The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - Masochism Solo
This is one of a series of pages on walking the hills of Penang, click here for the index. This is a Grade 4 walk unsuitable for those without experience of off-piste hiking although there is a much easier Grade 3 alternative from the initial summit. 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 the Bukit Gemuroh Ridge Part 1 which covers the ridge part in the opposite direction..
We were about to go to Thailand for some serious hill walking and in view of my abysmal record in organising last minute hikes, Yuehong voted herself the day off. In one sense she was right, because the descent I did would have seriously threatened our relationship. On the other hand, if she had been with me, I would have gone down the easy way instead.
I love Balik Pulau because it maintains traditional values and customs. On arrival I passed a funeral cortege outside the Thean Hoe Hong Medical Hall. Sadly by the time I got off the bus, the coffin had been loaded and the monks had vanished. Later I confirmed that grand old Madam Lee was 80 plus having outlived her husband by 10 years. Life goes on, the shop was open as usual in the late afternoon.
I had the best part of an hour before the 12.00 403 bus to Pulau Betong and took the opportunity to visit some of the parts of Balik Pulau I had yet to see, absolutely fascinating. Eventually I got off the bus at the Chinese School about 500 metres before it turns round. The Jalan Kampung is well shaded, there is only one main junction and I kept right next to the hill.
The road slowly petered out, after the bridge the right fork led to a final house with a heap of noisy dogs where I had previously been told there was no way up. Now, two years on I suspected I had been given the politically correct answer because Forest Ang's classic book shows a path up and over. I knew it no longer existed throughout but equally I knew that if I could get to the col above the durian estate there was a perfectly viable route down towards Gertak Sanggul.
I had no complaints, the path to the left was definitely 'made in heaven' in our book, there was just one junction and I had no hesitation in going right.
Since we had never climbed in this area before the view was completely new:
Especially out of season, the path looked a bit tatty but it continued up to a point where I could see my target ahead - the 'V' at the back.
Above me to the right was one of the forestry department's pathetic yellow notices proclaiming the top of the hill as part of the 'Pasir Panjang' reserve. Of course, the path came to its natural end, I had my lunch and climbed up to the right, to the left would have been a rocky stream bed. I had a final look back and plunged into the jungle.
I knew what to expect, 5 or 10 metres of crap, after which it was the mixture as before.
I applied a judicious mixture of climbing and bearing left and 15 minutes later I came out into the mature rubber exactly where I wanted to be, that's it looking back.
Job done! Had Yuehong been with me I would have gone straight on and down through the ginger directly to near Gertak Sanggul, you can read about this in our previous report. But I had been hiking for barely an hour, there was no way I could make the 14.30 501 Balik Pulau to Teluk Bahang bus and that would leave far too much time for solitary rehydration. Instead, I turned left to follow the Bukit Gemuroh ridge in reverse. It's hard to do justice to it, initially it is overgrown rubber and it pays to follow the terraces until finding a path up to a rock covered mini summit. Somewhere here I parted company with some parts of my hi-tech walking stick which is actually used only as a patent dog scarer. There was no way I was going back to look for them.
I can't get excited about such walks after I have done them once, there are clear bits and parts where you have to loop around fallen trees, it's not really demanding, just time consuming. I was looking for an area of old rubber which we had passed through in the other direction. About half way to it, a sure sign of human activity was this primed animal trap, the bait was an oil palm fruit. Let's just say that the arsehole who set it will have been disappointed when he returned. I'm not sure what the intended victim was, only the smallest of babi hutan would have got inside. Ahead there was a pig of an obstruction.
Then there was a clear bit and then another obstruction, not life threatening in any sense and eventually circumnavigated but I could have done without them.
Finally I came to the rubber after about 45 minutes. I was prejudiced as left (north) was thought to be jungle. To the right were well spaced definite terraces even if not a definite path. I found my way down, unlike the famous curate's egg no part of it was excellent, there were just occasionally places where I could detect the remains of stone steps. The worst parts were where banana plants had long ago replaced the rubber trees, at these points I was more concerned with keeping myself and the camera intact than trying to record the experience. I thanked my lucky stars that Yuehong was safely back home in the flat.
I was on what passed for a ridge in these parts and for a short while the gradient eased, the good news was that I could see a hut in the far distance.
Relief came quite suddenly in the shape of a concrete path. If I had been just 100 metres to the left, I would have missed the end of it. The picture is shown in case some poor misguided, demented fool wants to try to go up from here. To the right 100 metres away was a hut which I didn't recognise and for good reason; the path was a little overgrown.
Obviously this was the end of the adventure, but where exactly was I? Beyond the hut, there was a path to the right and up again, definitely one for another day. Left went gently down to a reasonably well appointed house whose occupants were not accustomed to strangers walking past. Their electricity pole (JGS 90 30) gave the game away, confirmed almost immediately, I was in the 'Hidden Valley'. From in front of the house when I first visited, I had never guessed there was a path behind.
I ambled down to the main road by 15.15 to wait for a 308 bus. It was a long time coming, I spoke with a local resident of my generation who had attended St. Xavier's Institution. We agreed that this area was a treasure but there was no guarantee it would remain that way given what was happening in Teluk Kumbar. After which I had a routine journey home via Balik Pulau. I think I had had a better day than Yuehong, leastwise she was not amused by my garrulous nature and goat like smell. It's time for a couple of weeks off from hiking in Penang.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson