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.