1985 - Gunung Tahan (2,187m/7,175ft)

12 Days Mountain Trekking
19 Apr to 30 Apr 1985

(L to R) G.Ramanathan, Zazari Bakar, Ramlan our guide, Abdul Rahman, Chandran Devan, T.Vyjayanthimala, Ann Veronica Rozario, James Ooi Teik Kok, Ching Neng Bin, Jimmy Lim Kok Jin
Expedition Team

  1. G.Ramanathan : Expedition leader
  2. Ching Neng Bin : Assistant expedition leader
  3. Jimmy Lim Kok Jin
  4. Zazari Bakar
  5. Abdul Rahman Shaul Hamid
  6. James Ooi Teik Kok
  7. Chandra Devan
  8. Ann Veronica Rozario
  9. T.Vyjayanthimala
  10. En. Ramlan (guide) 

Duty 1

  1. Pitching of the tents
  2. Chose a suitable and attractive site as you can
  3. Clean the camping area before and after use
  4. Find a suitable place for latrines and camp urinals
  5. Ensure that all tents and equipments are in sound and return it to the person you take from
  6. On top of that take any instruction given by the leaders 

Duty 2

  1. Cooking of all food
  2. Easiest methods and the fastest and yet come up with a delicious full diet meal
  3. Cooking is done in the healthiest manner and in the most convenient way and at the appropriate time
  4. The cooking place should be at least 15 feet away from the sleeping area
  5. Collecting of fire wood and water
  6. Ensure that all equipment are in sound and clean them before you return to the person you take from. On top of that take any instruction given by the leaders. 

Trip Schedule
19.04.85 Depart for KL by bus from Butterworth
20.04.85 Proceed to Taman Negara for overnight rest
21.04.85 (Day 01) - Kuala Tahan to Sungai Melantai
22.04.85 (Day 02) - 2nd night camp at Kuala Putih
23.04.85 (Day 03) - 3rd night camp at Wray's Camp
24.04.85 (Day 04) - 4th night camp at Padang Camp
25.04.85 (Day 05) - Trekking to the peak and back to Padang Camp
26.04.85 (Day 06) - 6th night camp at Kuala Tekku
27.04.85 (Day 07) - 7th night camp at Kuala Putih
28.04.85 (Day 08) - Back at Kuala Tahan
29.04.85 (Day 09) - Another night at Kuala Tahan
30.04.85 (Day 10) - Returned journey to Penang

The challenge of Gunung Tahan

After five days of climbing, we reached the top of Gunung Tahan and were sunburn which we least expected. The elation of the team was not so much in conquering the top, but in overcoming the difficulties and trying times on the way. The difficulty of climbing Gunung Tahan lies more in its remoteness from civilization than in the ascent itself. With all the ups and downs of a trail more than 38 miles (66km) long, we are climbing a total of about 12,500' (3,800m) in order to scale a 7,174' (2,187m) mountain. En route we made several river crossings, sometimes hazardous and traverse long dry ridges requiring rationing of every last drop of water. On the Gunung Tahan plateau, we experienced colder conditions than are found anywhere else in the peninsular. To contend with on top of all this is the jungle's intense humidity, its pestering insects, its torrential rain and the battle against leeches.

19.04.85 Depart for KL by bus from Butterworth

It began comfortably enough. An air-conditioned bus took us from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur.

20.04.85 Proceed to Taman Negara for overnight rest

From Kuala Lumpur there was another bus ride to Temerloh and then into taxi to Tembeling where a boat took us to Kuala Tahan. The boat cruised Sungai Tembeling (60km) in a three-hour ride that was breezy and relaxing. On the way, there was much to see; the riverside vegetation, diving kingfishers, sporadic signs of forest clearings, passing boats ferrying Orang Asli and villages with their bamboo produce and women in sarongs bathing by the river. At Taman Negara we enjoyed the 'luxuries' of bed, bathroom and kitchen facilities.

21.04.85 (Day 01) - Kuala Tahan to Sungai Melantai
Distance - 12km.
Walking time - 5hrs 20 minutes

The next morning with haversacks weighing from 40 to 50 pounds, we left Taman Negara in high spirits. En Ramlan, our guide, watched patiently as we stopped to spray insecticide on our shoes and to check for leeches.

The first day, we walked for five hours covering 12km through undulating lowland forest, up a steep climb before moving down and settling down to a comfortable campsite called Camp Sungai Melantai where the river followed by refreshingly. The first day's hike was difficult, as we had to adjust to the weight of the haversacks. Soaked in sweat and puffing for breath, we began teasing each other, "Hey you! Why are we suffering all this? Just to get away from home, lah.'

Lesson number one was learn at this camp. No matter how relieved one is at reaching the campsite never jump into the river and enjoy first. While splashing about happily, the tropical rain without warning made us scramble to cover up haversacks, set up tents and search for firewood. That night dinner was dismal because the wood would not burn properly. But hunger has a way of making one appreciate even simple and ordinary food like sardine curry and cabbage rice. After a massage session, to soothe aching bodies, it was bedtime.

22.04.85 (Day 02) - 2nd night camp at Kuala Putih
Distance - 13km.
Walking time - 7hrs 55 minutes

The second day dreaded most because of the prospect of 27 hill-climbs turned out fine. This boosted the morale of the team. The tough going in the eight hour journey were at the beginning when there was an initial steep climb of 1,200' to a ridge and the 26th hill called Gunung Rajah, 1,891' high. Campsite on the second day was at Kuala Puteh. This time, even before boots could be removed, we hastily gathered firewood, pitched up the tents and collected water from nearby Sungai Puteh. Dinner was special when I proudly brought in a half kilo 'Ikan Daun'. It went into the salted fish curry.

Late in the night there was some excitement when I fished a five-kilo 'Ikan Kelah'. There was lots of posing with the catch before it was skewered and barbecued.

The big catch that brought a lot of cheers to the team.

23.04.85 (Day 03) - 3rd night camp at Wray's Camp
Distance - 12km.     

Walking time - 8hrs 30 minutes

The third day's journey began with a river crossing which was exciting though it meant hiking with wet clothes and shoes on. With hearts palpitating furiously and by making human chain, we made it safely across. A few were drenched from head to toe when they slipped on the rocky river bed. There were altogether seven river crossings of the meandering Sungai Tahan. After the final crossing, a lunch of instant porridge was gulped down in a hurry at Camp Kuala Teku.

It was after lunch that the real ascent began. It was a steady and steep climb throughout. "Jauh lagi' was the reply from our guide each time we queried him on how much further the camp was.

We arrived at Wray's Camp, 3,600' high at 7p.m. The sun had gone down and an 18 member Singaporean team occupied the campsite. There was little choice but to pitch tents outside the site in a narrow clearing among the trees. There was no thought for scorpions, leeches or snakes.

Here getting our water supply meant a half-an-hour hike to a small stream. Preparing dinner was a test of determination. A few gave up on dinner and were willing to settle for biscuits. It was also a night threw inhibitions to the wind because of the lack of space and the lateness of the hour; guys and girls slept in the same tend and continued with the sleeping arrangement for the rest of the expedition.

24.04.85 (Day 04) - 4th night camp at Padang Camp
Distance - 13km.     

Walking time - 7hrs

It must have been the hearty dinner and the good night's rest that put back the spirit in us. Even the members who had their fears the previous night were ready to tackle the new day's journey. With the help of walking sticks, the weaker members were placed in front with the rest of the team close behind. The jungle slowly thinned out as we went higher. The hot humid conditions in the jungle gave way to fresh cold breezes.

The climb was interesting with a lot of rock climbing, tree and root clutching. At times we were on all fours. The nature of the trail was like a Yo-Yo and in some places of the ridge the incline was near vertical.

Just before the last part of the climb, there was a sheltered gully called Gunung Tangga Dua Belas to overcome. Every foothold was made use of, be it a root, part of a rock or a stable instep. After inching our way pass the gully and the shoulder of Gunung Gedong, signs of the final campsite called Padang appeared from the distance.

Padang was situated in a large plateau basin and we took about an hour to descend. The vegetation here was dry and stunted. The terrain consisted of sandstone, bedrock, quartzite and quartz intrusions. Along the way, we came across remnants of the jet crash of 1971 scattered on the bedrocks. In the vast open space, the guide told us that the bodies of the pilots were never recovered. It was a sobering thought to realize how easily one could perish in the wilderness.

Near the camp, a stream flowed gushingly into a small pool that beckoned the hikers to a shivering cold bath. The night at Padang was bitterly cold. Despite putting on five layers of clothes, the cold could still be felt and it kept us awake till 2am. I then crawled out of the tent to build a fire, which slowly drew out the others. Tea was made and warm oat porridge eaten before we turned in at 4.30a.m. All nine huddled in one tent and we felt better in terms of warmth although several suffered numbness due to the rigid sleeping positions. When caught in such a situation, only one sleeping position is possible; the 'dried prawn curl' where all the limbs are drawn close to the body.

