Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Mossy Forest of Gunung Irau, Cameron Highlands

Gunung Irau stands at 2110m in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. There is a boardwalk which leads in and ends and then the path continues. The trek is 2.35 km and can be completed in 2-3 hours by a fit person.

This hike was organised by Richard Lim for Go Hiking meetup group. The plan was to hike G. Irau on Saturday and then G. Yong Belar on Sunday. I had every intention of doing both, so I eagerly trained by climbing stairs and going on long hikes on weekends. There is no underestimating these things. I had in my mind that it was ok not to summit these mountains if I couldn't.

We reached G. Irau late morning due to a series of unfortunate events stemming from the previous night (the overnight coach got into an accident even before leaving Singapore! and then we couldn't enter Irau because a VIP was there.) Nonetheless, everyone has had a good breakfast, coffee and everything.

Gear I bought with me included: 

1) Disposable rain coat
2) Gloves (one that covers the fingers and all, and good for grabbing trees and roots, and ropes)
3) Cap
4) Small first aid box containing tweezer, bandages and disinfectant
6) Trekking pole.
7) Whistle
8) head torch
9) food -- apple, nut bars, breadbuns, powdered energy drinks
10) water 1.5L
11) warm coat with inner warm layer and outer waterproof layer.

It was a cool day, rather cloudy with some passing light showers. The trek starts on a boardwalk which can be a little slippery. Then the boardwalk ends and the walk into the deeper parts of the mossy jungle begins.

The path is narrow, crisscrossed with tree roots with few clearings. It is an uneven path with hardly any flat straight ways -- you are either moving up or down, stepping on tree roots and boulders. The trekking pole is of no use to me and I kept it so I could grab the roots and tree branches. Due to the rain, the path is muddy where it valleys between up and down slopes forming rather deep pools of peat mud. These mud pools must be traversed with care, either by inching along the edges or by balancing and stepping across fallen logs and branches.

The guide advised looking ahead and planning a few steps ahead. I observed that came naturally to him and some other native hikers that passed us by. Me? I was stepping in all the wrong places and was muddied from all the mistakes.

There was no relief, it was either up slope or down slope, some of them were quite steep though not very treacherous. It was a full body workout.

G. Irau has a "mini summit" just before the real summit. Due to the time crunch, most of us aimed to reach at least the mini summit, though a few of the seasoned hikers went and got to the real summit.

I aimed to just enjoy my surroundings. And I try to remember that. It is easy to want to chase after others. I was about 10 mins from the mini-summit (according to the guide) when I decided not to continue the climb and start making my way down. I know I would be slow in coming back, and so I decided to turn around. There was a part of me that wanted to push on.

I stopped, ate, drank and decided not to go on. It bothered me that others seemed to be breathing easy and I seemed to having a hard time. Early on the trail the guide said that I seemed rather anxious, that I needed to be a little more relaxed. It was something I didn't realize -- maybe I was just too anxious and occupied with the make-it-or-not thoughts.

I gathered my thoughts up and decided to just enjoy my trek back to the start. The forest is beautiful, there was a little sun coming in as the early afternoon breaks the moist air. There were periods of mist that transformed the surrounding jungle into a seemingly magical place like the kind of places one reads about in fantasy novels. There's the tip tap sound of water dripping off the edge of leaves and moss. There's a beautiful absolute silence that can be heard, and when you  are alone, it's you and it's all that is around you.

I made my way back slowly, back through the ups and downs. I was slow that those ahead coming back were beginning to pass me. And I'm feeling the exhaustion, because I could feel my sense of balance begin to leave.

Just before I got back onto the boardwalk leading back to the entrance, I threw up. Was this already too hard? Was I having altitude sickness? Maybe. I felt mostly out of breath, my muscles were sore but I wasn't feeling tiredness in them. I decided the next day's climb was off for me, a decision I didn't regret because the next day's trek would be a longer and higher one.

Lessons and notes:

-- I reckoned I should have lightened my pack further. I wondered if I carried too much food, or if my bag could've been lighter, or I could've gotten a lighter coat...

-- I think I should've taken more fluids and snacked more as I walked but the path was rough, and one forgets these things as one tries to keep up. 

-- I probably need to build up my core strength more.