Tuesday, May 23, 2006

6-14 May 2006 Expedition to Sabah's Lost World

6-14 May 2006 Expedition to Sabah's Lost World by the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), Pathfinders Special Interest Group

"The isolated and mysterious Maliau Basin, also known as Sabah's Lost World, has only recently been investigated by researchers. Two major expeditions in 1988 and 1996 have discovered a diverse and distinct flora." - quote from Visitor's Brochure printed by the Conservation & Environment Dept., Forestry Division of Yayasan Sabah.

I have heard of the Lost World from fellow MNS members during my Imbak Canyon expedition in Nov. 2005. Therefore, I did not hesitate to sign up as soon as the announcement was made by the MNS that a trip would be organised in May 2006. The explorer in me was curious to compare the level of difficulty of traversing the trails of two adjacent yet distinct biospheres in the heart of Sabah, and to savour the sights, sounds & scents of a different world far from civilization.

In April & May the preparations began in earnest. We had several briefings by the organisers, the Pathfinders, whose leaders (Wye Ping, Mok, Fei Chin, Sidney) ably demonstrated their vast experience and competence to prepare a motley team of 14 participants (10 men & 4 ladies, their age from twenties to sixty) for the rigours of a 9-day trek in deep and undulating jungles. Wye Ping & Mok were to accompany us for the 9-day expedition.

Fri. 5 May 06
Mok , Liau and I were to fly to Tawau a day earlier than the main team. Being "senior citizens" we had the advantage of getting discounted fares from Malaysian Airlines. I took the KTM commuter train at the Kepong Station and arrived at the KL Sentral station at 10am. Then I hopped on the KLIA Transit train and it reached KLIA half an hour later. I was the first to arrive and waited for Mok and Liau to turn up. Together we checked in as a group to save on the amount of payment from excess weight because of the boxes of packed food that were needed for the trip. MAS allows 20kg. of check-in luggage, AirAsia limits the weight to only 15kg. However, Mok still had to pay about RM300 for the food boxes.

The MAS flight was delayed for about 20mins. and we arrived at Tawau at 3.45pm. I had a nap while Mok & Liau went to tour the area around the Grace Inn where we were putting up for the night. Tawau had been visited by me in Feb. 04, on my way to Sipadan Island for a diving excursion, so I was not particularly keen to join them.

At that time I did not inform them that my left knee was aching, the strain from the 29-30 April 06 Gopeng-Cameron Highland trek apparently had not sufficiently recovered. As the expedition went underway I was becoming more anxious by the day, praying that my left knee would not incapacitate me.

Sat. 6 May 06
We met the rest of the team when they arrived in the morning on an AirAsia flight. We went to the UMNO building where the Yayasan Sabah Forestry Division office was housed to register and obtain our entry permits. After lunch, at 1.15pm. we left Tawau in four 4WD Landcruisers for the 190km. journey and travelled on the newly constructed Sapalut-Kalabakan road, stopping at Kalabakan (a small logging village) at 3.30pm for refreshments. From Kalabakan onwards, the gravel road turned into a mud track riddled with deep pits, giving us a bone rattling ride. We passed by many huge timber lorries fully laden with logs as we headed towards the Maliau Basin Security Gate. Here at the Security Gate we had to show our entry permits.

Our leading Landcruiser snapped its compressor belt, rendering the air-conditioner kaput. Further on, the radiator began to overheat. Encik Tahir, a veteran of a decade of timber-truck driving, applied quick "traditional medicine" - poured into the radiator curry powder. Hey presto! It worked - the curry got cooked and blocked the leaks in the radiator. Don't you know that hot curry makes good coolant? However, it was far from cool inside and we wound down the windows, some panes came down half-way and others not at all. The twelve-year old jalopy seemed to be coming apart.

Then it was the last stretch of 26km. hard ride to Agathis Camp. There were several anxious moments when one or the other of the 4WD vehicles struggled to free their wheels from the grip of mud-pits. As we were approaching the camp, it was already dark. The head-lights of the leading vehicle (in which I was seated) dazzled several bearded pigs (Sus scorfa) and red barking deers (kijang/Muntiacus muntiak) who were on the logging road and they scattered terrified back into the dense shrubs.

Finally, to our great relief, the four Landcruisers made it up the hill to Agathis Camp. It was after 7pm. and a dark night at Agathis Camp because the generator failed to work. We cooked by candle-light and torches and was resigned to having our first dinner here in gloom when the lights finally came on at about 9pm.

After dinner, Koh Ju Ming, a Sino-Kadazan, who was the chief ranger at Agathis Camp, gave us a briefing on conditions of the trails, distances & times expected to reach the various camps and general safety measures. Three other rangers were introduced to us and they would be our guides throughout the expedition.

Agathis (referring to the majestic tree of that name), being the base camp, has the best amenities - pipe water (sourced from the waterfall nearby), electricity (from diesel-powered generators), a large kitchen, clean bathrooms and even flush-toilets. Beds were hammocks strung across wooden frames, they were quite comfortable to lie on, and we were even provided with pillows and blankets. By jungle standards, this was 4-star accommodation.

Sun. 7 May 06
After having breakfast and packed our lunches, It was time to get our backpacks and food packages weighed for the porters who charged us RM300 per 12kg. for the 6-day duration until our return on Thur. 11th. I had packed my belongings in a separate duffel bag and and together with Liau's backpack (we were sharing porterage) the weight came up to 11kg. and we topped it up with one kg. bag of rice. My daypack weighed 8.5 kg. and it contained stuff which I would need along the trails (camera, GPS device, compass, lunch in mess-tin, snacks, 2L of water, wind-breaker, hat, poncho, torch-lights, whistle, pocket-knife, first-aid kit, anti-insect & anti-leech repellent & medication).

