Trek to Trusmadi
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Chin’s Nature Corner
CHIN'S NATURE CORNER ~ TREKS & TRAVELS ~ MOUNT TRUSMADI

Gunung Kinabalu at Dawn
An unfamiliar profile of Gunung Kinabalu, the south face viewed from
Gunung Trusmadi at dawn. Copyright © Chin Fah Shin

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.
Nepenthes lowii pitchers along the trail   Close-up pix of Nepenthes lowii pitcher
Low's Pitchers (Nepenthes lowii) over the trail and on moss-covered ground.

THE trek to the summit of Gunung Trusmadi was my first major “photo safari”. With eight other members of the Malaysian Nature Society, I climbed this mountain in March 1990. Yes, many, many years ago. But the memories and excitement, the thrill of adventure, and the exhilaration when we reached the summit still linger. Please bear with me as I make a sentimental journey back through time.

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.

Group photo of trekkers

Why did we scale Trusmadi? There were two main attractions. Firstly, we wanted to see Gunung Kinabalu 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).

DAY 1 of the trek (March 9): We set out early, our party now having increased to 13. Three friends of the guide, a youth and two girls (sisters), joined the expedition. They had all climbed the peak several times using the new trail, and through the guide they had asked last night to go with us to render help whenever necessary in finding direction.

Rhododendron

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.

DAY 2: We rested the whole day, recharging our batteries for the "final assault" on Trusmadi which we had expected to be very tough. I explored the area near the campsite and photographed a beetle which looked like a member of the family Lycidae. I did not find many insects in this area. But for some birdcalls, the forest around the campsite was quiet.

DAY 3: We broke camp at 7 am. We filled all available containers with water and resumed the trek along the logging track. The Trusmadi Range came into view an hour later. After a brief stop for photos, we continued with renewed vigour. The sight of our objective had boosted our spirit. We soon left the logging track behind and followed a ridge trail that took us into montane forests. Pitcher plants (Nepenthes tentaculata) were common at the lower elevations, but as we went higher we saw more Nepenthes lowii.

Nepenthes edwardsiana

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.

DAY 4: We rose about 5.30 am. I was awakened when drops of condensation fell on my face. (Water vapour from our breaths had condensed inside the tent due to the low night temperatures, which can fall to as low as 5 degrees Centigrade, on the summit.)

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.

DAY 5: We woke up early and had another breathtaking view of dawn breaking over the mountains of north Borneo. Then we broke camp about 7.50 am. We began the descent, taking a different trail this time as we wanted to get to Kampung Sinoa. The trail gradually became faint until it disappeared altogether. We pushed on along a ridge in south-easterly direction. At one stage we could see a logging track far below us, and we even heard a motor vehicle. However, because of the terrain, we had to keep to the ridge, and this took us further from the logging track.

Nepenthes tentaculata

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.

DAY 6: Every one had slept well, I guessed, as we were all in a good mood. We set out about 8.15 am, still keeping onto the ridge. At one spot where the mountain side wasn't so steep, we made a turn down the slope toward south south-east. We had to hack our way through the undergrowth in some parts but we made progress. Then we heard running water and headed for it. It was joy all around when we found a rivulet cascading down a rock face. We stopped to rest and wipe ourselves. We started out again just before noon after having some hot tea and instant chicken soup.

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
Gunung Trusmadi sunrise
The four guides viewing the sunrise over the mountains of north Borneo
while we were busy taking pictures. Copyright © Chin Fah Shin



 This page revised on 24 May 2005. Copyright © Chin Fah Shin.
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