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

Morning
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.

Noon
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.

Evening
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

Morning
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.

Noon
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:

http://asia.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/yeohcweng/album?.dir=e742scd&.src=ph&store=&prodid
http://s70.photobucket.com/albums/i86/loitc/GNR%20To%20Bharat%20Tea

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