It was only after 10am that we were ready to leave for Ginseng Camp, a 9km trek on a north-easterly direction. Soon we were made aware of the numerous leeches infesting the trails. I encountered for the first time the species of Tiger leech, a large specimen which when fully stretched measured up to 5cm. and had a striking yellow & black stripe running the length of its body. It was voracious and tenacious. Once it had sunk its teeth on your skin, you would not be able to pull it away even if you dismembered its head from its body. The proper way to remove it was to apply a pinch of salt or a dab of minyak kapak (mixture of methyl salicyclate, methol & camphor), tiger balm, Mosiguard or sterilizing alcohol to the leech and it would release its teeth and crawl away. The bite would continue to bleed for about half an hour (longer if the dismembered head was left attached because anticoagulant from the leech's mouth would continue to ooze into the wound), leaving a bloody patch on your skin and clothing. Worse still, the wound would itch for a week (greater possibility of infection if the leech head was still attached).

At 1pm. we stopped for lunch. During the half hour of rest, we helped each other to remove leeches from our socks and backpacks, and to apply more anti-leech repellent on ourselves. This became the routine whenever we stopped to rest.

Continuing on our trek, we reached Ginseng Camp (altitude about 700m/2300ft) at 3.20pm, so it took us only 5hrs. 20mins. for the 9km. Agathis-Ginseng trail, a very commendable time indicating a high level of fitness. Ginseng camp, named after one small Ginseng plant, would be graded 3-star for its comfortable lodging and living amenities. There was electricity, piped water and flushed toilets, hammock beds were similar to the ones at Agathis, the kitchen was spacious though cooking had to be done by firewood. We were kept busy washing our clothes and helping to prepare for dinner. Dinner was an enjoyable affair, the food was delicious and ample for our huge appetite, and there was much laughter and fun. The advice by Wye Ping to talk quietly and respect the jungle's tranquility went with the wind, there was a cacophony of human jabber, horn-bills' calls and cicadas' serenades.

Mon 8 May 06
Today was supposed to be an easy trek to Lobah Camp, only 3km. away. Refreshed after a good night's rest we made our way at 8.40am. We were still moving in a north- easterly direction, getting deeper into the Maliau Basin, and the trails were getting narrower as we passed by huge Agathis trees and Shorea (seraya) trees with giant buttress roots. We were walking on a red carpet of decomposed leaves, the ground was peaty and slushy. Strange scents wafted through the air.

Our leisurely trek took us just over 2 hours to reach Lobah Camp (altitude 873m./ 2864ft.) at 10.50am. While we ate our packed lunch the rangers were kept busy stringing our hammocks. Lobah Camp had the barest amenities, two wooden huts with plastic sheets as walls, zinc roofs and, surprisingly, a squatting toilet which could be flushed. However, water that was collected from the roof gutters was only sufficient for cooking and drinking, not enough for bathing. After lunch, we walked up a hill to the helicopter pad where we enjoyed a breathtaking panoramic view of the Maliau Basin rim. It would be like standing in the centre of Singapore, and turning around, the eyes could see beyond the shores because the circular perimeter of the Maliau Basin is bigger than the island of Singapore.

Then it was time to trek to the Maliau Falls (altitude 990m./3250ft), another 2.5km away from Lobah Camp. At 12.20pm we set forth, the trail gradually ascending, then a steep drop of about 200m. and at 2.40pm. we sighted the magnificent 7-tiered Maliau Falls, the tallest being 35m. high. From our location, we could only see the 5th & 6th tiers. The immense volumes of water billowed down and mists of spray hit us even at a distance of 200m. The churning waters and rapids were not conducive for swimming, so we were contented to bathe ourselves along the banks, keeping well away from the swift current.

We could not stay long as we had a 2-hour return trip and the fittest members reached camp at about 5pm. I got ready to photograph the sunset, and proceeded up the hill. The sunset was not so spectacular because of the presence of large cumulo-nimbus clouds and the sun seting behind a clump of tall trees on the western slope of the hill.

Tue 9 May 06
I woke up at 5am. and trudged up the hill again, this time to watch & photograph the sunrise. It was much better than the sunset, and my determination was rewarded with a stunning view as the sunlight bathed the rims of the basin with golden rays.

It was a late start today, at 8.40am, before we headed for Camel Trophy camp, a long 9km-trek ahead of us. We were gradually ascending above 1000m., at this altitude the trail became mossy and we passed through heath forest where rhododendrons, orchids and pitcher plants thrived. We proceeded cautiously and faced a challenging task of ascending Bukit Microphone (altitude 1035m./33395ft.) As I reached the summit, I slipped and fell. Fortunately, I was not injured though the fall resulted in a bent trekking pole which could no longer be retracted completely. Better a bent pole than a broken leg.

At the top of the hill was a tall Rengas tree with peeling reddish bark and we were warned not to touch the black sap on the bark. This resin is poisonous and causes severe skin inflammation.

Keeping a safe distance from the Rengas tree, we had lunch which I found to be most unappetizing, the third time we had the same monotonous fried rice, with barely visible pieces of anchovies and scrambled eggs.

We made it to Camel Trophy camp (altitude 1017m./3337ft.) at 2.50pm, a trek of 6hr. 10min. Camel Trophy camp is a double-storey wooden bungalow with the sleeping quarters on the upper floor. The kitchen was small with 2 firewood stoves. In contrast, the dining hall was spacious and airy. The bathrooms and toilets were clean and there was piped water, collected from the rain-gutters. This time we slept on mattresses, instead of hammocks, and we were even provided with pillows. However, the floor was dusty, but we were too tired to care much. By jungle standards, Camel Trophy would rate two and a half star. I subtracted half a star because the smoke from the kitchen could be acridly smelt on the floor above. I had an unpleasant acute episode of irritated eyes, running nose and a dry throat (symptoms of rhinitis). Unlike Ginseng & Lobah camps where I could keep a distance from the kitchen, I had to endure two whole nights of a lingering smell of burnt firewood while I tried to sleep.

