Thursday, March 27, 2014

Forest Trail

The trail from Teluk Bahang forest reserve to the top of Penang Hill has been on my list to do since before I arrived here. Searching through possible hiking treks around the island this seemed to be the most appealing as the distance and time required better matched what I have previously done on longer hikes. However, after being here for just a short while and trying some other hikes around the island it occred to me that hiking here would not be like hiking in Japan/the US/New Zealand and that each step would take a bit longer and be a bit more uncomfortable. The thing about Penang, and about Malaysia, is that the heat and humidity can be oppressive. Most days when I arrive home it’s a struggle to not just lay down on the couch and never get up because the heat is just too much. This has lead most of my hiking here to be in the 3-4 hour range max. Plus, there aren’t too many people to whom a 6-8 hour hike clear across the island would appeal to and it’s a trail where you don’t want to be alone due to proximity to help. Should you twist an ankle it would be at least a couple of hours hike on healthy legs, let alone a sprained or broken one, to get to help.
So when my friend told me that she was going on an exploratory hike in advance of a club she would be leading later I jumped at the chance. So too did a few of my colleagues and 6 of us set out at 12:45 from the Teluk Bahang Forest reserve this past Saturday. Most estimates put the hike at 6-8 hours and so we assumed we could make it to Penang Hill at or just before nightfall. There we would meet up with another group of teachers at the Methodist Center, a sort of run down bunkhouse where we could camp.
It took us just about an hour to climb the first section from the base of the Forest Reserve to the top of the first hill where we took a 15 minute break for water and snacks. This part of the trail starts out fairly flat, but the latter half begins a steep ascent where ropes are fixed in some places (yellow line).
After that is a small series of up and down hill before a long steep ascent up to the juncture/right turn off to Titikerawang. This juncture took just over an hour and a half to get to from the last stop making this about 3 hours into the hike. We stopped here as well for 15 minutes to snack and rest. There are some views here to the west and north and the reservoir at Teluk Bahang as well as Batu Ferringi are easily seen here.
After that stop the trail goes right down the other side of the mountain and is very steep in some places where fixed ropes are the only way to safely descend. I can’t imagine what it looks like in the rain. This took us another 40 minutes or so. Once at the bottom of the hill we stopped for a quick rest and water at rain gauge 11 before heading up the final large hill to the edge of the Western Reserve (red line). Though it appears on the map as if there is a turn off just before rain guage 11 to hike to air itam dam we never saw that.
It took us about 40 minutes to make it to the edge of the Western Reserve where a red circle with white dash told us to turn right. This followed about 10 minutes of steep downhill, across a small creek, then steep uphill for another 10 minutes or so. Then you are spit onto the road on Penang Hill. From there you take a right off the trail to get to the tram. Keep going straight along the main road and you should get there in about 45 minutes to an hour.
Overall the hike was good, but if you are using the maps from the Forest Trail book of hikes be careful. Maps are not nearly to scale or representative of distance relation of objects to one another. Many trails have turn offs not listed. Bring plenty of food and water. I went through 4 liters over the 5 hour period and was still very thirsty at the end. The hiking is easy in some points, but all of those points are broken by very steep sections. This hike requires stamina, so do not attempt for a leisurely walk.