It has been exactly a year since I last joined YMCA Outdoors and Adventures for an event. Gunung Lambak was my induction climb. Not that I have been keeping track of dates, but it was the admin from the YMCA who reminded me when I was signing up for this event that my membership had expired in July and I had to pay a full fees if I were to go on this trip with them.
So with a renewed alliance with them and the promise of a spectacular sunrise at one of the finest peaks in Malaysia, I joined 24 other fellow adventurers on an overnight coach for a road trip north to Negeri Sembilan.
Being a Friday evening, we had to endure the usual traffic jam at Woodlands leading up to customs and it took eternity to get us through to the other side of the Causeway. We had a quick stopover at Yong Peng for a break before heading out on the road again. We reached the town of Rembau and took a warm up hike on the tarmac road before reaching the starting point at 0345hrs.
Selamat Datang means “come peacefully, we do you no harm” in Malay. At 0345hrs and in total pitch black darkness, it does little to reassure the nerves!
The mountains have always played a central part of my life. I know this now, although I have not always seen this. It is the same for all of us, I suspect. We hear the mountains calling, but we do not always listen. We feel the pull, but feel a greater pull to life’s responsibilities. When looking at Gunung Datuk, one is looking at a mountain that will not allow anyone to say “No” for a long period of time.
There are some popular tales about Datuk. Some involve larger than life warriors leaving giant footsteps to follow. Others says that the footprint near the summit of Datuk is really the remnants of Hanuman’s steps, wholed a great monkey army in search of a miracle herb. Datuk even has a place in history with a government plaque offering a historical footnote about how the Chiefs of Traditional Customs gathered at the summit of the mountain to announce the name and title of their future clan chief in the 14th century.
What is the truth? That is likely a question that must be answered on a personal level. What I do know is that when I answered the call from Gunung Datuk, I was in for an experience that was unlike any other trek I have ever completed during the early hours of the day! In the mountains of Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung, the terrain was surprisingly bright from the reflected lights of the stars, but that is not so in Gunung Datuk.
It was total pitch black! The tall trees in the rainforest tower over you like ancient guardians, examining you to determine your worthiness. Even with my 900 lumens powered Nitecore flashlight, I couldn’t see beyond 10 metres!
Gracie, our ever affable host from Y-treks, advised everyone at the start of the trek that for the first third of the climb, we would all be challenged due to the steep inclination of the mountain. I read that it will take a fit hiker less than an hour to reach the summit. I was curious to see what challenges Datuk had in store for me.
Given the conditions we had – total pitch black, unfamiliar terrain, maneuvering in between fallen trees, and a slippery surface caused by an earlier rain in the evening – I knew that I was not going to be disappointed by this experience.
I am not always comfortable with the dark. There is something enchanting about it, something mysterious, but also something that seems forbidding. Sometimes I feel disappointed by the dark because I cannot fully see the beautiful surroundings.
Sometimes, however, I am encouraged by the dark because there is something surprising and beautiful that can be discovered which would normally be overlooked. It’s a feeling of nervous anticipation that is difficult to duplicate anywhere else!
Members taking a well-deserved break at one of the check point.
The darkness stayed with us for almost the entire hike toward the summit. The only thing that could be heard were the footsteps of fellow trekkers, a soft crunch on the forest floor. Y treks did an excellent job with 3 leaders – one heading the group, one in the middle, and the last man – to ensure all climbers with different competencies were able to fully enjoy their experiences.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller
It took us approximately 2 hours to reach the top flat area. That’s where the final obstacle stood! It consist of climbing up a series of 4 shaky and rusty ladders to the gigantic boulders for the final summit assault. The formations of the boulders were quite neatly stacked by time (think Stonehenge), without the need for any dangerous moves or maneuvers. All of us got up to the flat bed of granite surface at the summit without much difficulty.
The bright round moon watched over the adventurous souls from Singapore. It’s gentle rays were reassuring after emerging from the guardians of the forest below. It beckoned us on toward the summit.
When we were finally at the summit, congratulating one another, we were rewarded with a clear view of the bright moon and stars.
The panoramic lights from nearby towns and the City of Malacca also shown brightly, creating a festive display in anticipation of the morning’s main event.
There was a steep drop in the temperature when we reached the summit as the strong cold winds came blowing from all directions without any cover. Maybe it was just me, but I could sense a faint laugh in the wind, a final challenge from Gunung Datuk. Would we be found worthy enough for the sights we had all come to see?
The first light came in at 0630 hours and after soaking in the magnificent sunrise and getting a clear view of the vast plains and criss-crossing river bends, it was time for some serious photography. This group took no less than 1 hour at the top to chronicle their moment of glory.
Here I am with the hosts from Y-trek, Gracie and Larissa. A third host Seng Teong (or ST) was waiting and preparing hot milo for all of us at the campsite.
The bright skies also provide illumination on the journey that Gunung Datuk called us to take. In many ways, it is not for the faint of heart! That is the hidden blessing of the darkness. You cannot be afraid of the heights that you cannot see!
Sitting at the edge of the boulder overlooking the forestry beneath my trusty Salomon shoes, the beauty of creation is something that will never cease to amaze me. These are the moments that are the perfect moments of life!
Looking westwards, a vast array of rich forestry and a display of billowing clouds. One cannot help but smile at such a beautiful display!
The challenge of answering the call of Gunung Datuk in the early morning hours is two-fold: the darkness coming up the trail and the light that is available coming down the trail. The true height of these boulders seem much taller when darkness fades!
I didn’t stop much to take photos on my way down as I always love the challenge of jogging through the downwards terrain. It took me 35 minutes to reach the foot of the mountain where a small stream of fresh mountain water awaits.
Our youtube video on the sunrise, summit views and aerial photography from the foot of the mountain. There are beauty and wonders to be found within this relatively small yet tough mountain, no surprise that Gunung Datuk remained a timeless popular hiking location among locals and Singaporean weekend hikers.
Here’s the full itinerary of the trip with Y-Treks in infographics
Are You Ready To Answer the Call of Gunung Datuk?
Gunung Datuk is 885 metres tall. The actual elevation height that must be climbed is about 800 metres in total and the total distance covered is 4.6 kilometres one way. That if you took the journey in a straight line, so the actual round trip is closer to 12 kilometres for the average journey.
If you take the journey up to the summit in the daylight hours, the average trekker can reach the top in about 2 hours. To do so in under 60 minutes would only be for those who are in excellent physical condition. It would be difficult to take in the beauty of Gunung Datuk at such a rapid speed, especially since the first 300 metres can have up to a 50 degree incline!
The trail to take up to the summit is well defined, but it can sometimes be difficult to find the starting point. You’ll want to take the path that descends to a stream and cross the bridge to find the correct trail. Look for plastic tape in yellow, red, or white to make sure you’re staying on the right path.
It is uphill almost the entire way to the summit. You will also need to climb steel ladders in order to reach the summit.
Recommended Packing list:
- Make sure you have at least 2 litres of water per person.
- Pack sturdy, but comfortable shoes as you will be hiking over tree roots, climbing ladders, and face a wide variety of terrain.
- Have a high quality pack for your supplies. Although there is not necessarily any wildlife encounters to expect, there are monkey calls that can be heard out in the forest.
- You may wish to bring a snack if you plan to take your time with this trek.
- You will need spare cash for the administrative fees, but parking is free. Camping is also possible for an additional fee per tent.
- Sunblock is also a necessity if you go during the daylight hours, especially on the weekend. It takes some time for other adventurers to descend the ladders and you may be waiting for some time.
- Optional items include rain gear, insect repellent, warm jackets, and walking assitance items, such as sticks or poles.
You’ll want to take the North South Expressway to Exit 223. Make your way to the T junction after the toll and then turn left. From there, you will reach a roundabout where you’ll need to take the exit toward Rembau.
Once you reach Rembau, you will see signs for Gunung Datuk. You will need to turn onto Route N111, following the signs. Go about 15 kilometres and you will then see another sign along the road for Datuk directing you to the left.
You will be driving through a rubber estate. This will take you to the base camp where there is a place to park. Register at the office for your hike and be prepared for fees.
Hiking this trail will work your heart on the way up and your knees on the way down. It is not a journey to take if you have not been out trekking for some time unless you are willing to take extra time to get up the mountain. Take a week or two to prepare your body for the exercise that Gunung Datuk will require of you if you choose to heed its call by getting out and hiking locally. A brisk jog here and there may also help.
The metal ladders look a lot scarier in the light than they do at night! They are secured well to the boulders, however, and will help get you up to the summit safely.
Gunung Datuk is an amazing climb, whether you wish to see a sunrise or you just want an incredible view. It can be completed in one day, including travel, and the challenges that this journey makes you face will only inspire you to follow even more travelled paths.