FIELD REPORT

Mount Chamah & Mount Ulu Sepat

ADVENTURERS: Mervyn Tan with Shadiq, Wesley, Wilson, Benjamin, Hairi, Carmel and Soniya

Mount Chamah (G5) & Mount Ulu Sepat (G7)

ACTIVITIES

Trekking, camping and filmmaking.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

Hot, wet and humid at the lower regions; chilly and windy in the montane region.

PACK

Mystery Ranch Overload

Field Report

The G7 mountains in Peninsula Malaysia may not be world famous, but in the region, they carry a notorious reputation. All seven of them are not at the elevations of the ones in Nepal or Tibet, but while they lack in altitude, they make up for it in their very own treacherous, gruelling terrain. They are seven of the highest summits above 7000 feet in the peninsula. Here are the G7s:

G1: Gunung (means ‘mountain’ in Malay) Tahan (7175 feet)
G2: Gunung Korbu (7162 feet)
G3: Gunung Yong Belar (7156 feet)
G4: Gunung Gayong (7129 feet)
G5: Gunung Chamah (7123 feet)
G6: Gunung Yong Yap (7113 feet)
G7: Gunung Ulu Sepat (7090 feet)

All but Gunung Tahan are situated along the Titiwansa Range; a geographical belt of mountains which forms the backbone of Peninsula Malaysia, acting as a natural divider that splits the peninsula into East and West. Gunung Tahan is found in the Tahan Range of the peninsula.

DAY 1 – 23 June 2019

The start of Day 1 was the only day when we trekked along the openness of an old logging trail. The terrain was largely compacted, and steep, and quickly, the heat from the afternoon sun began to make its presence felt. Soon, along certain points, we got to have a sneak peek of the magnificent Titiwangsa Range from distance, where it weaved through the clouds, nestled by thick vegetation of the primary rainforest. After 4 hours of trekking in the open, we entered the undergrowth layer, thick with greens and browns. Our instincts were heightened from this point on, infiltrating through largely untouched, virgin primary rainforest of the Royal Belum. It was another 3 hours to get to the first camp site where we would break for camp for the night. 3 hours became more than 4 hours after we found ourselves a little disorientated. The trail disappeared and it took a while before the guides re-traced and got back on track. The expedition became a doubt when Carmel, one of the two females in the group, sprained her ankle while going down a steep terrain. After taping her up good, it was telling that her confidence was shaken. I knew how quick and capable she has been from previous treks and the sprain had taken quite a bit out of her. We made it to the campsite later than expected, but am proud that she did good. As a usual practice, we did a thorough scan through the surroundings of the campsite for impending dangers such as potential deadfalls before deciding the positions of our tents. Knowing we would be having a real early day tomorrow, we cooked up fast, washed up at the nearby waterfall, and turned in for the night. A pity we couldn’t spend more time building campfire and enjoy the fireflies at our camp.

DAY 2 – 24 June 2019

At 0300hrs, our alarms rang. This would be the first long, gruelling day of the expedition, and I was glad we did not wake up any later. Little did we know that today would be a 17-hour trek. Thankfully, we did not have to break camp since we had to come back to the same campsite to spend another night. The 17-hour trek was to push for the ascent and descent of Gunung Chamah. Before we started trekking, Tailong threw a firecracker with a loud explosion, something which the guides would continue to do for the entire expedition whenever they sense animal presence. Head lamps and torches were needed trekking in total darkness. The slow but steady pace allowed moments of enjoyment of the cool, tranquil peace of the sleeping forest with limited vision. Covering the rear of the group, I witnessed my team members trekking and crawling and leaping whilst bashing through the narrow trails amidst the natural randomness of the wilderness, which reminded how fortunate I am to have awesome friends to embark on such wild expeditions. It is a feeling I find hard to describe, but I was truly happy despite the struggles we were all facing. We crossed many streams and rivers, hopping from one boulder to the other, ducking under and climbing over many fallen trees. The sound of nature, at times, was immense. The howling of the monkeys, and the calls of many different species of birds and insects indicate how much life there is in the wild. The intricate network and amalgamation of seemingly infinite species of flora gives so much in texture, forms and colours. We came across many forest giants by which these trees form the extensive canopy and emergent layers.  To get to the summit of Gunung Chamah, we would have to first get to Anak (means ‘child’ or children’ in Malay) Chamah, and go through 7 false peaks, which was somewhat the most gruelling part for the day. ‘Somewhat’ because the other gruelling portion is to trek back the same way we came from after summiting. One by one, we counted the false peaks. The first 4 were pretty close to each other, and just when we thought we would be getting to the fifth one, we were treated with a series of long, steep ascents and descents before arriving at number 5, and 6 and 7 are no different. The vegetation really transformed when we were going for 5, 6 and 7. We were mesmerised by the mossy forest, easily akin to a scene from a fairy-tale enchanted forest. Alas, we arrived at the summit of Gunung Chamah, widely touted as the toughest mountain of G7. The thick vegetation at the summit means we had almost no view to enjoy, so as planned, I took out my drone, flew it and enjoyed the view from the screen. It was breath-taking, as the drone flew above the clouds, capturing what we would have never seen on foot at the summit – the endless mountain range that disappeared with distance and the clouds. After a quick hearty and yummy freeze-dried lunch from Mountain House, we began our descent, which extended long into the night. By the time we got back to camp, it was past 2100hrs. One hallucinated during the way back in darkness due to the accumulated fatigue, whilst the other felt cold and clammy at the end of the trek for Day 2. The group had the first taste of how gruelling the Trans Chamah-Ulu Sepat trek is. Food is morale, and quality and nutritious meals are necessary to re-fuel our beat-up bodies. That is the reason why we were willing to carry fresh eggs to sustain us physically and mentally.

