The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - Bukit Gemuroh Ridge Part 3
More than a Little Bit of Rough

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 verging on Grade 4 with the obstructions experienced. 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 Bukit Gemuroh Ridge Part 1 which covers the ridge area used. After doing this hike I wrote: "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." This was, as it turned out, 100% true.

We'd had a run of successful hikes and apart from a session assaulting a fern bed above Pantai Aceh for half an hour or more, Yuehong felt we hadn't really pushed ourselves. With our daily hikes, we didn't want a long hike, we wanted one which would be a little 'rough' or physically challenging. So it was that after two years we returned to the Bukit Gemuroh ridge, knowing that Peter van der Lans had been through it on a longer hike and said it wasn't as bad as he expected. 

We turned off Jalan Gertak Sanggul into what we call the Hidden Valley (electricity pole JGS 90) around 11.00. We parked up in front of what had probably been the last rubber tappers' 'lines' on the island. The Malaysian Indian manager was curious as to what we were doing but was quite relaxed when we explained. The quarters had been demolished because they weren't needed and no-one (not surprisingly) wanted to live in them. He told us that manager's house had been in Bayan Lepas next to the Police Station which meant that it too will have been demolished, in that case to make way for the new flyover. This will have been a very small plantation and no doubt the manager would have been responsible for others in the area too.

He also told us that the new road up the hill had been completed by the 80 year old Malaysian Chinese owner, not so he could build a house, but so he could drive up to his durian orchard every day. In fact he had just driven past going out in a car that certainly didn't mark him out as a successful businessman.

First, I wanted to check out a possible new route to the ridge based on what I could see on Google Maps satellite view. This meant going up the wide track just before our parking space, one we'd never been up before. This was always going to be the easiest part of the day, we had barely started climbing before we saw a vegetable patch on the left, the pile of rubbish immediately identified the nationality of the immigrant workers involved. Anyway, there was an open gate into a durian orchard and despite the yapping dogs we needed no further invitation.

I had rather expected to climb along the side ridge which was on our right, but this path went down to an area with a few huts. However, beyond it continued towards the main ridge.

The orchard looked a little overgrown but this was understandable as the durian trees had neither flowers nor fruit, this area having a different micro-climate from that further north. At the first junction, the original path went left for just a few metres and died. It was time to start climbing.

The next path on the left was also just a stub so we continued right and curved upwards until we met the side ridge with a few bee hives jammed up against what appeared to be unkempt rubber behind.

To start with the path followed the side ridge, perfect! Then when it began to get just a little overgrown, it left it but we were still climbing albeit not much. We could have climbed the overgrown side ridge but this was easier.

The path here clearly didn't see much traffic and round the final bend we could see the top of the cleared area. Rather unfortunately, it consisted of near mature bananas and ground cover which stretched to the forest edge.

It wasn't going to be great fun whichever direction we went up, so we chose to go right towards the side ridge where the forest looked closer. The look on Yuehong's face said "Lots of calories to burn here!". I grabbed my secateurs and started to scramble up while Yuehong did the backseat driving telling me where she thought the line of least resistance was.

It worked and slowly we closed the gap.

Finally, I could even see a famous 'hole' to scramble through, this was natural and before any snipping had taken place. Of course, this top area benefits from the water which drains down and I am sure Yuehong was glad to be out of it. Once we were into the trees we found we had a short but steep climb through some boulders, but this soon eased and we found ourselves in much clearer ground.

In fact we had made it to the side ridge and nature had left us a gate way under a fallen tree.

I did think we would have to turn left to reach the main ridge but in fact with daylight ahead, it seemed we had arrived at the perfect spot, the T-junction of main and side ridge. It had taken two hours which was quite good considering the conditions we had just come through. Should we ever want a marker were we to come back this way, this was the view of the junction looking back with the tree lying right across the ridge. Ahead was to be a somewhat mixed experience.

