Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hike up to Pisang Waterfalls - Gombak

Sunday morning sees myself hurtling once more down the KESAS highway to meet up with a group of mostly first time hikers gathering at TTDI's Hero Market at 7am in the morning. The destination for today's hike will be the famous Pisang Waterfalls in Gombak by the Karak highway. Easily accessible offering a nice mixture of a challenge for a beginner as well as being not too taxing but satisfying to a seasoned hiker, Pisang Waterfall was chosen as a destination for another reason as well. It was chosen to be a site of an impromptu birthday surprise for one of our hikers today. :)

Blindfolded by his newly wed wife, he was brought along in the car thinking that he was going to have a dip at an Olympic sized swimming pool at the end of the trip. Little did he know that at the end of the approximately 45 minute drive, he found himself surrounded by jungle greenery, a cool running stream and eager friends in it on the scheme.
Tim being blindfolded. Still thinks he is going to be swimming in an 'Olympic sized' swimming pool. ;)
Our start point for the hike is at the small parking lot in front of the Jungle Lodge Alang Sedayu off Jalan Gombak, a side road that will actually lead you all the way to Janda Baik, passing by the major R&R at Genting Sempah. A small and occasionally narrow road that zig zags up through the Titiwangsa range, it offers an alternative to the Karak highway in case it gets congested during the festive seasons or if there was a major accident that blocks that major artery between the West and East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (as I discovered recently when a tour bus overturned, blocking all lanes on the highway and causing a 8km jam from a little bit down Genting Sempah all the way to Janda Baik! Unlighted and lonely when it gets dark, watch out for the cyclists that uses the road to challenge themselves as they pedal up to Janda Baik or the occasional large lorry that for some reason used this non-tolled road to cross the mountain range.
Jalan Gombak. Road less travelled, unless there is another major accident on Karak :p 
As mentioned before, the parking lot in front of the Jungle Lodge Alang Sedayu is very small. At most, perhaps you could get a little bit more than 10~12 cars into the small piece of tarred road.
Parking in front of Jungle Lodge. RM5 for us. How much for you? :p ;) Remember, don't pay ANYONE else!
The small road leading out from Jalan Gombak is narrow with room enough for a single medium sized car (Civic, Altis) to pass through. Today, the parking 'fee' at the lot was RM5. I have read from some blogs from a few years back that some hikers paid RM3. I challenged the guy collecting the fee in front of the establishment on the fee, but he justified it by saying that the fee also allowed us to use their 'toilet' located on a small mound overlooking the parking lot where what looked like a office shed is built. Okla I guess what with GST and all the price hikes recently. :p It was rudimentary at best with our hikers taking turns to use it.

Having made the necessary introductions and securing our cars, we proceed down the road on foot. There is another small parking lot further down and over here there is also another person collecting parking 'fees'. BEWARE of being conned! While I am OK about paying a token fee to put our vehicles on someone else's land, there are people here that would ask money for the most whimsical excuses. In this case, somehow some of our group stopped to chat with the man and came off RM10 poorer paying for 'entrance fees'!

Beyond this second 'parking lot' the road leads straight to a dead end, stopping inside a pump house manned by someone dressed in an Auxiliary Police officer's uniform. I know that because the moment our small group walked pass the boom gate (with a large restricted sign) and toward what last I thought was the way down from the road to the river, he came out and told us to head slightly back down the road, away from the restricted area to find the point of descent. The one I was looking for, where the trek follows the perimeter fencing is already barbed wired off.

It was no problem looking for a trail down to the river, there were many. There was an even slightly serviceable stone stairway a bit back. The difference is just how long you want to get your feet dry, because the moment we are down, we had to wade into the shallow river to find the crossing point in front of the pumphouse. The point to look out for is a small opening in the bushes overlooking the cement barrier that spanned the small river where two large valves are installed,

