Monday, July 12, 2010

Gunung Kutu, between Suffering and Relaxation! Part 1: Suffering!

I have not really hiked since visiting Gunung Stong back in February and to tell you the truth, I am starting to get kinda lazy. :p So when Wei Han floated yet another idea to go on another 'tough' hiking trip, the 'Eddie' that once leapt up at the challenge and said 'GOOOOOO' only managed a faint whisper at the back of my mind. ;) It was also at the same time that Pui Voon suddenly had a few 'vacancies' in her 'company' trip to Fraser's hill, also on the same weekend, which placed me in a REAL dilemma: should I take up Wei Han's offer and 'suffer' a total 7 hour hike up a mountain, dirt, mud and leeches galore? Or should I accept Pui Voon's offer and have a relaxing sojourn up the cool mountain top, sitting in front of a fire place, reading Hemmingway while the scent from the English garden around soothes the tired nerves? ;) Kinda 'hard' to make a decision isn't it? I was admittedly sort of leaning towards the more 'relaxing' trip when our Mr. Wei Han kindled the slumbering hiker within by labelling me a 'retired hiker'... :p Coincidentally, in a surprise call from my long lost friend, Maxx, the day before, one of the points brought up in our conversation was also my supposed 'retirement' from my hiking escapades, with the label, 'retired hiker' being suspiciously reused(Hmm... one wonders whether the term originated from the same source)! In any case, an offer by Mr. Wei Han to drive us both to the base of Gunung Kutu and then proceeding to Fraser's Hill to link up with Pui Voon and gang sealed the deal and so, in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, I found myself travelling once more down the road through the gathering dawn, clad in my trusty grey sports shirt, blue Adidas pants and worn badminton shoes with a mission yet to conquer another mountainous feature in the Titiwangsa range. :p But before the 'conquerer's are going to conquer anything, we have to first satisfy the resistance from our hungry stomachs! And to do this, we stopped at Kuala Kubu Baru town for a much needed breakfast.
A place of a 'hundred' rendevous'es'... Perhaps the ONLY famous mamak shop in KKB...

It was also the rendevous point where we met up with the organizing group of the trip consisting of Sharon Chow, Weng Woo and Real Ho which I have met on previous outings and a series of other 'new' faces. Surprisingly, we were also joined by 3 ELDERLY men whom I found out later were on average more than 60 years of age! After introductions, eating our breakfast and packing our lunch to munch at the top, we set off for the trail start point, located just inside the orang asli village at Kampung Pertak. The entrance to the kampung, just one stop away from entry to Chilling waterfalls on the road to Fraser's Hill and over a bridge (with so many pointers, can you miss it? ;)) is graced by an elaborate wooden arch, still 'adorned' by an election banner urging the natives to vote 'Blue'... :p
The arch adorning the gateway to Kampung Pertak, with some recent by-election 'leftover'...

We followed the tar road pass the kampung into the wilderness until there is no more tar road left before we parked our cars. We started off from the parking lot at 9:00am, heading up a dirt and gravel 4 wheel drive track.
Hi-Ho! And so we set off from the car park!

The 4 wheel drive track...

We soon arrived at a metal suspension bridge spanning over a small stream. This was one of two bridges on the trail, the next one having partially collapsed at the midspan. ‘Partially’ collapsed meant that at the midspan, the angle of tilt for the metal walking plates was almost 45o, therefore a certain amount of agility is required to navigate over the other side. OR, you could just wade across the shin high waters (and get your shoes wet in the process, which you will eventually do anyway!) :p.
2nd suspension bridge, where you get to emulate Michael Jackson's inclined (45 degrees) moonwalk!

We were introduced to the three elderly gentlemen whom we found to be around their 60s and originating mostly from Klang! There was another much wider stream cuts across our path after the bridge. The water here is knee deep, enough for a cool dip in its running waters. Of course, this is really not the ‘official’ dipping spot for most people coming here. That was closer to the parking lot. Apparently, the shallow bottom boulder strewn river not far away is popular among weekend visitors and picnickers who enjoy bathing more ‘natural’ types of water.
Boulder strewn riverbed... well, the waters are still cool to dip in... ;)

As we were still rather ‘fresh’, we didn’t stop at this point to dip, although most of us wearing socks and shoes (and also those who didn’t bother to remove them, me included) got them pretty wet.
Getting my feet, socks and shoes WET!

