Tuesday, February 19, 2008

1st Tahan Expedition, part 6....DAY 1 of Actual Climb

Day 1 - Tues 15th April 1969, Kuala Tahan to Sungai Melantai.

We had no inkling how long exactly it would take for us to reach the peak of Tahan. But we were all prepared for a 10 day expedition, about 6 days up and 4 coming down...knowing full well that we were to be , in many ways, "trailblazers"and had to suceed " come what may!"
Above Pic:
The Tahan River
Before we left Kuala Tahan campsite, we gathered for a group photo at the edge of the jungle in full gear with our guide Ahmad. It was after breakfast and we were all in high spirits. The weather was fine as April was a good month in the dry season for such an expedition. We had topped up our army type water bottles....each of us carried two. For the expedition to succeed, we resolved to," as far as possible", follow the instructions, pace and timing of our indispensable guide, Ahmad. He will be the one calling out the short or longer rest stops and most everything else, including when and where to stop for lunchbreak and the most important stop of all...where to camp for the night. It is almost impossible to judge or estimate distances travelled in deep jungle, especially in difficult, tough terrain. Thus, it was wise of us to leave that kind of assessment to Ahmad....and not to veto him in anyway. He knew the jungle better than all of us collectively...and the maps were inside his head!

From Tahan Hqrs...as we sat off, with Ahmad leading, we traversed through relatively flatter terrain, with a few steep hills, not too high, passing by rivers and streams. There were no clear paths once we got off the beaten tracks into the humid and steamy jungle. To ensure that

Below: A Sketch Map of the Tahan Trail
no one got lost inadvertently, we observed jungle rule # 1 .... the distance between you and the next should be such that you can see the person in front of you always.
Rule # 2 .... put the slower ones in front. From Tahan Hqrs to Sungai Melantai is about 12 km as the crow flies. Today, that portion can be covered in approximately 4-6 hours depending on fitness level. But, I believe we took much longer.
We had to hack through many parts of deep jungle growth to clear the way. We had 6 parangs in all to do this. In deep jungle, even Ahmad had to stop to retrace his steps of the previous journey. The jungle grows very fast and can swallow up many things, including jungle trails pretty quickly. After trekking for about 2 hours we had our 1st major rest stop [ see photo in my previous post ]. At major rest breaks lasting for anything of 20 minutes or so, we check our water level, check for leeches, tighten up loose ends and just simply rest... often without removing our heavily loaded packs. The reason for this is psychological. Once the 50 lb pack is off your back you will feel very light....as though you can float away...as light as a mosquito! But, after the rest and the heady, light feeling.....when you load the pack onto your back again, it feels like the whole world is on your shoulders.....somehow the pack seems "heavier". Those who are not mentally strong will then feel demoralised.
Thus it is wise during intermitten breaks to rest with the packs on.
How did our group perform so far? I did not recall any problems in spirit or in performance. So far, so good. We heard all the strange noises, sounds and calls of different animals and birds....but none that troubled us. Most of the time,we were enveloped by the canopy over our heads and the luxuriant jungle around us. Though the terrain wasn't that steep..it was still very tough.
We had a major stop for preparing lunch where we cooked food on our mess tins. Food is critically important next to water for sustaining us in this trek. We had carefully planned for every meal namely breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the foodstuff were marked for example...
Lunch D1, Dinner D1 [ Day one ]....etc. Since there were 10 of us and we were ready for a 10 day climb, it meant that we were each carrying about 1 full day supply of food for the group in our pack.
Ahmad, our guide had his own haversack and prepared his own food. At times, he joined us for some warm drinks around the campsite firecircle.
After lunch, we resumed our journey...at that early stage, just learning to enjoy the wonders of the deep rainforest and adapting ourselves to the challenge.
We passed through huge, gigantic trees with wide buttress roots and the kind of vines...thick as cables or as shown in the Tarzan movies. Many trees we've never seen before all fighting to thrust themselves higher than the next one towards the sky. The sky.....in deep jungle, you cannot see it. Only at a wide river break where the overhead canopy is absent...then you may see the sky again.
Eventually, Ahmad called a halt. We found ourselves before a magical place. Pure serene peace and tranquility abounded here. It was the Sungai Melantai....with its gentle, running waters. It looked like a scene from prehistory. Not a soul in sight, save for us and nothing but the sheer beauty of unspoilt raw nature surrounding us. Words cannot easily describe the picturesque scene or the emotions I felt. If there were more like this, I remember thinking, we should all be thankful and greatly rewarded.
This was where we would camp for the night. We selected a nice patch of higher ground from the river's edge to set up camp. The 1st thing we did was to erect 2 tents. To lighten our group load we did not carry the normal 5 men tent. Those were bulky and heavy with all the tent accessories. We made our own flysheet with another lightweight cover. No accessories. It was all set up in minutes and gave good protection from rain and dew. Everyone had his own assigned duties for the expedition and at a campsite.
Some were cooks among other things. Some were tent pitchers. Some looking after fuel and firestarting. Some water carriers.
For myself, I was appointed to 3 official roles even before the trip started.
Chief first -aider, Quartermaster and Photographer. So, I had a camera and rolls of films packed in water-proofed containers, a 1st Aid kit and our medical supplies, and a list of our group items...all with me. We dug a narrow channel around our makeshift tent and sprinkled yellow sulphur powder around it....to keep away snakes.
After setting up camp....we removed our heavily drenched clothes and jumped into the cool waters of Melantai to bathe. For all of us....it was heavenly to soak in and bathe in such a natural environment. There was still daylight left as we immersed and abandoned ourselves in that magical place. A bathe never felt so good.
Soon, the scent of woodsmoke drifted in the air. We prepared our 1st dinner consisting of rice and tinned food. Any food always taste good when you are hungry. And we were hungry! We cleared up after dinner, burning and burying all rubbish deeply so as not to attract wild animals to us. I treated those who had minor cuts, abrasions and scrapes. No one had any leech bite yet.
Those were still ahead...awaiting us!
Ahmad told us to turn in early as " Tomorrow will be a very tough climb!"
The jungle night and the nocturnal symphony of frogs, cicadas and other creatures soon took over as we faded off to sleep.

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