The International Steam Pages


Penang Hills and Trails - Gertak Sanggul Super Highway
Plus the Bukit Pulau Betong West 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. 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.


We had water problems. We had no water at home because the condo's main pump had failed overnight. Heading south from Telok Bahang, we had too much, it was throwing it down (again), but as we drove up through Bukit Genting we could see blue sky ahead and the rest of the day was dry. Today was to be what Yuehong would call an adventure, but which I would prefer to call a carefully researched expedition into the relatively unknown.

On our previous visit, we had come down the remains of the road constructed from Gertak Sanggul to the abandoned golf course in the hills. It had proved to be reasonably clear and a few days earlier we had attempted this walk but having missed an early turning we had wasted a lot of time. I even managed to lose a pair of secateurs when I stopped to do up a bootlace and at that point I put the camera away and used the other to surgically remove the most egregious of the prickly vines so that today's hike up would go smoothly.

That is the ridge immediately behind Gertak Sanggul and we started down the road beside the Dewan JKKK, Gertak Sanggul.

We had emerged here on the descent, and knew to climb in behind this house.

After about 50 metres, the road turns left behind these bananas and passes under some vines. It's easy to miss and that's where we had gone wrong before.

There then follows an overgrown open section and then suddenly, the crash barrier appears and everything else is straightforward!

A right turn follows and soon another left as the road zig zags up.

The next right is a little overgrown and then the road becomes steep for a while which keeps it clear as the rain washes away the fallen leaves and branches.

There is just one more left turn which is nothing like as overgrown as the picture suggests and then the road is pretty clear for a while.

Yuehong's smile says it all, the landslide looks a mess but we had cut away the vines and the rest can be walked through.  

The long grass has to be trampled and at the end is an archway of cut prickly vines.

Just a hundred metres or so further up the climb is over. We'd been going barely half an hour and it was time for a rest and some water. The barrier makes for a comfortable seat.

The road continues left up to the moonscape but today we turned right onto a connecting path which we had cleared during our previous Penang season.

Except that a tree came down quite recently. However, it's easy to cut left around it and immediately below where Yuehong is standing is another path which she is standing on in the second picture.

Yes, she's walking on a path but the grass is a bit long in places. It drops down to cross a stream and fortunately at this point you can see the concrete bridge.

A short up and down brought us to another stream and we continued, climbing out of this valley. All this was very familiar as we had been along this way several times since our arrival. 

Behind me is a Burmese house, to the left is our path up and Yuehong is standing on our next path. In other words we would do a sharp left turn. We'd been up here a year ago and met the owner on a motorbike. It was quite clear then but now parts were a little overgrown.

This will have to go before the durian season, much of the smaller bits had been burned off but a chain saw will be needed to complete the job. Beyond, the canopy kept the path clear.

Finally we came to the remote durian orchard and the house which is now just used as a store. This was as far as Yuehong had come last time, I had continued, trying to keep to a contour but it had ultimately not been a success. Today, instead we would climb up to the west ridge below Bukit Pulau Betong, the only catch being that it was the first time we had tried it and there was no known path.   

I really don't know why Yuehong was smiling, she obviously hadn't bothered to look where we were going next!  There's actually a path up there running from right to left.

There's even a concrete bridge underneath and then beyond is an intermediate area which is neither orchard nor rubber. It's probably less than 100 metres long but the only way to get through it is to wield the secateurs.

Yuehong is remarkably resilient these days. she's just emerged from the section behind her and there was more to come before we emerged in the abandoned rubber estate which actually runs all the way up to our target ridge. She enjoys the snipping, too bad she couldn't tell the difference between her boot lace and a pesky vine which was trying to trip her.

I'd probably not looked up last time I was here, but right on cue there was a rubber tapper's trail, the only real barrier to progress was the prickly vines although the opportunistic ginger needed some care as it harboured the vines. 

Vertically the ridge was not much more than 100 metres above us, but we took our time as we invested in a clearance to facilitate a pain free return should we need it.

Not far from the top, we came to a flatter area with a small valley in front. Left was clearer but the valley was falling in this direction. The path to the right was 'cluttered' and I chose to skirt it, but Yuehong preferred a direct assault.

Thereafter we saw no proper trail but it was all quite clear as we made the final climb.

We were now on the ridge exactly as we hoped, probably. Just where was not immediately apparent but we definitely needed to turn left along the summit rubber terrace.

The ridge dropped slightly and then rose again, Yuehong was as trusting as ever when I assured her I was confident we would soon see some kind of familiar landmark. 

It wasn't exactly rocket science, we were bound to come to the top of the cleared area where we had been twice in the last couple of weeks. I was quite pleased with myself, it was 'Time for a Tiger' and Yuehong was delighted that we had successfully completed a 'journey through the unknown'.

This is the view from the other end looking toward Pantai Aceh. I hope someone has told the young man who is doing this redevelopment that it would be a good idea to stop cutting now and preserve the ridge cover. Just in case though, I asked Yuehong to hug my favourite red tree which has been a useful marker for us over the years.

I sympathised with Yuehong when she said she found "It all looked the same to her" and I was summoned to lead the way onwards and downwards. For most of the way, the solution lay at our feet, cuttings from our two previous passages.

As we got further down, we could pick out a definite trail and barely 15 minutes from the top found us just short of the moonscape area.

I let Yuehong show me her favourite way into and through the fern bed and from here we were both very much on 'autopilot'. 

As a reward for my inspired leadership, I was granted a second Tiger and then it was time to rack up the kilometres for the day. Yuehong disappeared into the ferns.

The sticks were redundant now, no dogs, no undergrowth to deal with and certainly no steep hills. We crossed into the next durian orchard.

Yuehong stopped when she heard a snorting sound about 10 metres away. This is 'wild boar valley' but the creatures know they are often the subject of hunters' interest and this one, as always seems to happen, headed as fast as possible away from us. We see lots of flowering gingers, large and small, on our hikes but this one, I believe 'shampoo ginger' is less common. 

It's a lovely walk along the famous path down to Gertak Sanggul but I think we have done it a fair few times now and it has lost its novelty

As indicated, we were both very pleased with this outing, the 'road' is a very convenient way of accessing the upper area and there are all sorts of combinations of routes available to offer some variation. If you look at the map below, you will see that we have accessed the peak area from east and west only. This is the way the ridge runs and from south and north the terrain is pretty steep and overgrown. We might make it up but I wouldn't like to try to find my way down, especially on the north side... In both cases it is primary jungle which has somehow escaped clearance and is now gazetted forest reserve.


Gertak Sanggul Area

Key:

 ____ = 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

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk