The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - The Hidden
Please visit my Penang buses page for information on accessing the starting point.
Nearly four years ago, I first explored 'The Hidden Valley' off the Telok Kumbar to Gertak Sanggul road which leads up to Bukit Gemuroh. On that occasion I had cut right at the top and come out above the Hakka Centre on the hill above Kampung Pulau Betong. Two days before this hike we had done that from Telok Kumbar again coming up to the top of the orchard next to the forest reserve. As Yuehong said she didn't recognise The Hidden Valley, I felt it was time for a revisit.
Our starting point is accessed by the first turning on the right, going past a small Chinese shrine, it's where the flat valley essentially finishes. When he's here, our host, a sprightly octogenarian is always good for a tale. This time, he led Yuehong to a small area in the rocks, note the pink flowered creeper next to Yuehong.
It's home to a small and unusual beehive, the log has been recovered from the forest border along with its colony of black stingless (Trigona) bees. Compared to 'normal', the quantity of honey produced is much smaller and it is said to be almost 'sour' as its sugar content is lower - in fact it is most used for medicinal purposes. Not surprisingly it commands a premium price, at the top end up to MYR 300 a kilogram The Malay community call it 'Madu Kelulut'
The durian trees in this area tend to be much older than normal, this one is said to be about 100 years old. The bees will flock to the durians when they flower, but now it's the off season they will have to make do with the pink flowered creeper specially planted near their home.
You can read more about this orchard on this Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/SongHaiDurian/. Next to the road is a small Tongkat Ali tree, an extract of which is said to restore testosterone levels, not that I would know anything about such things. The sign is from the Malaysian Agricultural Department and there were two more trees alongside the road higher up, no doubt these will be better looked after than those we saw planted (and subsequently abandoned) in an area near Anjung Indah some time back.
Looking at it now, it's hard to believe that this road didn't exist when I first came here in early 2015, the lower half was cut out of the hill and the upper part is a widened (and steeper) concrete footpath.
We ignored the first side road and turned left on to a concrete path where it enters the top orchard, immediately passing this small shelter.
We made good progress as we climbed, there's just one junction where the level option is just a short dead end.
Near the top, we met our first blockage (of many) today. I climbed over and Yuehong climbed round and it took us a while to find the path onward as it was naturally rather overgrown.
Not far ahead, it finished with the forest reserve in front, we had previously seen the solitary yellow sign above us on the left, I don't think it's moved upwards lately. We think wild boar hunters come this way and it's not too difficult to gain the extra height to reach the forest.
Naturally, the boundary is a little overgrown, but it takes only a few snips of the creepers to gain access and inside it's surprisingly bright, open and airy.
Going up the trees get taller but it's very easy to pick a way close to the ridge.
The gradient eases near the minor summit on the main ridge and here there's the inevitable wild boar wallow. We had to turn right here and found the ridge trail completely blocked. Yuehong has never done this section to the east and I have done it just twice - in each direction on the same visit three year ago when it was quite clear and it had taken me just 15 minutes each way from / to the rubber estate which was our next target.
We cleared a way over the tree trunk and found the ridge trail.
The next section was, as before, overgrown ginger and with the trail after less than distinct and known to drop slightly, I knew to be careful not to get trapped into heading for Kampung Pulau Betong down below.
Progress was slow, the Great Storm of 2017 had breezed through here and the allotted 15 minutes soon passed with very little to show for it.
So it continued as we started to climb towards the undistinguished summit which Yuehong's app later showed to be the actual Bukit Gemuroh. When the trail again started to descend slightly, I knew we were almost through this section.
As before, I didn't wait for the 'official' exit point but slipped a few metres off the ridge into the completely clear rubber estate, we had spent nearly an hour in the jungle from the wallow at the first summit but by taking our time and ensuring a clear route we had avoided any scratches. Down we went.
My original plan had been to follow paths and go down through the rubber to the base of the cleared area above the Hakka Centre and then climb up again to the usual view point. However, at the first U bend, there was a tempting 'half trail' into the cleared area. Yuehong pointed out correctly that what was ahead of us was originally covered in rubber terraces and it was clear she fancied following one, especially as it would have a water pipe for guidance.
I was rather reluctant and eventually we went our slightly separate ways; as happens increasingly these days, Yuehong's eye for a route was better than mine and she joined the path up from the bottom a couple of minutes ahead of me. "Would you like some water?" she offered. I declined, we had now only a short climb back up to the ridge.
By now the sun had vanished and there were spots of rain in the air, but I needed a banana break and a proper drink. As they say "Here's one I took earlier.", two days ago as it happens and it didn't look anything like so good this time.
It was indeed gloomy as we headed west back towards Bukit Gemuroh, very soon we were at the black water barrels.
For the second time we headed into the forest, but as we had been here two days before we knew it would pose no immediate problems, we just needed to clear a small entrance. Penang's weather was as fickle as ever and the clouds melted and let the sun through as we started onwards.
Ahead a left turn was needed down the side ridge towards Telok Kumbar, we noted the boundary marker and quickly refound the wild boar wallow (NOT the one we had seen earlier today!).
There are no trails as such here, the second turn, to the right, was potentially much more tricky, we knew it was just after the first set of small trees down and this log looked familiar. I was very glad that it was not some time since we had been here because it would have been very easy to choose wrongly. Too early and we would have missed the top of our durian orchard and had rather further to descend in the forest, bad news for our knees. If we had gone too far we might have been trapped into going all the way down to Teluk Kumbar, there being no known path ahead.
As it was, we had got it almost spot on, we emerged about 10 metres from where we had gone up, it wasn't a perfect exit but it was more than adequate.
Rather than go over the hump ahead we took the path round the side and joined the road a short way down. The car we had found 'abandoned' had vanished, obviously not terminally sick as I imagined. That's our next path on the left which curls round to the next viewpoint.
There are still some elements of Telok Kumbar's previous existence as a sleepy fishing kampung, but the patchwork development will no doubt soon remove them, especially if the seashore goes the way of Gurney Drive and is 'reclaimed'. I fear that Pulau Betong (see above) may look like this in 10 years time.
I couldn't let the occasion pass without appropriate rehydration and in due course we set off along the ridge and down some good concrete.
Sadly for me, it gave way to the older version lower down and my concentration can't have been 100% as I slipped on one mould covered section rendering my elbow a bloody grazed mess. By way of consolation we found another special beehive.
We had hoped that the path would have been rather longer and end up at our parking spot but it was soon obvious that wasn't going to happen and we emerged near where we had left the road earlier. We soon felt just how steep this top part was as Yuehong suffered the first knee pain of the trip and I wasn't too comfortable either. Fortunately, relief was soon at hand with the gentler lower section.
It had been a marvellous walk, a complete mixture even if in retrospect I wish we had done the extended loop on the Pulau Betong side instead. Yuehong's app claimed nearly 8 km which was another reason for her to smile. It seems her UK summer training walks in the Forst of Dean had built up sufficient muscles to compensate for her knee weakness, something I had done many years earlier and so we can regularly walk further in Penang rather further than we originally expected.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson