The Trek to Trusmadi
Every year, thousands of people climb Malaysia’s highest mountain, Gunung Kinabalu
(4,101m or 13,433ft). There are tourist facilities which make the
ascent relatively easy. Gunung Trusmadi (2,462m or 8,669ft), the second highest,
is not frequently visited. Until recently, only one or two expeditions
to the Trusmadi summit were
undertaken by interest groups each year. Now, a trek to the peak is on the calendar
of some agencies catering to eco-tourists and adventurers.
Low's Pitchers (Nepenthes lowii) over the trail and on moss-covered ground.
I remember we lost the trail on the way down the mountain and fumbled
about until night fell. When it
got too dark to continue, we stopped to sleep at a spot that was relatively flat ground. Without
pitching our tents, we slipped into our sleeping bags after eating some trail food. Fortunately,
the ground was dry. The trek leaders had decided on March to make the journey because that's usually a dry
month in Sabah.
On hindsight, a wise decision.
I slept like a log that night and awoke, very much refreshed, to a
surprisingly quiet and cool morning under the forest canopy.
Why did we scale Trusmadi? There were two main attractions.
Firstly, we wanted to see
from the Trusmadi summit as dawn broke over north Borneo. A truly exhilarating experience. The second
attraction was a rare pitcher plant. Some years ago, Nepenthes x trusmadiensis,
a natural hybrid of Nepenthes lowii and Nepenthes edwardsiana, had been discovered at the summit,
and we wanted to photograph it. And because it is there, Gunung Trusmadi beckons with the
promise of adventure that some of us had found irresistible.
On March 7, six of us from Peninsular Malaysia flew to Kota Kinabalu, the
capital of Sabah, to join
two others who had arrived there earlier from Singapore. Early the following day, we travelled in a van across
the Crocker Range and the tranquil Tambunan Valley to the sleepy town of Tambunan. It was a few hours' ride.
After meeting the Tambunan district officer to inform him of our intention
to climb Trusmadi, we proceeded to
the village of Kampung Batu Enam, not far from the town, to get a guide. Later that afternoon,
the guide appeared and told us of a new trail blazed by some young adventurers from
the vicinity. We had been
prepared to take the old trail, first used in the 1950s, but we were told the new trail was shorter
and involved fewer river crossings (in fact, we had to wade through a shallow river only once).
We trundled uphill for nearly two hours through cultivated land
and disturbed forests before coming to a logging
track. It was really hot and energy-sapping walking on the open logging track. We stopped frequently to rest. We
crossed the shallow river mentioned earlier, and after this point the logging track became very much steeper.
In the late afternoon, we reached an old logging camp and here we pitched our tents. This campsite near a
small stream was the last watering point along this trail.
Trusmadi has two peaks; the true peak is about 0.7m (2ft) higher than
the secondary peak. The secondary
peak has the magnificent dawn view of Gunung Kinabalu and camping ground nearby. The fitter ones among us reached the true
peak about 4.30 pm and waited for the rest. It was about 6 pm when we all gathered at the peak to take some
photos. Hurrying along the saddle, we reached the secondary peak as the day began to fade.
We pitched our tents at the campsite just as night closed in.
We immediately headed for the peak and were greeted by a dreamlike scene. Last night's
full moon was fading in the ink-blue western sky. Dawn was breaking, painting the eastern
firmament with the fiery glow and hues of
a nascent day, and Gunung Kinabalu (which lies more than 40km north of Trusmadi) looms above
a sea of mist and clouds higher than all
the other mountains of Borneo. And we saw the
seldom-seen south face of this famous mountain, not the familiar profile shown in tourist brochures, etc.
When the clouds below us cleared around mid-morning, we could see a logging track and a settlement,
which we guessed was Kampung Sinoa, to the south of Trusmadi. We had the rest of the day to explore the summit area and
look for Nepenthes x trusmadiensis. Although N. edwardsiana and N. lowii (the parent species)
were plentiful, we just could not find the hybrid.
By evening we knew we were lost. No fault of the guides as they had never
attempted going down the south side of the
mountain before this, and they had told us so. By nightfall we decided to find a suitable
place to pass the night. We stopped at a relatively
flat area on the ridge around 8.45 pm. After taking some hot tea and trail food, we turned in. The area just wasn't
big enough to accommodate our tents.
We hit the logging track around noon. Someone picked up a "wild" durian
which some of us ate. It didn't taste as
good as the cultivated variety, but it wasn't bad. Now, walking under a blazing sun, we headed for Kampung Sinoa,
a settlement of less than 100 village houses. One after another, depending on the individual's fitness,
we staggered into the village.
We cooled ourselves down with canned soft drinks from the village sundry shop. We learned that villagers here
climb Trusmadi to gather forest products and return in just one day.
Around 6 pm, the bus (actually a van) serving the village arrived. There were
already a few other passengers inside.
We crammed ourselves into the van which took us all the way to Keningau town.
It was a very bumpy ride along an unsealed road
for major part of the way. We reached Keningau about 10 pm. The town youth hostel was full,
so we checked into a hotel
and enjoyed creature comforts like air-conditioning and hot water. I had my first hot shower in nearly a week,
and the water turned brown. No kidding.
The following morning, after breakfast, we saw the four guides off at the
bus station as they headed for home in
the Tambunan Valley. We resumed our holiday and adventures in Sabah.
Pictures embedded in text: group photo of trekkers with Gunung Trusmadi in the background;
rhododendron on the Trusmadi trail; checking out a
Nepenthes edwardsiana pitcher; and Nepenthes tentaculata, a common
species found on the lower slopes of Borneo's mountains.
This page is dedicated to the four young people from Tambunan:
Maikol Sikin, Dick Olang, Rita Motogor and Rostina Motogor
The four guides viewing the sunrise over the mountains of north Borneo
while we were busy taking pictures. Copyright © Chin Fah Shin