Gunung Liang has everything to put you off a hike. The distance (just under 19 kilometres round trip), a minimum 5 hour trek up to the peak, and a 1 1/2 hour drive there (2 hours if you’re driving from Putrajaya).
For a while I didn’t have transport to get there. But that’s what hiking buddies are for. To push you. And so after arranging for a loaner vehicle from my brother, I set a 3am wake up call and rolled out of bed tired and hazy about why I was doing this. That didn’t change after the hike.
Gunung Liang is the toughest climb I’ve done. At least it felt that way. Maybe it’s because I have a short memory and I’ve forgotten just how hard Kinabalu and Rinjani were. It could be because my last hike was a month ago. Or perhaps it’s because I was about to get my period (TMI) – I was uncoordinated, fatigued and feeling nauseous. Basically I was all over the place.
In terms of distance, at 18.8km the hike to the peak of Gunung Liang and back is nowhere near the epic 32km round trip up Gunung Rajah, but it is higher, towering 250m over it and 440m above Gunung Nuang. Which, if you do the math, means Gunung Liang packs more bang for its buck, especially if you choose to complete it in one day as opposed to over 2 . There is 1733 meters to ascend (and another 1733 meters to descend, which we will think about later), with the mountain generously offering hikers 2 summits for the price of one, in Gunung Liang East and West.
After a long drive over the northern border of Selangor, I parked up alongside the road near Kampung Sungai Dara and Shanks, Akram and I (along with Matt) jumped in the back of of fellow KL Hiker, Jimmy’s truck. Due to the number of hikers involved and the anticipated available parking space we carpooled through durian orchards and rubber plantations to the entrance of the Behrang Permanent Forest Reserve.
Our start was slow owing to a bottleneck at the trailhead. There were at least 50 of us (71 signed up) and it was muddy and wet with a fallen log and branches to climb under. Although we couldn’t see it at the time, beside us the river (Sungai Dara) rushed passed in a torrent of water.
Half an hour later, after 2 brook crossings and a third one through ankle deep water and around a large boulder, I could switch off my headlamp. The dawn light had finally permeated the forest floor.
For the next hour, we wound our way up through the leafy forest across yet another stream until we reached Lubuk Hantu campsite and river crossing. Up until then the inclines had been gentle, but all that was about to change.
Shanks and Akram had long left me behind so I crossed the river on my own, using the rope to navigate my way across the the rocks and a makeshift bridge fashioned from two branches tied together.
From there it was literally all uphill. Fortunately flowers and foliage provided distraction from the hard work at hand. Red and orange ginger blooms dotted the route and the sounds of jungle fauna filled the air.
Behrang is no empty forest. There are countless gigantic trees and all kinds of animal calls – the shrill hum of cicadas, various birdsong, the whooping hoot of gibbons, even the unmistakable honk of hornbills. At the sound of familiar chattering I stopped to spot the verbose squirrel making it , but it fell silent each time I peered around. Cheeky.
Respite came at 9.40am more than 3 hours after setting out, at a small clearing just before another steep uphill section. I had caught up with Akram and Chin-Wen and in between slugs of water we exchanged unpleasantries, each of us bemoaning how tough Liang was proving to be. My body felt all sorts of wrong, and having to keep my eyes only on what was directly ahead of me was disorienting. Twice I banged my head on a low hanging branch.
20 minutes later we arrived at Camp 7-E (aka Camp 7-Eleven). Set along a ridge, with a small path on the left leading down to a stream, campers were already up and milling around. The way forward proved even steeper than before, between 60 to 70 degrees. Half an hour on, we passed a bouldrous area, but there was no let up.
It was about 1 km from the peak when things flattened out. Moist and peaty here, there were mud holes to avoid but otherwise the trail was incredibly pleasant. However just as I was beginning to fool myself into thinking that I might finish strong, Liang threw me for another loop; the terrain changed again.
This is about the point where I lost my sense of humour. Although there was only 500 meters to go, the final stretch is a series of climbs up muddy embankments and up over gnarled tree roots, and tests all limits of patience, until finally I reach the elusive peak that felt as if it would never come.
Its barren with a toppled beirut. On a clear day I’d be able to see Proton City and across to the state of Pahang, but it’s cloudy when we arrive. So instead of dropping bags at the Eastern peak we continued at Alex and Shank’s behest (Shanks had arrived 20 minutes earlier) down a spongy hillock through a lush tangle of mossy trees to the Western peak which we arrived at, at cut off time precisely – 5 1/2 hours after we set out. Time to eat.
30 minutes later after spraying up with deep heat we were headed back down. The return was faster at first, but the constant downhill quickly took its toll and any gains we made were quickly lost. We managed to exit in 4 1/2 hours and weren’t the only ones limping and in a lot of pain when we got there. Still the slaying was mutual. Liang slayed us and we slayed right back. But once would be enough for me.
6.30am Enter trailhead to the left of the gates
7.00am Cross 3rd stream around the rock
7.45am Lubuk Hantu camp site
7.55 River crossing
9.40am Brief rest at small clearing
10.00am Camp 7-E (aka Camp 7-11)
10.30 Large boulders
10.55 Trail flattens out
11.30 Terrain gets challenging again
11.55am Liang East summit
12.00noon Liang West summit
12.30 Begin descent from Liang East
3.25pm Camp 7-E
3.40pm Lubuk Hantu camp site (clean up for 20 minutes)
5.10pm Exit trail
Altitude Gunung Liang East and West are 1934m and 1933m above sea level, and ranked the 35th and 36th tallest mountains in Malaysia.
Time Allocate 5 to 7 hours to the peak, and 4 to 6 hours back. I managed an okay 5 1/2 hours up and a disappointing 4 1/2 hours down. You can also choose to complete the route in 2 days/ 1 night and camp overnight at Lubuk Hantu or 7-E.
Distance 9.4km one way.
Rating I won’t dispute KL Hiking’s rating of “Very Hard”. Liang is one tough cookie. Its distance, total ascent, subsequent descent, and long drive to and from the trailhead combine to make for one extremely trying challenge. Physical and mental strength is a must.
Permits + facilities Although there is no official parking, there is ample space near the trailhead. Don’t expect any facilities though, as the Behrang Permanent Forest Reserve is off limits to the public, so wash off at the river crossing.
Tip Set a turnaround time. Ours was at noon giving us 5 to 6 hours to summit and an equivalent amount of time to get back to the starting point. I’d also suggest bringing a hiking pole. It will carry your weight during the descent, which is important as too many hikers exited stiff, limping and in a lot of pain.
Getting there Our meet up point was in Kampung Sungai Dara in Hulu Behrang, Perak (3.789209, 101.497479). To get there take the North-South Highway (E1) towards Tanjung Malim. Exit at 124 Behrang. After the toll take a right onto the Behrang Stesen – Tanjung Malim (193) road towards Slim River and then a left at the junction. At Kampung Sungai Dara take a right at the mosque. The trailhead is approximately 3km away.
GPS coordinates Trailhead 3.79829, 101.52099
All images taken on my iPhone 5s.