Cameron Highlands is the sort of vacation spot for families with young children. Big strawberry farms, with quirky looking cactus are sure to bring out squeals of joy from the little imps.
But as Friend Z and I found out, Cameron Highlands has an attraction for the young, fit and adventurous, looking for a challenge.
Like the stuff of tales and legends, the adventure comes in the form of a mountain. Towering more than 2,000m above sea level, Gunung Brinchang, located an estimated (500m – 3km) away from the town of Brinchang (depending where you start from) is sure to stretch that hamstrings of yours, and give you a good workout. We were also recipients of good karma, which was believed to be earned when Friend Z bought a bowl of paigu (pork rib) soup for the Beggar at Raffles City Shopping Centre. That’s another story.
We found out about Gunung Brinchang via this blog post from Roaring Forties. Had really good tips on where and how to go about the trek. After getting all bored out with the endless strawberry farms in Cameron Highlands, we really needed a challenge. After all, it sounded pretty easy, based on the narrative from the blogpost. The couple started off at 2pm, and reached the town of Brinchang at 8pm. When we kicked off the trek, it was 11am. Surely we would be back before dusk, we thought.
At an elevation level of more than 2,000m, we thought it was pretty easy to “conquer” this mountain. The reality is that this 2,000m does not cover distance down. So essentially, for every 100m that we walked up, it was erased by the 100m that we walked down.
Gunung Brinchang is also not like Bukit Timah Hill, where there are stone steps to help you on your way up. Most of the paths were fine, but there are some moments where you’ve got to leap over logs and trod over muddy paths that are real squishy. For that reason, we decided not to climb down the mountain, given that it rained occasionally near the peak. The ground was also soft and wet, hardly a safe path for a descent.
Now, the road to the start of Gunung Brinchang is pretty straightforward, you just got to keep a lookout for the signs. We started off near the Water Catchment area as highlighted in the blog. You can tell this to the “Mercedes Cab” taxi driver – most of them should be aware of it. (All taxis in Cameron Highlands are Mercedes Cabs) It’s about 500m from the main town of Brinchang. The path was pretty straightforward, until we reached the construction area – might be for the building of a water catchment area. Across a stream lay several big pipes that was the only connector to the next path.
Now I was in a dilemma. I didn’t want to wet my shoes, and I didn’t want to burst the pipe by stepping on it either. But the latter seem more unlikely hence I proceeded to trot across the big pipe. It deflated for a bit, but thankfully it didn’t burst. And I reached the next part of the way without wetting my shoes – little did I know would be inconsequential as we moved along.
As healthy young adults who exercised a not-so-frequent once a week, we went up pretty fast for the first half an hour, thinking that the worst, (treading on pipe situation) was over.
Little did we know that as we went up, more logs stood in our way, and muddy tree root paths awaited us along the ascent. It’s a miracle sometimes when I think about it, and how we managed to reach the top. I had to use my hands to prop myself up sometimes.
What I didn’t like was the muddy puddles that we had to tread over, given that there was no other paths. Puddles always give me the horrors, like how my foot was stuck in quick sand, along a hike to see Mount Bromo in Indonesia. Lucky, there was no unwanted experiences waiting for me from puddle to puddle.
It was a little demoralising to see each sign post after sign post telling you that the distance left to the peak. Sometimes, we could go on for half an hour, only to notice that we only covered 300m of the hike due to lots of downward paths.
The path reaching the peak was the most difficult. It had started to drizzle and the path got really steep and muddy. Grabbing on to some tree roots, we propelled ourselves to finally reach something that looks like civilisation, a building!
Now this is where some advice will be most useful. The blog tells us to walk around the gate. There are two paths that seems quite possible. Facing the power station, choose the path that tends on the left side, that seems more well trodden. In essence, both paths will lead you out to the main road, but the one on the left would be much more comfortable to work on, without much more vegetation to bash through, or wires hidden beneath the undergrowth.
We know that cos we took the path on the right. You can’t hold on to the gate as it’s really rusty. Thank goodness, we reached the peak just in time before it started to rain.
There’s nothing much at the peak, except for a telecommunications tower. People usually drive up, and you can see cars by the side. Rain is frequent and comes in short bursts. There’s also a shelter for you to rest your tired legs.
Little did we know that it was not the end of our “odyssey”. A whole 12km awaited us. We reached the peak at about 1.30pm, and started the descent at 2pm. By then, blisters had started to develop on my feet as I was not wearing proper hiking shoes.
Along the way, we dropped by Mossy Forest, which is a park with an elevated wooden platform to give you a bird’s eye view of Cameron Highlands. You can also catch sight of moss growing on logs, giving the park its name, “Mossy Forest”. We didn’t spend too much time there, given that we knew of a looming 11km hike down for us.
After walking for what seems forever, we reached the wide plains with hills and rolling tea plantations. It was already 3pm. After stopping by a farm to wash my feet to get rid of the mud and dirt, we asked the owner of the farm how long more will it take to reach the foot of the mountain. She said, it was close to 9km – 10km more.
At that point of time, my pace of walking was close to half of that in the morning and we were feeling very tired. Just as we turned and looked in the direction of an on-coming car, a Proton stopped for us. In it were 3 Malay guys, and the driver asked us if we would like a ride to the foot of the mountain. We “immediately” agreed, given the state we were in and the fact that they seem like nice people.
They hailed from Johor and was on a holiday with friends. The driver used to be an ex-policeman. He told us not to hitch hike in other places in Malaysia. The driver eventually offered to drop us off at Brinchang, the town, but thinking that it was quite close by (like how we first started), we declined. At the foot of the mountain, we thanked him and got off.
Little did we know that we were 3km away from the town. And there was no public buses or taxis to ferry us back. All the buses there were tour coaches. The only way was to hitch hike a ride again.
And that kicked off another long walk. When we passed by Scorner, a strawberry farm/ restaurant, we took a break. The restaurant had a view overseeing the only road down from Gunung Brinchang to the town. And during our 45 minutes there, we never once spotted a taxi.
I went to the souvenir shop and tried to purchase a pair of slippers. Little did I know, all they had were strawberry bedroom slippers.
Eventually, we decided to stand by the road and hitch hike again. And just as we stood by the road, a familiar Mercedes taxi came rolling by. We stuck out our hands in anticipation. Please stop for us! .. Alas, there was a passenger in the front seat.
But the taxi eventually stopped. After all, Brinchang was on the way. He charged us RM5. At that point of time, any amount of money would do, to get us back to Brinchang. We found out eventually that the lady on the front seat was the taxi driver’s wife.
And a steamboat marked the end of our epic adventure. Moral of the story? Gunung Brinchang is definitely worth a climb, just that you’ve got to bring the right shoes. And yes, it’s fine to rely on the kindness of strangers at times. Friend Z says its good karma from helping the beggar at Raffles City. Possibly. And I choose to believe that too. Because what goes around, comes around.