Bukit Sapu Tangan hike

After a two-year hiatus, Khairul was having trouble on the trail up towards Bukit Sapu Tangan’s 204 metre peak. That’s probably how “Handkerchief Hill” got its name I joked – he’d need one to wipe away his tears. But it could  just as likely reference the surrounding forest’s diminishing size….

Initially known as Bukit Cerakah, renamed Bukit Cerakah Seri Alam in 1991 and then dubbed Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam in 2007, this precious coastal lowland forest  suffered significant losses when the park converted a portion of it into manicured gardens. Then property developers began carving up what was left. Even as recently as June 2018, the Bukit Bayu side of the forest, in the north of Bukit Cerakah, was being destroyed.

Most weekend warriors trek up Bukit Sapu Tangan through Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam via a 3 kilometre tarmac road that begins at the park entrance and culminates in a dilapidated lookout tower that’s no longer accessible.  When the park was first established in 1986, the view from the top was almost entirely green, with the exception of Shah Alam and its landmarks.  Today, the only thing standing between conserving the forest and a concrete jungle is how vocal park users, hikers, local residents and concerned NGOs continue to be – and that includes people like you and I.

After frequent drop outs on my part and an uncharacteristic quiet spell on KL Hiking’s part, I finally returned to the jungle. Led by KL Hiking’s Victor with Eddie and Gan on sweeping duty, the hike would take us through Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF), cut across The Wall to the Bukit Sapu Tangan trails, and finally down towards an unnamed lake. The trails in both forests are well managed and clearly signposted.

Entering via SACF’s Trailhead A, the first that you come to after the developer’s gates, we were quickly enveloped by SACF’s lush secondary forest. With the expanding urban sprawl to our backs, it was a little like pushing aside the coats, stepping into the wardrobe and entering Narnia. I missed this feeling.

Almost immediately we came to two junctions: the first pointing left towards the Lake and right  to the Peak Garden – we went right; the second junction, marked A1, split into the MOU trail on the left and Ecopark Hilside on the right – we went left.

The second junction: the MOU trail to the left, Ecopark Hillside to the right.

You’re sure to come across this majestic tree and its tangle of roots when you traverse the MOU trail.

Taking less than 15 minutes to cover, the MOU trail is quite lovely, wide and mostly flat with thickets of prickly palms, and tunnels of tangled undergrowth to duck through. Furrows of upturned red earth revealed that wild boars have been foraging here.

Rows of palms on either side of the trail.
Dense tangles of undergrowth. You can just about make out the palm oil plantation on the other side of this.
Freshly dug up earth, signs that a mammal has been busy rooting for shoots, grubs or worms.

We emerged at The Wall, where the hollowed out hillside had, for now, disappeared in the mist.  Left would take us towards Peak Garden, so we went right along the ledge and left the boundary of Shah Alam Community Forest for Bukit Sapu Tangan.

The Wall shrouded in mist at 8am.
From one forest to another.

We re-entered the jungle to the sounds of arguing monkeys. Compared to the MOU trail, the foliage was not as dense here and leaf litter lined the path, which gently wound its way down towards a gully with a crossroads. At this point, Khairul and I looked for trail markers to determine which direction we’d take. We were relieved that KL Hiking had decided against the path ahead; it was marked “B Short” but was up a steep embankment.

The pleasant path between SACF’s Wall and the crossroads at the gully.
Short to Station B? Or Long to Station B1? If you’ve been with KL Hiking long enough you’ll know the answer.

Predictably, KL Hiking chose the “Long” Station B1 option, which was to the right. Flat to begin with, any relief we initially felt was short-lived as the inclines grew steadily steeper. Admittedly none of it was terribly sheer but Khairul was having a tough time and collapsed on one of the makeshift benches 50 minutes later when we arrived at the Station B1 rest area.

The “Long” route to Station B1.
Up and up we go.
Station B1, the nicest rest area along the trails. Note the red ribbon on the right. It’s tied to a massive liana.

The rest of the journey to “Tower Sapu Tangan” was pleasant, the sound of a whooping monkey growing louder as we made our way down at first, past a clearing blanketed in ferns, then gradually climbed back up as we ventured closer towards the tower.

From Station B1 the path ventures down at first….
A previously cleared area now overgrown with ferns.
A vandalised fence. I can’t tell if we’re entering or exiting…

The presence of a green fence indicated we were near. Ripped up from out of the ground, we ducked under it and continued until our trail met with a tarred road, the same one that leads from the entrance of Taman Shah Alam Negara to the peak of Bukit Sapu Tangan.  From here it was about 100 meters or so to our destination.

When the trail meets the tarred road take a left and within 100 meters you’ll arrive at your destination.
The peak of Bukit Sapu Tangan. Unfortunately there’s nothing to see unless you climb the tower, and you can’t do that because it’s dilapidated and has no stairs.
After all that, only 204 meters above sea level.

As we were the last to arrive, our turnaround at the lookout tower was quick. Leaving the road we embarked down the Station D / Lake trail (not to be confused with SACF Lake trail), just meters from where we had exited earlier.

Victor wouldn’t be laying any paper markers and assured us that we had nothing to worry about as the path, which is almost entirely downhill,  is easy to make out. Which it was, until it wasn’t…. Despite the slippery nature of the clay trail, made worse by rain and footfall, we were doing okay – ropes helped to steady our descent, and then we arrived at a grove of elegant palm trees.

Those who have hiked this route will barely notice the turn off but n00bs will, so we waited until Eddie arrived. As it turns out, right leads down, left back up – our instincts were correct – but it was better to be safe than sorry.

The path to the lake is to the left but n00bs may be forgiven for being confused with the turnoff to the right.

Appearing before us like an empty sky, our first glimpse of the lake appeared  to completely envelope our horizon. By the lake’s edge, makeshift wooden tables and benches had been arranged to face the water as if like us, they too were in awe.

Though it was small  – we could make out a housing estate on the other side  – the lake’s water was clear and its surface completely still, a perfect mirror reflecting the trees that stood guard around it and the fluffy clouds that drifted overhead.

Arriving at Station D where the lake and sky is indiscernible.
Crystal clear water, as still as a dead heart.
A perfect mirror to everything around it and definitely worth the trek.

Our way back was not the same way we came, which is signposted as “Bukit Saput Tangan Long”. After crossing a stream bed, we climbed several short but steep sections until we arrived at rest area B. Eddie and Gan, who had caught up with us described it as a highway as ramblers criss-cross it from converging trails.

The stream bed enroute to Station B from Station D aka Lake.

Piai Raya, a type of forest fern. Its red shoots can be eaten.
Station B rest area.

Where we entered Station B, there were two routes to our right. We took the second. The trail is wide and clear, and passes through another rest area labelled Station C, before we again found ourselves at the crossroads; we had descended the very route that earlier we had wanted to avoid.

Station C.
The trail from Station B to the crossroads is clear and wide.
Like Bone Thugs N Harmony I’ll meet you at the crossroads, crossroads….. Ahak!

Plying the same route that had brought us here, we then sped walked to The Wall and along the MOU trail back to the car, while the rest of KL Hiking continued towards Shah Alam Community Forest to a hidden waterfall. As Khairul was keen to call it quits, that would have to be another adventure for another time.

7.45am Enter trailhead A
7.46am 1st junction
7.48am 2nd junction
8am The Wall
8.10am Crossroads
9am Station B1
9.30am Bukit Sapu Tangan Peak
10.10am Station D/Lake
10.55am Station B
11.05am Station C
11.10am Crossroads
11.25am The Wall
11.45am Exit trailhead A

Altitude 204 meters
Time 4 hours
Rating Medium.
Facilities On my last visit to SACF nearly 2 years ago, I had parked by the shophouses at Urban Park Setia Taipan and marched across a barren scab of earth towards the trailhead. Development has been rampant since then. You can now park a lot closer at a small carpark along Jalan U13/23, but it fills up fast. Most visiting hikers will park along the side of that road. GPS coordinates 3.1213509,101.4757179
Getting in
If you prefer trails: Via Shah Alam Community Forest.
If you prefer tarmac road: Via Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam, Shah Alam, 40000, Selangor. T: +60 3 5510 7048 F: www.facebook.com/MyTBNSA8 W: www.tbnsa.gov.my
Entrance fee: 12-years and above RM3; 6-11 years RM1; Free to under 6s, OAPs and the disabled. Parking: RM3/vehicleOpen: Tuesday-Sunday, 7.30am to 5.30pm ticket counter closes at 4.30pm.

Post hike treat Restoran Niarasa does a terrific nasi campur with a considerable spread of kampung-style dishes to pile on your plate. Restoran Niarasa 45 Jalan Setia Gemilang, BG U13/BG, Setia Alam, Shah Alam, 40170, Selangor.  T: +60 3 3358 5579 / +60 12 219 4700 F: www.facebook.com/restoranniarasa/ I: http://www.instagram.com/restoranniarasa Open: 7am-12mn GPS Coordinates 3.128179, 101.468369

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