Gunung Yong Belar hike

In my pursuit to climb all the seven tallest mountain in peninsular Malaysia, I registered myself for this Yong Belar hiking trip last weekend. Standing at 2181 meters, Yong Belar is the third highest mountain in the list. Once again, I stumbled upon this trip while randomly searching for hiking events on Facebook and found one organized by Rentas Adventures, just another outdoor/hiking company. As always with most outdoor companies, they will try to get as many participants as possible. Therefore it is no surprise that we’ve got 44 participants in the end for this hiking trip.

We discussed car-pooling arrangement a week in earlier. I was lucky again to get a car although this time the had driver set the price in advance which is fine by me. Beggars can’t be choosers. My wife dropped me of at the new Kinrara BK 5 LRT station and I took a train to Sri Petaling before switching with another one towards Gombak. I didn’t know I had to switch trains three times to get to Gombak and there’s no way I’m going to get to my destination before 10:00PM. So I called my driver and arranged to pick me up at the Sungai Besi station instead. Still, because of traffic, we didn’t get to Gombak until well after 11:00. After waiting for all the participants to arrive, we only left Gombak for Cameron Highlands sometime after midnight.

I don’t want to comment much about my 3 hours long journey cramped with 3 other person at the backseat of that old Proton Perdana. Suffice to say we arrived in Kampung Raja, Cameron safe and sound although I wished we had stopped for supper somewhere along the way. If you’ve read about my hiking trip to Gunung Irau some time ago, you should be familiar with the Kampung Raja mosque. Yes it’s the same place that we hung out before climbing that mountain. And like last time, it was freezing cold over there early in the morning. But unlike last time, I came prepared with my warm sleeping bag so I didn’t suffer as much as last time. However since the place is rather crowded and noisy with so many people around, I didn’t get much sleep. Maybe an hour or so. If I had it my way, I would have booked a hotel somewhere and only join them just before we depart. That would involve me driving my own car and incur much more cost though so I just had to suck it up.

After the morning prayers, we had a hearty breakfast at the same regular stall just outside the mosque. Later we drove ourselves to SK Kampung Raja a few miles away and paid 10 ringgit each to park our cars there. From there, we took three four wheel drive vehicles to ferry all 44 of us to the starting point (yes that’s 14 person per car). The one hour journey itself was an adventure on itself due to the bumpy nature of the ride. You don’t want to drive your own car there on that god-awful road. After a short briefing and express warm up, we begin our journey up Yong Belar.

The first leg of the journey begun by climbing 250 steps (some say 252) of stairs at the starting point. The locals called it good morning steps (tangga good morning) but I’d rather call it Stairways to Hell. I was prepared for this but with 13 kilos on my back and a niggling injury to my right knee, it became more difficult than usual to complete the climb. That said, I’m not about to let a few steps of stairs stop me from achieving my G7 target. I soldiered on, hurt knee and all. The second challenge was the long line of pipes criss-crossing our track. The pipes carry water from upstream down to the vegetables farms below (I presume) and they were about 1 kilometer long. They were super-slippery and in certain place, submerged in 3 feet of water and you have no choice but to tread carefully into them. So unless you take of your shoes and pants and wade through the water, this is one trip that you can’t escape from getting your shoes wet.

After the Long Pipes to Eternity, we would come across a river and arrive at a large vegetables plantation. You can find several varieties of vegetables being planted at the farm. Well, Cameron Highlands is indeed a renowned vegetables producer in the country. We walked across the farm until we meet the foot of a hill and then proceed to climb it before seeing the real entrance to the jungle. The locals call it the gate of the jungle (pintu rimba) but I’d like to call it the Gates of Perpetual Remorse. This is basically the point of no return. Once you go past this mark, there’s no turning back. Well, that is the case usually. We went up and down a few hills for 2 hours before arriving at the first campsite — Kem Tudung Periuk (pot lid camp). There we had our packed lunch consisting of beef and rice. There’s a tiny water point next to the camp but you’ll have to go down a hundred meters (and up again obviously) to get to the little stream.

