The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Bukit Gemuroh Ridge
This is one of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index. This is a Grade 3 walk unsuitable for those without experience of off-piste hiking. I would strongly recommend doing the walk in the direction indicated, it would be very difficult to find the way down to the durian estate from the ridge. There is a sketch map at the bottom showing the route followed.
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
See also our reports on 'The Hidden Valley' and 'Prawn Crackered' which cover the same area. They describe part of the climb up and most of the climb down. Also Bukit Gemuroh Ridge Part 2 which covers the area to the right at the top of the initial climb. These two ridge walks could easily be combined to make a long and unusual walk.
For some time, I had been very conscious that our map of the south-west hills showed a large 'gap' in the middle as far as trails were concerned. Today's walk went some way towards filling in the possibilities. We do not walk in this area too often as it needs 4 buses and takes over 2 hours each way. My plan was to find another way up to the ridge from the Hidden Valley and then find the point where we had climbed up through the rubber beyond the Hakka Centre and then go down towards Kampung Pulau Betong. As you will read, things turned out rather differently.
We started at the turn off (electricity pole JGS 90) around 12.00. As it wasn't expected to be a long walk, without much expectation we tried the first path on the right. It turned out to be Monk Lane, pleasant enough with a small (and genuine) Buddhist hermitage at the end and no way further. The resident Malaysian monk had a regular trickle of visitors, we saw 10 bringing food in the half hour we were here.
The details of the first part of the climb are in 'The Hidden Valley' report, basically you follow the road, taking the right fork after about 1km and then branch off right on to a concrete trail that leads upwards. Very pleasant it is too, although someone has just blasted a new road up, it's just earth at the moment but will no doubt be sealed in due course. It currently ends about half way up where the concrete trail turns left at a hut. Ahead there had been clearance left and right so I guess the new road will continue. There's a bridge going in on the left, the current concrete trail goes about 200 metres to a house and finishes. We continued up and turned left just after we had crossed the entry chain for the top durian estate.
It was time for water and a snack as we prepared for the main (and new) climb. That's the path up looking out on the left and it turned out to be a bog standard durian estate concrete path with some nice views out with the development hell that is the new Telok Kumbar conveniently hidden. There was just one junction to the right, a quickly sorted dead end and soon we were at the end of the trail, the last bit being freshly dug earth. Above us was 'Hutan Simpan Kekal Bukit Gemuroh', sometimes it wickedly crosses my mind that every now and again the locals move these signs a bit further up the hill and then chop down a bit more of it... If anyone ever comes to check these places, it's not apparent.
In this case, it was no problem to cross into the reserve and even stopping for a drink of water, it took less than 15 straightforward minutes to the top. I think that was the last genuine smile I got for the rest of the day, perhaps she had some inkling of what was to come. There was no real landmark where we came out save this fallen tree and signs that the wild boar had been digging.
It was about 14.00, we could have turned right or left, there being no obvious route on and down. To the right was what I knew to be the ridge above the Hakka Centre with its well recorded paths, to the left I thought that it would not be far to the point where the young rubber reached the ridge from the Pulau Betong side. Since we eschew luxury items like GPS we had no way to know for certain and I suspect (and now know) that I was wrong. Making the odd mistake may seem bad at the time but I've lost track of the number of previously unknown routes we have discovered by straying from the 'known'. I have no wish to know exactly where I am to the nearest 5 or 10 metres. Now for the most part, the canopy keeps a ridge clear and it's quite easy going, I wouldn't call it a trail but the wild boar no doubt trot along here and keep it a bit clear.
After a while, I had the feeling that my choice had been less than perfect and we passed another yellow notice. At one point we came to some old rubber and the odd banana, someone had been here tapping not so long ago and I guess if we had looked hard we would have found a trail down on one side or the other, but it wasn't immediately obvious. The thing about ridge paths is that sooner or later, something falls down naturally and in places like this it takes a while to clear because no-one is going to cut it up. Sometimes the ridge is wide enough to find an easy way round but sometimes you just have to plough your way through. By now we had been 'progressing' for the best part of two hours. For my part I was a little intrigued as to how it would finish, Yuehong felt differently, there were no views, it was repetitive and she was more than a little bored.
Even I was beginning to get a little concerned as I could see the larger hill at the end of the range looming; that's got no known paths at all but for the western side and we weren't going up there today. We came to more oldish rubber and I knew we had to go down very soon. I told Yuehong and got a derisive reply. Fortunately, I came to a point I recognised, Yuehong didn't believe me and I could understand why.
"'Turn left" I said indicating into the ginger which always springs up quickly when a cultivated area is abandoned. Even when we quickly passed through it and entered a weed covered durian estate, the incredulity was still apparent. Sure enough there was a previously visited hut below, the washing was hanging on the line but only the chickens were home. I realised that Yuehong had the Tiger and went back up to relieve her of her pack. She knew just why and told me...
By the time I was refreshed it was 17.00 and there was no possibility of catching the 17.30 501 bus from Balik Pulau. Instead we took our time, walked down to the junction (electricity pole JGS 144) and step by step made our way home using 308, 401, 502 and 102 buses. Along the way Yuehong got her view:
I insisted on dinner in Balik Pulau and not surprisingly it was 22.00 by the time we were walking up to the flat. A couple of kindly hash people gave us a very welcome lift. Yuehong took a shower and collapsed into bed where she slept extremely well. I relaxed and continued my rehydration while trying to work out how to coax her up the hill again to work out where my plans had gone wrong. In theory, it should mean only a little bit more jungle bashing...
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson