Battle of the Bulge

Departure #2 was from a lovely spot called Hutan Lipur Sungai Sendat, a waterfall, just north of KL. Peter, keen to test out his new hammock, joined me. Arriving in the early hours of the afternoon we found it closed...

Fortunately Peter and I are on the same wave:

The best sort of travel always involves a degree of trespass. The risk is both the challenge and the invitation. ~ Paul Theroux

So we ducked under the police tape and were rewarded with a blissful place to camp for the evening.

A coiffed fughi toupee decorating old bamboo and creeping shoots twined around mossy trunks.

Enigmatic insects watched on - like this Gnoma 'long neck' beetle.

The clear stream gurgled restfully. The cool air a quiet rebuke to to the tarmac intensified microclimate of the recently departed city.

Some youths playing hooky from school briefly intruded laughing merrily on bum scrapingly daring drops down into plunge pools.

Pretty leaf and bountiful life.

Fruits of the stream

The serenity and virtuous idility of the return to camping caught me off guard like a cherished memory inexplicably forgotten then suddenly recalled. Peter and I did our own thing. I read while he fished taking unconscious turns to bathe in the pools.

Before coming together to cook and eat as the day breathed its last with fay fireflies gliding through the trees.

A tent-less night under a newly acquired mosquito net sung to sleep by the forest's insect and amphibian orchestra.

Breakfast and a groundhog goodbye to Peter. He had transformed what might otherwise have been a bumpy landing in SE Asia into a neat list of practical problems solved. A paragon of generosity and enthusiastic, horizon expanding, explanation. Another person on an increasingly long list acquired during this trip to whom I owe a great deal.

After much prevarication then the riding could now begin again in earnest. It quickly became a sweaty, dusty run as the sun rose hot and I joined the highway around Batang Kali. Happily I was heading for cooler climbs and could leave the traffic behind at Rasa to rejoin the Selangor whose shapely curves I had been earlier denied. I followed her twisting middle course through the forests and plantations to Kuala Kabu Bhara where the gradients began to increase.
Trickling roadside waterfalls provided welcome chances to cool down.

This first climb terminated at a twenty year old dam where I took the hint and had a quick break after a suicidal giant grasshopper threw himself at my front wheel. 

I delayed lunch and instead pushed on to a Fisheries Department managed waterfall a few miles further on.

I was greeted yet again by a closed sign: Open Fri-Sun.

Unwilling to acquiesce to this weekend tyranny I displayed the characteristic arrogance of a western traveler and pointedly ignored the prohibition. This one took a little more circumventing. Lifting a fully loaded tourer over the first waist high gate was a breeze compared to the two meter high fence topped with barbed wire that came next. Ten minutes of patiently dismantling my load and carefully climbing over later, the bike and I had made it successfully to the other side.

An empty camping area and reception awaited. Another lovely riverside spot and I took my ease for an hour eating sandwiches, reading and paddling in the quick running current.

The walk to Chilling Waterfall would take about an hour. Internet accounts whetted my appetite by warning that this walk wasn't appropriate for kids and oldies. Nor even passable during rains, as you needed to ford the river at five places. Breezing past the requests to register before starting the walk I crossed the bridge, spied the trail, and was off. Pannier swinging nonchalantly from my shoulder. 
Thorny hand holds and giant ants.

Almost immediately the trail became a tangled scramble up through the rainforest. Splashing up a slippery rivulet and hauling up steep banked earth using exposed  roots as handholds.

Bracing stuff.
There is a path!

I broke through the canopy fifteen sweaty minutes later. The jagged rocks peaked and troughed but the worn white track gave intermittent clues on where to jump down and hop up. I marched on now wading through waste high thickets of scratchy plants flicking at my legs and obscuring the path.

No picnic this.

I deadened after a particularly dense thicket, emerging onto a stony prominence overlooking a wild valley. My earlier reading stood me in good stead as I recalled mention of such a cul-de-sac. Retracing my step a way I returned to a point with a turn off that I'd initially eschewed. It rose off to my right up a rocky outcrop steep even by the high-standards already set.

Faint white wearings indicating previous footsteps revealed themselves on closer inspection. Consulting the childlike map I'd taken a picture of at the reception I could see a clipart symbol for rocks. Satisfied that this must indeed then be the way I began climbing.
A quick look back down: Make no mistake, it was steep and sheer.   

