They say if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Hafiza, Vasantha and I had completed our hike up Gunung Irau by way of Trans Pass and Yellow Pass but as far as deeming it a success … we exited in the dark, tired, cold and disappointed in ourselves. It was 2012 and we were noobs that had bitten off more than we could chew. Next time we’d be ready. Next time came 2 years later….
Dropped in my Inbox, was a KL Hiking Meetup.com e-mail invite, which coincidentally opened with our photo from that fateful hike. There we were grinning from ear-to-ear having conquered all 2110m of Irau, completely unaware of the fate that lay before us. It felt like a dare.
So in May, having just exited the peak of Gunung Batu Brinchang which we climbed as part of our warm up, Hafiza, Hakim (Hafiza’s fiance) and I convened at the Mossy Forest entrance of the Gunung Irau trail with 60 other KL Hikers.
Some had hiked up through the Gunung Batu Brinchang forest with us, others had driven up, but the trail was expected to be busy as the car park was full. But this time we would be hiking directly to Irau’s peak along the Perak-Pahang border from the south – no Trans Pass and Yellow Pass which accesses Irau’s peak from the north.
When we set out at 9.30am, our surroundings were shrouded in mist but I was grateful to see it in the daylight anyway. The last time we were here it was dark and all we knew was what we felt with our hands and legs.
The journey starts out easily enough. A boardwalk built on top of the original mossy forest trail heads up in a series of stairs to a height of 2000m before descending to the forest floor.
For visitors who don’t intend to hike up Irau, the boardwalk is a convenient way to get up close to the highland’s montane jungle without much effort, and pergolas along the way provide a spot to sit and take in the view, when not obscured by cloud cover.
Still the gnarled trees and tendrils of epiphytic moss are nothing compared to the scenery that follows, which is why many make the journey.
Also known as Jungle Walk 14, the hike up to the peak of Gunung Irau runs along the Pahang-Perak border.
The trail is quite special, a forest labyrinth plucked straight out of the pages of Grimm Brothers tale or Tim Burton short. Covered in a blanket of velvety moss, trees bend and twist like the curled up hand of an old man and the rich red peat from aeons of composted leaf litter is soft and spongy under foot. Yet for all it’s beauty, it is no pushover.
Descending, sometimes quite steeply at first, the route cuts a path down the other side of Gunung Batu Brinchang before it ascends and the hike up Gunung Irau begins. A pair of discarded shoes were a clue to what was in store.
There’s plenty of mud and it’s ankle to knee deep in places, particularly in wet weather. It’s also difficult to wash out and its the acidic condition can quickly strip the glue from poor quality or old sports shoes. As we hiked up, two groups of young hikers were making their way back; each had a friend whose shoe had fallen apart.
The peak is only 110m higher than our 200m starting point, and some sections are dominated by roots, which we used either as steppings stones to pick our way across puddles of mucky or as steps and handholds up and down the trail. But always cautiously, as it’s easy to slip and twist an ankle or get your foot caught and fall.
After one particularly prolonged steep and root riddled section we arrive at Irau’s false peak, also known as Anak Irau or Mini Irau, 6,666 feet up – the number of the beast. Cocooned by trees this large flat area is both rest stop and camp site.
It took us 2 hours to get here; Irau’s true peak is still 45 minute away. Again we descended before having to work hard to regain altitude. The cool weather and refreshing breeze provided respite but we were still sweating through our gear.
Along the way we spotted all sorts of pretty flowers and types of moss and ferns as well as orchids and monkey cups.
And then it was if we were at the gates of an enchanted forest. As we entered a clearing we were surrounded by mossy spires that towered over us. It was impossible not to be awed. We were in a fairy tale forest brought to life; it was worth every difficult step it took to get there.
With considerable effort we eventually pried ourselves away from our ‘secret garden’ and put our cameras back in our bags; we didn’t take them out so much on this hike as our hands were very grubby from the dirt.
From here it’s only 10 to 15 minutes to the peak. We passed a sheer drop, with the only thing separating us from a lot of hurt and possible death being a single rope. And then … we were at the top!
After the magical scenery, the peak is nothing to look at, and even though there’s a small clearing, a view is not guaranteed up in the clouds, but we’re grateful to be able to drop our bags and grab a bite.
Our cut off time was 1pm. We arrived at 12.30pm and didn’t stay longer than was needed to wipe ourselves down and scoff the tomatoes and cucumbers we bought from last night’s night market. Staying time-conscious was crucial as we still had to find our way back down Gunung Batu Brinchang after we descended Gunung Irau.
As an aside, I spotted a rubbish bin the peak which was strange. It was overflowing with various discards, but had anyone stopped to consider that Alam Flora or the local municipality dump truck won’t be making it’s way up here to collect it? If you bring it, you take it down with you, people!
Though it took us 2 1/2 hours down, 1/2 hour faster than our way up, the return journey is no less arduous. Already tired, it’s tough on the knees and thighs, and requires upper body strength to heave ourselves down some of the steeper inclines and drops. But I stay focused on getting to the boardwalk, which we reach at 3pm.
Hafiza, Hakim and I celebrated with more food and drink. Just one more hurdle to go. We had to decide whether to walk the winding 11km road back to Brinchang or hike the 2.7km down the same Gunung Batu Brinchang we came up….
Altitude At 2,110m, Gunung Irau is the tallest mountain in Cameron Highland’s and 15th tallest in Malaysia.
Distance and time The approximately 5.2km round trip took us 5 1/2 to 6 hours, with the hike up taking us 3 hours, and the hike down taking 2 1/2 hours. Allocate 8 hours in total to be safe and start early so you don’t exit in dark.
Rating KL Hiking rates Gunung Irau as moderate to hard. In addition to the usual physical discomfort of a tough climb, throw in the cold, damp and mud and Gunug Irau becomes as a mental challenge too. But the breathtaking montane forests make it worthwhile.
Facilities None. Well-prepared hikers bring large containers of water to wash up. Alternately plan to clean up at your hotel or guesthouse, or a petrol station. Parking is free but limited.
Operation months Gunung Irau is closed during the monsoon months of November through January as a safety precaution and for remedial works.
1. Walk with the weather in mind. If you want to avoid the mud go during the dry season. Otherwise pack some layers and rain resistant outerwear.
2. Pick your shoes wisely. The acidity of the peat bog eats away shoe glue so make sure you have good walking or hiking shoes on. Converse were common on the trail but a mistake and donning your favourite sneakers are not a good idea either unlike you fancy having them seasoned. Locals recommend adidas kampung which you can get from any descent hardware store for between RM8 and Rm12 a pair.
3. Report in and stay in touch. Hikers are required to gain a permit from the forestry department before entering but few do. You are also recommended to report your plans to the police before your trip. Accidents happen, so keep your phone charged up and data off to prolong battery life. It was only when Hafiza, Hakim and I returned to KL that we found out that one KL Hiker had injured her knee and was carried out by the fire brigade at midnight.
Post-hike reward Tea and scones of course. The Lord’s Cafe on Tanah Rata’s main street is widely considered to serve the tastiest, most value-for-money scones in Cameron Highlands but is closed on Sunday. We picked up our averagely okay scones to go at Cameron Valley Tea House en route to Simpang Pulai.
Getting there We hiked up through Gunung Batu Brinchang but you can walk or drive directly to the Gunung Irau/Mossy Forest trailhead. Take the road (432) opposite the Honey Bee Farm (on 59) and drive in the direction of the Sungai Palas Boh Tea Centre. Just before it, there will be a fork in the road. Take the left up towards for another 4.5km. The tea plantations are picturesque but the road is steep, winding and in some places narrow, so exercise caution.