At the back of the camp, a 30m/100ft vertical aluminium ladder would take you up to an observation platform at the top of a tall Agathis tree. I climbed about 20 steps, my left knee gave a sharp pain and I felt fatigued. So curiousity gave way to prudence and I descended.

After dinner we were treated to a rare sighting when a civet, bigger than a large cat, came to partake of the lure of food which the rangers had placed next to the dining hall. Evidently, this civet was fed whenever there were visitors at the camp, so as it eyed us warily it nibbled at the food, and we admired its beautiful black & white fur.

Wed 10 May 06
We started the day by trekking to the Takob Akob waterfalls (altitude 1067m. /3500ft.) This trail took 2 hours, passing huge rock boulders and down slippery slopes, at times the descent was nearly vertical, the difficulty somewhat reduced by the placement of aluminium ladders at the steepest gradients. Takob Akob had a 100m. drop of plunging deluge and a pool the size of 2-football fields. In this idyllic setting we had our lunch.

There were three of us who braved the cold to swim in the pool. As I reached the cascading end of the pool, I began to shiver and realized that it was a foolhardy act, and immediately turned around. Fighting a rising sense of fear, and suppressing my rapid breathing, I swam the longest 100m. of my life. I quickly dried myself, put on dry clothes and my windbreaker to counteract the hypothermia. It was a full five minutes before I could steady my frayed nerves. This was an awakening experience not to overestimate my ability. Even though I thought I was a good swimmer (regularly lapping 800m. in under 30min. ), I could not withstand cold and my body lost heat rapidly.

Feeling pensive, I packed my things to leave, among the last to do so, and it started to drizzle. The quick walk made me perspire and brought some relief. At 2.10pm I met up with the rest at a junction which led back to the camp or the Giluk Falls. Feeling much calmer, I ventured with 3 others and the ranger Koh to proceed to Giluk Falls whereas the majority decided to return to camp. It took only 20min. to reach our destination, and I was glad I came along because Giluk Falls was a most scenic spot and the drizzle had stopped. I was able to capture many excellent shots of the falls.

That evening I had to face more smoke from the kitchen and my rhinitis worsened so I decided to sleep early and not wait for the civet to show up (it did showed up with its offspring). I had enough excitement for the day.

Thur 11 May 06
After 4 days of walking more than 30km. of difficult terrain most of us were beginning to feel our energy slowly draining. So we had to psych ourselves up for the last 7.5km. stretch. We were briefed the previous night that the final 2.6km of the return trip would be a steep descent. I dread this stretch the most because of my bad knee. At 9.05am we headed back to our base at Agathis Camp. The first 5km. was a gentle descend which progressively gave way to many vertical 100m. to 150m. drops, thankfully we clambered down ladders or, where there were none, slithered down as cautiously as we could. Where the trail was especially muddy, as we were descending several of us slipped and fell, bumping our butts.

We came to the part of the Heath forest known as "Jalan Babi". It was like walking through an enchanted garden, on a carpet of soft, glistening moss with numerous orchids (yellow and red dendrobiums) and different species of nepenthes, from 1-inch "dwarf" to 8-inch "giant" pitcher plants alongside the trail.

At 1.10pm we reached base camp, so it took us slightly over 4hrs. We quickly settled in and used most of the day to clean ourselves and wash our thoroughly soiled clothings. At the hearty dinner there was much rejoicing, tingled with expressions of relief, that we had made it through a 41km. trek unscathed.

The day ended with a two-hour ride along the logging trail to spot nocturnal animals. I chose not to go because of my bad knee which by now was aching even as I sat.

Fri 12 May 06
After a late breakfast we left at 9.45am for Belian Camp, a 30km ride away, which was famous for its 300m Canopy Walkway. At about 11am we arrived, leisurely strolled around the camp which had a spacious kitchen, dining area and clean toilets/ bathrooms. Camping is allowed on the grounds, with the sites neatly laid out in rows for campers to pitch their tents. There is no dormitory. From Belian Camp there is a trail to Maliau Falls, requiring three days to make a return trip.

The main attraction is the Canopy Walk. We gamely sauntered up the suspension bridge, the higher we went the further we could look over the tree tops. What a feeling of swaying over a hundred feet high, and surveying a canopy of luxuriant foliage. Gleefully, I rested on the platforms and let the green serenity of the forest and refreshing breeze apply a soothing balm on my strained sinews.

Reluctantly making my way down, I joined the rest for a short trek to the lower reaches of the Maliau River. The water was reddish brown and acidic from the constant percolation which leached tannin from the peaty decaying leaves and created the tea-coloured stain in it.

The sky turned dark and poured down a heavy shower for an hour so we could only head back to Agathis at 2pm. The rain made the return trip uncomfortable, the 4WD jeeps had to zigzag sharply lest the wheels got bogged down by the mud. Only two vehicles in front made it up the hill to Agathis Camp, the craters they made deterred the remaining two from going further. So there were eight of us, feet squelching deep in sludge, and I took the opportunity to snap a couple of shots of us trudging up the hill.

Sat 13 May 06
All adventures come to a grand meal, that thought was uppermost in our minds as we left Agathis Camp on a sunny morning. It was an uneventful return trip to Tawau. The highlight of the day was at the Good View Seafood Restaurant where we had a 7-course dinner fit for 16 hungry adventurers. It was a sumptuous, delicous dinner, spiced with mirth and merriment.

Sun 14 May06
Our friends left for Kuala Lumpur in different groups as they were booked on different flights. We had said our goodbyes the last evening so we did not see off those who left the earliest. I was the last but one group to leave so there was plenty of time to roam the streets of Tawau. The best attraction in Tawau was its sea-food and at the market I had good bargains for dried scallops, anchovies and prawns. The MAS plane touched down at KLIA at 9.30pm and I finally reached home at about 11.30pm.

My comparison of the level of difficulty was that the trails at the Maliau Basin were more difficult than the ones I had experienced on the Imbak Canyon expedition. Each terrain had its own unique magnificent waterfalls, highly diversified flora and fauna. These pristine wonders are worthy of repeat visits.

Fore more photos of the expedition see:

Information on the Maliau Basin

Location: South-central Sabah, approx. 40km. north of the Kalimantan border

Size: 58,840 hectares/588.4 sq. km. Max. diameter of Basin: 25km.

Extent: The whole of Maliau Basin (39,000 hectares) plus an additional 19,840 hectares of land to the east and north of the rim including the 20-hectare Lake Linumunsut (Sabah's only true lake).

Approx. 300m. a.s.l., up to a steep escarpment enclosing most of the sub-circular basin, peaking on the northeastern rim at 1,676m. a.s.l. Gunung Lotung is 1,600m. a.s.l.

Originally part of Yayasan Sabah Concession area and voluntarily designated as a Conservation Area in 1981 for research, education and training purposes. Upgraded in 1997 to a Class 1 Protection Forest Reserve and extended to present size. Gazetted as a Cultural Heritage Site under the state Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Enactment in 1999. Day to day management by Yayasan Sabah on behalf of Maliau Basin Management Committee.

Draining the whole Maliau Basin is the Maliau River and its tributaries. The famous 7-tiered Maliau Falls is located along this river, which flows out through a narrow gorge on the south-east side of the Basin into the Kuamut River, a major tributary of the Kinabatangan. Several other spectacular waterfalls (Takob-Akob, Giluk, Mempersona waterfalls, 16 known so far) are located throughout the Basin.

Outside the northern rim of the Basin lies Lake Linumunsut, formed by a landslide blocking a small tributary of the Pinangah River.

Main Forest Types: Lower montane forest; Heath forest; Lowland and Hill Dipterocarp forest.

Flora: Over 1,800 species so far identified, including 6 species of pitcher plants and 80 species of orchid. New records for Sabah include:
1. Dacrydium elatum (a Podocarpus tree)
2. Mangifera bullata (a Mango tree and a new record for Borneo)
3. Rafflesia tengku-adlinii (one of only two known localities in Sabah)
4. Nephelaphyllum trapoides (orchid)
5. Bulbophyllum limbatum (orchid)
6. Nepenthes veitchii x stenophylla (pitcher plant hybrid)
7. Nepenthes hirsuta (pitcher plant)

In MBCA and surrounding zones, at least 82 mammal species, including Sumatran Rhino, Orang Utan, Proboscis Monkey, Banteng, Asian Elephant and Clouded Leopard, more than 270 bird species, including Bulwer's Pheasant, Oriental Darter and Peregrine Falcon, and over 35 species of amphibians so far recorded.

New Species:
At least four species completely new to science, a crab Thelphusula hulu; a water beetel, Neptostsernus thiambooni; a moss, Trismegistia maliauensis and a tree, Polyosma maliauensis, have also been discovered.

(Reproduced from the MNS document on the Maliau Basin Conservation Area (MBCA))

How to Get There:
MBCA is accessible either via Tawau or Keningau. From Tawau it is a 190km, four or five hour drive passing Luasong Forestry Centre; from Keningau the journey takes about five hours. Four-wheel drive is essential as most of the journey is on logging roads.

Gate passes for each vehicle, including the name of each passenger, must be shown at the Maliau Basin Security Gate before entering. Gate passes can be obtained from the Yayasan Sabah Forestry Division offices in Kota Kinabalu or Tawau.

Basic accommodation are available at Agathis Camp, Ginseng Camp, Lobah Camp and Camel Trophy Camp. Electricity from generators are available at Agathis Camp, Ginseng Camp and Camel Trophy Camp.

Water and bathing facilities are in nearby streams and rivers. Accommodation is restricted to these sites and visitors are not allowed to clear new camping areas.

(Reproduced from the visitors' brochure by the Conservation & Environment Department, Forestry Division,Yayasan Sabah, P.O.Box 11622, 88817 Kota Kinabalu, Tel: 088-326300 ext 6321, Fax: 088-432192, email: ces@icsbrbj.po.my, website: http://www.ysnet.org.my/Maliau/public/maliau/info.html)

Other links:

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mt. Kinabalu & Poring Hot Spring trip 14-18 April 06

I had fantastically good weather on my ascend by the Mesilau Trail, sunny throughout the day. There were only 3 of us, including the guide, while the rest of my friends, thirteen of them, took the shorter and easier 6km. Timbohan trail. We started at 9.05am and reached Laban Rata(3272m) at 4.11pm taking a time of 7hr. 6min. for the 7.7km hike. This was better than my trip last year in July when the weather was raining and cold and it took 7hr. 30mins.

After an early dinner at 6pm. I managed to get to bed by 7.30pm and slept until 1.30am., the sleep interrupted several times by the noise inside the room (with 6 bunker beds) and movement along the corridor. At 2.05am we went to the Gunting Lagadan Hut to meet with the rest of our friends and had a light breakfast before we made our ascend to the summit at 2.45am. I reached the summit at 5.25am, time taken was 2hr.40min for the 2.75km. distance, again better than last year's 3hr 25min. because of the fine weather, not a drop of rain, with a full moon lighting up the trail.

I didn't stay long at the summit because I was wearing Kampung Adidas shoes with thin socks and my feet was getting very cold. After shooting several photographs (couldn't take more because of low battery power) I made my way down alone and reached the Gunting Lagadan Hut at about 7.45am, made myself a hot drink and ate the remaining nuts & raisins leftover from yesterday. I was the first to be back at the Laban Rata resthouse and took my time to repack my stuff and waited for my buddy to return.

