The International Steam Pages

Penang Hills and Trails - Challenging Times, Part 1b
The Lower Slopes of Bukit Elvira

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 albeit not a long one. 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.

Back in December 2012, on our first ever walk from the Air Itam Dam to Titi Kerawang, we bumped into two groups of people who were 'sweeping', at the back of the 28 km 3rd Rainforest Hash Challenge, a distance which would amount to three or four of our hikes these days. A few days later, out of curiosity, we followed the start of their route out of Balik Pulau which at the time proved enough to dissuade us from attempting to complete it...

In the intervening years, without really trying we have filled in much of the rest. However, what we have noticed was that their 'hares' had used non-biodegradable markers (paint and plastic) which were still visible in the jungle 4 or more years later as a result of which I sent the organisers an email (reproduced below) and I was given a welcome assurance that this time there would be a 'clean up'.

Other reports on sections of the Penang Rainforest Hash Challenge 2018 are available:

Knowing that their traditional trail passes just above Air Puteh coming from the direction of the 'Bukit Elvira Pass', I was curious to see how this was done, it's an area with paths running up to the edge of the orchards and rubber plantations but not across. In an ideal world we would have done this after the trail had been set the day before but that was reserved for a 'lunch' at the 'Temple with the View' not so far away. So instead, we followed in their footsteps about 3 hours after they had gone through. As you can see it was an unusually sunny start to the day at this time of year when we parked up at the Chinese temple in Jalan Chai and headed up the main valley path, keeping to the left at the main junction by the bridge so we could have a gentle climb.

The orchard was looking very good and we turned right at the next junction so we could follow the electricity poles to our rendezvous with the Hash.

With the warm sun, it was just as well that it's quite shady, there's one main junction, this left turn and the next one lead up eventually to the forest edge. 

I've always considered this house to be well positioned with a fine view out towards Pulau Betong, but from its steady deterioration that's a view not shared by the owner. A little further up, we have yet to see these quite new gates shut and just beyond we expected to find 'paper'.

We had seen 'survey markers' above Air Puteh but we had also had suggestions that the route would be changed to go up the 'Bukit Elvira Pass' and on to the Tiger Hill valley so we had an open mind as to what would happen next. From our 2012 walk, we knew that either way we would start up the road as indicated by the arrow. Compared to what we had seen the day before near the Catholic cemeteries below, there was a distinct lack of signage and we wondered if the 'clean up' had been started by the 'sweepers' who had probably been here to check any stragglers. 

We reached a turning left into the 'forest', it seemed that a herd of elephants had been down very recently and Yuehong soon found the first marker. 

It was at least level if not normally well used, but very soon we needed to go down quite steeply. Yuehong was really meant to have today off from any nonsense as she has added a bad elbow to her bad knee but she's unstoppable these days. I looked on in horror as she slithered down, and just managed to grab a small tree with both hands as she flew past losing her stick in the process. Instinctively, I went to switch on the camera but found that the batteries had died and her rather muddy bottom was concealed by the time I recorded the scene.

We were at the top of a durian orchard, it was one I had visited a few weeks earlier coming up a path from below. I rather foolishly said "It's not far round to where we know their trail comes down." That may have been true, but of course, that didn't mean they would do the obvious thing and follow a contour round the hillside. We climbed over the clearance and back up again.

Sporting her mud, Yuehong led the way back into the forest, I followed trying to record the scene and keep my footing as it was more than a little slippery. 

Onwards and upwards we went, "Unacceptable!" said Yuehong as she recovered a recently discarded water bottle. 

This section had a few larger trees and also a number of boundary markers so we were probably following a ridge at this point.

There was more plastic rubbish, it all got packed away, I suppose we should be glad that it was only an ignorant minority who behaved this way.

The climb eased as we reached the prickly ferns, I did wonder if we were close to the western of Bukit Elvira three peaks (almost 700 metres high), but Yuehong's app later told us we were no more than 450 metres up, no doubt some of the day's runners thought that this height gain was 'in the bag' but they would soon have been brought back to reality as we dropped into what looked to be long abandoned rubber. 

It started gently and the terraces were not a problem, then it got steeper and rather than slide down the mud, we took our time to go a little to the side of the marked trail.

Finally, we could see a durian orchard below and it seemed that the runners had celebrated by creating a super slide. Yuehong had done it once before and that was enough for her.

I got the usual "Do you know where we are?" question and was able to give a reassuring answer, we'd been here almost exactly a year ago and the muddy route we were on would eventually come to the top of a concrete path on the bottom section of which we had seen markers a couple of weeks earlier, so today's mystery was solved.

In the nearly two hours we had been enjoying frolicking in the mud, the sun had disappeared and it had started to rain. I offered Yuehong an alternative descent which she was very happy to accept, especially as there was a nearby hut with 'facilities'.

Without a pang of conscience, we abandoned our recovered plastic bottles here, this place is occupied by migrant workers from Myanmar in the 'season' and it was awash with their detritus. It was time for a spot of relaxation.

When the rain eased, we set off down, we had finished with the hash challenge for today, the organisers will have quite a task to clean up all the plastic we had seen and we had barely covered 2 km of the route...

It was now a case of following a familiar route down to Jalan Chai, but Yuehong couldn't resist 'sitting down on the job'. At this time of year, damp concrete paths become very dangerous when they reach a certain degree of steepness, Yuehong escaped unscathed but I have a nasty graze which is still healing from a similar slip a week ago.

One down, two to go. In the next week or so, there are a couple more sections I would like to check out. Judging from today, it will still be quite easy to follow the route even if they mount their clean up first.

Balik Pulau 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.

I sent the email below to a number of addresses found on the web and eventually got the encouraging reply "We, the four hash chapters in Penang that are involved in the setting of this run have agreed to do a clean up "

"40 years ago I lived and worked in Penang for 6 years and for most of that time I ran with the men’s Monday Hash – the only one there was at the time.

When we set a trail, we used surplus duplicating paper (today’s used printer paper) and as a biodegradable waste product, for most of the year it would have disappeared in 4-6 weeks afterwards. When we did a survey, we didn’t find it necessary to mark a route, we used our brain and experience to make sure we could find our way again. Today if that would cause a problem then GPS technology would solve it.

When I returned to Penang some years ago as a European winter migrant, things had obviously changed. Ignorant non-hash outdoor event organisers now decorate their routes through the orchards and jungle with long life plastic and then just abandon it afterwards.

Disappointingly, I found that your Rain Forest Hash Challenge had gone the same way. The first I encountered was that in December 2012 when the hares inserted paper in plastic sleeves. Four years later significant amounts were still visible in the jungle on the side of Bukit Laksamana. For the later events, hares started using red spray paint like wedding confetti in the more open areas particularly above Air Puteh and Titi Kerawang.

Now you are preparing for the 5th event and the graffiti and plastic artists are at it again. Yesterday, I did a circular walk in the area above Titi Kerawang and your surveyors have been hard at work.

The result is intrusive and long lasting and totally unnecessary. I am in Penang for some 3-4 months every year and with my wife I hike the hills throughout the island – on and off paths – on a near daily basis. Afterwards, the only way you could know that we had been through an area would be to talk with the farmers whom we had met.

Hash should be the greenest of activities, a classic ‘take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints’ case. Please ask your survey people and trail setters to act in a more responsible manner so that everyone who is a stakeholder in our beloved hills can benefit from 15th December. It’s not rocket science, it’s plain common sense and good manners."

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson