Mount Tok Nenek (Single)
Mount Tok Nenek (elevation: 1904m) is well-known for the spectacular 360-degree views that its jagged summit has to offer. The hike to the summit follows a fairly well-established route that heads north-westwards towards the peak. Once you reach the peak, you either turn around to follow the same route back down (called 'Tok Nenek Single'), or continue northwards on to the peaks of Bubu (elevation: 1974m) and Yong Yap (elevation: 2168m), before arcing back around towards the start (called the TNBYY loop or YYBTN if hiked counter-clockwise). The long, Titwangsa v2 hike also shares the western sections of the TNBYY Loop. Before we go on, please jot down the numbers that are listed below. If you do see any suspicious behaviour when out hiking, encounter things like traps and snares, or even see protected animals or their parts that are sold as either collectibles, pets, or for (so-called) medicine, then please do not hesitate to contact the wildlife crime hotline. Be sure to try and document it as best you can with photos or video without putting yourself in danger, and take note of the details: descriptions of those who are involved, as well as when and where it took place.
"The Wildlife Crime Hotline, managed by the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT), provides YOU an avenue to report offences involving endangered wildlife in Malaysia. We protect the identity of all informants, only key info of the reports are forwarded to the authorities."
Interactive Location Map
Our large group made our way up to the trail head at Kampung Sungai Renggil early that Saturday morning, distributed fairly evenly amongst the entire convoy of cars. The last time I was there was four years ago, so I found myself surprised to see that the unsealed road that lead up to the village had since been paved. The improvements were so significant that 4WD cars were no longer required for access. A clearing had also been leveled off to make space for a car-park and a new (much larger) metal bridge now spanned the wide river, and lay parallel to the old and rickety bamboo bridge that was somehow still standing.The group was there as part of the annual TAROH (The Annual Rhododendron Hike) event by HACAM, a yearly hike that usually occurs in the early months of the year, and our objective was to search for the newly blossoming rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.). The Rhododendron genus is huge (with over 1000 species) and bewilderingly diverse. Most of the species that are found in the Malaysian wilderness tend to be epiphytic and usually occur in the mossy forests that are scattered along the mountain ranges in Peninsular Malaysia, with some species having a tendency to be found on more exposed areas such as mountain summits and ridges. Malaysia is one of the centres of diversity for the Rhododendrons (the other being the Himalayas), which means that it is one of the areas where Rhododendrons first developed their distinctive properties. As such, the country hosts species of all shapes and sizes: some hang from tree limbs, and some are small trees themselves; some emerge in puffy bunches, and some are long and vine-like. Even the fertilisation methods are staggeringly diverse with some species that are located at higher elevations having down-slanted flowers for their pollinators, nectar-eating birds; some of the ones lower down are highly scented and have very narrow corolla tubes that are so long that only the long proboscis of hawk-moths (Family: Sphingidae) and other lepidopters can access.
Before we set off, I made it a point to mentally divide the first day's hike into several sections: the first six kilometres consists of a fairly straightforward northwesterly hike to the large river where Simpang-Y (the junction to either Tok Nenek or Yong Yap) is located, kilometre six to nine swings westward and involves multiple river crossings as well as a fairly long traverse through a bamboo-covered area, and from kilometre nine to your chosen campsite also involves multiple (perhaps a dozen or so) river crossings.
We set off around 10:00 and crossed the new metal bridge, and found that the trail that made its way northwest had a slight incline. The late morning sun blazed right above us as water trickled down along the eroded channels that were scattered around the path. The high humidity made everything feel hot and sticky, so I sloshed through some pools of water for fun knowing that my Merrell hiking boots would keep my feet nice and dry. After having walked a kilometre, we passed a small bamboo hut and crossed the first stream a few hundred metres after that. Straight after that, however, we came upon 'Titian Abu Hassan', a large(r) river that is approximately 8-10 metres wide that was supposedly named after the first 'Tok Batin', or village leader, of one of the villages nearby. The group's pace slowed considerably as we slowly crossed the river one-by-one, before regrouping once again on the other side. The group set off again at 10:50, following the trail with the river running along to the left. There were also quite a few pipes here that channeled the river water down to the rivers below that also ran along the trail.
We encountered the next river crossing after 3.8 km, but instead of just crossing the river and continuing on, we decided to stop for a while here. The reason for this was two-fold: to give an opportunity to rest for those who were tired, and to go explore a small but fairly secluded waterfall that lay just upriver. The waterfall cut steeply down and into a fairly narrow chasm that was just wide enough for two or three people to tread-water abreast. The side of the chasm was composed of sheer, dark rock that had several veins of quartz running through them. This rock was also slick and very wet as trickles of water along almost the entire face flowed down from above. By then, the insides of my shoes were completely soaked but I was not too worried at the time as I was hoping that the shoes would be able to vent out most of the moisture once I started hiking again.
