Giewont and Kasprowsky Wierch

There are a multitude of hiking trails in the Polish Tatra mountains near Zakopane. A loop taking in the popular Giewont massif before traversing to  Kasprowsky Wierch (Peak) makes a perfect day walk.

It’s my last walk on this Europe trip, and I’m heading out to Zakopane and the nearby Polish Tatra Mountains. A town in the extreme south of Poland, Zakopane is located in the southern part of Podhale (the name of this region being derived from the phrase “pod hole”, which refers to the terrain that stretches out at the foot of the mountains).

While there is a train line from Krakow to Zakopane, I couldn’t actually find a train… the only way to get there seemed to be a bus that leaves every half an hour or so (from the train station, ironically!). As we get closer, it gets increasingly foggy and I question my decision of heading to the mountains! From Zakopane there’s another short bus ride to Kuźnice, where the trails are clearly marked.

I’m sticking to the plan of hiking up to Giemont, considered one of the most famous peaks in the area, despite visibility being very limited. The fog does intensify the autumn colours, although I’m doubting I’ll have much of a vew from the top.

The first part of the walk is along a cobbled road (closed to traffic) which is not very steep. It’s more a stroll up the road then a hike! Along the path there’s a small shrine in the rocks by the road and a memorial in a small glade, both of which I fail to find any explanation of on-line (at least in English) after my walk.

After about a kilometre there’s a small hut where an entry fee is payable, and another 800m further is the PTTK Kalatówki Mountain Hotel (1,198m above sea level) in the Bystra Valley. Built in 1938 for the FIS World Ski Championships, it was erected in a record time of 150 days. Apparently there are “stunning views of the surrounding mountains”. I can barely see the end of the glade. But I take the opportunity to buy a few snacks and have a mid-morning coffee!

From here the sign-post shows 2:45min to the Giemont peak, and the trail is now much narrower as it traverses the Kondratowa Valley. Despite the poor visibility, it’s pleasant walking and in some ways nicer with the fog in the tall forest (although I have no idea what views I’m missing out on).

After another half an hour I reach the PTTK Mountain Hut (PTTK Hala Kondratowa), which has some accommodation and offers meals – although I didn’t stop here.

From here the track starts to get gradually steeper as it climbs up through the Valley of Malego Szerokiego, with the path become a bit rockier. There’s a few streams that look like you cold drink from, although I’ve got plenty of water and don’t want to take the risk.

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I also start seeing a few more people along the track as it gets steeper and winds up the valley.

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What’s more encouraging is that the fog is starting to lift, and there are views in the distance of multiple ridges and mountain peaks. It would be spectacular without the clouds, and is still pretty impressive with fog filling the valleys.

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The track finally reaches a Kondracka Przełęcz (1,725m), in the middle of the ridge that joins Kopa Kondracka and Giemont, my first destination. Looking west from the ridge, there’s just a sea of clouds… and to the north is the spiny peak of Giemont.

I continue from the pass up the cobbled trail towards the Giemont summit, with its distinctive cross. The pasth is pretty flat initially as it goes passes through low heath.

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Looking back down the track towards Kondracka Przełęcz, you can clearly see the track continuing up the other side of the ridge towards Kopa Kondracka (that’s where I’m going next).

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The path gradually gets steeper, and the final ascent is very steep with a few sections aided by chains. There’s a big school group ahead of me, which is hard to overtake on the last section – I can see why my guide book warns that on summer weekends there can be a long queue to reach the summit!

Fortunately while the ability to overtake is limited, it’s only the last 500m or so where you need to go single-file, and I soon reach the summit. The view from the Giemont summit (1,894m asl) is almost anti-climactic after the rocky climb and the views from along the path. To the west there’s still just clouds; looking east you can see the long ridge that forms the border between Poland and Slovakia. What’s impressive is the 15m high steel cross on the Giemont peak, erected in 1901. Weighing about 1900kg, all the material was carted by hand to the summit and the cross was erected over a week. It’s now a site of religious pilgrimages and a listed monument of architecture – and a massive lightning conductor! I wouldn’t want to be standing here durign a thunderstorm.

I don’t stay long at the top – it’s a litle crowded and the views are just as good from the path. I head down the same way I came up – I read afterwards there is a different path for the descent, to avoid passing people on the steeper sections.

As I near the Kondracka Przełęcz pass again, some of the clouds clear and there’s blue sky – I can now see some of the valley floor to the west, where before there were just clouds.

It’s an impressive view from the the pass, looking up the ridge towards Giemont.

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I figure I’ve got enough time to extend the walk, rather than returning directly to Kuźnice (there are some alternate routes back suggested by my guide book). Instead I continue up the ridge to Kopa Kondracka, which will take me from 1,725m above sea level at the pass below Giemont to 2,004m. There’s nice views down the valley towards Kuźnice to the left (north-east), and Giemont with its prominent cross is visible (and still above me) to the north.

The trail climbs steeply up to Kopa Kondracka, which at 2,004m is the highest point on the walk. I then follow the main ridge across to Kasprowy Wierch (Peak) – on one side is Poland, and on the other, Slovakia. Not so long ago there were border checks between Poland and Slovakia and some challenges for hikers with trails straddling or crossing the border, but with both countries now being part of the Schengen Agreement you can wander anywhere through the Tatra mountains without fear of arrest!

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The views are not extensive due to the clouds, but it does make it a very dramatic and constantly-changing landscape.

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At times the views are almost completely obscured by cloud; occasionally they lift a little and you can see the trail stretching out along the ridge.

The first half of the path along the ridge is fairly easy walking. About half-way between Kopa Kondracka and Kasprowy Wierch, it descends steeply (though not for long) and becomes much more undulating as the ridge narrows.

This section is the most strenous and the most dramatic: the path follows the top of the narrow ridge, with steep drops on both sides.

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This entire section is spectacular with the clouds shrouding both sides of the ridge, offering the occasional glimpse of the valley below and the peaks in the distance.

Eventually I see my destination – the metereological observatory on top of Kasprowy Wierch, in the distance. (At 1,987m above sea level, it’s the highest inhabited building in Poland.)

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Before I get there, I’ve got a few more ups and downs as the path follows the contours of the ridge, and a bit more time to enjoy the view from the track. As the clouds shift I get a glimpse of Tichá dolina (The Silent Valley) below, as well as some of the surrounding peaks.

An increase in the numbers of walkers indicates my proximity to Kasprowy Wierch – where a cable-car transports walkers up and down the mountain

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I’m taking the cable-car down; I would have been happy to walk but it’s almost 3pm, and I still need to get back down the mountain and Zakopane to catch a bus to Krakow. As well as the cable-car, there’s a couple of chairlifts that are used for skiing in the winter months.

The cable-car runs every 20min, so it’s a fairly short wait before I’m whisked down the mountain. It’s a 12min trip down, from 1,987m at Kasprowy Wierch to 999m at Kuźnice where the cable car terminates, with a stop in the middle where we swap cars. There would probably be magnificent views on a clear day – but alas, not today. Although I’m not complaining. It’s a lot easier than walking down! And I suspect on a clear day the tails and Giemont summit would be fairly crowded, even outside peak season.

It’s been a magnificent walk – far better than I expected, having not done much research (I saw a guidebook on Zakopane two days prior and throught, “that looks good”!). The trails are extensive and well-marked, and the scenery spectacular even with the fog and cloud. I’d love to spend a few days here – with a bit of planning you could some amazing walks between mountain huts.

Location Starting point is the village of Kuźnice (10min by bus or taxi from Zakapone). About two hours from Krakow by public transport
Distance Approx 15km one-way
Grade Moderate (total ascent 1200m). Track steep/rough in parts
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Cable car operates year-round
Resources Zakapone and the Tatra Mountains guidebook (available in multiple languages) from local bookshops
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Map showing route taken. Download larger image.

 

Schneeberg, Lower Austria

The perfect day trip from Vienna when you want to escape the city. There are a number of ways to get to Klosterwappen (Schneeberg summit) at 2,076m, the highest peak in Lower Austria.