The weather changed at about 10am, became misty and the sun was hidden behind thick clouds. We decided to descend at 10.25am. There was a slight drizzle which came on and off as we made our way down the wet Timbohan trail. We reached the Timbohan gate at 2.35pm., time taken 4hr.10min. Descending was a problem with my stiff knees and I had to proceed carefully because of the slippery trail. The trekking pole was a great help and it saved me from several close falls.

One of my friends had a nasty sprain when he twisted his ankle on a rock while descending from the summit. By the time he made it to Laban Rata his ankle was swollen. After a long rest he tried to make his way down with help from his buddy and a guide. However, at the last 2km. he just couldn't walk anymore and had to pay 2 porters RM150 (after some bargaining) to carry him down.

In the evening we made our way to the Poring Hot Spring Resort and recuperated by soaking ourselves in the hot baths. We stayed a night there and had a long restful sleep.

The Mesilau trail has beautiful scenery which is lacking along the Timbohan trail. Furthermore, the Mesilau trail is more natural than the numerous man-made steps found in the Timbohan trail. The extra 1.7km distance may deter aspiring hikers, then the reverse way, ascending by the Timbohan trail and descending the Mesilau trail, should be less tiring. The Mesilau trail is not descending all the way down because there are two peaks to cross.

More photos of the trip, taken by my buddy Teck Chai, can be seen at:

Note: This trip was organised by :

Lot 5814-36, Taman Bangi, Jalan Reko, Kajang, Selangor Darul Ehsan
P.O. Box 77, 43657 Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor Darul Ehsan
Tel/Fax: 03-87341650, H/P: 013-3365628; 019-2134175
Website: www.wwadventure.com
Email: info@wwadventure.com or wwadv@hotmail.com

Malaysian: RM600.00 per pax (Ex-KK), RM80 extra per pax for Mesilau Trail
Non-Malaysian: RM750.00 per pax (Ex-KK)

Package inclusive of:
1. All transfer in Sabah.

2. Accommodation:
Two nights at Api-Api Apartment (twin/triple sharing)
One night at Laban Rata Resthouse (heater) or
One night at Gunting Lagadan (for 3 pax)
One night at Poring Hot Spring (Hostel)

3. Permit, Guide fee, Park Transport, Certificate, climbing insurance.
4. Entrance fee at Park and Poring Hot Spring
5. Baggage storage fee at Park
6. Services and tour leader

Package exclusive of:

1. Meals & beverage
2. Porter fee

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Imbak Canyon Expedition, Sabah, 12 - 20 Nov 05

This 9-day/8-night expedition was organised by the Malaysian Nature Society, Photography Special Interest Group. Thirteen members took part.

Imbak Canyon, 10km long & 3km. wide with a flattish bottom at about 150 metres above sea level, is sited in the district of Tongod in the heart of Sabah. It lies about 15km. north of the Maliau Basin Conservation Area and to the west of Danum Valley Conservation area.

It is hemmed on three sides by sandstone ridges, reaching 1,120 metres at their highest peak. The region is a complete rainforest ecosystem by itself and is approximately 300 sq.km. It is one of the last remaining pristine lowland rainforest in Sabah, probably the largest contiguous lowland dipterocarp forest left in Sabah. Imposing waterfalls can be found along the sides and at the mouth of the Canyon.

Presently it is not accorded formal protection status, so logging is going on. The Sabah Foundation (Yayasan Sabah) was allocated a forest concession area to manage it on a sustainable yield basis. Recognising its high biodiversity value, Yayasan Sabah voluntarily designated this area as a conservation area in 2003.

Raleigh International volunteers had visited Imbak Canyon in 2004 & 2005. They constructed quarters for Wildlife Department rangers and established trails into the canyon for researchers and upgraded tracks to a waterfall and jungle camp.

(For details see: http://www.ysnet.org.my/conservation_area.htm,

Day 1 Sat 12 Nov.
Our team of 13 members arrived at Sandakan Airport at 10am. We were picked up by Jimmy Omar, the camp manager, in four 4WD vehicles (one Landcruiser & three HiLux crew-cab Toyotas). Our convoy headed for our base camp via Jln. Labuk - Batu 32 - Jln. Telupid - Simpang Empat (a distance of 114km), passing through oil palm plantations, logging concessions and then to the last village, Kg. Milian which we reached at 4.00pm. Unfortunately, we could not cross the swollen Imbak River due to heavy rain on the previous 3 days. Even though we were less than 20km from our base camp there was no other option but to return to Sandakan. We stayed the night at the Yayasan Sabah headquarters which had guest rooms.

Day 2 Sun 13 Nov.
At 5.15am the convoy of 4-wheel drive vehicles set out for Tawau for the alternative route to the Imbak base camp, bypassing the Imbak River. We reached Tawau at about 11am. An amusing incident happened when we stopped to refuel. One of the drivers filled petrol to his diesel-engine HiLux and had to drain off the petrol. Poor fellow must be tired from the long hours of driving.

Our journey took us from paved to laterite to logging roads. At one point along the logging roads we were caught in a traffic jam caused by a huge truck-trailer, fully laden with logs, which had skidded and lain across the track. There were about a hundred trucks all fully laden with logs (imagined how many trees had been destroyed) waiting for the fallen truck to be pulled upright. Fortunately, we did not have to wait too long and about half an hour later we could pass.

At 5.45pm when we were only about 3km. from reaching base camp our path was blocked by a huge fallen tree. One of the drivers had to walk to base camp to get help from the rangers. It was 7pm. and dark before 7 rangers returned with a chainsaw. They only took about 10 mins. to saw through and we helped them to clear the debris. The last two kms. stretch was very muddy with deep pot-holes, it was tough going before we could finally set foot on the camp. The journey from Tawau to the Imbak base camp took more than 12 hrs.

