Gunung Swettenham hike

Set on the border of Pahang and Kelantan, the hike up Gunung Swettenham  and back can easily completed in a day and should be included in the itinerary of any hiker or mountain bagger visiting Cameron Highlands.

Sir Frank Swettenham, first Resident General of the Federated Malay States has a street in Singapore, a port in Klang and a pier in Penang named after him, but it’s unlikely he ever climbed the beautiful mountain that bears his name. It’s a shame, as it’s quite a beauty.

At 1961 meters and a starting altitude of approximately 1425 meters, on paper the hike to the peak of Gunung Swettenham doesn’t sound tough. The trail begins around the back of a small orang asli village, whips its way up over the polytunnel farms around Lojing and through misty upper montane forest along the Kelantan-Pahang border.

Rated moderate to hard, the first half undulates gently through mossy forests and bamboo groves and throws just enough obstacles at you (mostly fallen tees and low hanging branches) to keep it interesting. The second half is harder with a few short but steep sections to surmount.

Crucially, you’ll need to pay attention as there are some sudden turns and forks in the path. Just note which ones are sealed off and in the absence of trail markers, where the border stones are. They will lead all he way up to the peak, which you should arrive at between 2 1/2 and 3 1/3 hours after you start out.

The trail starts here, at the “welcome/selamat jalan” sign in Lojing Kelantan, directly opposite the Masjid Long Tan mosque.
Head towards the right hand corner of the village and nip between the houses. Behind them a  small trail leads through the grass, up a cemented path.

On the flat the cement path gives way to dirt track. Keep to the left so the earth mound is on your right.

Although not terribly high up at this point, the views can be scenic with Pahang to your right and Kelantan to your left. This is a view south towards Pahang and its rows of poly tunnel covered farms.
This is the view north towards Kelantan and the 185 highway that leads towards Gua Musang.
At this juncture there’s a dirt road to the right. Jump across the small ditch and scramble up the slope towards the farm.
They grow red chilies here with beetroot planted at either ends of each row.
Before the farm was carved out of the hillside this land would have been part of the forest. Now what remains is a sheer wall of red earth. There are signs that erosion is already taking place, but in the meantime, you can still climb up it via the man made footholds using the rope at the top to steady yourself.
A view of the farm from atop the hillock.
From here the narrow trail veers to the right and into the jungle.
It’s a different world now, lush, overgrown, with obstacles to overcome like this fallen tree. Balance along it or do as I did and head down into the gully of chopped up trunks and limbs on its right and pick your way up and over the tangled mess.
It may not be obvious but beyond this fallen tree is a trail.
Sujatha shimmies along the top of a gnarled and twisted tree trunk to reach it.
A narrow path follows along side another fallen log.
There are plenty of obstacles to dodge along the trail.
We navigated our way to the peak with the aid of KL Hiking trail markers, however border stones are another way of staying the path.

Within 45 minutes of starting out, we were surrounded by mossy forest.
Signs like this one were  repeated reminder of whose hospitality we were taking advantage of – in this case the indigenous Temiar of Kampung Sendrod.
Under, over, even through – the trail presented plenty of obstacles.
About an hour or so in, you’ll descend into a gully with a steep embankment to the right and a hill towering over you to the left.
A makeshift barrier of branches prevents you heading further down the gully.
There’s also a barrier to your right, which means there’s only one way forward, left, up over the hill.
The bamboo groves are dense here and the path splits numerous times. To ensure you don’t stray onto the wrong trail, keep your eyes peeled for border stones.
On the other side of the hill the path descends once more and you’ll come across this log bridge across a ditch.
On the other side scramble up and take a hard left. With the exception of the right turn, the other alternatives should be blocked off with branches.
For the next had an hour the trail is almost entirely downhill.
Down and down we go until the surrounding forest starts to take on a more lower montane forest appearance with palms and wild banana trees.

This clearing has access to a water point and makes a good campsite should you need one.
The climb starts here. It’s a short but calf burning 15 minutes with inclines of up to 60 degrees before it flattens out.
It’s while speeding through a flat that I come to a screeching halt, like a car whose collision warning system just kicked in. I stop a foot away from … a snake.  It’s strangely reassuring to know I  still have some kind of primal instinct,  Curled across the path, its head is raised and it looks strangely short and fat, but doesn’t move even when I attempt to shoo it away. I’m not sure if it’s injured, dead or has overeaten but I manage to push it away with a long stick so it doesn’t get trampled.
The final half hour stretch is steep with rocks and tree roots as stairs.
Nearly there….
The last border stone marking Kelantan on one side and Pahang on the other. The viewless peak is flat and small with space to support 20 to 30 hikers or about 6 tents. Unfortunately I can’t stay, and after 10 minutes must hastily make my retreat as I have to check out at 2pm and really want to get back early enough to grab a shower.

8.20am Start hike
8.40am Pass through farm
9.35am Arrive at gully
9.45am Cross log bridge
10am Reach water point
11am Summit
11.10am Start return journey
11.40am Reach waterpoint
12.05pm Cross log bridge
12.15am Descend into gully
1pm Come down slope overlooking the chilli farm
1.15pm Exit trail and enter village

Altitude At 1961 meters, Gunung Swettenham is the 32nd highest mountain in Malaysia.

Time and distance Approximately 6km one way and just under 12km return, the hike should take between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours up,  and 2 to 3 hours down amounting to about a 5 to 7 hour round trip.

Rating KL Hiking rates Gunung Swettenham as moderate to hard.

Facilities The small but beautifully landscaped Masjid Long Tan is located across the road from the trailhead. It has parking and clean toilets.

Getting there It’s a 40 minute drive from Tanah Rata/Brinchang to the meet up point. From Tanah Rata, drive north along the 59 through Brinchang, Kuala Terla and Kampung Raja. At the T-junction take a right onto 185 until you arrive at the  starting point of the hike  opposite the Masjid Long Tan mosque.

Coordinates  4.595867, 101.433341 

The small but beautifully landscaped Masjid Long Tan.
Ample open air parking next to the mosque.

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