The climb became harder and I had a faint moment of doubt in my abilities to scale it before the plodding rationalisations kicked in. A favourite of mine is the roller-coaster/bungee jump analogy. 'It may seem scary but people do it and the whole thing wouldn't happen if people were dropping dead all the time, you are at least averagely capable so stop being a wimp and get on with it.'

The climb became harder still. Edging across inch wide ledges to reach the next face.


This was definitely not the sanitized nature walks of Australia and New Zealand - all informative plaques and walkways. These Malay's are tough!

A particularly vertiginous ten foot section of sheer cliff loomed. There were feint hand holds but boy, this shit was getting real. Thank goodness, I thought to myself distractedly, that Pete and Simone had invited me to join them for a few hours indoor climbing in Sydney. Sensibly my mind ignored the numerous times I'd fallen then. 

I glanced down at the drop behind me. thirty feet? The ones on either side perhaps topping forty? fifty? I was by this point covered in scratches, rock dust and sweat - not just from the hot afternoon sun.

A little further and I was at the foot of a large protruding boulder blocking the way up. It wasn't the most vertical section I'd encountered and I could see that things began to flatten out out above. I was almost at the top! So gamely I started up from my ledge. Just a meter or so up I was at the boulders widest bulge. Arms bear hugging the rock and feet inverted into barely there footholds.

Craning upwards I realised the faintly worn hand holds had vanished.

Oh dear.

I extended an exploratory hand and found just the rounded curve of the boulder. The slight bulge I hung to meant I couldn't see beneath me to where my feet might go.

I was scared.

Trying to put as much friction between me and boulder using thighs, calves and chest I made an effort  to wriggle upwards. I slid a centimetre back down. Lactic acid began to flare.

Fuckity fuck.

Suddenly my mind, previously dogged and sure, began to race. "Am I really not able to make it?" Yes my body screamed. The internal monologue took on more than a trace of panic.

"How on earth will I make it down even if I make it up?"
"Does my insurance cover post-mortem repatriation to the UK?"
"Not suitable for kiddies and oldies!!"

Then a forgotten comment from Peter crystallized in my mind. He'd replied to my mention of Chilling Waterfalls with a story of carrying his tent and gear to the falls and camping there. It was suddenly obvious. It was inconceivable that someone with a full pack had climbed this. I was hanging from a boulder above a sheer drop and this was not 'the way'.

Deep breaths.

I very carefully tried to find my previous footholds below so I might squirm off the bulge without plunging to my death. A little too much slide for comfort and then my right foot snagged a crevice.

Made it.

Heart racing I picked my way across to a wider platform to take some raggedy, adrenaline fueled, breaths and stock.

Nice view though.

Stop. Force myself to calm down. Drink some water, eat some food. Do not panic. Take a picture. Long for a cigarette. Then steel myself for the descent. It had been hard enough climbing up. As any cat stuck up a tree will confirm. The tricky part remained.

I suddenly had sympathy for those people you hear about in the news who have gone walking up mountains in winter wearing shorts and flip flops and frozen to death. I imagine they set out in the same determined unthinking manner I had with just one or two bits of information incorrectly interpreted. Malaysian headlines about an idiotic tourist found dead after trying to scale a rock face wearing sandals flashed across my mind. The unidentified white male estimated to be in his mid thirties was carrying only an ill fitting pannier containing banana bread but no rope.

I made it down the next face with an utter lack of dignity by carefully lowering myself over the edge and wiggling blindly for toe holds before sticking my bum out to open up the space to spot a lower hand hold. Graceful it was not. Basically the opposite of the opening scenes of mission impossible.

But effective. I was now lower.

Another rest as I contemplated the further two tricky sections that remained by my count. I was not excited to continue. After all I thought cheerily, a 20ft drop onto rocks will kill you just as surely as a 40ft one.

More deep breaths. Legs trembling covered with dust and scratches.

I began the next section. It was a little less vertical and so I deployed a new approach. Bum to rock, facing outwards so that I could see the way. Leaning back as far as I could, arms and hands outstretched crucifixion style to maximize friction. The first half meter went encouragingly.

Then my lowest foot slipped.

The slide began agonizingly slowly. I tried to lean further into the wall but gathering momentum countered. The pace increased and any pretense of control ceased.




Grasping for purchase,

I found none.

Overview: 1 Days riding 40km

* routes are made using googlemaps autocomplete. Accuracy may be less than perfect

1 comment:

  1. For Gods Sake! Don't leave us on this ( literal! ) cliffhanger Tom....... Please survive!
    Juliet x