At 11:40, we set off once again and began an uphill slog, first on mud that gave way to rock, and then on grass that was lined with ferns. Examples of circinate vernation surrounded us as the dense canopy of trees melted away and the roar of the river faded off down on our left. Bursts of colour also lit up our surroundings every now and again when colourful wildflowers sprung up from the sides of the trail, from the bright yellows of Crotalaria sp. to the vibrant pinks of Bamboo orchids (Arundina graminifolia). I always slowed down a little bit when glimpsing the latter, in the hopes that I would stumble upon one of the most stunning forms of mimicry in nature--the Malaysian orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus).
We reached a small marker that stated 'YY1 trail' approximately 4.5 km in. The marker was shortly followed by a small clearing which then abruptly narrowed down to a trail of mud. We slogged through this for a while making our way uphill again before the trail began to level off somewhat. Another river was reached just over a kilometre after the marker that was then followed by a much larger river that had an orange rope set up as a river handline. Most of the larger river crossings only went up to our knees but we took precautions nonetheless: unclipping our waist and sternum straps to be able to ditch our backpacks if we were bowled over, and shuffled along slowly always facing upstream. We reached Simpang-Y at 12:40, at the 6.25 kilometre mark, the noon sun almost directly overhead, decorating the sandy banks of the river by casting shadows of the canopy overhead. It had taken us just over two-and-a-half hours of hiking, swimming, and resting to get to this point... which was it for the first section!
On the other side of the river was a sandy clearing, and beyond that lay the trail that continued up to Mount Yong Yap. We, on the other hand, ended up turning left instead along the trail that made its way up to Mount Tok Nenek. It was 13:15 by then, so it was still fairly hot, but the sounds of the river that lay just to our right helped me feel better, somehow. The trail continued on into the jungle for a bit where the dense canopy seemed to completely envelope us, and the heavy shadows that they cast cooled us down even more. The trail did this over and over again, swinging back out to the river, crossing the river to the other side (the exit points marked by cairns) and following the other side of the riverbank instead, before heading back into the jungle once again.
The terrain seemed to change dramatically after that. Tall and imposing bamboo shoots (Tribe : Bambuseae) seemed to erupt out of the ground, and the jagged ends of those that had been cut away seemed to wait menacingly for the next clumsy hiker. The soft ground had been turned to veritable mush directly under sections where bamboo shoots lay low, and the further down the line you were the more care you had to take. The pace of the group slowed to a crawl (literally) as everyone grit their teeth and climbed over, crawled under, and slid by the bamboo obstacles that obstructed the path. The relief in the air was palpable as the bamboo section ended approximately 9 km in, just over an hour after leaving Simpang-Y.
We entered the jungle once again, with the trail first heading up an incline and then tapering down to just a log that crossed a small chasm. From here, the sounds of the river grew to a roar once again as the trail swung back in towards it. As expected, the trail made its way back into the jungle shortly after and the sounds of the river faded away once again. The trail dropped down to the river twice more before reaching the campsite known as 'Kem Lengkuas', which was basically a clearing that had an area of approximately 70 square metres, that was located at the 9.8 kilometre mark. We pressed on after a short rest, the exit that lead back to the trail lying just to the left of the entrance.
There were plenty of river crossings from this point onwards, with the cairns at the sides of the river indicating where the continuation of the jungle trail was. The sunlight was not as harsh now that the sun was lower in the sky, and the angle that the light hit the water sent glints of sunlight shimmering across the surface. There was a soft glow that lingered in the air and it made the movements of the water quite mesmerising, almost as if the light itself was dancing. We arrived at 'Kem Kicap' (marked by the presence of a bottle) shortly after, and soon after that 'Kem Asadi' (marked by a slipper) at the 11.1 km mark. We trudged on just a little more to 'Kem Tawau' before setting up camp for the night.
Suunto Movescount Stats
We woke up in the pre-dawn darkness and prepared to set off for the summit with the hopes of reaching the peak in time for sunrise. The hike began at 04:50, where we made our way, groggy and bleary-eyed, from 'Kem Tawau' to 'Kem Hari' just next door. The path up to the summit lay to the right of the campsite, so we took great care when stepping under makeshift clotheslines and when stepping over shoes and cooking utensils in an effort to not wake anyone else up. Hiking in the dark always reminds me of night diving, where the ubiquitous darkness ensures that your immediate reality only lies in the bright cone of light that is right in front of you. Shining the light forward, all you could see were the silhouettes of all the hikers in a line stretching ever upwards; shining the light down would just show you your feet and the ground beneath them, as well as the shortening of the shadows of obstacles as you approached them.
