We finally began the day's hike after an agonising wait for the rest of the group, who spent the morning dilly-dallying as if they had all the time in the world. We left at 10:15, more than two hours later than had been planned, and made our way down to the river that flanked the 'Rata Air
' campsite. The riverside was quite scenic in the daylight, and the sunlight glinted off the pools of water that were partially barricaded by large fallen logs. The trickling of water as it flowed over the cascades was very pleasant, and the entire area was shaded by the huge leaves of wild banana trees (Musa sp.
) and the fanned leaves of towering ferns.
We stepped across the river and climbed up the other side of the riverbank only to find that the path ahead was completely blocked by the trunks of fallen trees. The entire area was blanketed with overgrown vegetation, and this slowed us down considerably as we had to spend a while just to cut our way through. There was a stillness that lingered in the air, and at first glance it seemed as if the place was devoid of activity. Upon closer inspection however, one could see a huge number of things happening, but just on a time and a scale that was imperceptible to us. The stillness must have been too much for some of the others though, as someone up ahead began to play some music from their phone. I immediately stopped walking in order to drop behind and out of earshot, as I had not come all this way to let rap music drown out the sounds of nature.A wall of bamboo shoots (Tribe : Bambuseae)
The best thing about slowing down and taking your time is that you begin to notice things that you otherwise may not. Tiny movements in rotting wood caught my eye, and it turned out to be a grub worm that was squirming about. Grub worms are basically the larvae of beetles, and are generally beneficial to the life cycle of the jungle as they help to convert cellulose into nutrients for the soil. They can be considered pests though, especially in places where people care about trivial things like the health of the grass in their gardens. This is because grub worms spend their entire larval stage underground where they feed on roots, and which over time, will inevitably create patches of dead grass.Another creature that I noticed squirming--or rather, gliding slowly--on the forest floor was a massive fire snail (Platymma tweediei
). These striking gastropods are the largest native land snails in the whole of Peninsular Malaysia
. They only live in the montane forests of the Titwangsa Range
, and require areas of high humidity in order to survive.A grub worm, or larva of a scarab beetle (Family : Scarabaeidae)A massive fire snail (Platymma tweediei)
We eventually crossed another river to what was once known as 'Rata Camp
', about 1.35 km into the day's hike. The campsite has been 'decommissioned', but the replacement campsite of 'Marigold Camp
' lay slightly further up the trail. There was a small rock face of sorts here that was completely covered in moss, and parts of it revealed the spindly roots of the tree that was perched precariously above. As soon as we passed the second campsite, we veered sharply to the right and straight down to the river below. The river here was fairly wide, but it was also shallow and the flow was gentle enough to not require ropes for the crossing
.We then crawled back up the steep bank on the other side of the river on our hands and knees, and then continued walking along the selaginella-lined trail just above. The trail ascended the slopes for half a kilometre or so, before rounding a rise and flattening out to a clearing just before the stream called 'Sarung Camp
'. There was another steep climb not too long after, up a muddy slope with sporadic tree roots as handholds, which was then followed by a series of river crossings. The trail was now heading west and ran parallel to the river. It veered left down to the river about 3.5 kilometres in, but instead of crossing over to the other side this time around, we just stopped for a one-hour-long lunch break.One of the many rivers that we had to cross
It began to rain once again after lunch. From there, the trail was on the same side of the river that we had been on before and continued to run parallel to it. We reached 'Sungai Betis Camp
' approximately a kilometre from the lunch stop, and the trail veered right from there. It then seemed to melt away and we struggled a little trying to find the way once again.Ferns were very abundant here, and all the usual suspects were seen: ubiquitous birds-nest ferns (Asplenium nidus
) were perched high above our heads; paku midin (Stenochlaena palustris
), the most popular edible fern, lay inconspicuously at the sides of the trail; and a mind-boggling variety of fern fiddleheads rose up on their stalks. The fiddleheads, which are the curlique manner in which the new fronds of ferns emerge, are a way for the fern to protect the tender tips of the frond within the coil. This process is referred to as 'circinate vernation'. As the frond continues to harden, the fiddleheads expand and the coil slowly begins to unfurl.Examples of circinate vernation
A lot of the ferns were also producing spores in a receptacle called 'sporangium', which was something that I have written about previously
Rows of fern sporangium
"Other plants such as ferns also produce sporangium but they are instead located in 'nodules' that are arranged in lines along the leaf edges, something that veteran hikers are probably quite familiar with. The immature sporangia has the appearance of bumps or green 'bubbles', whereas the colour tends to change to orange-brown once mature. Spikemoss (Selaginella spp.) on the other hand, are neither moss nor fern. Instead of producing stalks or nodes, these plants produces something called a 'strobilus' which is a hardened tip at the end of their leaves that functions similarly to spores."
Speaking of spikemoss, there were plenty of examples along the trail that showcased the vibrant iridescence of their leaves. The leaves came is variations of rusty-red, metallic-brown, and vibrant hues of turquoise. The changing sheen apparently improves the efficiency of their photosynthesis when the plant is in the shade, and uses a process that is not too dissimilar from the iridescence of other animals--the wings of a butterfly, the scales of fish, and the feathers of peacocks are just a few that come to mind. The light gets reflected multiple times as it passes through a transparent surface, and it is these reflections that enhance the colours and gives it that shimmering effect.The brown and turquoise iridescence of Selaginella moellendorffii and
|Selaginella willdenowii respectively.Hover your cursor over the image to see what the plants normally look like!|
There were plenty of river crossings as we ascended all the way to 'Checkpoint Tin', approximately 6.4 km in. By then the rain had stopped and a heavy mist had wafted down from above. The pace slowed considerably as we stumbled over and around a multitude of moss-covered tree trunks that blocked the trail. Harvestmen (Leiobunum sp.) could occasionally be seen scuttling about and sandflies (Subfamily : Phlebotominae) were plentiful here, their presence becoming all the more noticeable each and every time we slowed down.We then entered a part of the jungle where the canopy was quite dense and the sunlight struggled to penetrate through. Our surroundings were quite overgrown and the light seemed to diminish around us. Loose swarms of mosquitoes (Family : Culicidae) hovered around us which kept us moving forward. Shortly after, we spotted a camouflaged ambush predator hiding amongst a pile of dead leaves--a Malayan horned frog (Megophrys nasuta) (Malay : Katak bertanduk). This frog lives in damp and cool submontane rainforests where leaf litter is rife, and uses its triangular skin projections and skin tone to blend into the leaves. I waited for a while to hear its call, since they tend to call in the late afternoon or when it rains, but the frog sat there silently and just stared at me.Malayan horned frog (Megophrys nasuta)The next section was an extremely muddy climb for at least an hour or so. The terrain was muddy as it had started to rain once again and the incline was so steep that we were reduced to crawling on our hands and knees. There was not much to hold on to and it seemed as if every two small steps up would be followed by one sliding step back down. By the time we reached a plateau of sorts that afforded us a short reprieve, the rain was very heavy and our pants were covered in mud. We had covered less than 9 kilometres that day as our journey had been hindered by an array of different obstacles: unabating rain, muddy slopes, an overgrown trail, and tree trunks that blocked our path. The next session also involved a steep climb and since the plateau that we were on turned out to be a campsite called 'Huhuhu Camp', a decision was made to stop there for the day and to just set up camp.The canopy above Huhuhu Camp