At times, progress was fair, it was never going to be like a fruit orchard concrete path, but every now and again, the whole narrow ridge was blocked  and we had to use a mixture of snipping and outflanking, the latter not always easy as it meant going down a bit. In between we saw the odd red painted tree as usual and, unusually, signs of a a phantom snipper. This turned out to have been Peter, of course, no one else is mad enough to come this way.

The only landmark I remembered from our first time was this row of old rubber trees; when I had revisited solo, I had gone right here down the old terraces but I wasn't going to try that trick again let alone impose it on Yuehong. On we went.

Eventually we came to a flat area and I called for a much needed rest. Yuehong asked if I knew where we were, she does this quite often and as I always give an honest answer, I said "No, not really."

Now, I can reveal a little secret, Yuehong these days has a toy on board. It's an old IPhone which amongst its many tricks gives an estimate of distance travelled based on steps taken. I've no idea if it's any good at doing this but I do know that its estimate of height gained and lost is utterly crap. She occasionally consults its version of Google Maps and only once has it been remotely useful during this visit to Penang and that was when it confirmed I was doing the right thing when we were severely off-piste high up Bukit Papan. Now she brought it out and showed me we were really not very far from what would be a durian orchard on the right and she could see the line of a path on the display. In fact she was quite insistent that the toy could guide us out. After 14 years together, I knew that if I argued with her on this one then she would 'make a face' and so I decided to let her have her way, there wasn't anything the hill could throw at me that I couldn't cope with.

Now there were only two things wrong with her argument, the first was that while you can just about make out ridges from above you certainly can't see paths in the forest and the second was that the course she wanted was not straight down but diagonal, rarely a good move in my experience. Standard procedure would have been to follow the ridge until the route out was at right angles to it. It was much easier to plough on than argue....

If it had been the right place then it would have taken less than 15 minutes to hit the orchard. Here we had one false start and needed to reset our course and then there was a sustained period of zig-zagging through all sorts of exotic plant life, much of it prickly.  Finally about an hour and a half after we first started the discussion we were out. Along the way, as the pictures show, Yuehong had removed her gloves and failed to put them on again. As the pictures do not show, I had put down my stick to duck under a large fallen tree and failed to pick it up again. Fortunately, I noticed my idiocy quite quickly, it was the following morning before Yuehong realised what had happened when she went to look for the gloves for our next hike.

It was quite a way down still to the concrete path and when I got there, I cracked open a Tiger and consulted my own on-board data base knowing what would come next - "Do you know where we are?" As it happened I did this time because we had been to this house once before and the path up from the Hidden Valley was at the far end of the open area. To be honest, continuing along the ridge to the correct point (always assuming I spotted it) and coming down as I would have wanted would probably have taken at least as long, but it would probably have been less prickly in every sense. That was of only academic interest anyway.

We walked past the house and found the junction, 2 years ago this was a concrete motorbike path being widened.

A hut along the way had a comfortable bench to sink my second Tiger and while I enjoyed it, Yuehong offered to come back the next day to do the walk in reverse, something I was quite happy to agree with. This 'new' road is rather well made, you would never guess it was just two years old, it's well graded and the hillside has not been cut into. In other words, it was rather better built than many public roads on the island.

This is the bottom of it and from here it was just a few minutes down the valley and back to the car.

It was a Saturday of a long holiday weekend with Christmas Day on the Monday. The round-the-island road was busier than we have ever seen it and then it took 40 minutes to negotiate the traffic queue from Teluk Bahang to home through the Batu Ferringhi 'jungle'.  With every prospect of a repeat performance on Christmas Eve, we postponed our return and decided to work = walk) from home for a couple of days. When the time comes, I'm fairly confident I can find the T-junction where the side ridge joins the main ridge, but finding the same route down as we came up may prove more difficult...

I'm a great fan of Google Maps on a full sized screen but not on a miniature one. I haven't banned the IPhone from future hikes, but I do think Yuehong will place less reliance on it in future.

Pulau Betong Area


 ____ = Concrete Road

 ____ = Path

 ____ = Easy 'Off piste'

 ____ = Seriously 'Off piste'

(Not all paths are shown, there are many more
which are seasonal or just go to houses.)

Click here for information on the maps.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson