I love getting dirty. But not everyone does. So if keeping your shoes clean and dry is important … Stop. Right. Here.
A little like the hike up Gunung Irau, the trail up Gunung Yong Belar is brisk, muddy and long, much longer. Most hikers complete it in 2 days and 1 night. The KL Hiking crew and I were going to attempt it in a day.
I say attempt because I wasn’t confident I would make it. My last big hike up the twin peaks of Gunung Liang was torture, and it’s only the 35th and 36th highest in Malaysia. In comparison, Yong Belar is Peninsula Malaysia’s third highest peak after Tahan and Korbu.
Add to that strict cut off and turn around times – 11.15am for Kem Kasut and noon for the peak – and not summiting became a real possibility. But I’d give it a shot.
So at the ungodly hour of 4.45am we parked up at Guandi Miao temple (which sounds as if it is devoted to the worship of cats – sadly it isn’t). 3 jeeps would transport us to the trail head. Two were standing room only, the other had seats.
As the idea of standing for one hour with what could be a 6 hour ascent and 5 hour descent ahead of us sounded unreasonable, I opted for the latter. It was not the most comfortable – I was wedged between the cab and spare tire, and had to shift repeatedly to stop my feet from falling asleep.
Still it was a damn sight better than the alternative, and I watched with a mixture of wonder and horror as the jeep ahead tipped precariously from side to side its human cargo clinging to its inside. Our vehicles may have looked beaten and battered but the Land Rovers chewed up and spat out whatever the dirt road we had turned on to at Masjid Kampung Raja threw at it.
Disconcertingly, after a 45 minutes drive through the wilderness, we had arrived at a farm growing among other things, chilies and aubergines, plants that are easily cultivated in one’s own garden. I began to wonder whether buying Cameron Highland produce from the supermarket was the right thing to do anymore; if this is what being a “locavore” entailed, I didn’t want to be a part of it.. At any rate we were at the starting point of our trek.
There are two ways to get up Yong Belar: up a set of stairs and along a tangle of thick black water pipes; or the route we took, via the Kebun (the word for ‘farm’ in Malay). Both converge at the forest entrance (Pintu Rimba) overlooking tidy rows of cabbages, which we arrived at after a brisk 20 minutes walk.
From here the undulating trail winds its way up towards the first campsite, Kem Tudung Periuk, past several scenic view points and false peaks along the way. I could easily imagine an elf or a fairy living here. Painfully narrow and low in places, you’d have to be to squeeze between the tree trunks and underneath overhanging branches.
Less than 2 hours after the hike began we had arrived. Camp Tudung Periuk, was a not so inviting clearing, damp and littered with detritus. A couple of birds, accustomed to human presence, hopped across the ground beckoning me along the ridge to what turned out to be a dead end. Bad birds.
I located the trail markers, set at a 9 o’clock orientation from where I entered the camp, and after gulping down a can of 100 Plus picked my way down the trail in the direction of burbling water. The presence of rope helped to steady my descent towards a small, clear stream.
Apart for the short but steep five minute trek out of this gully, for the next 2 hours the terrain was gentler – undulating with few steep sections. It was however, muddier and, if up until then I had kept my “first day out” trail shoes clean, I soon forgot about that as I carefully picked my way across large unavoidable pools of peat on whatever roots and fallen branches, and sunk in up to my ankles anyway. Bleh.
The one consolation was confirming that I had bought the right size of shoe, which didn’t slip all the way off as it got sucked in to the muck and easily slipped back on as I slowly pulled my feet out. It wasn’t much. But I’d take it.
At 10.05am I checked in to Kem Kasut, named in honour of the many shoes that had perished in the line of duty, and a reminder to all hikers to purchase proper trail shoes or hiking boots, or risk defeat (of da feet, haha). It’s a smaller camp site than Tudung Periuk, and as I had time to spare I stopped to scoff a scone and strawberry jam. Because Cameron Highlands.
With 1 hour and 45 minutes remaining, the pressure was off and I took my time on the final, scenic leg through the mountain’s mossy forest. There were fewer mud pits now but it was also steeper. Nevertheless, within an hour I had arrived at the peak, 2181 meters above sea level.
A flat open space surrounded by tall wizened trees pruned back to provide a view, one side plummets 100 meters into a sea of green, with Gunung Korbu and Yong Yap seated in the distance. Sadly, Malaysia’s 7th and 11th highest peaks remained hidden as clouds kept them obscured that morning. This was unlike the top of Yong Belar, which was exposed, scorchingly hot and buzzing with bees and butterflies.
As one hiker after another summited the rest of us cheered before turning our attentions back to our cup noodle lunches, or in my case my last remaining scone.
Exiting at 11.45am, I made good time on the return considering the technical terrain required special care. The mud pits between the two camps took more of a mental toll than a physical one. All I could do to keep going was focus on getting to the brooke just below Kem Tudung Periuk to cool down and wash off.
It was after this that fatigue set in; I hadn’t recalled so many inclines on the way in! By the time I found myself at the first false peak and the end of the most noticeable climbs, I had caught up with Adam Han, a KL Hiking regular and we made the remainder of the journey at a leisurely pace engrossed in conversation.
Our rides had been arranged for 5pm. But even with a detour after getting lost following trail markers blown off course by the breeze, and not recognising farm roads that we were seeing for the first time in daylight, we made it down, across the stream and up to the gates where our day had started, bang on deadline.
6.15pm Start off from farm gates
6.35am Enter forest at PIntu Rimba overlooking the farm
7.55am Make Kem Tudung Periuk
8.00am Cross stream
10.05am Reach Kem Kasut
10.15am Leave Kem Kasut
11.45am Leave peak
12.35pm Arrive at Kem Kasut
2.30pm Wash up at stream
2.35pm Back at Kem Tudung Periuk
4.20pm Exit the jungle overlooking the farm
5.00pm Back at pick up point
Altitude Peninsula Malaysia’s 3rd highest peak, and Malaysia’s 8th highest, Gunung Yong Belar stands at 2181 meters asl.
Time and distance 5 to 6 hours up; 4 to 5 hours down. Total distance traversed is 21km or 10.5km one way.
Rating KL Hiking rates Gunung Yong Belar as Very Hard and it is thanks to a combination of distance and terrain that includes undulating topography, boggy conditions and tricky tree roots.
Tip Don’t wear white socks or white underwear. No amount of washing will ever return them to their original colour after this hke.
Getting there Tanah Rata and Brinchang have a wider choice of accommodation and food offerings, but Kampung Raja is closer. Get a half hour of extra sleep by setting up base there. I stayed at Westwood Highland about 10 minutes away from Guandi Miao temple. From there it’s about an hour jeep ride first to to the Kampung Raja mosque turnoff and then along a dirt track to the gate of a private farm and the beginning of the hike up Yong Belar.