GBB (CUS Connection) - Day 3


Ubiquitous Moss

We packed up camp in a dense soupy mist that morning as siamang gibbons (Symphalangus syndactylus) howled and hooted off to the south. The others played music once again as they took their sweet time to get ready. All we could do was wait in exasperation as their music once again drowned out the tranquil sounds of the jungle. We finally set off a few hours later at 10:20, and by then the howls of the gibbons had already moved to the west of us.

I was grateful to finally be walking. Today was the day where we were to tackle the three peaks, and so had a long walk in store for us. The estimate was approximately 10-12 hours in total: 3-4 hours to Mount Bilah (elevation : 2077m), 3 hours to Mount Bieh (elevation : 2073m) via Mount Gerah (elevation : 2103m), and another 4-5 hours for the descent down to the campsite--which we should have been able to reach before dark if only we had left just three hours earlier.

Moss on the way to Gerah

We began to walk north-east along what was now a ridge, and the whooshing sounds of hornbills (Family : Bucerotidae) were heard as they flew over us. The slopes dropped away on both sides as it was the highest point that led up to the main mountain range. Following this ridge meant that we were tracing a natural path where the vegetation was less dense. The ridge also functioned as a good handrail for navigation, and its U- or V-shaped contours made it one of the very few features in the jungle that could be located on a map. Another advantage was that the side canopy would occasionally thin out and magnificent views of the expansive jungle would reveal themselves.

Moss on the way to Gerah

Pincushion moss

A glaucous patch of pincushion moss (Leucobryum sp.)

Mosses and mushrooms of all shapes and sizes were everywhere, and the dried up shriveled husks of pitcher plants could be seen nestled in the soft green mounds. Insects could also be seen crawling, squirming, and--like the yellow geometer moth (Dysphania sagana)--fluttering around the moss. Some of the insects seek shelter in the moss, whilst others seek prey. The jumping springtails (Subclass : Collembola) on the other hand--which are hexapods but are no longer considered insects--are attracted to scents that the mosses release and their presence helps the moss reproduce the same way that bees do with flowers.

Sometimes other animals such as birds and squirrels overturn patches of moss in their search for the hexapods that are hidden within. Some mosses such as pincushion moss (Leucobryum sp.), have adapted to disturbances such as this, and have developed mechanisms such as rhizoids on their leaves that allow them to 're-anchor' themselves back into the ground!

Yellow geometer moth

A yellow geometer moth (Dysphania sagana). This day-flying moth is often mistaken for a butterfly because of its bright colours

Next : GBB (CUS Connection) - Day 3 (Part 2)


The Mossy Forest

We began to slow down two hours into the hike (approximately 2 kilometres in), not because of the difficulty of the terrain or an unexpected injury, but because that was when we entered the mossy forest. The condensation of the moisture that lingered in the air left dew clinging to spider webs, which made the webs look like intricate strings of small pearls. The ubiquitous moss and other fuzzy epiphytes were completely laden with dew, and the drops accumulated and merged together, eventually dripping down to the soft humus-filled forest floor below. A maze of dark branches wound their way upwards and looked like tendrils that were grasping for the sky.

Mossy forest

Mossy forest

Here is a 360-degree panorama of the mossy forest in Mount Irau:

About three kilometres in, the trail began the final long ascent to the peak of Mount Bilah (elevation : 2077m), which was 200 metres higher up and a kilometre further along the trail. We reached the junction to the peak around 13:45 after 3.5 hours of walking, and laid down our heavy backpacks before scampering up the last few metres to the peak itself.

Pitcher Plants

The peak was completely surrounded by blood red pitcher plants (Nepenthes sanguinea) that hung low from their pendulous tendrils, with some that were as large as 30 centimetres in length! The name 'sanguinea' actually means 'blood red', although most of the specimens that we encountered were of such a deep red that they appeared purple. I also spotted a few black variants of the same species, which were less speckled than their counterparts and had a peristome that was black instead of purple.

pitcher plants

A blood red pitcher plant (Nepenthes sanguinea)

The cups of these insectivores are hollow and contain a sweet syrup that first attracts insects, and then both drowns and dissolves them in order to be absorbed into the plant. The water is occasionally consumed by old world monkeys (Family : Cercopithecidae), as well as both the lesser apes (Family : Hylobatidae) and the great apes (Family : Hominidae). This is the reason why the plant has been given the name 'periuk kera' in Malay, which literally means 'monkey pot'.

pitcher plants

The black variants of Nepenthes sanguinea on a bed of moss (Macromitrium sp.). Note that one of them is missing its lid

We spent about 20 minutes or so at the peak and then went back down to the junction to put our backpacks back on. From there we made the half an hour descent to the stream that ran along the saddle between the peaks.

Next : GBB (CUS Connection) - Day 3 (Part 3)


Mount Gerah

We set off once again after a long lunch break that lasted for more than an hour. From there, the trail ascended once again back into the mossy forest. Just over 6 kilometres in, we reached the junction known as 'Simpang GB' (Gerah-Bilah Junction), where we set down our backpacks once again. This time however, we spent some time to ensure that they were waterproof just in case it were to rain whilst we were gone. From there on--at least to the other two peaks and back to the junction--we were to continue on with just our daypacks, which consisted of only the essentials: water and some snacks, epinephrine, a small first aid kit and survival kit, a headlamp, and rain jacket.

fern moss

Mounds of fern moss (Thuidium sp.)

Once our bags were sorted, we took the sharp left turn towards the peak of Mount Gerah (elevation : 2103m), which only took about 15 minutes to reach. The peak consisted of a small clearing that was lined with pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.) and a rusty triangulation point, something that the locals call a 'beirut'.

Out of the three so-called 'peaks' of Gerah, Bilah, and Bieh, I consider Mount Gerah to be the only actual mountain, as it just does not make sense that one can scale several mountains just by dropping to a shoulder and then ascending a few hundred metres to another peak. Once you take into consideration the prominence of each peak instead of its sheer elevation however, the significance of the other two peaks just melts away. One is then only left with the tricky task of determining where exactly to place the prominence 'cut-off'.

* Prominence is defined as the "height of a mountain's summit by the vertical distance between it and the lowest contour line encircling it but containing no higher summit within it", and has been described as an "objective measurement that is strongly correlated with the subjective significance of a summit". Since peaks with high prominence are either the highest point on a massif or an isolated peak, they also tend to have the best views!


Mushrooms--epiphytes or parasites?

It began to rain again just after we reached Gerah's peak. We continued straight ahead and through the tight tunnels of moss that enveloped the trail. A mist had descended and a stiff breeze had begun to sift through from the north. Our heads were bowed low to avoid the rain as we trudged quickly along the trail all the way up to Mount Bieh (elevation : 2073m). We then turned all the way around and began to walk back the way we came. The walk between the two peaks took about 50 minutes.

It was dark by the time we reached the Gerah-Bilah junction and collected our backpacks. Our headlamps created cones of light in the rain, and each and every step that we took would shorten the stretched out shadows that had faded in from the darkness in front of us. We eventually passed the junction to 'False Gerah' and continued on in the darkness towards 'Sarsi Camp', which took us almost three hours to get to from the junction.

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Download file: GBB (CUS Connection) - Day 3.gpx

Next : GBB (CUS Connection) Day 4 - Sarsi Camp to Bongok Hill