I remembered handing over a guitar to Swee Chiow during a Trek For Hope briefing session just over a year ago. I have read in his autobiography that he used to play the instrument as the lead guitarist in his band during his younger days. He gamely took over it and plucked a mesmerizing solo piece – The Leader of The Band.
And how has he lived up to the name of the song he chose. Ever since Khoo Swee Chiow made the headlines as a member of Singapore’s first ever expedition to Mount Everest, he has been pushing the limits and leading several expeditions and adventure tours to places many never dream of going.
Some of these places are the last places on earth someone will want to go. Visit daretodream.com.sg for more of Swee Chiow’s feats and organized trips.
It was therefore an honour to be invited by Swee Chiow to join him as he makes his landmark 100th unique summit climb to Bukit (Hill) Kutu, 1053 masl, situated in Kuala Kubu Bahru, Selangor. While I was not sure why it was being called a “Bukit” (hill) when most definition standards of a “mountain” are above 300 metres in height, I intended to find out during this hike.
Bukit Kutu is not the most difficult of journeys, especially when compared to summitting Mount Everest. With an altitude of about 1,000 metres, however, this former British monitoring station has some unique challenges to face nonetheless. With a rich history waiting to be uncovered and magnificent views awaiting, this climb to this summit was sure to be memorable for many reasons.
General Itinerary (From Singapore)
0830hrs – Depart from Woodlands Causeway Point
1100hrs – Cleared JB Customs
1845hrs – Arrived at KL (Long jam at the NS expressway as hoardes of vehicles are making their way to catch the AFF Suzuki Cup final between Thailand and Malaysia)
2000hrs – Food trail / Shopping plus preparation of climb in KL
0530hrs – Depart for Kuala Kubu Bahru
0800 hrs – Expected ETA was 0700hrs but our driver made a wrong exit at the expressway and almost had the team headed in the direction of Klang
0900hrs – Start of Climb
1315hrs – Summit at Bukit Kutu, followed by photo taking
1415hrs – Start of Descent
1630hrs – Back to trail head, transport pick up point
1730hrs – Wash up and journey back to Singapore
Sungai Selangor Dam – Many hikers have missed this stop for photo taking as they are eager to reach the trailhead for the start of the hike. It was a matter of necessity for this team, however, as our van ran out of fuel just when we are about to reach the starting point.
Some soothing views accompanied us at the start of our journey. Within the first 30 minutes of the hike, we had to do 2 more river crossing before changing out of our sandals and into our trekking shoes.
Some did it the hard way – via a collapsed bridge – while others just took the straightforward path
After the second river crossing, I discovered that it was futile thinking that you can avoid getting your feet wet by stepping on the big stones. The gaps are quite big and the rock surfaces are slippery. There is no way one can cross the 2 rivers with their feet dry.
It was almost a 3 hour non-stop uphill climb with steep inclinations. The team had to deal with avoiding the uprooted roots while coming to terms with their physical fitness during this phase. It made the climb challenging, but still quite invigorating.
Bukit Kutu is a typical rain forest trek. However you tend to find a lot more bamboo plants here than trails found elsewhere. There are a lot of physical maneuvering which the hikers had to climb over or crawl under. Not an easy task especially when you have almost exhausted all of your energy climbing the steep inclinations.
After some thought, what is missing from this trail is a Giant Panda. With their love for bamboo, they would clear this part of the trail out in no time. We had to pick and choose our way carefully, often crawling under plants that were blocking the trail.
Nearing the 750 meters mark, we stopped by some big boulders for a quick rest and made use of this opportunity to take some group pictures.
The final part of the trek up to the summit continued to be filled with natural obstacles where one has to climb over fallen trees or duck walk through bamboo plants.
On 21st December 2014, 1316hrs, our team successfully summited Bukit Kutu. We congratulated each other and also Swee Chiow for meeting his goal of a 100th peak in an illustrious career.
Photo credit: Joseph Yong
The space at the summit was made up of 3 successive boulders where only 2 people could stand at any one time. We saw amazing panoramic views of the surrounding areas, including the Sungei Selangor dam.
Everyone must be thinking: why did Khoo Swee Chiow chose a “Bukit” (Hill) to mark his 100th peak? Why not choose a taller and better known one? After all, this is going to be his landmark climb. Surely he would want to have a better choice that will attract more media coverage. Not one 1000m mountain where it can be completed it in a day’s hike.
What is marked as a “Bukit” may seem easy at first glance. Like Khoo’s career, I am sure that he must have faced a lot of critics and cynics when he first embarked on a life of adventures. Perhaps Bukit Kutu is a reflection of who he is. Over the years, he has to learn to bend, climb above, and maybe crawl under – in order to overcome the obstacles in life. In the process, he has become stronger and more resilient.
Just as we can learn many things from the curved rivers in life, we can also learn many things from mountains that are big and small. Each mountain has a unique challenge that must be conquered in order to achieve a summit. It might be a steep climb. It might be large tree roots. It could be one’s own personal willpower. There is nothing that is simply “ordinary” that can be found in nature.
Tall mountains require skill. They are climbs that are often marked by loneliness because not everyone can make the summit of a mountain like Everest. Bukit Kutu was a summit that could be achieved with family, friends, and supporters – something what Swee Chiow might have intended for. Just because it is different does not mean it is any less special.
On this day, to me, Khoo Swee Chiow has become the Adventurer that went up a hill, but came down a mountain.