For sometime, my buddy George had been bugging me to organize a hiking trip to Mount Ophir, the English name for Gunung Ledang which borders between Muar and Malacca. Finally, a chance was presented when one member from my adventure group initiated a two nights hiking trip to Gunung Ledang.
This expedition, organized by Joo Heng was confirmed on 2 April. It was a motley group of 23 of us and save for two friends, George and Alan whom I invited, I met the rest for the first time. Talking about gender inequality, there were 15 women and only 8 men in this trekking. This evidently shows the fairer gender’s quest for adventure stuff has far surpassed the male species. As this is not a stroll in the park, it requires one to be physically fit to reach the peak which stands at 4,187 ft or 1,276m high. For many of us in the group, it was our first climb up a mountain that high.
Met the team leader, Joo Heng at the designated waiting point just outside Popular Bookstore at Jurong East MRT Station on 2 April at about 1545 hrs and shortly later, George and Alan arrived. After making sure everyone was accounted for, the coach departed at about 1630 hrs. We hardly had time to introduce to each other.
The journey took us some three and a half hour and at about 2000 hrs, we finally arrived at Gudung Ledang Resort which will accommodate us for two nights. My stomach was already calling and it was right to the restaurant for a sumptuous dinner first. Joining us at our table, we had Shu, Aish, Sajith and Liyah. We made a formal introduction to each other. Even though we had all met for the first time, I started to crack some jokes to get us going. Very soon, I had a ball of a time teasing George, who as usual, reacted a tad slow to my sporadic responses and no thanks to me; he actually became the butt of our jokes at our table.
After our dinner, we then proceeded to the meeting room for a briefing on the climb by the resort owner, Mr Tey, a local boy who has climbed Gudang Ledang umpteen times since he was 12. We were told the original route which is longer and more treacherous has been ordered closed by the authority since sometime last year. It was due to few recent fatalities from flooding which took some lives. The new route covers short distance and less treacherous but still requires some fitness and endurance to reach the summit. Mr Tey told us that on average, we should take six hours to reach the summit and another four hours to descend.
At the meeting, we were all issued our dry ration comprising some biscuits, breads, chocolates and two bottled mineral water which was meant for our lunch during the climb. We can choose to carry more food or water on our own and it is mandatory to fill up a declaration form listing down all the food & drink items we carry with us for the climb. We have to bring back every single used packaging, paper and balance food items to be inspected by the rangers upon our return. This is to ensure the mountain is litter-free as much as possible. On this, I am confident every single one of us will comply wholeheartedly.
The following morning, we got up at 0600 hrs and had our early breakfast at 0630 hrs. By 0700 hrs, we were assembled at the hotel lobby for the transport to bring us to the start point. While waiting, a Japanese guest at the resort, Sumito was introduced by Mr Teh to join us in this trekking. From the look of it, Sumito was properly dressed as a mountaineer and he was also very well equipped and he carried the biggest haversack in the group that can contain 1 week of ration. Everyone was seemingly excited especially my buddy, George who was more concerned he could not match the fitness of some ladies in our group. Indeed some of the ladies in our group were fitter than many of the guys. Before heading off, we did one final count. Yes, 24 of us including our Japanese friend were eager to move off.
We had a bumpy ride from the resort to the start point, took some 15 minutes to reach but everyone was in high spirit. When we arrived at the starting point, some of us started to do some stretching exercise on our own. After the briefing by one of the national park staff and at about 0800 hrs, we were finally given the green light to ascend led by our guide, Faizal and his assistant. There were other groups from the schools joining us too.
There will be three rest points along the way, CP1 comprising of steps, CP2 which is called Trail Lagenda and at CP3 which is the midpoint at about 2,100 ft high will be the final rest station for those who would like to opt out before the push up the summit.
From the start of the climb, I tried to stay in the middle of the pack in order to try to keep a look out for the slower climbers behind. It was not a difficult climb to CP1, mostly steps. We continued to CP2 where we took a breather and for some photo taking too. After CP2 and heading to CP3, I noticed some did struggle somewhat and they started to trail way behind the front pack. I decided to quicken my pace. When I reached CP3, our team leader Joo Heng and some fitter members who had arrived earlier, started to move on. I decided to a short rest for the rest to catch up. George, Alan and some joined me at CP3. The two ladies, Liyah and Peng Lim who were panting heavily decided to opt out and our guides were called to assist them to the base. By then, I decided to continue with some of them leaving the guides to handle the situation. .