The fog rolled in as we continued to climb up, and the only inkling we had of its presence was the occasional wisp that passed within the cone of our torchlight. As the sky slowly lightened, the eerie feeling that the fog had initially left was amplified. The climb remained fairly sustained until we reached a plateau (we were to find out later on the way down that the plateau was a ridge-line) that descended for a while before ascending back up to the clearing of another campsite, taking approximately an hour or so. We continued on, ever upwards, occasionally traversing around large boulders, but mostly just weaving in and then back out, and dipping up and down, and then once again around the rocky terrain.
The sun was already rising by the time we scrambled up to the peak of Tok Nenek, and the magnificent views that greeted us simply took our breath away. Blankets of clouds stubbornly embraced the shoulders of the mountain, but as we watched, they slowly dissipated in the warm rays of the rising sun. The surrounding peaks slowly and teasingly revealed their tantalising shapes, each one towering over the last.
We were locked in place by then, our gaze facing south-west. As we scanned the horizon, we were able to see the peak of Mount Yong Belar (elevation: 2181m) peaking out from the cloud cover far off in the distance to the south; sweeping our gaze northward along the Titiwangsa v2 trail revealed nothing but cloud cover, with the peak of Mount Korbu (elevation: 2183m) revealing itself for just a few seconds; Mount Yong Yap (elevation: 2168m) lay just behind Mount Bubu (elevation: 1974m) off to the north-west, much closer than all the others.
As we gazed out to the horizon, a huge humanoid-shaped shadow began to materialise in the cloud cover in front of us, and before we knew it, a rainbow-coloured halo appeared and seemed to emanate from the head of the silhouette! The sun had risen behind me in that time and the rays had cast my shadow upon the surface of the clouds that were directly opposite the sun. The 'halo' around my shadow was due to the water droplets in the air that dispersed and refracted the sunlight. This phenomenon is known as a 'Brocken spectre' (the triangular shape below the shadow is due to perspective), and has appeared in writings throughout history, one of my favourites being:
... I had a dream which both frightened and encouraged me. It was night in some unknown place, and I was making slow and painful headway against a mighty wind. Dense fog was flying along everywhere. I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment... Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me... When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a "specter of the Brocken," my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.
The sudden appearance of the brocken spectre had wrenched our gaze from the far off horizon and had fixed it on to the shifting cloud cover beneath us. As we stood in awe, I began to notice splashes of red and patches of white that smeared the landscape. The patches of white turned out to be trusses of Rhododendron wrayi, one of the rhododendron species that is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia. The petals of R. wrayi are white with a pink flush, and the flower occurs in the Malaysian highlands, generally 1300m and above. After examining the rhododendrons and finding several pitcher plants (Nepenthes sp.) in the process, I decided to quickly throw together a well-deserved meal of muesli for breakfast with a cup of coffee to accompany it, before heading back down.
Suunto Movescount Stats
We began our descent at 09:30, and passed back through the mossy forest. This time we could actually see our surroundings. Epiphytes completely dominated this elevation, with large, thick layers of sphagnum moss (Sphagnum sp.) padding every surface, making everything feel soft and fluffy. The sun was still fairly low in the sky then and the rays produced magnificent beams of crepuscular light whenever they found an opening.
After approximately an hour of hiking, however, I noticed that the mossy forest had melted away (the altimeter on my Suunto Ambit gave a reading of 1600m). The descent had become steeper and the terrain more tricky, so we were forced to watch for footholds instead as we continued downwards. There were plenty of epiphytes still around, just different species from those found at higher elevations. A lot of them were much larger though, such as the ubiquitous birds nest fern (Asplenium nidus). The descent gradually tapered off as we met the plateau of the ridge-line. There were periodic gaps in the vegetation around here that allowed us to peer down to the canopy below, where we noticed plenty of colour patches of the late February blooms spotlighted by the splashes of sunlight whenever there was a break in the cloud-cover.
The relaxed pace of the descent allowed us to immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of the jungle, and allowed us to pay more attention to smaller organisms. Tiny green sprouts growing from their seeds were frequently seen on the forest floor, amongst scuttling arthropods, like the giant millipede (Order : Spirostreptida). We also spotted small and moist red orbs emerging from some of the plants. The orbs turned out to be an obligate parasite called fungus root (Balanophora fungosa). Fungus roots, unlike their name, are not actually fungi but are rather seed plants. They do not contain any chlorophyll however, and instead grow on the roots of trees in order to 'steal' nutrients from their hosts.
It took us about two and a half hours to make the 3.3 km descent back down to camp and there was plenty of time to spare. We took our time having lunch and breaking camp and only set off after 2 hours at 14:45. We reached 'Kem Kicap' after an hour, and Simpang-Y an hour and a half after that. The pace was so slow on the descent that the final section was hiked in the dark. I don't think anyone was looking forward to the long drive home by then!