After climbing out of the river, over a rather slippery rock, you will find a small trail cutting through lalang scrubs flanking your left and right. Follow it until you see a large monsoon run-off on your left. The river would be flowing beneath you on your right with the sounds of passing traffic coming ahead from the Karak Highway in front.
Hiking along the side of the river. Watch out for the stepped monsoon run off (drain) on your left on the way to the tunnel 
Climb up the steps of the run-off and you will find yourself facing the abutment where the Karak highway passes over. Turn right, and follow along the length of the abutment where you will find this unique feature of this hike, the twin tunnels where Sungai Pisang, passes under the highway.
Reaching this hike's unique landmark. Big trees, large boulders... no other hike has a trail that runs through not one tunnel but two! :) 
Again, be prepared to get your shoes wet as you would need to walk inside the tunnel to the other side, from which the jungle trek really starts.
Wading into the darkness.
Now, depending on the weather and your luck, you may encounter leeches as you pass through this part of the hike. Personally, this hiker had not encountered any although other writers had reported leeches here. If yes, I would suspect they are few and far between.

From here, its about another 30~40 minutes walk to the falls and the general rule is to always keep on the right side of the river. This may be easier said than done as in some occasions, you'd need to cross to the other side or wade in the river itself when the path is blocked by large rocks, tree trunks or simply thick jungle.
After the tunnel, always try to keep to the right hand bank of the river (otherwise you may end up at Gunung Buah Bunga, if you are stubborn enough ;))
But where possible, always keep right and if there is a path, stick to it. This is important as you will meet a confluence further up. This confluence is not particularly clear to see for a first timer and many a hiker including this one missed it when he failed to follow that general rule. In any case, always look out for signs of someone else's passing through this well transversed track. Look out for footprints in the sand, pieces of colored plastic tied around trees or even (sadly) rubbish. If in doubt, never hesitate to backtrack until you find these markings.

It is also that this confluence that you'd find a jungle track that runs parallel to the river branch on the right side. Following it would be a lot easier than 'conveniently' sticking to wading in the river as our team discovered on the way back. There were a few giant trees that fell across the river rendering it difficult to continue forward although as yet, not impossible.

Not far along the trek on the right side of the river you'd meet the next reference milestone. The 'big tree'. You'd not mistake it for anything else, it is literally a rather big tree, with a trunk as wide as probably 5 to 6 people standing full abreast.
In front of the big tree! :D 
Keeping to the trek, you'd walked pass a fallen titan, this time a very large tree that almost completely block the river path. We had stuck on the river trek on the way in and seeing this giant sprawled across the river was daunting and a real challenge to get across, with large branches and thick foliage strewn with stinging black ants as well as a few strands of thorny vines to tend to. We have had some help with another group of people that caught up with us. They sort of helped us across although after that we saw them lead their group on the overhead path I had been talking about before! ;) Hmmm... perhaps they discovered it after they got us through the thick branches and ants? 'Sangka Baik'... ;)

In any case, I brought my team up to follow them along the path and soon we found the next checkpoint, the 'split rock'. Well, it's not exactly a rock that was split open but more like two large boulders with the path running between it.

At this point it's barely 5~10 minutes away from the falls. As you get closer, you'll probably have to wade down the river again. Be careful because some of the rocks are rather slippery!

Before long, you'd see the waterfall and it's approximately 20 meter cascade.
Our destination at last! :D
It's more than likely you'll see other people there as well (very likely during the weekends), as there is a large campsite located at the top of the falls, accessible via a steep but manageable climb along a path directly on the opposite side of the waterfall.
A nice cascade, powerful flow and a small shallow pool to swim in. :) Watch out for the abseilers though. 
The pool at the bottom is swimmable and with waters reaching up to chest level (depending on the season). There are also fish in the waters giving hikers the sensation of a fish spa as they nibble off the dead skin from the soles of your feet.
Can you see the fishies? :)
It is worth noting that an adventure company had installed some cables and ropes in the area for people to do abseiling, I am not sure whether they will be around every day of the week but should you find these when no one is around, please don't use it on your own as it can be very dangerous without proper equipment.

At the top of the waterfalls, you'll find a few small depressions for you to dip yourself inside, not swimmable. Again, do be careful when stepping near the edge of the falls as the stones are slippery.

Overall, this trip was nice in that I get to once again meet an old 'friend'. :) The feeling of cold clean mountain water splashing over your back was a refreshing sensation after this relatively easy hike. :)


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