The base camp comprised of 3 timber long-houses interconnected by a boardwalk, all the structures were supported by stilts. One of the long-houses was the Forest Rangers' quarters, another was for visitors and the last one housed the dining area and kitchen. We slept on canvas hammocks stretched across beds made with logs. We hung up mosquito nets. The beds were quite comfortable except for one of our members who was well over 6 feet tall. Water was collected from the roof by gutters which flowed to a storage tank. We did our washings in the river nearby. Toilets were pit latrines. Electricity was supplied by a generator and power was available from 7pm to 10.30pm.

Day 3 Mon 14 Nov.
We had lost one day due to the detour and had to revise our itinerary. We decided to spend 3 days/2 nights trekking on the Northern Ridge to Bkt. Beruang. Due to the unavailability of water supply during the first day of the trek each of us had to carry at least 3 litres of water. It was estimated by the rangers that our group would take about 8 hrs. of trekking before we could set up camp for the night. Three of the younger members of our group decided to stay back at base camp. We left base camp at about 10am. after breakfast and packed ready our lunch & dinner.

A short distance away we came across our first obstacle, crossing a river with strong current. Boulders and stones seemed to be everywhere. The rangers went across first and formed a line to pass our backpacks and equipment over to the other side. Then we were assisted in our crossing by the rangers. There were several anxious moments for the shorter participants as the water level reached their waists. Most of the ladies opted to remove their pants, not a time for modesty. One of them asked me why I did not do so and blushing I said that I was not wearing any underwear. My bermuda shorts dried faster this way and no chafing of the groin with wet underwear.

Then we climbed slowly up a steep ridge. Along the way one of our team members stumbled and fell and could not continue. He was assisted by his wife and a ranger to return to base camp. Crossing the river again was a big problem which they solved by having our injured friend lying on his back and the ranger towing him across. Once across the ranger went to get help and returned with another ranger. Together they were able to return safely. Our friend was taken to the hospital the next day and the injury turn out to be serious which necessitated that the couple had to return to Kuala Lumpur. (After all of us returned to K.L. on successful completion of our adventure we found out that our friend suffered a broken fibula and his leg would be in a cast for 6 weeks).

The rest of the trekking was without any further mishaps. We were awed by the giant trees in the pristine forest and the numerous species of plants. As it turned out, the rangers under-estimated our fitness because our team (av. age about 50 yrs.) took less than 5 hrs. and at about 3pm. we set up our camp for the night. We ate cold dinner which we had packed earlier because no cooking could be done due to the unavailability of water. By 6pm. the forest was already dark. It was very windy and cold during the night. I could hear the wind rustling the leaves throughout the night.

Day 4 Tues 15 Nov.
We continued the trek on the Northern Ridge to Bkt. Beruang. It only took us about 3 hrs. to reach the summit.

After setting up our camp-beds (each participant had a hammock stretched between trees with a flysheet to protect from the rain) we enjoyed ourselves by taking photographs and viewing the glorious sunset from the summit. While we admired the magnificent landscape the rangers went to collect water for our lunch and dinner needs. Dinner was quickly prepared with salted mackerel and black beans, sambal and cucumbers, using mess-tins and a small gas burner. The simple food was barely sufficient to avert hunger. Then we had to face another cold and windy night.

Day 5 Wed 16 Nov.
Woke up early at 5.30am and walked up the hill to view the glorious sunrise and the clouds below us. In spite of the cold the sight of the spectacular rising sun had us happily & busily clicking our cameras. It was nearly 7am., when the sky had lost its golden lustre that we trudged back down. After a simple breakfast of bread and cold sardines we trekked back to base camp. Spent the rest of the day bathing in the Imbak River and washing our clothes.

Day 6 Thur 17 Nov.
Trekked three hours to Kangkawat Camp which was just next to the Imbak Waterfalls. This is the widest waterfall I've seen. Enjoyed ourselves with refreshing dips and hungrily ate our packed lunches. It rained in the evening, cooking under a flysheet dinner was a wet affair. One of our lady members had a fright, thought she saw a python on the tree to which her hammock was tied. The rangers had to shift her hammock to another site, nothing else would persuade her to admit that the snake was all in her imagination.

Day 7 Fri 18 Nov.
The next morning we headed back to base camp. It was a leisurely trek, the more enthusiastic shutterbugs stopping every now and then to capture the captivating flora abounding along the trail. In the evening we went for a night-trek to look for flying foxes. They moved out in the hundreds from the top of their tree roosts at about 6pm. They did not disappoint us and put on an unforgettable show.

Day 8 Sat 19 Nov.
After breakfast at 7am. it was time to leave base camp to Kampung Milian, about 26km. away. We encountered the crew-cab, which had started out earlier to collect diesel for the generator, bogged down in the muddy track. Our Landcruiser went to the rescue, 15 mins. later it too ended in the same way. Then it was the turn of another HiLux to get stuck. Fortunately one of the crew-cabs did manage to pass the muddy obstacle to get help from the nearest logging camp. It was more than an hour before a huge lumber tractor appeared. One tug from the winch was all it took to free the Lancruiser and the HiLux.

We experienced village life by staying in a ranger's house in Kg. Milian. Though having very basic amenities the ranger & his wife showed their hospitality in a gracious way.

Day 9 Sun 20 Nov.
At 7am. we left Kg. Milian for Sandakan. Finally after 7 days, a proper & hearty sea-food lunch at Bkt. Bendera.

On the way to the airport we stopped at Sepilok to visit our cousins the orang-utans. Arrived at the airport at about 3pm and reached KLIA at 8.15pm.

Though tired I felt relieved that I came home safely from a special experience.

More photos of the expedition can be seen at:

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Gopeng Nature Resort to Bharat Tea Plantation trek 28-30 April 06

Report on Gopeng Nature Resort (Ulu Kampar) to Bharat Tea Plantation (Cameron Highlands)

The night before the trek, Fri 28 April 06

Reaching Lok's house at Bandar Utama before 7pm. I was the earliest bird, only to discover to my chagrin that I had left behind a bag of clothes, and most importantly, knee braces. There was no choice but to return home. It took less than half an hour to reach my friend's house but more than one hour to return back because of the heavy rain and traffic at One Utama and the LDP highway. The departure time which was planned at 7.30pm instead stretched to 8.30pm because of the late arrival of a few other members of the KL team, including myself. This was a striking portent of things to come.

