Can you "Tahan" the tallest mountain in Penisular Malaysia?

PHOTO: Jaskeerat Gill

Gunung Tahan, the tallest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia at 2187m, requires great energy, stamina as well as mental determination to climb. Hence it's name "Tahan", which is the Malay word for "to endure".

This mighty mountain is located in our National Park of Taman Negara, one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world, estimated to be around 130 million years old!

For this climb, I followed SCAT, or the Sikh Camping Troopers, a group founded by Wajinder Singh in 1989 to promote the spirit of the great outdoors to youths and to teach them leadership, discipline, teamwork, responsibility, co-operation, unity and most importantly, survival.

Our team consisted of nine members. Some were experienced hikers while some were first-timers. I am 16 while the oldest in our group is 61. Careful preparation for this hike was extremely important. When we had the time, we would jog and time ourselves, getting better as we practised.

The group from SCAT, or Sikh Camping Troopers, at the peak of Gunung Tahan.
Photo: Jaskeerat Gill

Besides that, we also needed to plan what to bring along, such as shoes which had good grip on muddy trails, knives, sleeping bags and mats, water bottles, plastic bags, a whistle (in case we got lost) and a head lamp for night use.

We were given a briefing of the basic safety guidelines by our group leader, Wajinder.

He told us:

  • the best places to camp
  • avoid hiking at night
  • don't drink stagnant water
  • don't eat inside the tent (and attract ants)
  • stay put if we were lost and wait for rescue.

Basically, we were asked not to take unnecessary risks. A hike deep into the jungle like this was no joke!

Our journey started as we travelled over five hours from Kuala Lumpur to Merapoh, a small village between Kuala Lipis and Gua Musang. We reached there late at night and camped in a park.

River crossings

The next morning, we got ready and packed our backpacks. Each of us carried our own items as well as group stuff which we all shared. In total, each of our backpacks weighed at least 10kg.

After all the packing, we had to unpack everything so that the authorities could check our bags at Sungai Relau (the entrance to Taman Negara itself) to record what we had.

On our return, we would be required to bring out whatever plastic bags we had carried in. This was to ensure we didn't damage the rainforest by littering. As responsible campers, we were happy to do whatever was needed to conserve nature.

From Sungai Relau, we took a drive to our starting point, Kuala Juram. Our hike started with sandals, not shoes, as we had to cross four rivers and several streams.

Some of those rivers had strong currents as, the day before, rainfall had raised the water levels. With our backpacks on us, we were rather unstable and some of us nearly got swept away!

Lunch time at the campsite.
Photo: Jaskeerat Gill

But with the help of a rope and our guide, we all made it across the rivers safely, though we did get wet. We had lunch and then continued to our first campsite at Kem Kor, a lovely place with a stream right beside it. This was convenient for us to bathe and get water for cooking.

The next day was going to be an exhausting one. From Kem Kor, we had to hike all the way up to Bukit Botak, a campsite near the peak.

Unfortunately, after a steep climb up to a spot called Kubang, some of us were slower than expected. So a decision had to be made, if we tried reaching Bukit Botak; not all of us would make it there by sunset.

So we camped at Kubang, as we needed to stick together as a team. The decision was a risky one as this would mean we had to add another day to our hike and food rationing had to be planned out carefully.

Sunrise at Bonsai camp.
Photo: Jaskeerat Gill

To make up for the lost day, we altered our plans the next day. We camped at Bonsai which was a little lower in altitude than Bukit Botak. The idea was to hike up to the peak of Gunung Tahan and return to this lower place to save time.

The only problem was that Bonsai had no streams or other water sources. We left most of our stuff at Bonsai and hiked with several empty bottles to a water source. After filling the bottles, we left them there to be picked up on our way down. Then, with almost nothing on our backs, we raced to the peak.

Along the way we saw bonsai trees growing in abundance and yellow pitcher plants. In the distance, there was a spectacular display of peaks overlapping each other. The view was one of the most magnificent I have ever witnessed with my own eyes.

Peak experience

The view from the peak of Gunung Tahan.
Photo: Jaskeerat Gill

After this picturesque hike, we made it to the peak! It felt great being there. We were standing above the clouds and it was quite sunny, but due to the haze, the view was not very clear. Nevetheless, we enjoyed our moment and we even got special badges for making it all the way up!

It started getting chilly as the clouds rolled in and we heard some thunder, so we knew it was time to head back. On our way down, the raindrops got heavier by the minute and the skies got darker.

This was where our headlamps were necessary. It was dark, cold, wet and muddy, but we had to make it back to our campsite (where we had pitched our tents) before nightfall.

Some group members had walked faster, so when we came to Bukit Botak, they waited for the others. We needed to stay as close together as possible. Eventually, we arrived at our Bonsai campsite, had a late dinner and slept.

Climbing down the peak.
Photo: Jaskeerat Gill

As the sun rose the next day, we prepared to hike back down to our first campsite, Kem Kor. The journey was fast as gravity pulled us down - we just had to be careful about minimising impact on our knees. When we arrived, we dropped our backpacks and relaxed in the stream, after the tiring hike.

Next morning, we packed everything up and made our way back down to Kuala Juram, crossing the rivers again. And then we were finally done! In total, we had hiked 64km over four days. It was tough, but very rewarding.

Our group of nine Sikh Camping Troopers had all learnt that age didn't matter, anyone could do it if they put their minds to it! And with teamwork and determination, we had all made it safely up and down the mountain.

Some people may say "Why would you put yourself through all that when you could just stay at home and relax?" But it was delightful to be able to camp out in the peaceful forests and to climb the challenging peak.

Sometimes, you need to get away from the stress of school, work or the noisy city. I think that hiking and camping far away from civilisation is absolutely beautiful. Being away from the crowds, winding down, finding peace within yourself and just enjoying a simple lifestyle is a recharge that everyone needs.

It's also a chance for people to appreciate nature that is often taken for granted. Admiring the enormous trees, listening to the sounds of the jungle and marvelling at the sights of the creatures residing there is simply an amazing experience which nobody should miss in their lifetime.