Time for another hike on our European adventure… while Vienna is not really surrounded by mountains or near any high alpine peaks, a Google search identifies Schneeberg as good option for a day trip. The Klosterwappen summit on Schneeberg is 2,076m high, making it the highest mountain of Lower Austria. A bit more research confirms I can get there in under two hours by train, and I manage to convince my son Luke he should come with me.

There are multiple walking trails to the Schneeberg plateau, as well as a rack-and-pinion railway (the Schneeberg Railway) which is over 100 years old and takes you to a height of 1,800m, and a chairlift which takes you to 1,210m [see bottom for summary of routes]. The original plan was to take the chairlift up and tackle one of the more challenging routes to the summit – but on arrival at Puchberg am Schneeberg railway station I discover the chairlift is operating only on weekends. Conscious of time, as we have to be back in Vienna by 6pm, we decide to walk up to the peak via the Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg), and then descend on the train. (It’s worth booking ahead for the train – we would have had to wait almost two hours for the first train with seats going up the mountain – see links at the bottom.)

It’s a relatively easy walk as the gravel road follows the train track, although the total ascent from the village of Puchberg am Schneeberg at 585m to the 2,076m Schneeberg summit (Klosterwappen) is about 1,500m. A pretty decent climb for a day walk!

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We have a mini-break at Hengsthütte (1,012m), one of the stations on the train line, that has a small restaurant where I bribe Luke with a can of Coke.

Although the views so far are not particularly inspiring and the walking is a little monotonous, there is some nice display of autumn foliage. (If it seems like I’m not particularly upbeat about the walk at this point, you’re right – I am struggling a little to explain to Luke as each train passes us why we didn’t just catch the train up…! I vaguely recall a quote about “strength and growth coming only through continuous effort and struggle”. I don’t sound very convincing, though.)

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We reach the next hut (Baumgartner, 1,568m asl), which is also a train station, after another hour of walking. There’s another restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area, although we don’t stop. We see a few other hikers for the first time, who appear to have started the walk from this station – a much better idea as the walking starts getting more interesting from here. For the first time we can see the top of the Schneeberg plateau in the distance.

Just after the Baumgartner hut, the road becomes a walking path, and the forest starts to change from tall pine trees to more stunted versions. It’s much nicer walking – and there isn’t a train going past us every 40min reminding us that we didn’t need to walk!

There’s also some great views down onto the valley below, and the towns of Schneebergdörfl and Puchberg am Schneeberg in the distance, where we commenced out hike.

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We make good time on this last section up to the Schneeberg plateau, reaching the edge of the low pine forest – and the first patch of remnant snow – after about 45min. We can see the cross indicating one of the Schneeberg lookouts (but not the summit) in the distance, and I’m subjected to the first of many snowballs thrown at me by Luke…

We make the decision to continue directly to the summit, bypassing the top railway station (Hochschneeberg mountain station). It’s taken us just over three hours from the Puchberg am Schneeberg station at the bottom to the top of the main plateau, but we still have another 300m or so of elevation to get to the summit – or 1.25hrs according to the sign.

It’s very easy walking again, and there’s lot’s of people around – obviously all people who have taken the train up, and haven’t benefited from the strength and growth that came from our continuous effort and struggle hiking up from the bottom! Ahead of us, on the left-hand side of the long ridge, is Klosterwappen, the highest point on Schneeberg. Another hut (Damböckhaus) is packed full of people enjoying lunch on the mountain.

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After 15min along the gravel road, there’s a turn-off to the Klosterwappen summit. Marked by snow poles, there’s a very rough track that heads up to the peak across an alpine meadow.

The views get increasingly more impressive as we head up the steepest part of the slope towards the summit.

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It takes us just over four hours to the summit – a bit slower than the signs suggest on the first part up along the train line – but much quicker on the last section when the sight of the peak (and a few patches of snow to distract Luke) inspire us to pick up the pace (at one point we thought we wouldn’t have time to make it to the very top).

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While the summit is more of a long plateau than an alpine peak, the views from the top are magnificent, stretching in all directions. Looking south-west toward Styria there are mountains as far as the eye can see, including the Rax mountains.

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In the other direction, to the east, is the Bucklige Welt (the “land of a thousand hills”) and the Rohrbachgraben valley.

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We have a brief stop at the summit, before heading back down the hill. (With a bit more time, we could have followed the summit ridge to the Fischerhütte at the other end, which also has a cafe/restaurant open from May-November. From there there’s an alternate route back to the bottom.)

Looking back from the bottom, there’s a nice view back of the summit plateau, with Klosterwappen (2,076m asl) on the far left, and Fischerhütte (2,048m) at the right-hand side.

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There’s just enough time for Luke to build a snowman, expertly crafted from one of the snow drifts. It was a very hot summer and none of the winter snow lasted, but the many snow patches on the mountain are from a cold front a few weeks earlier.

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Before we catch the 3:45pm train back down to Puchberg am Schneeberg, I’ve got time for a few last photos from the Hochschneeberg summit station of the valley below and surrounding mountains.

It’s a much quicker trip down on the train than our 3-hour hike up – and we’re glad we booked in the morning as the train was completely full (there were still some seats available on the next few trains.)

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Schneeberg Summit Routes

I found it a bit confusing working out what the different options were when I planned the trip… the table below is a summary of some of the summit routes on Schneeberg!

Route Details
Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg) – Puchberg am Schneeberg to Hochschneeberg top station 9.3km (1200m elevation gain). Gravel road up to Baumgartner then walking trail. Or take the train 🙂
Hochschneeberg top station to summit (Klosterwappen) 6.5km return (300m elevation gain). Gravel road for 1km then rough track
Hochschneeberg top station to Fischerhütte  (summit plateau) 7km return (280m elevation gain). Gravel road (easier walk than Klosterwappen)
Hochschneeberg to Klosterwappen summit and back via Fischerhütte (circuit) 7.3km circuit (300m elevation gain). Mostly gravel road
Losenheim to Edelweiss Hut 3.4km one-way (470m elevation gain). . Alternative is to take chairlift.
Edelweiss Hut to Klosterwappen summit 3.9km one-way  (820m elevation gain). One of the hardest routes to summit.
Edelweiss Hut to Hochschneeberg via summit (take chairlift up and train down) 6.8km one-way (850m elevation gain).

As well as these walking tracks to the summit, you can also take the Panorama Paradise track from the Hochschneeberg station. This is a circular walk (approx 3km distance and 150m total ascent) that includes the Panorama View lookout. This is well sign-posted and can be done within an hour.

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Location Multiple options to reach the peak on foot, train (up to 1,800m asl) or cablecar (up to 1210m). All start from the town of Puchberg am Schneeberg which is serviced by a regional train line as well as road.
Distance 12.4km from Puchberg am Schneeberg to Klosterwappen summit
Grade Moderate (due to 1,510m total ascent)
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Chairlift open weekends only outside of winter and summer months.
Resources

Mount Faito – Trail of the Angels (Sorrento)

A spectacular cable car ride and scenic walk on Mount Faito, only 10min by train from Pompei – and a great way to avoid the crowds!

Only a few stops on the local train from Pompeii, this short but incredibly scenic diversion is well worth taking a few hours to explore (thanks Dad for the suggestion!). Aside from the views, it’s a welcome diversion from the crowds of Rome and Pompeii. The best part of this walk is getting there via a cable car, which starts from the Castellammare Di Stabia train station on the Circumvesuviana line. Departing every 20 minutes, a ticket can be purchased from the rather nondescript train station.

There were only about 10 people making the trip up, and while I’ve read it’s a popular weekend escape from the heat for locals, on a week-day in late September it wasn’t at all busy.

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There’s great views on the ten-minute journey up, looking out over the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius on the other side. Even without doing a walk at the top it would be worth the round-trip (there’s a small restaurant/cafe at the top).

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From the top of the cable car, there’s a path that leads down the mountain (so you could also walk up – or down – and catch the cable car one-way). Mount Faito is one of the peaks along the Lattari mountain chain, at the base of the Sorrento Peninsula. We find the path that continues up the mountain, which starts at the far end of a shaded picnic ground just above the cafe/restaurant.

It’s easy walking – the first part of the trail to the from the cable car to the Monastery of San Michele is called the “trail of the angel”, as it traces the route taken by the saints Catello and Antonino over 1000 years ago. The trail follows the edge of the mountain, and there are views over Salerno and the distant peaks Piano di Trebucchi.

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As the trail gradually ascends, it crosses some sections of rocky limestone and then a section of tall trees.

After about 40min walking, we reach Porta del Faito, a small clearing on the ridge with views over the Bay of Naples toward Vesuvius.

We admire the impressive views for a while, before turning back – it’s already 1pm and we need to meet the other half of the family at Pompeii. From here. it would be another 15-20min to the Monastery of San Michele and about an hour more to Monte San Michelle, the highest peak in the area. (Also called Il Molare, as it’s shaped like a molar!)

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We re-trace our steps back the cable car, enjoying the views a second time on our descent back to Castellammare Di Stabia train station. (On the way down, we see – and hear – explosions and smoke emanating from a building on a distant ridge, which seem to be fireworks exploding. We never managed to figure out what it was!)

Location A cable car (funicular) departs from the Castellammare Di Stabia station on the Circumvesuviana train line (there’s also a bus to the top or you can drive), in the Sorrento area. Can be combined with a day-trip to Pompeii from Rome.
Distance 1.8km to Porta del Faito (one-way), as walked.
Approx 4km (one way) to Monte San Michelle. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Easy. Total ascent 100m (as walked, to Porta del Faito). Approx 350m ascent to Monte San Michelle
Season/s All year. (Cable car closed December-March)
Resources Cable car (funicular) timetable
Map-Faito2015
Map of Monte Faito with route taken highlighted

Mount Barney

A tough ascent of Mount Barney East (1,351m), one of the highest mountains in Queensland’s “scenic rim”, about two hours from Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

It’s my first solo overnight walk since hiking the 3-day Thorsborne Trail (also in Queensland) back in 2006… I could have done Mount Barney as a day walk with an early start. But as I’m flying up from Sydney and don’t arrive at Mount Barney National Park until 8pm, it makes more sense to camp at the base of the mountain and get an early start the following morning.

It’s pitch black when I arrive at the Yellowpinch carpark and trackhead, but even by the light of my head-torch the first thing you notice is the warning signs. Be prepared. Make sure you’re equipped. Why don’t you consider another walk… Someone at the Parks office must have have had their annual bonus paid on the basis of how many people they could discourage from undertaking this hike. The mountain is known for rapid weather changes and there’s been a few bushwalker rescues by the local SES. But I can’t help feeling that a bit more effort could have been spent on having the various routes to the top shown on the topographical map, if safety is a concern. I’ve got both a printed and an on-line topographical map, and not one of the three summit routes is shown.

The other striking thing is the stars – being a completely clear night and far away from any towns, the night sky is incredible.

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Three Routes to the Mt Barney Summit

There’s many ways to get to the top of Mount Barney – all of them being fairly rough. The warning signs outline the two “official” routes, but makes no mention of one of the most popular routes to the top.

  • South East Ridge (SER) – one of the official summit tracks and also one of the longest routes. The signage suggests not to descend using this route due to some steep scrambles.
  • South East Ridge – an alternate and popular route; it’s the most direct and steepest.  No official signage at the start of the trail. I went up this way.
  • South Ridge (SR) aka Peasants Ridge – the second “official” route which is slightly longer. It’s the only route that provides camping sites close to the summit (Rum Jungle and Old Hut sites). I came down this way.

Although I didn’t do all three routes, both the South East “Unofficial” and South Route were of similar difficulty (in terms of both navigation and rock scrambling). I met a group who had gone up and back down using the South East Route (SER) and they didn’t experience any difficulties. If you’re planning to camp near the top, then the South Route would be the best option; otherwise going up the South East “Unofficial” track is the (arguably) quickest way to the top! (It’s feasible but not officially allowed to camp on the summit – there’s plenty of space but the ground is very rocky and covered with vegetation – and it can get very cold and windy!)

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Distances of camping sites and Mt Barney summit trailheads from Yellowpinch Reserve

South East Ridge – going up

I’ve camped at Cronan Creek 9 (booked and paid for online the previous day – see link at bottom of post): it’s one of two official camping spots along an old forestry road that follows the valley,  providing access to all the summit trails. I leave the warmth of my tent around 6:30am, and continue down the firetrail.

About 500m further I pass Cronan Creek 10, an equally nice camping spot – both are situated close to Cronan Creek, which had a decent flow of water (there had been some rain over the previous days).

It’s only about 15min to the start of South East Route; I knew what I was looking for from previous online research – a tree with arrows scratched into it, next to a fallen log – although there is no official signage here. The track is narrow but easy to follow, as it immediately starts climbing through tall forest.

One of the advantages of the South East Ridge route is you get nice views along the trail to the east and west: below is the view looking south towards Mount Ernest (964m), another peak in the Mount Barney National Park.

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About half-way up there’s two markers with “SER”: nice to know I’m on the track, but a little baffling as this is the “unofficial” South East Ridge track that isn’t meant to exist… there are two of these markers close together.

As the trail follows the ridge up, it gets rockier and the trees more stunted… to the left (east?) the trail often passes closes to the edge of the ridge, with steep drop-offs to the valley.

About two thirds of the way up is the only time that I think I may have lost the track… there’s a rocky outcrop that looks a bit daunting, but is actually fairly easy to traverse. A nice view again from the top of the outcrop…

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After clambering over the outcrop, the track then drops slightly into a small gully, before climbing up what I hope is the summit (I’m now at about 1,100m asl). It initially seems there’s no obvious trail on the other side of the outcrop, but after a bit of searching I find a trail that continues up the next ridge!

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There are frequent views out to the south, and as you gain altitude Mt Lindesay (1175m) starts becoming visible behind Mt Ernest.

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There’s one tricky section where a rope would come in handy – it doesn’t look too difficult in the photo (below) and there’s no exposure – but it takes some effort to get up one large boulder. After a few attempt, I wedge my feet into a narrow crack and haul myself up the rock. I wouldn’t have liked to do this with a heavy pack!

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Although the views are generally to the south, there are a few vantage points where you can look out the north east, with Mt Maroon (967m) to the north – this is another peak that has a trail to the summit.

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I’m now at around 1200m, and there’s a final ridge to climb to what I hope is the summit – it looks impossibly steep. But the track winds up the steep ridge, between rocks and along a few sections where you’re pulling yourself up with the help of exposed tree roots.

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Finally I think I’ve reached the summit… but it’s a false summit. The Mount Barney East peak is tantalizingly close, but first I need to drop down slightly into a saddle and back up the peak.

I’ve got the summit to myself: s group of four hikers is behind me, and I meet a family who have just finished lunch and head off down the South Ridge track.  The views are pretty impressive.

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To the south Mt Lindesay is clearly visible behind Mt Ernest, which has a long ridge line.

To the north west is a glimpse of Lake Maroon and the Main Range National Park.

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South Ridge – going down

After a short break at the top, I decide to descend South Ridge, and continue along the scrubby summit ridge. Directly ahead of me across a saddle is Mount Barney West (a few metres higher than Mount Barney East, at 1353m).

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I’m heading for Rum Jungle, an area of dense forest in the saddle between Mount Barney East and Mount Barney West.

It’s a fairly steep descent with no obvious path – most of the time I’m trying to walk on top of the large sections of rock, and avoiding the thick scrub. I’m aiming for a small clearing at the bottom – the Old Huts site, where there used to be a few huts (nothing remains there now). From here there are occasional markers, which helps as the track from Old Hut site, which crosses a small creek, is hard to find. This would be a nice camping spot, with a short but steep hike up to the summit.

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Here I lose the track – or rather, take the wrong track which leads to nowhere – before backtracking and finding a faint trail to Rum Jungle. This is another nice camp site, very shaded and I’ve read prone to leeches if it’s been raining.

I make a small diversion up Mount Barney West, which provides a nice view back to the Mount Barney East summit. I don’t have the energy to scramble to the top of this peak…!

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The start of the track from Rum Jungle down South Ridge is not obvious… but once you’re on it, there are orange “SR” markers at regular intervals. There are a lot less views from this track – although you do get occasional views to the south.

It’s a lot less steep than the South East Ridge track, but a bit longer… it feels like the descent take forever as it descends through light forest and the occasional rocky section. Looking the GPS track afterwards, it’s about 3km up via the South East Ridge track and 5km down via the South Ridge track,

In contrast to the South East Ridge track, with its tricky slab near the top, the South Ridge has a couple of steep bits near the bottom. The first one is a long and steep section, which is not difficult, but would be more challenging if wet. Shortly after there’s a big rock that requires me to precariously cling to the rock and some handy grasses growing out of the rock… the group behind me takes one look at me stuck halfway down, and finds an easy way around the rock!

From here it’s another easy 1.5km or so back to the main firetrail, through tall forest and a few sections of rainforest.

Unlike the South East Ridge trailhead, this one is well-marked.

It’s starting to feel late in the day, even though it’s only about 3pm – sunset is around 5:30pm. I’ve got time to explore a bit more, so rather than heading back to the car at Yellowpinch, I continue up the firetrail to have a look at Conan Creek Falls. It’s easy walking, although slightly uphill (you gain about 100m), and the firetrail crosses the creek a couple of times (all of the crossing can be rock-hopped without getting wet feet!).

I reach the sign-posted track down to Cronan Creek about 2.6km from the South Ridge trail head. It’s then only 100m down to the creek. I think it’s worth the walk – there’s no-one else here, and if it was a few degrees warmer I would have gone for a quick swim.

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Now it’s straight back to the Yellowpinch car park, via my camp site where I need to pack up my tent and collect overnight backpack. It’s about 5km down the firetrail to the national park boundary, where a weir crosses Logan River.

The last 2km passes through light forest and farmland – it seems the firetrail is actually on private land. The mountain directly ahead is not Mount Barney – it’s a much lower peak.

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There are glimpses of Mount Barney East to the west, rising above the forest.

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A bit further (about a kilometre before the car park)  is the well-marked start of the “official” South East Ridge track, with Mount Barney in the background.

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From here it’s another 20min or so back to the car. I’m back just after 4pm, and with plenty of time to get my evening flight back to Sydney. A great walk that I’d do again… but with time to catch sunrise/sunset from the peak.

Location Start at Yellowpinch car park, about 100km from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Do not enter “Mount Barney” into Apple or Google Maps or you’ll end up at the wrong place!
Distance Approx 1-4km to start of summit trail (depending on which one).
3km ascent via South East Ridge (unofficial) or 5km via South Ridge.
Approx 22km as walked (3km Day 1 / 19km Day 2)
Grade Hard. Total elevation gain 1,100m. Some difficult sections of rock and some trails are distinct but unmarked
Season/s All year. Winter is definitely the best time. Avoid walking in the middle of the day in summer.
Maps
  • 1:25K Mt Lindesay topographical map
  • Create a bespoke topographical map which can be downloaded as an image or PDF at QTopo
  • Mount Barney National Park map PDF download – not much use for navigation
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • “Secrets of the Scenic Rim” by Robert Rankin has detailed notes of many walks in the area, including Mount Barney
  • “Take a Walk in South East Queensland” by John & Lyn Daley
  • Camp sites must be booked and a small fee applies – you can do this on-line via the Queensland National Parks Booking Service. You’ll be able to print a Camping Tag to attach to your tent.

 

Mount Trusmadi (Mannan Trail from Sinua)

A tough overnight walk through the jungle to the peak of Mount Trusmadi in Borneo, the second-highest mountain in Malaysia, via the Mannan trail from Sinua.

I’d booked the Trusmadi (or Trus Madi) hike during our two-week family holiday in Borneo. As the second-highest mountain in Malaysia, it seemed a good alternative to Mt Kinabalu (which I’d climbed twice on previous trips). Although considerably less high at 2,642m (in comparison to Kinabalu at 4,052m), it’s considered a tougher climb (I’ve added my comparison of Kinabalu and Trusmadi at the end.) The plan was to do the shorter 2 day / 1 night Wayaan Kaingaran route which is accessed from Tambunan… but a few days before the hike, our tour guide said “I’ve got good news and bad news about your Trusmadi hike”…

…turns out the access road from Tambunan to the start of the Trusmadi hike was closed due to a recent landslide (I think that was the bad news!). The good news was that I could still go, but would have to take a longer and harder Wayaan Mannan route that starts from the small village of Sinua, and it would now be a 3 day / 2 night trek.

It also meant a much longer journey to the start of the trail near Sinua. Getting to the start point took just under seven hours by road from Kota Kinabalu, including a lunch stop and coffee break, as I was transferred between three different cars for the trip.

 

The final stretch of road, which was only constructed about 30 years ago, provides the first view of Trusmadi in the distance.

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Camp 1 at Sinua is our destination for today: there’s a small bunkhouse and a larger dormitory with rows of hammocks. Soon there will also be one more up-market “cabin” to cater for the increasing tourism market and interest on the Trusmadi trek. I’ve got the bunkhouse to myself – two other groups had booked the shorter trail, but decided not to do the longer option. Compared to Kinabalu where 100+ people are on the mountain every day, having an entire mountain to myself is a new and decidedly more pleasant experience 🙂

 

Sinua (Camp 1) to Camp 2 – 7.4km

The Trusmadi trek starts the next day at 7:30am, up to Camp 2. We’re dropped off 1km down the road where the trail starts – “we” being my guide Sam, Melda the cook, Deo the assistant and myself. It’s a slightly larger entourage than I expected: I would have been happy with two-minute noodles for dinner, but I’m not complaining about having three cooked meals a day. It explains why the Trusmadi hike is more expensive than Kinabalu, where there is a permanent “camp” on the mountain.

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The path crosses a river on a well-constructed bridge as we head towards the Trusmadi forest reserve.

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The next crossing of the same river is not quite so civilised, as we take our shoes off, wade across… and put on our leech socks for the first section of the path.

 

We’re following an old logging road for most of the way to Camp 2, so it’s not too steep. But there are a LOT of leeches as we climb up through the jungle. My cheap leech socks seem to be working, but every time I stop I need to remove another set of hopeful leeches from my shoes.

 

The old road – it’s more of a track in places – gets progressively steeper. There’s a few creek crossings, as well as ferns, orchids and a few flowering plants. The guide tells me that one orchid that we spot (bottom right) is worth USD$5,000 in Europe.

 

After about 6.5km we reach an overgrown clearing, which marks the end of the old logging road. The last 800m to Camp 2 is a preview of the rest of the way to to the peak – a very narrow and rough track carved through the jungle. It’s much slower going, and feels more like an obstacle course than a track.

 

We reach Camp 2 at around 11am – it’s taken us about 3.5 hours to cover the 7.4km. From our starting point at Camp 1, we’ve also ascended from about 680m elevation to 1750m – which means we’ve done more than half of the vertical distance. It’s a nice camp which we have to ourselves, although capacity is about 30 people plus guides and cooks. It’s a but overcast and there’s some rain, but for a few short periods when the clouds part, there’s a view to the east over the surrounding mountains and forest.

 

To the north-east there are occasional glimpses of Trusmadi – although most of the time, it’s hidden in the swirling clouds and mist.

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It’s an early dinner (three different dishes cooked over the camp fire – I feel very spoilt!) and a few cups of tea by the fire before an early night. It’s pretty chilly at this altitude (I’m given a spare sleeping bag, or it would be very cold) and it starts raining heavily. I go to bed with a degree of trepidation about whether the rain will clear…

 

Camp 2 to the Summit – 4.2km

There’s no photos for this section, because it was dark. We leave camp at 1am for the summit – it’s rained all night, but stops just before we set out. I hope it clears in time for sunrise, so the effort of the climb will be rewarded by a great view!

It’s a tough climb, both because the track is steep, and because it’s very rough and muddy. There are some sections where you try and avoid stepping into foot-deep mud, many sections where you’re negotiating huge roots and occasionally a rope to help where the track is nearly vertical! The other “highlight” of this approach versus the other routes, is that there are in fact three peaks. To reach the Trusmadi summit, you must first traverse two smaller peaks along the ridge.

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We reach the summit at 4am, a bit too early. Actually, way too early. Rather than wait at the true summit (2,624m), we continue a bit further down the mountain (along the Tambunan trail) to Jiran Point. Here there is a five metre observation tower – and also a very small shelter that gives us a bit of protection from the cold as we wait for the sun to rise. I’m glad we wait – I’m getting pretty cold and almost suggest that we head back down the mountain to get out of the wind. But eventually the sun emerges, above a thick layer of cloud. In the distance, rising above the clouds, is Mount Kinabalu about 40km to the north.

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It’s a relatively short walk back to the true summit. The view isn’t as good as it is from the observation tower, but there’s still an unobstructed view of Kinabalu in the distance.

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Trusmadi Summit back to Camp 1 – 11.6km

From the summit, it’s back the same way down… Near the summit I can now see a wide range of unique flora and fauna, including the nepenthes macrophylla pitcher plant. Found only at a specific elevation on Mount Trusmadi (between 2200m and the summit at 2642m), its name is derived from the Latin words macro (large) and phylla (leaves).

 

There’s a few more glimpses of Trusmadi through breaks in the canopy.

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It’s less tiring but not a lot easier going down, as the slippery and muddy track requires constant attention.

 

The steepest section is between the “third” (main) Trusmadi peak and the second peak: after the initial descent from the summit there’s a steep climb, with a few sections aided by rope.

 

Other parts are less steep, but still require careful navigation using exposed tree roots for support.

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It takes us about 2.5 hours to reach Camp 2, and we have short break for our second breakfast (our first breakfast having been around midnight, before we set off for the summit).

 

From Camp 2, another two hours takes us back to Camp 1. This is easy walking after the previous section of the walk down to Camp 2 – but after heavy rain on the previous day, the leeches are out in force. I decide not to bother with my leech socks (which I’d bought for $1.50 a few days ago) and continue with my normal hiking socks and long pants. I think I must have removed at least 50 of the little bastards from my shoes and socks. After we reach the base of the mountain just before midday, I remove my socks and change into clean pant. I discover that 14 leeches have successfully latched onto various parts of my ankles and feet!

Leeches aside, it’s been one of my best hikes in Malaysia. Varied and challenging terrain, a great view at the top and a feeling of adventure that you don’t get on many of the more popular walks and summits.

Kinabalu versus Trusmadi

It’s not really a fair comparison, as apart from geographic proximity they are very different mountains. If you can, do both – but if you’ve limited time and have to pick? I’d go for Trusmadi, by a slim margin!

Elevation: Kinabalu is the clear winner for bragging rights at 4,095m altitude, compared to Trusmadi at 2,642m. Although if you compare the vertical distance hiked, they are fairly similar with 2,200m elevation gain for Kinabalu (you start much higher) compared to about 2000m for Trusmadi (if you do the route from Sinua). The shorter trails from Api Api and Tambunan have a lesser elevation gain.

Difficulty: Trusmadi has been described as harder than Kinabalu, and the trail is definitely a lot tougher. The altitude of Kinabalu does make a difference, and descending the mountain’s thousands of steps means you’ll feel your legs for a few days. But Trusmadi (at least if you take the longer of the trails) is more challenging, both in the length of the trail, steepness and the fact it’s largely an undeveloped jungle track.

Flora & Fauna: you’re unlikely to see much wildlife (unless you count leeches) on either walk, although if you’re patient there is a lot of birdlife at Trusmadi. Both mountains offer orchids, ferns and pitcher plants – Trusmadi has the advantage of being home to the huge nepenthes macrophylla pitcher plant, which is found in abundance near the peak.

Solitude: Trusmadi wins by a mile… pick the right weekend or go during the week, and there’s a good chance you’ll have the mountain to yourself. Especially if you go for one of the longer routes. By comparison, you’ll need to book well ahead for Kinabalu, and you’ll be walking up the mountain in a long line of people.

Views: The landscape as you climb Kinabalu is more varied, as you go from jungle to the exposed and rocky summit. There’s the same risk with both peaks that the only thing you see is cloud, if you’re unlucky with the weather. They both offer outstanding views from the top – you don’t really notice the significant difference in height from the top, and both peaks will rise above any low cloud cover.

 

 

Cost: I was surprised by how much more expensive it was to do Trusmadi when researching the walk: I paid around RM2150 / USD$540 x2 (as there’s a minimum of two people) for the 2D/1N version, including transport from Kota Kinabalu. By comparison Mt Kinabalu is around RM1500 / USD$380 for a foreigner, and promotional rates are sometimes available. One of the reasons for the difference is that Kinabalu has a permanent camp at Laban Rata with staff who stay there in shifts, while on Trusmadi there’s no permanent camp. A cook and assistant walked with us up to Camp 2, carrying all the supplies we needed. It may be possible to do Trusmadi without a guide (you still need to book a permit), and you could also negotiate a rate for just a guide if you organise and carry your own food.

In summary, Trusmadi feels more remote and challenging but be prepared for leeches and mud. If you’re not used to hiking or don’t want to rough it too much, Kinabalu would be the best pick.

Location The Mannan trail starts near Kampung Sinua, in the Keningau District.
Distance 7.4km on Day 1 and 15.8km on Day 2.
Grade Hard (very steep/slippery in sections with some ropes). Total elevation gain ~2000m
Season/s All year, but best to avoid wet season (Nov – March).
Map N/A
GPS route View route and export to KML format:
Day 1 – Camp 1 (Sinua) to Camp 2
Day 2 – Camp 2 to Trusmadi summit and back to Camp 1
Resources

Emory Peak (Big Bend)

A long day walk that ascends Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park, and continues to the South Rim, Southeast Rim and Northeast Rim. Spectacular views for most of the route!

Today’s my second and last day at Big Bend, and I’m up early for a big hike… The plan is to hike up to Emory Peak and the South Rim via the Pinnacles Trail, then do a circuit of the South Rim via the Southeast and Northeast Rim Trails, before returning to The Basin on the Laguna Meadows Trail. A long hike, but one described as “one of the most impressive in the park”, so I’m looking forward to the day.

The Basin to Emory Peak junction (Pinnacles Trail) – 5.2km / 3.2 miles (465m ascent)

After the drive from Terlingua Ranch Lodge, I set-out from The Basin car park around 7:30am, with the well-marked trail immediately climbing up towards the mountains.

It’s a steady, but not steep, climb up to Juniper Flat, a nice grassy plain where the first marked camping sites are located. The trail follows the base of a low mountain range that forms part of the eastern Chisos mountains.

From time to time there are views out to the east over Juniper Canyon, although much of the trail is through forest.

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It’s a surprisingly varied environment. There are sections of thick and deeply shaded forest, including what I think is Graves Oak (Chisos Red Oak), which display a deep red foliage in autumn (fall). Moments later, cactus plants are a reminder we are in the Texan desert!

There’s more fantastic views as the trail climbs.

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After a final steep section of switch-backs, the trail reaches a saddle between Toll Mountain and Emory Peak. There’s a lots of shade here, as well as toilets and large bear-proof containers for anyone leaving a backpack for the trail up to Emory Peak.

Emory Peak (and back) – 4.9km / 3 miles (330m ascent)

The trail quickly leaves the forest, as it follows the ridge towards Emory Peak, and with a very gentle incline.

It’s very pleasant hiking, with views of Boot Rock and across to Toll Mountain.

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As the trail gets closer to the peak – directly ahead are the two rocky peaks – it gets more exposed. To the north you can see The Basin, our starting point, in the distance. It’s rather obvious from here how it gets its name!

There’s a last, steep section to get to the summit. Or rather, the base of the summit. As Emory Peak consists of two rocky columns. Both can be climbed with some scrambling: the right, or northern, column (below left) is slightly higher. Both have almost vertical cliffs on all sides, so while it’s not a difficult climb you don’t want to suffer vertigo or have a fear of heights for this last bit.

The views from either peak are outstanding, with a 360-degree outlook over Big Bend National Park, and beyond. Looking north is The Basin and the Chisos mountains.

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To the south is the Rio Grande, and Mexico.

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The panoramic views are stunning, and it takes some effort to clamber back down the rock, to return back down to the South Rim Trail.

It’s easy walking back down to the saddle, with the hardest part of the hike behind me. (It’s all downhill from here! Well, almost…)

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Boot Spring Trail – 2.9km / 1.8 miles (80m ascent)

From the junction with the Emory Peak Trail, the Pinnacles Trail becomes the Boot Canyon Trail. It descends very gradually towards Boot Canyon, with “the boot” visible in the distance.

An interesting rock formation that can be seen from quite a distance away, it gets it’s name because it looks like an up-turned cowboy boot…

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As the track nears a spring in Boot Canyon, a couple of deer graze by the track (the only wildlife I’ve seen so far).

Not too much further along and there’s a very basic and somewhat dilapidated shelter by the track, which I later learn is used as a shelter by rangers and maintenance staff performing repairs to the radio tower on Emory Peak. There’s a short track down to the spring, which is the only spring in the high Chisos mountains. I’ve read it is not reliable, but today there’s a decent flow of water. It’s a very sheltered and cool spot in a small valley, and would make a nice rest spot on a hot day.

Not much further on and fed by the spring is a small pond. The bottom looked a little slimy and I’m not sure that swimming in such natural ponds is encouraged, but would have been deep enough to cool of on a hotter day.

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What was striking on this section of the trail was the Bigtooth Maple trees, their bright red leaves contrasting with the greenery of the firs and other evergreen trees.

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The trail soon leaves the shaded valley as it climbs up Boot Canyon, reaching the junction with the Northeast Rim Trail about half-way up.

Northeast and Southeast Rim Trails – 3.9km / 2.4 miles (140m ascent)

Although the track is still well marked, as I turn-off onto the Northeast Rim Trail it’s a bit more overgrown and seems to be a lot less travelled. (I’ve seen a few people on the trails so far, but not one person on this section.) The trail traverses grassy plans and light forest as it climbs up to the rim.

As the track starts to follow the rim, there are views far out to the north-east, over Juniper Canyon and to Crown Mountain and beyond.

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The views are just stunning as the trail follows the edge of the rim, with desert and mountains as far as the eye can see! (I’ve read the views are far less clear toward Mexico due to power stations causing pollution – but I’ve nothing to compare to.)

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There are a number of rock platforms providing a spectacular vantage point over the Big Bend National Park.

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As the track starts swinging around to the south, there are views over the Chisos Formation to the Elephant Tusk and Dominguez Mountain (with the Rio Grande beyond).

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The trail continues to swing around to the south-east as it follows the steep cliff line, with the Sierra Quemada (which translates to “the Burned Mountains” in Spanish) range to the south.

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There are more eye-watering views all the way along the trail, and as it slow-going with constant photo stops…

As the trail continues along the south rim, there are panoramic views to the south, towards the southern part of Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande. To the right are the jagged Punta de la Sierra (a southern escarpment of the Chisos Mountains) and Dominguez Mountain, and just to the left Backbone Ridge and Elephant Tusk. Further to the left is the smaller Chillicotal Mountain.

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Somehow, the views seem to keep getting better and better… I wonder how I coped many years ago, before digital cameras allowed the luxury of taking so many photos!

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The trail continues to follow the rim, to the junction with the Boot Canyon Trail. This is where I would have met the South Rim, if I hadn’t take the longer Northeast and Southeast Rim trails. Which I’m very glad I did, as the scenery has been stunning! If I had more time (and had brought my camping gear), one of the designated tent sites around the South Rim would be an amazing place to catch the sunrise and sunset. Next time!

South Rim Trail – 3.5km / 2.1miles (100m descent)

The trail names are a bit confusing – I think I’ now on the Southwest Rim trail, although it’s also referred to as the South Rim Trail. Now that I’ve rejoined the slightly and more popular circuit, I encounter a few people on the trail. The views are still out to the south, over Backbone Ridge, Elephant Tusk and Chillicotal Mountain.

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As the trail nears its most southern point, you can see the South Rim Formation, where I’ve come from, stretching back to the north-east. Directly ahead is the Sierra Quemada and Punta de la Sierra, and to the right the Mule Ear Peaks.

As the trail starts bearing north, the outlook is to the south-west and takes in the Mule Ear Peaks (although it looks like a single peak) and Kit Mountain.

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A broad rock platform on the edge of the cliff provides a last view to the south and south-east.

The trail then now starts to head away from the south rim, and begins a gradual descent along Boot Canyon – on the opposite side of the valley to the Boot Canyon Trail.

Laguna Meadow Trail – 7.4km / 4.6 miles (490m descent)

From the junction with the Colima Trail, it’s all downhill… and a bit of an anti-climax after the South Rim! After a last view at the Sierra Quemada to the south, the trail winds around the back of Emory Peak.

As the trail descends further, The Basin comes into view – overshadowed by the Casa Grande Peak to the right and the Pulliam Bluff behind.

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The trail isn’t steep, but feels like it goes forever as it descends in a northerly direction to The Basin, with a few switch-backs from time to time. It’s fairy exposed, but fortunately it’s not a hot day. This bit wouldn’t be much fun at the height of summer.

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Eventually, I reach the junction with the Basin Loop Trail, with Emory Peak now in the distance. Almost home!

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A last section, before the junction with the Pinnacles Trail, to complete the circuit!

From here, it’s a short distance back to the car. It’s been a long but spectacular walk. And I’ve still got a few hours of daylight left to squeeze in one more walk, and to find somewhere to watch the sun set.

Location  The Basin parking area (Visitor Centre)
Distance 31km (19 miles) circuit inc Emory Peak
Grade Moderate. 1100m total ascent on a very well-built trail.
Season/s All year round.
Maps The Basin and Emory Peak topographical maps.
Or “Big Bend” Trails Illustrated topographical map.
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Hiking Big Bend National Park (Laurence Parent), p.27,31,34
BigBend-EmoryPeak
Map showing route of Emory Peak via North and South Rim Trails. Source: Hiking Big Bend National Park book

Lost Mine Trail (Big Bend NP)

A steep walk up to a ridge, rewarded by stunning views over the Chisos Mountains and out toward Mexico.

The last hike of my first day at Big Bend, with a couple of hours of daylight left. I’d seen mixed reviews of this trail, with some comments that it’s “over-rated”, and others suggesting it was one of the best walks in the park. Either way, it’s one of the most popular trails in the park: by setting out at 5pm, apart from a few people on their way back, I had the trail pretty much to myself.

There’s a big sign at the start warning of wild bears and mountain, which is comforting when walking on your own, just before dusk 🙂 The well-made track starts climbing immediately through light juniper, oak and pinyon pine forest, and there’s no views for the first kilometre or so.

Shortly after the first kilometre (0.7 miles) of steady uphill walking, you start getting views to the south over Juniper Canyon and towards Mexico.

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The track is now quite exposed; being very late afternoon means it’s still a comfortable temperature. But I wouldn’t like to be doing this section at midday in summer! After 1.5km (just under a mile) there’s a saddle, from where there’s great views south towards Mexico, as well the ridge above the track and Lost Mine Peak to the north of the trail.

After the saddle, the track gets more steep with multiple switchbacks. The quality of the track, built from 1940-42 by the Civilian Conservation Corps can be seen here with examples of some serious stonework.

Between some of the switchbacks, there’s a great view to the west to the Chisos Basin Campground, and to The Window at the end of the Chisos Basin.

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I spot a Mexican Jay (formerly known as grey-breasted jay), which feeds largely on acorns and pine nuts and lives in montane pine-oak forest (in Mexico and parts of Arizona and Texas).

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Finally, the last exposed ridge is reached after 3.5km (just over two miles) – which is also the highest point of the trail. However, the best views are at the end of this 400m ridge.

From the end of the trail, there are spectacular views in most directions – to the south-east is Pine Canyon and the Sierra Del Carmen, in Mexico.

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To the south-west is the east rim of the Chisos mountains.

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I’ve got the summit to myself for over an hour, as I wait for the sun to set. It’s cold on the exposed ridge due to the wind, but tucked down in the rocks it’s the perfect temperature. I only wish I’d thought to bring some wine or a whiskey with me: it would have been the perfect end to the day (although, I still have the descent ahead of me!).

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As the sun dips behind the Casa Grande peak, it’s time to head back to the car.

The descent is much quicker than the ascent, despite the fading light (for the last mile I need to use my head torch). I’m at the Chisos Mountain Lodge by 8:30pm, in time for dinner. It’s been a magnificent walk, and I’m glad I ignored the advice that suggested avoiding this trail. I’m also very happy that I went late in the day, and avoided the crowds – in summary, I’d definitely put this trail at the very top of the Big Bend “must do” list. But go very early in the morning or late in the day, and avoid the crowds. I can imagine that following a queue of people up through a series of switchbacks in the midday sun would put you off this walk.

Location Trail near Panther Pass, just before reaching the Basin
Distance 7.8km (4.8 miles) return
Grade Easy. 350m ascent on a very well-built trail.
Season/s All year round. Is one of the busiest trails.
Maps The Basin topographical map.
Also “Big Bend” Trails Illustrated topographical map.
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Hiking Big Bend National Park (Laurence Parent), p.56

Olive Trail in Naukluft Mountains (Namibia)

A challenging circular walk that starts with sweeping views from a high ridge before following a riverbed down through a narrow gorge back to the start.

Finally, my first “real” walk in Namibia, in the Namib-Naukluft Park. The park was originally created as a sanctuary for the Hartmann’s mountain zebra in 1968 and expanded over the following decades. It’s now 49,768 square kilometres in size, making it the largest conservation area in Namibia and one of the largest in Africa. The section I’m walking in is the Naukluft Mountains, which a mountainous region with large, varied rock formations that supports five different vegetation communities.

Unfortunately, with all the other activities we’re doing, I only have one afternoon free to tackle a walk in the area. The shortest walk is the Olive Trail, a 10km circuit. It’s a 126km drive on dirt roads from Kulala Desert Lodge, where we’re staying, to the start of the walk. Leaving a little after midday, it takes almost two hours to get to the Naukluft park office – longer than I had anticipated (the roads aren’t great!). Paying my fee at the office, I was given a rather sceptical look at my late starting time for the walk, as I start out around 2:30pm up the well-marked track.

 

Starting near the Kudusrus Campsite, the trail is named after the wild olive trees that populate the area. The trail starts immediately to climb up the slope – it’s a constant but gradual ascent, and fairly easy walking despite it still being fairly warm.

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The views also get better as I gain altitude, looking back down the trail to the valley below and the mountain range beyond.

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After about 2km, the trail leaves the edge of the escarpment and continues to climb, a little less steeply, along a dry riverbed towards the top of the ridge.

Finally, after 2.4km (and a modest ascent of 320m) I reach the plateau. From here there are some great views again down onto the other side of the ridge. Below me is the valley that I’ll follow back to the car, and I can see the trail winding down the other side of the valley to the creek bed.

It’s easy walking for the next kilometre or so, along the top of the ridge, and then down into the valley. The track gets rocky and uneven as it descends, but it always well marked by white arrows or markings on the rocks.

Having reached the valley, I follow the dry riverbed “downstream”. Its fairly rocky underfoot but not difficult walking, and the valley is still fairly wide.

The vegetation changes along the valley floor, with plants such as the quiver tree growing out of the rocks. Named the national plant of Namibia, the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) is a member of a group of succulent plants known as ‘Aloes’ that grows to tree-like proportions.

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The valley starts to get narrower, and the cliffs taller and more dramatic as I continue down the riverbed.

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As it narrows, the valley becomes more canyon-like, with towering cliffs on both sides. The ground is increasingly uneven underfoot and there are bigger rocks to navigate: my speed is slower that anticipated and I have a nasty fall in my attempt to maintain a quick pace back to the car.

I push on as quickly as I can: I’m attempting to appreciate the beauty of the valley/gorge, while conscious that I’m supposed to get back to the camp before dinner…  What’s not really helping is that the valley, now feeling more like a canyon, has massive boulders blocking the entire width of the narrow gorge. Careful clambering is required to get past these obstacles.

Finally, I reach a section that’s less than two metres wide, with a vertical drop of a few metres and sheer cliffs on both sides. I have a brief moment of panic, as I try and work out if I should give up and return the way I’ve come from.

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I then realise there is a chain attached to the left-hand side… I’ve reached the section described as:  “A ‘slight difficulty’ but nonetheless highlight of the trail, is at the end of the gorge where you have to use a ‘chain’ bridge to cross rock ledges”. Trusting this rather slim chain, which seems to take my weight, I slowly make my way across the section, arriving at the other end with some relief. (My bruised toe and sore ribs from my earlier fall is not helping!)

It’s a spectacular sight in the late afternoon light, as I make my way through the last, narrow section of the gorge before it opens again.

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Shortly after this narrow section, there are a few more pools with water. There are many butterflies around, but I don’t see any another animals – with more time, this would be a good spot to wait and look for some of the larger animals that inhabit the Naukluft area.

I then manage to take a wrong turn, following a wide track that continues straight ahead. I soon realise my error and turn back – the Olive Trail veers south-west down a different valley. (There are arrows confirming the way, but this spot – about 7.1km from the start – is a bit confusing as it intersects with another, unmarked, 4WD track that seems the obvious choice. But it would have taken me a long, long way in the wrong direction!)

Once I’m on the correct route, the last section (about 2.5km) is quick and easy walking. I make good time back to the car, finishing in exactly 2.5 hours.

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With the sun getting low in the sky, I’ve now got a two hour drive back to Kulala Desert Camp for dinner. It’s been worth the long drive though – a fantastic walk with a huge variety of terrain, vegetation and scenery.

Location Namib Naukluft Park, 3km from park office. Google Maps ref.
Distance 9.7km circuit (some notes state it as being 11km)
Grade Moderate/hard (some uneven and steep sections with chains)
Season/s All year round
Maps Basic map from park station
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.

Map-OliveTrail-Naukluft

Damaraland desert hiking (Namibia)

A couple of short, evening hikes to some of the Damaraland peaks around Camp Kipwe, with stunning views over the desert landscape.

Camp Kipwe Circuit

We arrive at Camp Kipwe, in the Damaraland area of Namibia, at around 3pm. The rest of the family is keen to have a swim and enjoy a quiet afternoon, so I take advantage of my “free afternoon” to explore the area on foot. I’d found some information on-line that states: “This region is ideal for walking and guests are encouraged to explore the area surrounding Camp Kipwe”. So I set-off in the direction of the nearest small hill. It looks a reasonable height, but in reality is less than 50m – and it seems to be a pretty straightforward “climb”.

The top is quickly reached, and even the relatively low elevation gain provides 360-degrees over the Damaraland desert. The vegetation is very sparse, with the dry landscape broken up by a number of rocky outcrops and mountains.

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To the south, the Aba-Huab River is marked by the denser and greener vegetation; while the riverbed is dry and water rarely flows down the watercourse, the deep roots of the trees are able to reach the underground water table.

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Sending up the drone yields an even better view of the arid landscape, with the taller mountains to the north-west, and the long line of trees to the east marking the path of the dry Aba-Huab River.

From here, it seems logical to head down the other side of my mini-mountain, and complete a small circuit around our camp up and over the next three outcrops.

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The next mini-peak is directly opposite Camp Kipwe, and you can see from here how the huts are nestled into the boulders.

From the end of this outcrop I’m right at the edge of the Aba-Huab valley.

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Ahead of me is the last mini-peak of my circuit…

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This one proves the trickiest to climb, although it too is only about 30m high, consisting of larger boulder than the previous outcrops. It takes a few attempts to find a viable route to the top!

There’s another great view from the top over the Damaraland desert: looking east there’s Camp Kipwe down below (the smallest outcrop in the middle) with some of the higher peaks beyond.

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Descending on the other side proves a bit quicker. I make a slight detour to have a closer look at a tree that stands out by its whiteness against the red landscape. I learn later from one of the guides that it’s a Star Chestnut Tree, which grows mostly on rocky outcrops and hill slopes. The trunk is smooth and appears very white due to a powdery white substance (bloom) that rubs off – this white bloom only occurs on trees growing in the arid western parts of Namibia.

From here it’s quick walk around the Camp Kipwe outcrop, and back to the camp in time for sundowners. I don’t know it (yet), but in the distance is a larger mountain that’s the target of tomorrow’s evening walk…

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Mountain Climb with Stanley

During sundowners, at the top of Camp Kipwe which overlooks the desert with peaks all around us, I ask one of the staff “have you climbed any of the peaks?”. To my surprise, Stanley points very definitively at one of the higher mountains and replies “I’ve always wanted to climb that one”. “How about tomorrow”, I suggest, half-jokingly… and his immediate response is: “I’ll be ready at 6pm”.

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The following day, after our afternoon drive, I grab a water bottle and head-torch, and we set-off. Although the very top looks attainable, our plan is to reach the top of the odd-shaped boulders at the front of the mountain.

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We look for a way up to the left of the “funny boulders” – there are some steep sections initially, but the going is not too difficult. There’s another Star Chestnut Tree on the steep slope, standing out starkly against the red desert.

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As we get closer to the boulders, we pick a path around the back of the boulders – they are enormous, and the only way up is to find a way through the gaps!

Finally we find a suitable rock ledge at the front of the outcrop, with 180 degrees over the desert below us, as we wait for the sun set to set. (Unfortunately, poor planning on my part means we don’t have a Gin & Tonic in the backpack!).

An aerial photos shows where we are, at the top of the first few boulders. Well below the mountain peak, but with more time it looks feasible to reach the top of the mountain. Next time!

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To the east the desert and rock outcrops continue well into the distance. The Aba-Huab valley is clearly visible, marked by the ribbon of trees through the desert.

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To the west, the sun is setting over an equally vast stretch of desert.

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It’s not a bad spot to end the day… Once the sun has set, we head back down, finding an easier path down the western side of the mountain. There’s a few large bounds between boulders, and we make the bottom of the mountain by nightfall.

From here, it’s a short walk back to the camp. Thanks Stanley 🙂

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Location Around Camp Kipwe, in Damaraland (western Namibia)
Distance Camp Kipwe circuit – 3.6km (70m total ascent)
Mountain climb – 4km (130m ascent)
Grade Easy/moderate (rock scrambling; minimal exposure)
Season/s All year round
Maps None available
GPS Route Camp Kipwe circuit and mountain climb Routie GPS trails.
View route and export to KML format.

SatelliteMap-KipweWalks

Gunung Angsi

A relatively short (but steep) hike through the jungle to the third highest peak in Negeri Sembilan state, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Another trip to catch-up with the team in Malaysia, means the opportunity for another mountain hike… A work colleague suggested Gunung Angsi, which could be done in a morning and is not too far from KL. I’ve booked my trusty local guide, Eddie Yap, who took me to Bukit Kutu on my last Malaysia trip as and as well as Medang Falls with my local marketing team before that.

It’s about an hour from my hotel in KL to Seremban, about 60km to the south, and then another 20min drive to the start of one of the trails to the peak. We are taking the Bukit Putus route up, which is the shorter and more direct route, starting at an altitude of 285m. The trail from the large parking area is impossible to miss – it’s not the most picturesque starting point, with what seems to be a very new trail cut into the side of the hill. (Older blog posts show a more solid set of concrete steps marking the start of the walk, rather than the makeshift steps shown below.)

The trail immediately climbs steeply up the hill (or mountain!), with ropes helping on some of the more vertical sections. The track is well marked, with both regular small arrows as well as a series of numbers in preparation for an event in a couple of days time.

It’s a fairly relentless, steady climb through typical Malaysian jungle – lots of exposed roots – until a fairly flat section is reached after about 2km. At the end of this section is a rest area, where we chat briefly to the only other hikers we’ve seen on the trail. This area seems to have been cleaned up, as I’ve seen photos where there are a heap of multi-coloured chairs, cooking utensils and other junk left here.

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From here it’s uphill again, with the first views over the area from “Waterfall View”. Being a fairly overcast, the view wasn’t great – but better than nothing!

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Another half an hour or so and the summit is reached: it’s taken exactly 1:30min to climb the 540m up to the 824m/825m summit. (The height is described as both 824m and 825m.) I’m not sure why at 825m Angsi is a mountain (gunung), while Kutu at 1,053m is a hill (bukit)?

There’s a covered shelter on the large, open summit area and very little rubbish lying around.  Despite the poor weather, there are some views over the surrounding wooded hills towards the east, and almost below us to the west are some glimpses  through the trees of the outskirts of Seremban.

After a brief stop on the summit, where the elevation and slight breeze is a relief from the humidity of the jungle, we continue our journey down the other side of the summit. After passing by an old, abandoned trig marker we enjoy the last views over from the mountain before we re-enter the jungle.

The descent we are taking is the longer Ulu Bendul trail. It’s narrower and seems less trafficked than the Bukit Putus route we took up (although other trip reports suggest this longer route is more popular) – and descends even more steeply. In a number of places there are sections of rope in place to help descend the slippery track.

After about 20min, there’s a fun section of the track that feels like a combination of obstacle course, abseil and bouldering! We enter a narrow section of track, following a deep channel caused by water carving a channel through the jungle landcsape.

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Then we follow the top of the large “sand boulders”.

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Finally, a steep section that involves carefully reversing down an 8m wall of red rock to the bottom of the boulder section! There’s a couple of routes down (or up), both with rope to assist the descent (or ascent).

After this section, the trail continues fairly steeply down the mountain for another 20min (1.5km).

About 3km from the summit, we cross a small stream, which marks the end of the steep descent! From here the trail is fairly flat, although not being used to the Malaysian climate I find the last section the toughest due to the humidity and lack of breeze in the valley.

Soon after the crossing this small stream we can hear the sound of rushing water, as we meet the river (Sungai Batang Terachi) that we’ll now follow back to the Ulu Bendul finish point. Soon after the track joins the river, a short side-track leads to a small set of cascades.

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After only another five minutes we cross the river for the first time. Despite having rained the last few days, the river level is low enough that we can cross without getting wet feet. Next to the river crossing is a clear pool with a waterfall – it would be a perfect lunch or swimming spot if we had time!

Just after the crossing is Kem Tangga Batu, a large camping area with a covered hut and a set of concrete steps (as well as a dilapidated and overgrown building that looks like it might have been a toilet in a previous life).

There’s remarkably no rubbish and it looks like a great place to camp by the river… it feels like we must be close to the end of the track! A few minutes on and there’s another steep but short side-track to a set of cascades. A nice photo-stop, but not as nice as the previous spot for a break.

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The track descends again as it follows the river, with a couple of steeper sections.

Another half an hour, and we each a small shelter and some plastic pipes that follow the river. It’s now been two hours since we left the summit: it’s taken longer than we expected, although there have been a few photos stops (tip: bring a small tripod to get some great cascade/waterfall shots)!

The narrow track seems to go on forever, as it follows the river. The track is narrow and eroded in sections – I’m not sure how they managed to construct the huts and shelters we saw previously! There are some calm sections of river and I have a quick swim to cool off.

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Finally, after passing a small dam, there’s a last river crossing. This time it’s impossible to avoid wet feet, and the crossing might be tricky if the river was higher (but if you’re starting from Ulu Bendul and you’re able to cross, the other river crossings will be fine).

A few minutes later and we’re at the Ulu Bendol Recreational Forest. There’s a ranger station here, and a water slide park. We only see a couple of people here, but it looks like it might be busy on a weekend.

After crossing the picnic ground, there’s a restaurant by the highway. We buy some cold drinks, and while I need to get back to the office the food looks very tempting! It’s taken just under three hours to get down, which is longer than we’d thought. Our car is 3km up the highway at the other trackhead, so one of our group of three hitches a lift to avoid a hot and boring walk up the road – it would be ideal to have to two cars if going up one route and back on the other! Total distance about 12km based on my GPS, although other trip reports suggest it’s 10km.

It’s been a great walk, combining some views from the peak with cascades and river crossings. I’d definitely recommend the Ulu Bendul route, or going up one way and back the other for variety.

Location Starts/ends at either Bukit Putus trackhead (2.7275351,102.0553951) or Ulu Bendul trackhead (2.727418N ,102.0758E) near Seremban, about an hour south of Kuala Lumpur.
Distance 12km open loop (4.6km via Bukit Putus / 7.4km via Ulu Bendul)
Grade Moderate (very steep/slippery in sections with some ropes)
Season/s All year, but best to avoid hiking after/during heavy rain
Map N/A
GPS route Google Maps GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Track notes – Malaysia Traveller / The Star Online

Map-GunungAngsi