The eight of us in 2 cars reached Gopeng at about 11pm. It took another half an hour to find ourselves finally at the Gopeng Nature Resort (GNR), having to back-track because of taking a couple of wrong turns and one car losing track of the other in spite of having walkie-talkies.

We were welcomed by Neal and Victor, our Perak MNS members, who had graciously bought noodles for supper.

The GNR has several chalets and a dormitory. Together with the Adeline Resort this is a popular hideout for lovers of the outdoors and white water rafting. The GNR is well maintained, clean with basic amenities, more than adequate for trekkers who are used to harsher conditions. Soon we were fast asleep and some of us mistakenly thought it was raining throughout the night due to the sound of the rushing river, a stone throw away.

First day of the trek, Sat 29 April

We were up at 6.15am and after a briefing made our way to the Gopeng Food Centre, opposite the wet market, where we met up with the rest of our team-mates from Perak and one from Alor Star. Altogether our team comprise of 19 members, including Uncle Kon from Singapore and Radik from Czekoslovakia (an expatriate working in Ipoh). Uncle Kon, a veteran trekker, was the oldest at 68 and the youngest was Sook Yee (I guess in her twenties). Six Semai Orang Aslis were hired as guides.

After a hearty breakfast and packing for our lunch we made our way back to GNR where the trail began. We started at about 8.30am and the beginning of the trail was a pleasant walk along a gently sloping gradient. The trail was a wide, clear path. "Piece of cake", I thought, my pre-trip estimation of the difficulty was that of the Pine Tree Hill trail. This was one good lesson in life - never anticipate and under-estimate a task of which you had no prior experience!

After an hour and a half of trekking, just before we reached the Orang Asli settlement, one of our team-mates had knee pain and decided not to continue. So one of our Orang Asli guides had to accompany him back to the GNR. It turned out that this was a good choice because had he continued we would have a major problem later on.

The path gradually became more like a real jungle trail. By the time we stopped for lunch on the banks of Sg. Kampar we had trekked for about 4 hrs. It was obvious that the remaining members of the team were quite prepared for the trek, they were fit and able to withstand the rigors of a long hard hike. What was not obvious to some of the members at that point in time was that they were carrying too much unnecessary load. This they would soon learn the hard way.

The jungle's hungry denizens, our most friendly neighbours, soon made their presence felt. Bloody patches appeared in our socks, trousers and even shirts. Removing my shoes and socks I found seven fat leeches still feeding. Even though I had applied Mosiguard (an insect repellent effective against leeches too) the repellent was washed away once we crossed the river. Leeches abound on the banks of the river and streams because their instincts tell them that animals come here to drink. On this particular trail leeches were found all along the track, weaving back and forth once they sensed the presence of someone approaching.

Knee and back bending was required because of numerous fallen bamboos and rotten trees, even though the guide in front did a lot of chopping with his parang. Many times my backpack was caught as I stooped low. An added difficulty was that as soon as we reached a high point down we went on a steep descent. This was really hard on my stiff knees.

We expected to reach our camp site at 5pm. and we did pass one at about the time but our guides pushed on. They wanted us to spend the night at an Orang Asli settlement. Several times we asked them how much further and the usual reply was "one hour". But the one hour turned to two and then three hours. We were hungry and wet because we had to cross at least 5 streams with strong currents. There was no way to prevent our feet from getting wet. Shoes and socks were soaked and the leeches had a grand buffet. Those who wore expensive trekking shoes suffered more than those wearing rubber Kampung Adidas shoes. At least the latter dried faster when you removed your socks whereas trekking shoes got heavier each time you crossed a stream.

Worse still the sky turned dark and the rain came and we were still slumbering along at 6pm. Finally, the faster trekkers came in sight of the first hut at 6.30pm. We quickly sought shelter under the small verandah and the rain poured down even as more of our friends made their way to the other three huts. There were six of us, including myself, at the first hut which was occupied by an old couple. The old lady was not happy about sharing their quarters with us (from her loud voice and rapid talking). We had to crowd around the verandah in pouring rain for about half an hour before our guide managed to persuade her to relent. The other trekkers who seek shelter at the other huts were luckier and they faced no opposition. We were told that we had to pay RM3 each for our accommodation. We would be willing to pay RM10 considering the extreme difficulty of setting up our tents on soggy ground in pouring rain and our bodies infested with leeches.

Finally, at about 7pm we hauled our backpacks which now seemed to weigh a ton to find a spot for bedding down. It was cramped, 8 persons including the old couple, in a space measuring less than 20 square feet with the centre taken up by a fire-site. However, space was the least of our concern. Changing quickly out of our wet clothings before we caught a chill was the first priority. Some of my friends were so exhausted that they wanted to sleep without dinner. I went ahead and cooked rice and chicken curry for myself and had to share my meal with 3 others. Fortunately, my other two buddies had fried ikan bilis and bread and these help to alleviate the hunger, though not completely.

Among the 6 of us in the first hut, one of my buddies and his son had insect stings which caused an allergic reaction. My buddy's right knee was also swollen, stiff but fortunately not painful. Another of my buddy had a cut on his head, again fortunately not a deep laceration. And all of us had painful shoulders. So those of us who brought along tents found them unneccessary. The lightest 2-men tent weighed more than 1kg. and my buddy with his son carried a 3-men tent which weighed more than 3kg, while my fly & ground sheets was less than 1kg. My total load was around 11kg. and the distance trekked on the first day was more than 20km. We had trekked for ten hours.

