Bukit Saga hike

While there are parts of Ampang’s Bukit Saga that are quiet and unspoilt, other parts can feel overly tended and less than natural. Still Bukit Saga is beloved by the community it serves. And the community loves it straight back.

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The view from the top of Jalan Taman Saga with the towering concrete blocks of the capital laid out beneath our feet.

You only have to see how remarkably clean the trails are to know. For a place heavily used by day hikers, night hikers and weekend walkers, the only litter I spotted on my recent hike there with KL Hiking were trail markers. Bukit Saga’s streams are clear and besides the usual macaques there are birds and gibbons too.

Unlike Bukit Puchong, Bukit Kiara and Kota Damansara Community Forest, Bukit Saga isn’t just an island of green. Instead it is part of a series of interconnected forests that form Sungai Puteh Forest Reserve and encompasses Apek Hill and Ketumbar Hill.

In ecological terms, it’s part of a swathe of precious flora and fauna (some of it endangered) that stretches from Cheras in KL, to Ampang and Hulu Langat in Selangor, straight across into Pahang. And that makes it unique.

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Getting to the trailhead requires that you walk to the top of Taman Bukit Saga and at the t-junction take a left into a ramshackle construction site.

There on a weekend visit, Taman Saga where Bukit Saga is located was unsurprisingly busy, but we try and park as close to the top of Jalan Bukit Saga as possible anyway. Located at the end of a long footpath to the left, the trail head is on the right past an abandoned construction site and a stall selling nasi lemak, cut fresh fruit and drinks – perfect for last minute picnic purchases.

There are two routes to choose from. Route A on the left begins in a flight of concrete stairs. We opt for Route B on the right. Hidden by a grove of banana plants, it skirts along the fringe of the forest in a series of short but manageable inclines before finally ducking inwards away from the suburban sprawl below.

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Trail B is gentler than Trail A and more natural.
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The dirt trail skirts around the perimeter of the forest offering glimpses of the city from between the trees.
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It’s not long before we’re veering off deeper into the jungle.
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The path can be narrow and rocky but residents have roped up areas for safety and to provide something to hold onto for those who need the support.

Within 45 minutes, we had arrived at a large open area. The unofficial peak, it also doubles up as a community gathering place and  neighbourhood gym, with parallel bars, cement bell bars and even a water station.

Multiple exits dot its perimeter, which can be confusing to  uninitiated. As we were destined for the waterfall, we walked in an anti-clockwise direction around the hammocks and took a hard right at 12 o’clock.

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From the spot we entered, we swing around the hammocks and swings to take a right at the 12o’clock position.

It was not long before we spotted signs directing us to the waterfall. The worst of the hike is over and it’s a pleasant stroll past large thorny palms and tall trees. The forest is quieter here with fewer people, allowing the natural sounds to dominate. Above the chattering and chirping of birds, a single gibbon calls out unanswered before falling silent.

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Within 5 minutes we were making our descent down a vertiginous slope into a series of gullies, and crisscrossing a small stream that eventually feeds into the waterfall that marked our destination.

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I could imagine the slopes becoming slippery and dangerous after a downpour, but we were spared as it hasn’t rained for a while. There’s also some rope work required along a large rock surface, and I took it backwards as if rappelling down.

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A half hour after hitting the peak, the stream opened up and we made one final crossing along a tiered outcrop. It’s only when we reached the base of the falls that we realised we had passed along its top.

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The beginnings of a waterfall….
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The fall is wide and must be about 10 meters in height. This picture was taken during dry season but in the wet or after the rand the cascade is much larger ad more powerful.

There’s ample area to camp here and sandy banks and fallen logs on which to rest and take in the 10 meter plunge. Sure, no pool to bathe in, but those who fancy a refreshing dip will still enjoy sitting along the foot of the cascade and letting its cool waters wash over them.

We chose a different route on the return. Left of our path in, it was a challenging 10 minutes climb skywards but thereafter flattens out.

Two junctions to left eventually leads to a second rest area. Here too there are wooden seats and benches and an enterprising smallholder selling food, drinks and even hiking boots and poles.

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The arduous climb up away from the falls. It’s only 10 minutes of puffing and panting though before we’re back on easy street.
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The second rest area is smaller than the peak but has more room to sit and relax.
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I love the enterprising spirit here. See a market, tap a market.

Continuing right of where we entered, within half an hour of leaving the falls we were back at the now familiar sight of the outdoor gym. There was only one leg remaining now.

Route C passes the beirut that marks the highest point of Saga Hill, but as we didn’t come across it I can only assume we descended via the shorter but steeper Route A.

Located to the left of the swings, it’s markedly different from the other trails – wide with many steps, some naturally formed from the rocky landscape and tree roots, others fashioned by volunteer residents who have taken it upon themselves to maintain the trails. In retrospect I’m glad we didn’t come up this way; it makes for a tough hike better suited to those training to conquer Gunung Kinabalu or Rinjani.

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If you suddenly smell the sweet fragrance of burning incense, that will be the makeshift temple located just before the final stretch if straits down towards the starting point.

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The last set of stairs before we exit.

Saving Bukit Saga
Sadly despite the best efforts of Bukit Saga’s resident hikers, who not only donate their time, effort and money to maintaining the trails and rest stops, they are now having to defend almost 30 hectares of their precious pocket of green from being cleared to make way for the Sungai Besi-Ulu Klang Expressway (SUKE). You can read more about the controversy here but if you’ve ever hiked the area or are a nature lover, I suggest you sign the petition and support their effort. Their fight is surely our fight too.

Altitude At 410 meters, Bukit Saga is higher than Bukit Tabur but lacking in views. You can snap some nice photos of the city from the parking area though.

Time and distance It takes 45 minutes to get from the trail head to the peak via Route B, then another 30 minutes to the waterfall, 30 minutes (via a different route) back to the peak before the final 20 minute descent to the start. Total time about 3 hours including a breaks at each camp and the falls. Total distance around 5.5km (guestimate).

Rating This would depend on what route you choose. I’d rate the route outlined here as being moderate with some technical skill required on the initial ascent to the peak and final descent towards the waterfall and exit.

Tip Want a longer workout? From Saga Hill its takes 45 mins to Apek Hill and 1 hour to Ketumbar Hill.  You can also walk the 2 hour trail to Taman Cuepacs in Cheras. Just be sure to have transport at the other end.

Facilities There are makeshift toilets just before the trailhead (if you’re coming from the construction site) and food and drink is available there and at the two rest areas.

Parking Most hikers park along Jalan Taman Saga and walk towards the top of the hill before turning to the left towards the abandoned construction site and the trailhead. Alternatively you can park in front of the shophouses at Jalan Saga 20 and walk up Jalan Saga 22 towards the stairs at Jalan Saga 28  as this will bring you closer to the start of the trail.

Getting there Take the Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2) and exit onto Jalan Bunga Raya in Ampang. Take a right onto Jalan Bunga Mawar 9. At the roundabout take the first exit on to Jalan Mawar and continue straight through the second roundabout until you come to a T-junction at Jalan Teratain 1/2. Take a right, followed by a left onto Jalan Teratai 1/1. Proceed about 800 meters then take a right into Jalan Melur 1/1. Turn right into Jalan Saga 5, then right again into Jalan Taman Saga. Keep going until you find parking. The further along you go, the closer you’ll be to the trail head.

All images taken on my iPhone 5s.

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