Home > Uncategorized > First Stop – Gunung Tahan

First Stop – Gunung Tahan

Length: 04 days
Period: 13/08/2006 to 17/07/2006

My research stated: “Gunung Tahan at 2,178m is the highest point in Peninsula Malaysia. You start off at Kuala Tahan (63 km away) and trek for seven days. Along the way, you will climb twenty-seven hills, cross seven rivers, hug a cliff-face, clamber up steep slopes and endure cold temperatures (sometimes single-digit temperatures) near the summit. Then you get to do it in reverse order on the way back.”

I had a vision as I read those words. I would fearlessly stay the path even as the jungle mocked me with ominous obstacles: sheer cliff faces and frothy rivers that down me with prat falls and broken legs, unruly elephants squashing insignificant humans, long thirsty marches through thick and unfriendly forests while fending off blind blood-hungry leeches.

I was the Energizer man who never says die.

I would clamber, climb, crawl and somehow get over everything thrown in my way. I near the summit and shrieking winds would set my teeth shivering and limbs shaking. Nevertheless, I will make it to the top, survey the land around me in satisfaction and return the way I came.

I would then write home and deride everyone’s pitiful city existence. I would quietly acknowledge my heroic sufferings to a captive audience. Never blabbing nor boasting too loudly. Modesty is a fine virtue to have, especially when I am the hero.


My first slope was a ball-buster. I bounced upwards for a few meters on jutting roots and thought “Hey! This is easy!” Then my backpack turned into a fucking ball and chain. I struggled and fought to make that next step. I tried everything that I could think of: I leaned forward to shift my weight forward and almost squashed my face into the earth. I pulled myself up on a branch and nearly left my shoulders hanging on the branch. In the end, I CRAWLED upwards using my hands and feet like a crab learning to walk forward.

At the top of the slope, my legs screamed bloody murder and I couldn’t feel my shoulders anymore. I huffed and puffed so much that any dog would have been proud of me. I should feel proud of myself. I had, after all, successfully climbed up one hill.

There were twenty-seven hills left to go.

If I could think coherently then, I would have turned tail and ran back the way I came. Instead we (me and my guide, Ali) clambered over the remaining hills and made camp in the middle of nowhere.

We broke camp at dawn and struck on again the next day.

Once more, we scaled up and down steep slopes. My legs shook at the prospect of each climb and descent. Fortunately, I managed it with some dignity. Then I saw my first river crossing; it was far wider and more daunting than flyovers criss-crossing Bangkok. I had to cross seven rivers filled with clear beautiful water gushing down from the tips of Gunung Tahan.

The day was hot. The river gurgled and bubbled happily in front of me. I needed to cool off but not by falling into the water! I kept slipping and sliding on the wet rocks underfoot. Each time I went into the water, I’d bang my shin against oddly shaped rocks. I’d rise up from the river; an undersized swamp monster clutching at a bashed shin and cursing loudly. The river didn’t care a whit for my scolding. It merrily flowed between my legs and onwards. I’d fall again into the river because I’ve been massaging my bruised shin.

We covered thirty kilometers at the end of that day; just a little under halfway to the mountain foot.

“Ohhh. Tomorrow harder than today. Must go straight up like tree.” Ali spoke. He’s been easy company and straight with his words. Those three sentences hung heavy around my neck. We pitched our tents and built little fires to cook our dinners.

“Ali, tomorrow we go back.” He nodded. I wondered privately if he was glad of my decision. He kept harping on the ‘boringness’ of climbing Gunung Tahan. Apparently, he and his fellow Orang Aslis are in charge of clearing the path between Gunung Tahan and the Park HQ. That means having to climb up and down and up and down the mountain.

Regardless, I had made my decision and we would turn around tomorrow morning.That night, I heard him laugh loudly to himself. “Has he gone mad?” I thought.

“Hello.” He said from inside his tent. “Hello.” He wanted to catch my attention.

“What’s so funny Ali?” He was snorting away in laughter. The sweet tobacco that he smoked drifted towards me; scaring away mosquitoes as it did.

“Sometimes the other Malay guides would bring (tour) groups to my village and tell them when Bateks marry, the Asli big chief must sit on termite hill.” He chortled. “It’s not true but I relax. It’s ok. I don’t know why they say that to tour groups.”

 I laughed out loud and it felt good.

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