Located next to Gunung Brinchang in Cameron Highlands, Gunung Irau is one of the more popular and mainstream mountains that would be on the to-do list of many local hikers. Situated at 2,110 meters above sea level, Gunung Irau is not that hard to climb for seasoned hikers. This is because the trail to the peak itself already starts at 2,000 meters high so it’s only a matter of climbing 110 meters more to the top. However don’t let the small difference fool you. You still need some stamina and willpower to finish the 5 kilometers return hike because there’s much climbing and hiking to do to reach the peak.
Our journey to Gunung Irau started a day earlier. Although it’s going to be a day hike, we still need to drive 4 hours from KL to Brinchang in Cameron Highlands. Four hours will mean if we plan to start at 8:00 am, we need to depart no later than 4:00 am. I don’t fancy waking up so early and driving so far away like that so we thought we’d stay the night in Brinchang to get an early start the next day. Our initial plan was to stay at this mosque in Kampung Raja which is a popular haunt for would be hikers. Before going to the mosque though we managed to catch dinner in the renowned Brinchang night market. Google Maps and Waze failed us this time in located the Kampung Raja mosque. We took a detour to the middle of nowhere after following their guide. It is only after we asked the locals that we successfully located the mosque which is located about 500 meters from the main Kampung Raja junction heading to Simpang Pulai on your left. To our dismay the mosque is locked so there goes our hope of sleeping comfortably inside. One of the locals said they used to allow people and hikers to spend the night inside the mosque before but when these people started to bring non-muslims to mingle and sleep inside the mosque (which is a big no-no) they started to lock the doors to the mosque at night. In the end we had no choice but to sleep on the balcony outside the mosque. That doesn’t sound so bad right? Ekk wrong! The night air was so cold and before we turned on the ceiling fan, mosquitoes were happily feasting on us. It must be somewhere near 13–15 °Celcius in the evening outside. What’s more since it is a mosque, we had constant visitors from people going to pray or taking a toilet break at the mosque. So you see we didn’t exactly get a good night sleep on the balcony that night. It did cross our minds to stay at one of the many hostels or guesthouses in the area but Chinese New Year plus the weekend made it impossible to find a single vacant room anywhere. It is not until 3:00 in the morning when the rest of my hiking crew arrived that I managed to get a few hours of sleep until the mosque opens for Subuh prayers.
After breakfast at a local eatery nearby we made our way to Gunung Irau. To get to Gunung Irau, you need to find the same road that lead to the famous Sungai Palas Boh Tea Center near Brinchang. From there on you will need to drive about 2 or 3 kilometers until you find this fork on the road, one to the right leading to the tea center and the other to your left leads to Gunung Brinchang and Mossy Forest where the entrance to Irau is situated. Yes you can actually drive your car all the way to Mossy Forest where there’s a little compound where you can park your car. Space is limited though so the place can get a bit crowded at times. The road up to the entrance is navigable, it’s bad on some parts but definitely not as bad as the treacherous Gunung Telapak Buruk. You can drive your little Viva with a peace of mind straight to the top.
There’s no registration counter or anything at the top but from what I heard you do need to get a permit at the Forestry Department and make a police report to go in. However I also hear very few people does that and most just walk in and hike their way to Gunung Irau. It’s all up to you I guess. From Mossy Forest you go through a flight of stairs before beginning your hike into the jungle. You will find a horde of tourists taking pictures at the stairs and beyond but most will not venture far from there because the trail tends to get very muddy all the way to the peak. I’m not kidding when I say it’s very muddy. The black mud will stick to your shoes, clothes and also your skin and they’ll need some intense scrubbing to get rid off. I won’t advice you to wear anything white into Mossy Forest and Gunung Irau.
As I said, the rail has its fair share of ups and downs although I must say we did a lot more climbing than hiking that day. At 2,000 meters it should be quite cold right? Nope, just like any other mountains in peninsular Malaysia, a trek through Gunung Irau will make you sweat through your shirt. If you’re a seasoned hiker it wouldn’t be a problem. However I do have 12 kilos on my back all the way to the peak and back so it was quite tiring to say the least. Yes I am still training for my Tahan trip next month so every hike and climb counts to get me ready.
The jungle trail was just like any other trail that I’ve been through except for the mossy forest area which is the highlight of our journey. To get to the mossy forest you need to hike 2/3 of the entire trail so it’s part of the reward of hiking in Irau (apart from the peak). And true to what people say, the mossy forest is indeed beautiful just like a scene in Fangorn forest from The Lord Of The Rings. You have to see it for yourself to appreciate the beauty.
Overall I would rate Gunung Irau as moderately challenging. You might not want to try it straight away if your first and only hike was at Broga but for regular hikers it would be just a walk in the park. Irau is one of the easiest tall mountain that you can climb since you already start at 2,000 meters. Unfortunately since it’s so accessible, it is also overhiked and littered with rubbish. This is the case I'm afraid with most mainstream mountains. Mainstream as in is it accessible, near to the city and can be completed with a day hike. I must blame those newbies who just started hiking because real and seasoned hikers and climbers would take out every single thing they bring in, litter and all. All those litters is a real eye-sore to see. I hope these fresh new hikers (or old timers with a really bad habit) would come to realize that if they didn’t take care of nature, they’ll be nothing left for their children to see and enjoy.
A few tips for Gunung Irau hike. If you want to drive all the way to Brinchang from KL and start hiking immediately get an early sleep to get you fresh for the long trip. Better still book a budget hotel, hostel or guesthouse and sleep overnight in Cameron Highlands. You'd really appreciate the good night's rest. If you plan to go during major public holidays like Chinese New Year or Hari Raya bear in mind that Cameron Highlands will be overrun by tourists and visitors and there's a really good chance that every hotel,hostels, guesthouses and even homestays in the area will be fully book. Plan early to avoid disappointment (like we did). And as always bring a lot of water and some food to eat during the hike. Our trip to Gunung Irau consisted of 15 members including my wife and I. I must thank my friend Mas Hafiyka who’s really good at networking and finding people to come hike with her. If not for her it might be just the two of us hiking to Irau yesterday. I didn't know any of her friends that came along yesterday but we made new friends this hiking trip just as we always do in every hiking trip. Some of them are really experienced hikers and climbers and I get to learn a bunch of new stuff like how to pack my backpack properly. I hope to climb and camp at at least another mountain before my gruelling trip to Tahan next month. Who’s up to camp on top of Gunung Nuang via Pangsun with me early next month?