the jungle?" I asked.

"I guess maybe about 5?" she ventured.

As of Sunday morning, there was nothing in the news to suggest that the Fire and Rescue Services was mobilized to find 'lost' hikers. Hmmm, I guess everyone eventually made out?

As I finish writing this blog, I couldn't help remembering what Aaron said somewhere down our endless hike back...

"We did not conquer Chenuang, we survived it."

I wholeheartedly agree. Until the next time... :)


  1. Good thing I wasn't there, it'd be awkward for the organizer for I'll be shouting around for sure.
    I do not enjoy hiking with people that I don't trust

  2. Sadhu (Amen) to that! ;)

    That's why a Trail Tracker event will never end up like this! :)

  3. It's all fun now that you didn't get lost but it could have been terrible otherwise...the trail leader sounds irresponsible to say the least...

  4. If the this is TT trip, I will screw the trail leaders upside down. How can you leave the ppl behind? Might as well do solo trekking?

    3 all you make sure this will not happen in any of TT trip or you all will get your ass kicked... :D

  5. Aurelius: You know the way I operate, evil commando style :P

  6. great adventure man!

  7. Thanks Anonymous... ;) It was a great adventure, one that I would like to repeat one day... ;)