Leaving the stream behind, we found ourselves still on the 4 wheel drive track (though thankfully no 4 wheel drives in sight), passing rubber and fruit tree groves. The sun was peeking out from behind the heavy clouds by now, casting rays of light through the overhead tree tops.
A 'magical' moment, the sun rays peeking through the leaves of rubber trees ;)

There were a few branches of road, although quick questions to the locals passing by in their motorcycles will set you on the right path to Gunung Kutu. Some of these branches are blocked off as well, whether to prevent 4 wheel drives from destroying the paths or simply stopping trespassers (like us) from going through their private property is unclear. We soon found our way to the trail start marked by the familiar red and white striped ribbons tied onto the surrounding trees. Another small stream passes through this starting point as well. This will be the last water point from here to the summit, so it’s time to get our shoes wet one last time.
On the track! Sharon and Steven strikes a pose...

The track starts rather leisurely, the red and white striped ribbons leading us over mostly flat ground. At length, we passed through this rather peculiar area of felled trees. A number of shirts and children clothing (in particular, a little girl’s dress!) were hung on makeshift hangers among the fallen branches. From the random way they were hung, it didn’t appear that someone had left them to dry to come back and collect later. Rather, it could have been some innovative method of marking the area to the locals or more disturbingly, they perhaps might have been some form of ‘offering’ to you know what (it could also have been a graveyard, you wouldn’t know)! :p
Brrr! I wouldn't want to pass this area at night! :p This place gives me the creeps!

Regardless, we left them clearly alone and proceeded onwards. Lulled by the ease of travel so far, the first steep incline came as somewhat of a surprise. It was time to ‘engage’ the 4 wheel drive. The water sodden slope made it slippery and muddy, at certain points I had to grab the roots of trees or tree trunks to pull myself up the close to 30o (or more) inclines.
4 wheel drive on! Powering up the slippery slope...

After more than an hour of slogging, we reached somewhat flat ground although not before having to get down onto my haunches to pass through the mud beneath fallen bamboo trees! If I had thought the bamboo trees had fallen low the first round, mother nature wasn’t finished with us as she provided us another chance to perform the ‘lambada’ by giving us another bamboo obstacle with a much lower clearance!
Time to do the lambada! After working your leg muscles, it's time to work your back! Oh!

I really had to get my hands dirty this time as I had to practically crawl through the mud beneath, trying my best not to get my hiking bag muddier than it already was. The glimpse of the blue sky through the overhead canopy seemed to imply that we were making good progress and we’d be reaching the summit soon. I was wrong, because there was still a few more spells of inclines and flat walks before we finally reached the ‘just-past’ mid point that was represented by this outcrop made out of one gigantic boulder with a large ‘C5’ sign painted on it’s side, indirectly ‘christening’ the place.
C5! (Guess it couldn't have been named 'C4' because it's probably named after a certain jungle spot in Selangor where... :x)

Here, we found two other groups taking a break. One group appeared to be campers heading down while another, a group of mostly Klang Valley people like us, heading up. We paused here to catch our breath and also to take a few photos.
Most of the group, minus myself who was holding the camera... ;)

It’s about 2 and half hours after we started. About 15 minutes after the group heading up left ‘C5’, we ourselves traced their footsteps. Again, I had thought we were close to the summit, the widening window of blue sky among the canopy deceiving me yet again. Turns out, the journey from here is somewhat similar to what you would expect between Puncak Pengasih and the summit of Gunung Nuang. It appears that we had to ‘cross’ over to Gunung Kutu from the hill we were at, descending slightly a moment before going up again. Inevitably, unit cohesiveness broke down and we found ourselves moving in small groups. I was moving with Wei Han, Chang Ying and Chee Ying. The path forked again with two sides showing red and white stripped tapes tied around tree branches. The difference was one path seem to head up another steep incline while the other sort of skirted around it. We chose the ‘skirting’ path after being told by Chee Ying that both leads up to the summit anyway. 3 and half hours after starting at 9am, I finally caught a glimpse of the chimney over the fireplace that formed the landmark that was the ‘summit’ of Gunung Kutu.
At the famous chimney at last! Yippee!!! :)

In actual fact, the leftover brick fireplace was not really the ‘summit’. The summit was about a hundred meters away up two huge boulders that had very robust constructed wooden ladders conveniently provided. Because the 1st group was on the summit, we rested close to the abandoned fireplace.
Sharing the fun with my fellow 'conquerer's! :D

