Gunung Irau hike

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?

Hiking at FRIM

I vaguely remember the last time I went to the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. I was very young then, pre-school perhaps. Anyway what I did remember was trees and bushes and maybe a small stream, that’s all. Ever since I migrated to KL I’ve always wanted to return to FRIM, see again how it’s like after all these years. Especially since I’m so into hiking and climbing right now. But somehow it was not until last week that I stepped my feet into the forest reserve again.

Thanks to the marvel of modern technology (Waze), we managed to find FRIM easily enough. Take the MRR2 to Kepong / Sungai Buloh, turn left at the Batu round about and drive straight until you see Taman Metropolitan Kepong. From there you can already see the FRIM signboard on your left. Entrance fee is RM6.00 per car (locals). You can park pretty much anywhere in the park, except on the staff parking maybe. It depends on where you want to go or what you want to do. Since we’re planning of taking the canopy walk, we parked near that entrance.

To go up the canopy walk, there’s a separate fee for visitors which is RM5.00 for local adults and RM1.00 for local children. The tickets can only be bought at the FRIM One Stop Centre (building 6) and not anywhere else so take note of that. The website says only 250 pax per day are allowed to go on the hanging bridge every day but I doubt they actually enforce them cause I see lots of people going up. The Canopy Walkway is located in the Bukit Lagong forest reserve. Where’s that? Easy enough, just walk a few steps to the mosque next to the One Stop Centre and go straight into the jungle pathway.

From the trail entrance you’ll have to walk about 1,000 meters to the foot of the hill where the canopy walkway is situated. Then you’ll climb up the little hill about 270 meters to the beginning of the canopy tree. Located 300 meters above sea level the canopy walkway spans about 150 meters and suspended between trees at 30 meters above ground. If you have tried Skytrex Adventure park, the canopy walkway is nothing to shout about. But still at a fraction of the price, you still get to experience a panoramic view of the forest and Kuala Lumpur area from a distance. Plus it’s not too scary for children and beginners (at climbing and hanging among trees).

But the canopy walkway is not the only attraction inside FRIM. There’s a few ethno-botanic gardens, traditional Malay house, a research gallery, several nature trails past some streams and waterfalls and also several picnic and camping area. You can find out more about these attractions on their official website. All in all, FRIM is a good place for getting in touch with nature. You can walk along one of the many trails, jog, mountain bike, picnic, camp or if you’re into photography there’s tonnes of beautiful things to capture. The trails are not too challenging and it’s a good place to introduce young children into hiking.

Bukit Kutu Camping

After hiking and climbing nearly a dozen hills and mountains, it is only natural that I progress to the next level — camping. So far my hiking trips had only been day hikes meaning I will always return home on the same day whether late afternoon or in some rare cases early in the evening. This is possible because practically all of the mountains that I climbed are between the 1,000 to 1,500 meters range and never more. If you climb any higher, it will usually take two days minimum for the return trip. Hence the need to set up camp.

I remember my last camping trip was when I was in primary school. Aside from camping on the school field, I also get to camp in a scout jamboree somewhere in Kota Bharu. Back then everything was set up by our teachers so we didn’t do or prepare much except participate in the activities. After school, even in secondary school, I didn’t participate in any more camping trips up until now. Oh wait, I did join one or two Rakan Muda camping trip in college. But then we basically stayed in some huts or chalet so I’m not sure if that counts as real camping.

But since I signed up for a climbing trip up Gunung Tahan in March, I had no choice but to try out camping at least a few times to get the experience and acquire some camping skills in the process. My chance came up when HACAM (who else) organised an overnight camping trip up Bukit Kutu in Kuala Kubu Bharu. Now I’ve been up to Bukit Kutu before but as you guessed it, it’s only for a day hike. And since my wife is now an experienced climber as I am, she was all too eager to tag along.

When MK Rahman, the group leader announced the event on Facebook, there were up to 50 people who clicked going. On the actual day of the trip only 8 made it. I already suspected there would be a few no shows but I never expected 84 percent wouldn’t show up! Next time when I see 50 people going I would assume less than 10 would actually come. The rest are jokers. I a way, I guess it’s a blessing in disguise. Can’t imagine 50 people crowding the mountain top with all their tents and stuff. 8 person and 3 tents (2 other fly sheets) is just nice.

We started at 10:00 am at the trail head new the stream. Unlike my last trip up Bukit Kutu it was sunny and clear all the way. There were some strong wind but it didn’t rain a drop this time. There were 6 guys and 2 girls including my wife. The other girl also came with her husband. All of us are quite experienced hikers but my wife and I should be the one with the least camping experience. But that didn’t let us feel down or anything. Our main goal is to gain experience right? We reached the peak in about 3 hours. On the way I discovered there was a water source half way up the mountain. Didn’t notice that before, probably because last time around there less experienced people in our trip. Unlike our day trips, camping up a mountain requires us to carry some heavy backpack filled with stuff. My backpack alone is 15 kilos and carrying it all the way up the mountain is truly testing (my back and my willpower). Now Bukit Kutu is just 1,100 meters, imagine carrying the same load 2,187 meters up Gunung Tahan for a four days trip. As formidable as that sound, you get better with experience I was told.

We set up tent on the clearing just before the peak, you know where the tall chimney tower is located? The second thing I learned that day is that apart from the dirty well strewn with rubbish on top of Bukit Kutu, there’s another much cleaner well located a few meters away just behind the bushes. While I wouldn’t drink straight from that well, we used the water for cleaning up and also shower. Having a water source a thousand meter up a mountain is the best thing you can ask for in any camping trips.

Since Bukit Kutu is quite a popular hiking destination, there were endless stream of hikers up until 4:00–5:00 in the evening. By sunset, all the day hikers had left and so there were only 8 of us up there at the peak. We took this chance to visit the old sanitarium ruins about 500 meters away from our campsite. Before today I always thought that was just some old building or bungalow with no particular purpose. I still wonder how they get to carry the stones and wood all the way up there to build that thing. And also how do they get the patients, doctors and staff there. On foot? On a horse? Parachute in?

For lunch, we had Kak Na’s famous nasi berlauk which we bought earlier today. For dinner though we had to cook our very own meal. What else but two pack of Maggi instant noodles. Compare that to our fellow campers who had hot steamy rice, eggs and sardines. Another one had Brahim’s delicious packed briyani rice for dinner. You can really tell who’s experienced and who’s rather new to this camping thing by the food that they bring/make. We did brought our very own little gas stove along but we debated whether to bring/cook rice or not which we ultimately decided not to. Anyway at least we should know by now what to bring on our next camping trip.

Later that evening, we get to enjoy viewing the sunset all by ourselves at the peak. That’s the advantage of camping compared to day hikes. By evening most of the crowd had gone and we got the place all to ourselves. I managed to collect some sticks and branches for fire wood and it was nice sitting round the fire and talking and keeping ourselves occupied since there was nothing else interesting to do. No TV or computers, maybe our smartphones but definitely no signal at 1,100 meters above sea level. One thing for sure, it is really-really cold there at the peak. By the time we retire to bed it was hovering somewhere between 14–15 degrees Celsius outside (one of us carried some fancy gadget with GPS and climate sensors).

Before I sleep, I get to admire the stars at night. For the first time in like ages I actually get to see the stars in the sky. If you look out your window right now I doubt you could see anything more than 2 or 3 stars in the city. But there on top of the mountains, the sky is full of stars especially on a bright, clear night with few clouds above. I wish I could capture the stars on picture but my Nikon 1 camera is too low-tech to do that.

About a month before the trip, I bought a two-person tent from Sportsdirect which cost only 85 ringgit. I know it would be small but I never guessed we would be cramped inside there. There’s barely room to turn. And another thing, since it’s fairly cheap, the tent is also fairly thin. Had it rained that night we would surely be soaked to the bone. We did spread a canvas on top of it but it was too small to cover the entire tent. I didn’t exactly measure it to be used as a fly sheet originally anyway. Lucky for us the weather was clear all the way until morning that day. Still, I had a sleepless night waking up to the slightest sound of the wind, fearing rain would come and drench the two of us. Next time I am definitely going to invest on a bigger and better, double-layer tent so that I could sleep soundly at night. As a rule of thumb, 2 person would require at least a 3 person tent to sleep comfortably. 4 person tent is even better but then it would be much heavier to carry around.

I did managed to catch a few hours of sleep that night despite the wind and cold temperature. I set up my alarm and we woke up early in the morning meaning to catch the sunrise which we did. Sitting on top of the rocks again at 6:40 in the morning is surreal with the wind and cold temperature and all. There’s not much of sunrise that I managed to catch that morning mostly because they were hidden behind the clouds. Still it was a spectacular view and an unforgettable experience. By 7:30, the peak was literally crowded with day hikers again.

After a quick breakfast of beef curry in a tin with baked potatoes and bread, we clear up camp and left the area. We were firm believer in the ‘leave no trace’ philosophy so we make sure we carried back everything that we bring including rubbish, litter, even cigarette stubs. The return trip took only 2 hours but 1/3 down the hill we were followed by two stray dogs looking for food. I’m not really afraid of dogs or anything but they were quite an inconvenience to be around with. My wife is especially terrified at them. Fortunately the two mutts left us alone when some other hikers started feeding them on the way up. On the way back I stopped to bath in the river for a while. Always wanted to do that since last time but it was already late then. After a hot and sweaty hike down the hills, getting a dip in the cold flowing water is just heavenly.

I learned a lot from my first camping trip post school and college. Mostly thanks to having a bunch of very experienced people along. I should be more prepared for my next camping trip which I plan to have at least one more time before the Tahan trip. It’s all down to budget and money now. Better tent, better food and better gears all cost money and most of them don’t come cheap. That’s why unless you’re really loaded, we usually get those things gradually. Most mountain peaks also won’t have any water source at the top so we probably need to carry more water and use them sparingly.

Bukit Kutu camping was a really good first experience. Good company and breathtaking scenery. I can’t afford to stay in a five star hotel but nothing beats staying under a five thousand stars hotel on a cold breezy night on top of a mountain. There are some things that money can’t buy. Hiking, climbing and camping on top of mountains is one of them.