The campsite at Padang.

25.04.85 (Day 05) - To the Summit 7,174' and back
Distance – (2 ways) 14km.
Walking time - 6hrs 10 minutes

The fifth morning saw the final assault - 2000 odd feet and 7 km to the summit. The hike from Padang to the peak took about 3 1/4 hours. The sun was hot and the wind cold and dry. A ridge linked Gunung Gedong to Gunung Tahan. Before ascending, we had to pass through a deep saddle where the vegetation flourished like a dense low forest. There were ferns and wild orchids.

As each member assembled at the top, congratulations flow all round. Tears rolled down especially to those who thought they would never made it. We then posed for the photographs at the summit dominated by a sole 15 feet steel structure. Despite the hot sun roasting us red and brown, mist had descended blocking the view of surrounding peaks.

It was time to double back our track. We made our way down to Padang. That night there was small celebration with chicken curry; a bottle of brandy and the guide collected some beautiful wild orchids, which became center table piece.

A night of celebration for a successful climb to the summit with a bottle of brandy.
26.04.85 (Day 06) - Return Journey to Camp Kuala Teku
Distance - 19km.
Walking time - 10hrs

The next day's journey was a 10-hour hike from Padang to Camp Kuala Teku. This took its toll on us not only because of the long hours but also the downhill descent placed a lot of pressure on the knee and ankle joints. At the end of the 19km track, tents were pitched at Camp Kuala Teku where the bees buzzed incessantly around us who are now sweating. Apparently, the best way to rid the bees was to have a bath. Rain fell heavily that night and hampered our cooking and it plagued us to wonder whether the river crossings the next day would have to be postponed. Food ration was running low.

27.04.85 (Day 07): Return Journey to Camp Kuala Puteh.
Distance - 7km.
Walking time - 4hrs

The next morning after breakfast, we made the river crossings. It was not as dangerous as we had expected though the water level had risen. More than four hours passed when the team reached Camp Kuala Puteh where we decided to put up camp. Food ration buried here was dug up and wholesome lunch of fish curry was eaten. In the evening, a repeat performance of the five-kilo Ikan Kelah enabled us to have a wonderful dinner. The only item that could not be replenished at this campsite was the cigarettes. The smokers rolled tobacco, obtained from an Asli guide along the way, in all sorts of material - paper, tissue paper and leaves.

28.04.85 (Day 08): Return Journey to Taman Negara.
Distance - 25km.
Walking time - 10hrs 55 minutes

After a complete rest and sumptuous dinner of the previous day, we were ready to tackle the last stretch of the journey to Taman Negara. At the last stretch from Camp Sungai Melantai, it was muddy and slippery. Leeches were forgotten, mud was trudged upon. Nobody attempted to avoid the muck. Some wore slippers on this first stretch and when it got too slippery, the footwear were discarded and walked barefooted. 'Hang the leeches, if they want to suck, go ahead, this is my last day' was ringing in many a mind and heart. The expedition to Gunung Tahan ended that day after nearly eleven hours of walking through a 25km distance. The team arrived at Taman Negara and it was like coming home.

Another celebration at the base camp - Kuala Tahan
29.04.85 (Day 09) - Another night at Kuala Tahan
30.04.85 (Day 10) - Returned journey to Penang

A letter from Ann Veronica Rozario


  1. Felicia Pegg03 February, 2012

    Hi Ching

    My trip to Gunung Tahan was a great experience. People have warmed me about how tough it was, but it never crossed my mind that it was that tough!!! Before that I thought Mt Kinabalu was tough, now I can go to Mt K many times without even have to re think about it!!!

    The toughest one was on day 2 from Camp Kor to Camp Botak which took us 12 hours despite just 18km and about 1270m high. But I survived without a single scratch, no broken legs or arms. I did attacked by a leech on my palm - I dropped my walking pole and the that little creature climbed on it without me realising it. Then realised my palm was a bit uncomfortable thinking it was the stripe!!! Luckily it was that bad but was bleeding. Also, fell into Kuala Luis on our last day. Well, all in all was good fun and the group that I was with was very kind to me - being the oldest in the group!!! Upon arriving KL Central, I took a fast train from KL to Ipoh where my husband was waiting having drove down from Penang the night before. He even laid towel on the seat thinking I would be smelly and dirty but I was cleaned having had a navy shower by the mosque at Merapoh. My next mission is Everest Base Camp March 1-17 2012.

    It is always a great pleasure to read your journal and admiring at the great places from the photos.