As we did, it was no surprise that anyone would wonder how on Earth the presumably British explorers would manage to haul up the bricks and mortar to build a house up here! Careful deduction and a little bit of research would surmise that they obviously would have had some help from coolies and the reason why they would venture into the hinterlands here to build a house would be the same as they did successfully on Fraser’s Hill and a host of other ‘English’ countryside hills that dot the country; that is to initially set up a trading post to deal with tin miners of inner Pahang and later to develop it into a cooling highland getaway for the Europeans. ;) In any case, the outpost at Gunung Kutu was not very successful and all that is left today is the fireplace along with two deep wells to draw water.
The well... with two covers (before I accidentally made it one, sorry but the cover was loose!) :p

The latter giving would be campers a good reason to climb up here to weather the night. I was told there was an abandoned ‘mansion’ not far from the summit on the other side of the mountain. However, we did not visit it this time around. Swarms of sand flies infest the area around the fireplace and whoever wishes to camp with them better have something to ward them off! We took a few minutes to catch our breath before pulling out our packed lunches from our bags which ranged from apples to cup cakes and even char siew pows! I ate the roti canai I bought back in KKB while Wei Han helped himself with a healthy dose of crackers.
Having my 'roti canai' lunch at the top, with an 'extra' in the frame...

Having done with our lunch, Wei Han and I were encouraged by the other seasoned trackers to head up the summit proper, a proposal we would definitely take up after al the effort. The group ahead of us gave us enough space to maneuver up the wooden ladder to the second topmost boulder. A stainless steel sign declaring that we were at the right place was perched nearby. A second more ‘official’ looking sign set up by Perhilitan was also not far away.
The signboard proclaiming for all to see... 'Gunung Kutu'!

To reach the topmost boulder however, requires you to toughen your nerves as you had to negotiate across a small cut out 2” piece of wood that linked the two boulders. Thankfully, someone also provided a makeshift rail, although I was still worried that the piece of wood beneath me that was the only thing preventing me from plummeting over the sides to oblivion would hold my weight. :p I was reassured by the fact that Wei Han went ahead of me, so if it could support him, it could surely support me! ;) The view from the top was breathtaking, a lot better than at Gunung Stong. Completely unobstructed, we had a good view of the lake that was formed by the damming of Sungai Selangor, the surrounding mountains as well as a piece of apartment development somewhere towards Rawang.
Apartments being developed in Rawang(?)

A portion of the Titiwangsa Mountain range...

View of the lake formed by the Selangor river dam...

At the TRUE summit! :)

We hung around there for while savoring the vista. When we came down to the level the first group was at, we were offered slices of pumpkin pie to eat and share with the rest of our team below, who were at that time busy taking group photos, realizing that they have left Wei Han and myself out when we returned. :p The three elderly gentlemen had already gone down ahead of us. We participated in the next session of photos, this time taken by the famous fireplace before gathering clouds warned us that it was time to head down. The journey down seemed like a breeze compared with the climb up, mainly through the assistance of Newton’s old friend, gravity. :)
A jungle 'pine' cone...

Sharon, Shang Za and Ti Mei were flying down the hill, while Joey, Wei Han, Weng Woo and myself followed behind closely. We still had to contend with the fallen bamboo obstacle down the road but we managed to cover the track down in fewer than 2 and half hours at close to 4pm. This time, we paused at the large unbridged stream just outside the trail to freshen up and wait for the others at the rear to rejoin us.
The river! Time for a refreshing dip!

Sharon however was not at the stream. We presume (rightly) that she had gone all the way to the car park. The water was still as cool as it were in the morning and most of us took the opportunity to immerse in it. The ‘brief’ stop became and ‘full’ stop soon enough as the inviting waters convinced most of us to linger on.
Beautiful ladies by the river... ;)

We were also told that there was usually a crowd of weekend bathers downstream so apparently this was a good place as any to wash up. Wei Han and I couldn’t tarry long however, because we had to proceed on to Fraser’s Hill to meet Pui Voon, her colleagues, Vincent and Fei. There is also this unique gate system enforced which allows vehicles to move only one way up or one way down at certain preset times, with the nearest window for Wei Han and myself being between 5pm to 6pm. There was a brief spell of drama just before we left when one of the girls had one of her red slippers float downstream, until it was successfully retrieved by our gallant policeman! :)And so, with the conclusion of that drama, it was also time for Wei Han and I to bade our hiking group farewell, hiking back to the car park and setting off to our next destination, Fraser’s Hill! (but not before handing Sharon an umbrella to shelter herself from the already falling rain when we found her at the carpark). :p :)

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