Lok and I were quite concerned about our buddy's allergic reaction and the two of us went to the other huts to find out whether any of our team-mates had brought along anti-histamine pills. Fortunately, one of the ladies had the good sense to do so and with 2 pills in my hand I headed back to my hut and told my friend to take one immediately and save the other for the next morning.

At about ten most of us were fast asleep but I woke up several times, once at 2am to pee and at odd times by the old Orang Asli who kept the fire burning to keep the hut warm. I noticed that while the old lady had a blanket, it was not large enough for the two of them and the poor old man had to depend on the fire to warm himself. We had asked his age and he told us he was 90 but my guess was that his age to be nearer to 70 plus.

The second day, Sunday 30 April 06

Woke up at 6.30am and called to my friends to wake up. I was stiff all over because I slept without a rubber mat while my other buddies had brought along theirs. The floor of the hut was bamboo slats with "air-conditioning" coming through the gaps. What caused me anxiety though was my left knee which felt "frozen" and ached badly when I stretched out my leg. After hard rubbing, stretching exercises and applying an anti-inflammation pain-killing gel it felt better. Breakfast was hot Nestum, a hard-boiled egg and plain bread for myself while the others had some of my Nestum, bread with sambal and ikan bilis.

My buddy with the allergy was quite relieved that the reaction subsided although his knee was still stiff and swollen, thankfully, not painful.

Some of us woke up to find more leech marks and blood patches on their bodies and thought that leeches had crawled into the huts. But I thought differently, more likely was that the leeches had clung to our back-packs and then found their way to our bodies while we were asleep.

Most of us were glad to "donate" uncooked rice and "dead-weight" items to the old couple, anything to lighten our backpacks. Real generosity did show when all of us agreed to give RM10 each to them even though we were told to pay only RM3.

So at 7.45am when everyone were ready we moved on. We were told by our guides that today was going to be easier because we only had to walk about 5 hours and the expected time to arrive at our destination was 12.30pm. What was easy to the Orang Aslis was going to be my toughest trail yet. Even the Mesilau trail to Mt. Kinabalu could not be compared to what was to come.

Soon after we started off we faced a steep 50 deg. gradient. It was quite telling that some of us had yet to recover from yesterday's exhaustion that they failed to notice a large scorpion less than a foot from their feet as they hiked up. I quickly yelled to my buddy's son who was nearest to move away and I shouted to the others below to warn them of the scorpion's presence. This was a beautiful creature, all shiny black, in prime condition, really to strike.

We had to cross another 2 fast-flowing streams, up to our mid-calves. Just when we thought that there were no more streams, the trail itself became a stream. We found ourselves walking on water and very slippery rocks. Another one of my buddy had a fall and suffered several lacerations on his hand which required four band-aids. He was next to me and I was very worried that he might have suffered a back injury. Fortunately, his backpack broke the fall and except for the initial shock he was soon up and about. This was the reason why I kept advising my buddies to wear Kampung Adidas shoes instead of the fancy hi-tec expensive trekking shoes.

The watery trail turned into a narrow ledge. Those of us who were afraid of heights kept their eyes away from the edge. However, where the soft soil gave way we had to use our hands to grip whatever we could hold onto. At times the terrain became rocky and the ledges became even trickier because of the slippery slopes. Team work called to lend each other a hand to pull the one behind across gaping cavities.

At 11.35am. we finally scaled the last 60 deg. gradient which was the longest and steepest yet. At the summit (1372m) was a border stone, one side pointing to Perak and the other to Pahang. So we were literally straddling between two states. What a feeling of relief that we did make it. Our exhaustion miraculously seemed to evaporate, a sense of accomplishment flooding our senses and we congratulated each other.

With a feeling of jubilation the descend was easy, half an hour to reach Kampung Sg. Ubi. From there to the Bharat Tea Plantation was another half an hour, walking part of the way along a paved road and then we took a short-cut on a foot-path skirting tea shrubs and vegetable plots.

At about 1pm (the guides were accurate about our estimated time of arrival) we had our refreshing cold drinks and hot tea while we waited for our bus which was due to arrive at 2pm. Apparently, our organiser underestimated our fitness and thought we would arrive after 2pm. We waited and we waited some more, still no sight of the bus. In the meantime the drizzle turned to a downpour. Crowding under the few tables with umbrella stands most of had to face a final test of patience.

The bus finally arrived at 3.15pm, apparently caught by traffic congestion due to the large number of holiday makers at Tanah Rata. The bus headed for Gopeng town and we arrived two hours later. While we waited at the bus station, the Orang Aslis and two of our KL buddies were ferried back to the GNR. Our buddies then returned with their cars and we moved to the nearest restaurant and finally had our taste of "real" food.

On hindsight the guides did the right action by pushing us on the first day. Had we stopped to camp mid-way we would be caught by the heavy rain on the second day and, unbeknownst by us, the second day's terrain was even more difficult than the first. It would be very likely that we would only be able to reach the Bharat Tea plantation by nightfall.

The total distance trekked was 30km, 20km on the first day taking ten hours and another five hours to trek 10km on the second day. The toll on me was a bad left knee, seventeen itchy leech wounds, cuts and rashes on both legs. This was really my toughest trail (two of the team members remarked that this trail was even more difficult than the one they did at G. Yong Belar, 3rd highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia). It was not the altitude which made it challenging but the long trek and harshness of the terrain. Here you would find numerous river and stream crossings, loose ground on steep slopes, wet & slippery rocks, narrow trails that are overgrown with shrubs and thorns, bees, leeches all the way (and scorpions for the unwary), plants and insects that cause rashes.

All team-mates (except one) proved their high level of fitness and endurance and we came through without serious injuries. Uncle Kon ( a veteran of Merapoh-G. Tahan-Kuala Tahan trek), although last to finish, never uttered a word of complain while others who were much younger talked about their aches and pains. The sense of accomplishment was well-deserved and they would remember this trail for a long time to come, with awe and trepidation.

PS. For more photos see: