April 02, 2020
Written by Trek Leader Becca Taylor
I love a challenge and when I heard that this trail was a tough one, I signed up immediately. We pulled together a fit group of fun ladies and set off for Gunung Tahan in October 2019. At 2187m, Tahan is the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. The mountain is situated inside Taman Negara, on the Pahang-Kelantan border. Part of the Tahan Range in the Tenasserim Hills.
The rainforests of Taman Negara are extremely rich because they have been growing and evolving without disturbance for over 130 million years. As a result, the diversity of trees is higher than nearly any other site in the world, with 240 tree species and hundreds of epiphytes counted on a single one-hectare plot. It is the oldest rainforest in the world, which was one of the main draws for me.
In the Malay language, ‘gunung’ means ‘mountain’, while ‘tahan’ means ‘endure’. Thus, the name of the mountain suggests that a certain level of physical endurance is required to conquer it.
There are 2 different trails that you can do to climb to the summit of Tahan. The Kuala Tahan Trail takes 7 days and the Merapoh Trail which is typically a 4-day trek. We opted for the shorter trail, with 18 kids between the 9 of us, we were up for a challenge but time was limited.
On the Wednesday evening we caught an evening flight to KL. Meeting at the airport, we jumped into our van and were on the road for 9:30pm. We arrived at our homestay by 2am, quickly sorted ourselves to get a few hours kip, before we had to rise again.
The call for morning prayer woke us up at 5:45am and then we all rose bright eyed (?) for 7am. It was a basic homestay, but we managed some coffee, oatmeal and made sandwiches for lunch. After packing, we set off for the 15 mins journey to HQ at 8:30am.
We had a mass briefing with other trekking groups and declared all our belongings before heading off at 10:30 for an awesome 30-minute drive to the trailhead.
Finally, by 11:30am we were on the trail. It felt so good to finally set foot in the jungle. We had 4 rivers to cross before lunch, and these rivers were causing some nervousness amongst the trekkers, most definitely me!
You know what…. They were fine! I don’t know what we were worried about. Luckily the rain level had been low, so the rivers were knee deep. We unzipped the legs on our trousers, changed into our Teva’s to cross each river and changed back into boots on the other side. A bit of faffing but it was worth it… Did I mention leeches yet?
It was all about balance and not falling in, a couple near misses and one amazing trekker did slip, but it wasn’t too disastrous.
Lunch was a welcomed stop and we were off by 2pm. It was pretty much uphill and a lot of scrambling. I love that sort of thing so enjoyed the challenge. We passed the most beautiful waterfall and arrived at Camp Kor fairly upbeat at 4:40pm.
We enjoyed a cup of tea and washed off in the river. Rather conveniently there was a beautiful river running alongside the camp.
It had been a long day with a short sleep the night before, so after dinner and as night fell, we all headed to bed.
The group were awake at 6:30am, we had some breakfast pasta and oatmeal to fill the tummies. In true Bear Grylls style, we left a bag of stuff tied up in a tree which we would come back to collect on day 3.
We started off with ‘Good morning Hill’! It was hard work all the way up to lunch but at least there was some sun and we were chatting, so all was good!
After lunch it started to rain, diligently we all put on our raingear. Soon after it stopped and so we took it all off again. This happened a couple times and then when the rain started to get really heavy, we just kept on walking… It got muddier and boggier the more we walked. We all had a go at falling over or getting our leg stuck in mud up to our knees.
The last couple hours were mentally tough. A thunderstorm was rolling in, creating quite an eerie landscape. As we reached the false summit, energy levels were low. Thank goodness for the chews at that point to give us the power we needed to get to camp.
We finally arrived at camp at 6:50pm, wet and cold. It was a challenge to get the fires lit and dinner was served around 8:30pm. Our chief guide, chef and amazing energiser made us some really delicious veggie chicken. Several of the girls ate in their tents, as there was no way (understandably) they wanted to come outside, in their wet boots! The campsite was a busy one. Not many places for a quiet wee. They did have some water pools for filling water bottles and for washing. But no one was that bothered about a wash this evening.
One of our amazing trekkers saved us. She had brought a roll of doggie bag, (forever on my kit list now). We all put one on each foot on top of the socks and under each wet boot. They made life bearable the next day!
Everyone was tucked up in their sleeping bags by 9:45pm. It was a wet, cold, noisy night… thank goodness for tents with sides (which not all trekking groups had) and ear plugs, but even they didn’t manage to block out all the rain and chit chat.
Tahan is not a typical night summit climb. We woke at 5am, left at 6am and arrived for sunrise by 7am. It was a little cloudy at first but then cleared for some beautiful pictures and moments to remember.
Back to camp for breakfast, to repack and set off down the mountain.
There was so much mud, did I mention how much mud… SO MUCH MUD! We just walked through it all with more confidence than the day before as we were already so muddy, we couldn’t get worse. Or could it? We all took turns falling and bruising or injuring (minor) some part of our bodies.
We finally made it back to Camp Kor at 6:30pm. It was so wonderful to swim and wash in the river. We literally just walked into the river in our trekking gear and washed all the mud off.
We were having a lovely team dinner when it started to rain again. We abandoned our mess tent and headed to bed. Poor Syaz had the challenge of chasing a frog from inside her tent, still makes me laugh now.
The noise of the jungle, the cicadas in the trees and the stars in the night sky, were something pretty special.
We were off for our final day of hiking at 8:30am. It was very memorable following the Monkey calls and watching them playing in the trees above us as we enjoyed the gentle walk back to the trailhead.
Those 4 rivers we had to cross were a completely different story to what we had seen 3 days ago. They were swollen from all the rain over the last 2 days and were now waist level and the current much stronger. Our amazing guides lead us across safely and we now have the video to enjoy and show off what we achieved.
We reached the trailhead by 12:30pm but needed to wait till after lunch for the truck to come pick us up.
What else to do when waiting but compare and count leech bites! I reckon we had 16 in total, not bad!
Once we had all cleaned up at HQ and waited for the office to open, so we could re-declare all our belongings, we were rewarded with our certificates!
Declaration was a bit of a hassle but pleased to see Malaysia care about their national parks and what is going in and coming out of them.
Finally, we were heading back to the airport for 3:30 for our flight home that evening and a very welcomed bed.
Another badge for my backpack and now for the other 6 G7 Summits...
My top tips for Tahan:
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