The trek from Kem Tudung Periuk to the final camp, Kem Kasut (literally shoe camp) was the hardest part. It took me 5 hours to reach that camp, situated 2,000 meters above sea level. Like I said, hurt knee and the hot weather didn’t really help my cause. I stopped almost a dozen times that afternoon to drink and rest. When I finally reached Kem Kasut I just wanna sleep right there and then. But first I had to take a bath, clean up myself (in the freezing cold stream water) and then wait for dinner being served. This water point is even further away from the last one and you’ll be panting each time you go down and up to fetch water or clean up. After dinner everybody kinda slept early that night out of exhaustion including me. Well 10:00 o’ clock is earlier than my regular bed time.

Our initial plan was to wake up early around 5:00-ish to catch the sunrise at the summit. But since our guide said there probably won’t be any sunrise tomorrow because of the clouds or fog, we decided to go a bit later. From the last camp, it still took us about an hour’s hike to the summit. This time around we were well-rested compared to yesterday so it wasn’t that taxing. Just like Yong Yap, Yong Belar’s peak offers no 360° view and only a small opening to see the surrounding hills and mountains. We didn’t hang around too long at the summit since the sun is already up and hot at the peak. Somehow this ascend didn’t feel as fun as it used to be. Maybe it’s because of the many strangers that I met and we didn’t get the chance to bond much.

We didn’t leave the campsite until well past 2 o’ clock that afternoon. From my calculation it will take at least 5 hours to reach the starting point based on yesterday’s journey and my calculations were not far off. We didn’t get to the pipes until nearly 7:00 PM. On the return journey, my injured knee has started to take a toll on me. I couldn’t walk or climb up and down very fast and as a result I was pushed nearly to the back of the queue. One after one people breeze past me on the way back which is quite demoralizing for me to be honest. This serves as an important reminder how you need to be in tip-top shape before attempting any hardcore mountains such as this. If you are injured or unwell no matter how little, do not tempt fate. It is you yourself that will suffer. And maybe those around you with the trip too.

That said, I managed to push myself in spite of the pain and made my way to the middle of the pack. There’s the speedsters who are easily 1–2 hours in front of me and then there’s the walkers who are noobs or injured who make up the rear end. To put the proverbial icing on the cake, it rained hard halfway through the end. Apart from the slippery track, water makes your clothes and even your bag wet so that’s more burden for you to carry. Then there’s always the danger of lightning strike on top of the hills. The struggle is real.

I had never been so glad to see the vegetable farm again. It could only mean that the end is almost near. We waited a bit for more people to arrive in the middle pack and then start off around 7:30 PM for the final push out of the jungle. If you think negotiating the slippery pipes is hard during the day, it’s double hard doing it at night. Your vision is limited by how good your headlamp is and it is even creepier treading the water in the dark. You’ve got leeches, frogs, insects and who knows what swimming in the water. I’ve got a cute little leech inside my shoe by the time I got out. After the pipes, just like in the beginning, we had to endure the nightmarish stairs again. The trick is to go down slowly sideways, one foot after another. There were literally shouts of joy when we finally saw our powils (4WDs) at the starting point.

During Yong Yap, I was freezing my balls off on the ride back. This time I am wiser and had my jacket on in anticipation of the freezing ride back in the cold Cameron evening. We were dropped off at the same school where we parked our cars and paid 2 ringgit to the security for a cold shower in their bathroom. By that time all but only one of my carpool members have arrived so we had no choice but to wait for him. After saying goodbyes, we left for KL and I didn’t get home until 3 o’ clock in the morning. And yes I’m supposed to turn up for work later at 7:30 AM.

On reflection, Yong Belar is one of the toughest mountains that I’ve climbed so far, only a step lower behind Tahan in terms of intensity and hardship. My injured right knee might have contributed a lot for that scale but it is still hard nevertheless. I’m sure my final four G7 mountains will be even harder but until then, Yong Belar up there in the hardcore scale. After being spoilt with good cooks during my last few trips I must say I expected better from this one. But since they came with the package, I can’t complain much. Other than that, I am surely glad there’s no sand flies to contend with on this trip. Like I said, 2 days is too short to start making any connection or bonds with your trip mates. I barely knew much of my hiking crews by the end of the second day. Besides, there are too many of them. It’s one of those quirks of hiking with completely new strangers I guess.

Final words, if you’re attempting to climb Yong Belar, make sure you are prepared for it physically and mentally. It is the third highest mountain in the peninsular and while some crazy people did manage to scale it in one day, the rest of us would need at least two days to climb including rest. If you’re a seasoned hiker with many experiences with mountains above 1,500 meters you should be fine. If you don’t climb much but is athletic and exercise a lot, you could make it, at least slowly but surely. I don’t really recommend Yong Belar if it’s your first truly tall mountain and you haven’t hike much. It’s a tough one trust me, most of my crew members that day are truly seasoned and have climbed numerous mountains or on their way to complete their G7 mission. Hence no wonder many of them just waltz through the tracks like it’s Broga or something. If this is your first G7, my advice to you would be to try some of the lower but tougher mountains first. Put on your backpacks with at least 10 kilos of stuff in them and climb any one of these mountains such as Nuang, Kutu or Rajah. They are good training grounds for G7 mountains.

Paradise Valley

It’s that time of the year again where my company organizes a few team building activities for its staff. During my first year here, we had the luxury of going for a one night stay in Pangkor. The year after, we didn’t go anywhere but did a few fun activities like Skytrex and go-karting. This year we were given a choice between bowling, cooking, movie-watching, go-karting or an overnight trip to an eco tourism resort in Broga called Paradise Valley. Naturally I chose the overnight stay in Broga (do you even have to ask?).

Well actually I’ve been to Broga for a couple of times now with my friends and family so it’s no big deal. We are going to go for an early morning hike from the resort to catch the sunrise. But apart from that, there’s a host of other activities planned for us like wall-climbing, flying-fox and kayaking which I look forward to very much.

We started from the secondary school early Monday morning. Yes the school was closed for 2 weeks for the Easter term break. An hour later we arrived in Paradise Valley by bus. Oh did I mention, the were about 44 of us including 4 guys? Yep, somehow all the other men in the school were not interested in outdoor activities (wimps). Well I can’t really blame them. Not everybody is cut out for the outdoors or sports. So the remaining 40 participants consist of mostly domestic ladies, teaching assistants and a few admin staff and librarians.

All the ladies we divided into dormitories which could fit 10 people or so. When I heard about dormitories, I started to imagine my horrible high school dormitories but fortunately it was nothing like that. At least this one is clean and air-conditioned. Everybody was supposed to stay in these dorms but since there were only 4 of us guys, we were given a free upgrade and got to stay in one of their luxury air-conditioned suites with hot shower, 4 single beds room instead. Compared to the girl’s dormitories it is a luxury I must say. At least there’s a bright side of guys shying away from this trip.

We were randomly divided into 5 groups at the beginning. After checking in we started our first activity which was the photo hunt. The objective is to find the places described on each piece of paper and take group photos there with different unique poses. As much as I despise running around under the hot el nino sun, I just played along with the team.

After lunch (which was really good - chicken, lamb, etc) comes my favorite activity - the wall climb. I used to breeze up to the top of these walls when I was younger but I’m not so sure I can do that now. Still, I’d be damned if I don’t try. We put on all our harnesses and flock to the climbing wall. Each group members will attempt to scale the wall and those who reaches the highest most wins. I was pretty confident at first you know since I’ve been working out a lot at the gym so this is going to be peanuts right? The first half of the climb was okay but as I tried to go higher, the holds (the thing that you grip on) got smaller and more difficult to grasp. Maybe my section of the wall is slightly more difficult or maybe I’m just not up for this so I went down 2/3 into my climb which is disappointing for me to say the least. However after seeing how some of my ladies team members reached the top without much complication, I decided to try again but on a different section of the wall. Sure enough, I clinched that one without much difficulty.

Our next activity is the much awaited flying fox. First we had to walk up a steep slope to get to the beginning of the flying fox cable. After a short briefing we took turns to zip down the flying fox one by one. Somehow they let all the ladies go first followed by the lighter guys and me (being the heaviest one) last. So I had to wait for like an hour before I get to zip down the hill and it ended in like 10 seconds. So much for being the first to run up the flying fox station.

Our final outdoor activity of the day was a free and easy kayaking session at a small pool inside the resort. The water is just waist deep and the pool so small, there’s not so much adventure to it to be honest. I was expecting some elements of white-water rafting or something but then they don’t have any rivers flowing next to the resort.

After a good dinner, we congregated at a small hall next to the dormitories for karaoke night. The last time I joined an open karaoke singing session was in Sungai Sedim during my college days Rakan Muda trip. I know I sounded terrible then but that doesn’t stop me from trying again that night. After the first volunteer (Zakiah was fearless), everybody was hesitant to join. Not until I braved the stage and start belting out Man Bai’s kau ilhamku then everybody started to join. Some of them were quite good actually although others can’t sing even if their lives depend on it (I’m looking at you Zakiah and Faridah).

We retired early that night so that we can wake up fresh for the early morning hike the next day. My housemates were so excited they woke up as early as 4:30 am that morning. I know cause got woken up by all the noises they made. Calm down uncles, it’s only a one hour hike. After a quick warm up we set of at the designated time (5:30 am). We used a completely different route than the regular one used by the public and this one is much quicker (but steeper in some parts). It is a private route meant for the customers of Paradise Valley. That said we could occasionally see outsiders trekking using the route but along the resort gates of course. It’s not like they can stop them or anything. I obviously didn’t have any problem hiking up Broga. It is only 420 meters Broga after all. The rest of my colleagues however were panting and sweating their way up the hill slopes. No surprise there since most are not into outdoor activities or even done any exercises recently. I don’t mean to sound cocky or anything but the sad reality is many of my fellow Malaysians don’t put much effort in exercising or sporting activities. Is it any wonder we are the country with the most obese people in south east Asia?

Anyway everybody reached the top of Broga in no time at all. Well actually most take slightly over one hour to reach the top. The morning was cloudy and overcast so there goes our sunrise hike. I came prepared with my stove, mess tin, tea and biscuits meaning to have a light breakfast at the peak. It was good to share what little I have with the rest of the crew. After the compulsory photo-taking, we head down the same route we came up from. That took about half an hour but in my hurry to get down, I sprained my knee a little running down the track. That was so silly of me and going to pay for it dearly in my next hiking trip.

After breakfast we rested a bit and then board the bus back to school. At the primary campus we had lunch and then a little prize-giving ceremony. I was actually hoping to win something but I didn’t which is cool. The karaoke contest winners for example had to sing in front of the entire school after getting their prizes. Honestly I would die of embarrassment before I can do that. So had it been a good trip? You bet. Sure I would have liked to do more activities or had more of my buddies around. It’s a nice break from our daily work routine. Hopefully, we’ll go somewhere nicer next time.

Gold Coast Morib Resort

In conjunction with the school holiday last week, I took the opportunity to take my family for a short weekend getaway at Gold Coast Morib Resort near Banting. One of the reason I chose the resort was because of its proximity, only a 45 minutes drive from my place. Another reason was because it comes with a water theme park which would be great for children because you know how they love water and parks.

I booked the Studio Suite with jacuzzi. Their rates vary from RM150 to RM388 depending on when you come. I got mine for RM250 which was pretty reasonable considering it’s the weekend and school holiday some more. We arrived late at night that day because Adam had a chess competition during the day. The resort was easy enough to find using Waze and there’s ample parking space for visitors around the hotel.

First impression, the studio suite looks good enough. I immediately noticed the lamp shade is broken and you can see the electric cable showing, ripped from the socket. In the bathroom you can find the private jacuzzi which a loud whirring sound when turned on. Not really ideal for a romantic honeymoon. There’s a little space between the jacuzzi and the wall where you can see electrical cables hanging, susceptible to water and little fingers. The door of the glass shower is dangling sideways and you can’t close it properly. I don’t know whether it’s just our luck that we got the worse room in the house or all their rooms look like that. Anyway I called the front desk to report about the faulty lamp shade and unsurprisingly nobody came to fix it throughout our stay. And they have the audacity to call themselves a 4 stars hotel. I’d given them 2 stars and that’s me being generous.

Since nobody in their right mind would call room service and order food from the hotel, we did what people normally do. Go out to the nearest eatery and have dinner there. We found one food court next to the Morib beach where there’s plenty of stalls and food to choose from. The food is okay and the price quite reasonable.

The next morning we spent a few hours in the water theme park. We got 2 free tickets with the room but had to pay separately for the kids. One thing I quickly noticed was that the water in the theme park was not so clean. Apart from that the kids thoroughly enjoyed playing and splashing in the water and going down the slides. Me I was just trying to not think too much about the dirty water. Would I recommend Gold Coast Morib Resort? Only if you don’t mind some of their broken facilities and if you get a discounted price. Otherwise find some place nicer. I don’t fancy paying RM388 for substandard amenities and dirty water theme park.