As there was a group comprising mostly students ahead of us, we had to follow them behind. I tried to past some of them on the side by quickening my pace and each time, I past the kids, I tried to give them encouragement which they acknowledged. The weather had been fine. Finally, I managed to meet up with Joo Heng and the rest at the resting point. I told him two from our group had opted out. Before we moved on again, we realized we did not have our guide with us and all this while after CP3, we were just following the guides from the other groups.
About 20 minutes later, George, Alan and some members managed regroup with us but before they could take a short breather, Joo Heng, together with the two fittest ladies in the group, Ming and Pauline decided to press on without our guide by following the trail. The other student groups went on another trail. We consulted one of their guides who told us the trail can still lead us to the summit, we felt assured then. I decided to follow the front pack while George and those who just arrived will rest first before ascending.
By my reckoning, we had been climbing for about three hours but I felt it wasn’t that difficult the climb. I had brought along some painkillers to sooth pain to my joints but to my relief, I was managing well up until that juncture. Pauline and Ming led the way up followed by Joo Heng and me. They were pressing ahead with very good pace and admittedly, I had hard time catching up with these two ladies.
Finally, we reached the final assault to the summit. The path up comprises of huge rocks with long step ladders placed on the steep parts and at some points there are ropes on the side for climbers to hold on. It looked daunting enough, certainly not for the faint-hearted. I decided to move up first while Pauline and Ming followed close behind. The step ladders and ropes did come in handy to ease the climb up.
I thought I had reached the summit but recalling the pictures which were shown to us during the briefing, the image did not seem to tally the actual. As we did not have our guide with us and there was no prominent path or marking of sorts that could lead me to the top at that point, I could only rely on my own instinct. As I moved further in, I saw a gap on this huge and slippery rock which seemed to be the final assault to the summit. Ming who had already joined me by then also shared the same opinion with me. With urging from Ming, I then decided to make my move. I had to use all four, hands and legs to steady myself and slowly but surely, maneuver my way up. At that juncture, I told myself this final push to the summit really tested one’s gut for any misstep could send one rolling all the way down. After clearing that last part, I saw two persons relaxing at the highest point, a young lady and an elderly gentleman, likely a father and daughter team donning army fatigue. The elderly man sported a long flowing white beard with a weather-beaten face and he looks like one of the ‘heavenly guards’ in our Chinese mystical story. The cheerful young lady greeted me with a “Welcome to the summit”. I can then confirm I was the first to have reached the summit. Ming arrived shortly after, taking the same challenging path I took and we waited for the rest to join us.
Not long later, we heard voices looming behind us. We finally saw the rest of them, one by one they arrived but they came from a different direction. Gosh, there was another easier route to the summit with step ladders and ropes readily available for climbers. Alas, without a guide, the gutsy Ming and I took the untested route based on instinct.
While at the summit, we took many pictures. Playfully, I did a condor pose perched atop the stone monument while Ming mimicked ala ‘er-mei’ kungfu pose. It was a funny sight to witness but I really enjoyed it. For first timer like me, the top of the world feeling was euphoria I must say. It was breezy on top but the weather was quite cloudy thus most part of the scenic view was blanketed away, sigh. We had reached the summit before 12 noon, taking only 4 hours which was way ahead of the average 6 hours.
We waited for about an hour for the last person to arrive before making descent. Before moving out, we realised three and not two from our group had opted out at CP3. It was Jonathan who had joined the two ladies, Peng Lim and Liyah to the base. But Jonathan’s unassuming petite girlfriend, Yvonne made it to the summit by sheer determination – kudos to her.
Another 4 hours to hit the base but descent should be less strenuous, so I had assumed. We moved out at about 1330. Again, girl-power duo, Pauline and Ming were leading the pack but this time leaving nothing to chance, we made sure we had our guide to lead the way for us. The last time, he was busy arranging to send the three members who had opted out to base and by the time he was ready to play catch up, he found himself stuck way behind the big student groups in front of him. The path down was quite steep and rocky, we had to use the ladders and ropes which took up some time and at the same time, there were still more people climbing up too. It had to be one-way traffic for either side; if one is going down, the other below had to wait before climbing up.
To bolster confidence of those still making their way up, I assured them it will take only 10 minutes more to reach to the top. However, another 10 minutes had past, I continued to make the same assurance, deliberately though but Tricia felt it was not right to paint a false scenario, stopped me from there. She immediately cut it, changing it to 20 minutes instead. Nonetheless, we had fun taking swipes at each other on the way down. What really inspired me most was when I saw a middle-aged woman seemingly recovering from stroke making the assault to the summit with her family members. To cap it off, she was not even dressed up in any proper climbing attire, simply donning her dress and slowly limping up, one step at a time. It was awe-inspiring and we simply clapped to give her encouragement.
We were still moving in a group keeping a steady pace and we didn’t take any good rest for a good one hour or so. Our guide, Faizal decided to halt for a break to rest our limbs and quench our thirst. At the point, our dainty Aish complained of pain in both her knees. There was no way out, she had to make her way down. Her room mate, Shu decided to let Aish had her trusted walking stick to lessen further strain to her knees and on seeing that, I decided to carry Aish’s haversack playing my part as man in the group. Under that circumstance, Aish had to stick close to the guide who was ever so attentive to her from the start of our climb. As the only Malay in our group and with her pleasant personality, our guide, Faizal conversed comfortably with her in his own lingo. He was certainly the hero to the damsel rescue. I am not sure any spark will develop after this climb but it was fun teasing them as one couple then.
The cloud was getting darker and rain was looming large for sure. The front pack moved swiftly and the drift apart beginning to show. I was moving quite fast too. I looked at my watch which indicated 3.10 pm then and thunder could be heard. At that hour, the entire forest looked like last light. I couldn’t find George, Alan and the rest who were behind me. Only Tricia and Sajith were just ahead of me but very quickly too, I past the two of them. Only Pauline, Ming and three others were in front of me. The place was getting darker and darker as each minute ticked away and the thunderous sound seemed not too far away from us. Shu was just ahead of me, she was moving very fast almost like running. A short while later, it poured and poured heavily too. I decided not to bring out my raincoat from my backpack, chose to get drenched instead. Shu hesitated for a while but decided to wear her rain coat when the rain was at its fiercest.
It was raining heavily which clouded visibility and the ground was rendered soft and slippery. I was behind Shu but behind me, there was no one at – there was a big gap between the front pack and the rest of the group. The descent seemed like eternity, we had been walking and battling the elements for hours but never seemed to have reached our destination.
Pauline and Ming were way ahead of us; only Shu, Shawn and the two sisters were with me but just in front of us were the students. Then without any warning, one girl in the student group fainted and she had to be physically carried by her friends. We wouldn’t move ahead of them due to the torrential rain and everything slowed to a crawl.
When we reached CP2, Shu told me she felt bad leaving the main group behind and I too shared that sentiment. What if someone slipped or fainted and that he or she needed help? Shouldn’t we be there to help out too? Further, the rain did not seem to relent any moment now, making descend even more treacherous. We decided climb back up to re-join the breakaway group. As we climbed, we shouted out for them. But the noise of the heavy pour simply overwhelmed our shouting. We had climbed for 30 minutes and suddenly from a distance, I saw a moving light ahead. We were glad to learn it was our Japanese friend, Sumito. He told us the rest of group was behind and everyone should be sound and safe. He waited with us for some 15 minutes under the rain before we saw the rest of them moving down. We felt assured everyone was okay but only Aish who injured her knees was still trailing behind. The guide was with her throughout, so she should be okay. We then moved down together as a group. One interesting sight caught me amused, it was Francis who was using an umbrella instead of wearing a raincoat to keep dry. This was no small feat for him, imagine he had to use one hand to hold on to the rope at some point and another to hold the umbrella. I couldn’t be bothered in such situation, I prefer to get myself drenched.
We finally reached the base at about 1800 hrs which took us more than 4 hours made difficult by the heavy downpour. The transport was on standby to take us to the resort but some of us decided to wait for Aish and her saviour, our guide. It was about an hour of waiting and we finally saw our Aish being led by our guide, Faizal slowly making their way down the steps. Both resorted to improvise the black trash bags as rain coats and as they made their way towards us, we clapped loudly. They really looked like a couple on a stroll under the rain and I can see Faizal really grinning away. During the descent, he had gladly offered to piggy-ride our Aish when pain really got into her but she steadfastly refused that kind gesture; such gusty lady she really was.
Upon returning to the resort, we had a real sumptuous dinner and each of us sharing our experiences in between meal. After our dinner, I was too tired for anything, only wanted to hit the sack early. But my friend, George who shared the room with Alan and me, still packed some reserve energy later joined some of them in card games to while away the long evening.
The following morning, we had another great outing at the waterfall near the resort before heading home. After this one adventurous outing, everyone seemed to talk and joke like real old buddies. Without a doubt, it was a wonderful and memorable trekking trip to Gudang Ledang for me and I look forward to another trekking soon.