DAY 3 – 25 June 2019

Day 3 was all about making our way through the Titiwangsa Range from Gunung Chamah to Gunung Ulu Sepat, crossing the borders from Kelantan to Perak, in the shortest time possible because Day 4 would yet be another long, gruelling day of scaling the second mountain. We could afford sleep a little longer and wake up at 0600hrs. Just like the previous days, the guides had to cut down thick vegetation that has grown over the trails, making it hard for navigation. Firecrackers were consistently thrown whenever we sensed the presence of wild animals. Being in the middle of the two mountains, we were way deep in the jungle, and Day 3 was also the day when we came across the most footprints of animals, notably the huge footprints of wild elephants. Then came fresh prints from the Malayan Tiger. It was massive, and surely it dawned upon us the possibility of seeing one. But with our experienced and capable guides, they would try their very best to not let any of us come close to danger. Not sure how I should feel – the dilemma of feeling fortunate or unfortunate to not see a tiger. Camp Maggie was the campsite we were going for, is also the last water point for tomorrow (we would need to trek for 6 to 7 hours without water the very next day). We arrived at camp just before nightfall, and Camp Maggie would have left a deep impression because of how badly infested the camp was with sand-flies. As soon as we arrived, we were all getting badly bitten. We had a tough time setting up camp, cooking and washing up with the relentless attack. There was thunderstorm through the night while we stayed safe in our tents from sand-flies and the rain.

DAY 4 – 26 June 2019

0300hrs was again the alarm set. Fortunately, the rain has stopped and we quickly made breakfast and broke camp. Similar to Day 2, we had to trek in darkness in the wee hours. The route up to the summit of Gunung Ulu Sepat was no easier, especially when we had to carry additional 4 to 5 litres of water to sustain our journey to the next water point. By mid-day, the accumulated fatigue from the expedition so far became a factor. We also took the wrong path, which resulted in back-tracking up the ridge when we mistaken the animal trail as the supposed trail to take. Through the long immense struggle with the heavy load and fatigue, the wonders and beauty of nature subtly nudges each of us. The chilly, windy weather on the montane region of the Titiwangsa Range definitely helped. The riches of flora and fauna along the trails never fail to have us in awe. We came across tracks of the Malayan Tapir, a large herbivorous, akin to the shape of a pig, with a short, prehensile nose trunk. Sadly, the Malayan Tapir are in danger of facing extinction. According to our guides, there are only about 20 Tapirs left in Peninsula Malaysia! Truly a rare sight to witness its prints, let alone seeing one. The grind continued and the group pressed on. The trek was especially muddy and wet towards the summit of Gunung Ulu Sepat. Some of us sank knee-deep into the mud, and such terrain only sapped more energy away whilst we marched on with unwavering will and determination all the way to the very summit. We arrived at 1700hrs. Once again, no view to enjoy at the top of Gunung Ulu Sepat, and my drone could not fly any higher due to the cloudy conditions. Barely 60 feet off the ground and the drone disappeared into the clouds. The celebrations were cut short as the sun was setting. We had to embark on a long, steep and slippery descent. Tailong and Dan were quick to warn the group to descend as carefully as we could, sharing a previous hiker who fractured her leg while making her way down, which resulted to a 2-day extension to that very expedition since extricating a casualty out would be extremely perilous and tough to say the least. By the time we got down to our last camp of the expedition, it was 2230hrs. The group was exhausted.

Day 5 – 27 June 2019

After having a well-deserved longer rest, we set off at 0830hrs. Knowing the remaining trek would be much lesser of what we have gone through, a few of us decided to switch to wearing our trusty and comfortable bedrock sandals, giving an opportunity for us to air our feet. Bedrock sandals are not just pretty sandals to look at and used only during admin time of the expedition, but they can be your actual spare footwear should your trekking shoes/boots give way. I could not say enough of how awesome these sandals are. They are more than capable for trekking, and trail running. We had the luxury of time finally to enjoy a dip and a swim in one of the waterfalls on our way out and this I thought was a pleasant, deserving break we have earned from the punishing grind in the past 4 days.

The Trans Chamah-Ulu Sepat trek was every bit gruelling, challenging us mentally, physically and spiriturally. The elements were brutal and it was as wild as it gets – the thick network of seemingly impenetrable jungle, the relentless sand-flies, the rich flora and fauna, the unforgiving terrain, and the absolute raw beauty of the enchanted mossy forest. Doing one mountain at a time in Gunung Chamah and Gunung Ulu Sepat would have already been tough; doing them both in one expedition would put one’s resolve and limits to the ultimate test. I am beyond proud of what my team has achieved. Perhaps it is better (and deliberate) that there is no view at the summits of the terrifying duo. What matters is truly the journey you embark on, with the people you want to spend quality time with, accomplishing something that is real difficult together, and through that, you etch solid memories and forge lifetime bonds for this will never be replicable elsewhere.

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