MALAYSIA - Four students were separated from their group as they descended on a dark Sunday night from Gunung Bubu, a mountain near Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Later, as the four were trying to find their way back, two of them drowned in a swift river.
Our majestic jungles, waterfalls and mountains are attracting ever more nature lovers and adventurers - but it has to be remembered: going into deep forests is not a "walk in the park".
While the full details of the latest accident are not confirmed, Brandon Chee, the CEO of Explorer Outfitter, laments that such mishaps keep on happening because many Malaysian trekkers are not fully aware of the jungle's dangers.
"They think it's too simple and often don't even bring basic gear like a whistle, pocket knife, compass and matches."
Lost without sweepers
"I find that hikers usually get lost while descending a mountain, not ascending," says a trekker with 30 years of experience, who prefers to be known by his "jungle nickname" of SAS.
"It could be due to the group's leadership or mentality which is, the quicker we come out of the jungle, the faster we go home for a nice shower and dinner. Thus many newbies or slower hikers are left way behind and end up following wrong trails," explains SAS, who is an old graduate of the famous Outward Bound School (OBS) in Lumut, Perak.
What is crucial, he emphasises, is for trip leaders to designate an experienced hiker to wait at tricky intersections for slower hikers.
Indeed, Mustapha Al Bakri Omar, founder of Wira Adventure Consultant, confirms that the trails coming down from Gunung Bubu are "confusing".
Christopher Leo, a Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) trekker with 16 years experience, underlines that for group treks, there should be a "sweeper" at the back.
"This is not only to sweep up any slow hikers, but also acts as a powerful psychological assurance that nobody will find himself way behind alone in the jungle. Thus, a newbie can hike at their own pace and not rush, fumble, trip or fall."
Tamil Selvam, one of the founders of the Bootsnfins adventure group on Facebook, adds, "Both the leader and sweeper must be familiar with the route. If not, then they should not bring a group. I have tried being a sweeper. It can really test your patience. But once anyone has signed up for it, he or she must stick to the task."
Leo elaborates that as back-up, strategic junctions on the trail can be marked with ribbons (tied to small trees) or with little pieces of (bio-degradable) paper (on the ground).
Sim Kim Huat, who leads the MNS Pathfinders trekking group, says the "protocol" is to have enough "a minimum" of one experienced trekker to guide five others.
He says the ratio of the Gunung Bubu group (with six adults and 25 students) "is workable" but the students must be grouped according to trekking ability be it fast, moderate or slow.
"Usually the slow or unfit ones need more attention from a strong teacher or guide."