Friday, March 7, 2008

Ist Tahan Expedition, part 11... K Teku - Wray's Camp

Day 3 - Thursday, April 17th 1969
[ story continues from part 10 ]

Kuala Teku - Wray's Camp
Left : Crossing our last river towards Sungei Teku. That's me on the extreme left gingerly walking over the rocks and boulders.

Right : In some parts the water was waist deep. This river is the Sungei Tahan.

The river crossings got us all wet but it was a welcome change of scenario from the exertions on the ridge. The water was cool, clear and inviting and together with the boulders washed down from the upper reaches presented a truly magnificent sight. A natural history photographer's paradise. It was really beautiful. But alas, I was neither an expert photographer nor had I the camera equipment or the luxury of time on my hand, to do justice to all the wonderful sights and scenes that came our way. However, these 1969 original photos of ours are the earliest that I've come across, so far.

When we finally reached Kuala was a sight too beautiful to describe in words. The scenery before and around us was simply majestic! This was a fast-flowing river....the water, coming from the surrounding mountains, rushing down in swirls of frothy bubbles and eddies, over giant boulders in the midst of the river. We were in awe of that place truly. The beauty and splendour of the natural settings here is a testimony of God's gift to us....mother nature at its very best!

We had a major rest stop here and cooked up some lunch. We buried more of our food supply and carefully marked the spot for our return journey from the peak. We had half a day more of tough climbing after lunch. We did not know it back then but all modern climbers will know today....the real ascent to Gunung Tahan begins from this point, after K Teku.

Kuala Teku - Wray's Camp [Gunung Pondok Dua ]
The elevation at K Teku is 168 metres. From this elevation, we will climb to an altitude of 1,100 metres in one continuous, steady climb.....taking about 4-5 hours. It was gruelling as the inclination here ranges between 45 - 75 degrees, very steep indeed. But despite all these, we were well-trained and well prepared for exactly these sort of challenges. We brought along our own climbing ropes all rolled up nicely in neat coils attached to our packs. We had to use some of these aids to clamber over steep, rocky trails.
As we progressed higher and higher, I noticed a change in the vegetation. We passed by large trees such as the Seraya [ Shorea curtisii ] with their reddish-brown trunks and big buttresses. Then came the Conifers and Oak trees further ahead. Yes, there were Oak trees then with their acorns on the ground nearby. Then even more dramatic changes we saw and experienced. The air became cooler. The atmosphere was quieter. Only birds and monkeys calls were heard.

Closer to our objective and nearer the peak, I noticed there were more ferns, moss and stunted trees. The ground felt soggy, soft and slippery. We were above the 1000 m [3000 + ft ] altitude level. Soon after, our guide Ahmad called a halt for the day. It was already very late in the evening with little sunlight left. We were actually on top of a flat spur....Wray's Camp. There was not a single signboard anywhere in the jungle since we left the Park Hqrs and there wasn't one here too. Whatever location we were in, we simply did not know until we asked Ahmad. This spot....Wray's Camp was named after an early Tahan explorer named Leonard Wray. He was the co-leader of the 1st botanical survey expedition of G Tahan in 1905.

We set up camp right there on the flat piece of spur, surrounded by the stunted trees. Since we began the ascent about 5 hours ago, our water level was very low. There was no water source on the way up. We had to find a water source somehow as dinner must be prepared. In no time at all we had our 2 tents up but we had secure them carefully as the night winds might be very strong. We also needed a bath or at least a washdown after all our exertions. We asked Ahmad where we could locate a water source. He pointed out the direction...slightly to the west from where we go down the slope for about 10 minutes and we should find a small stream. Meanwhile it slowly got dark, the sun had sunk below the far horizon. And it was getting cold. Ahmad was either setting up his own tent or cooking when all 10 of us decided to go look for the stream down the side of the valley. This was the 1st time we were travelling in the darkness of the jungle. I took out the few packets of Chinese firecrackers....similar to those we set off at Chinese New Year period, passed them around, lighted them and threw them in front of us as we descended. The noise from the explosions were deafening in the stillness of the night. Any dangerous animals in the vicinity would have run helter-skelter. That was actually our intention. We were warned that many tigers still roamed the Tahan area.
We found the stream and the water was very cold. We spent some time cleaning up and refilling our water stock. In all it took us about 40 minutes or so before we came back up. Then everyone went about their tasks....preparing a hot dinner, warm drinks, a campfire to warm us up. While we were all busy, I realised that no sound came from Ahmad's tent. Curious...I went to check. My Goodness! He was inside his tent covered with a sarong [ cloth] and was literally trembling! I asked him what happened? He replied he was very afraid and frightened as he was unwittingly left alone at the top while we went to locate the stream. He did not realise that we had all gone off....rather quietly and suddenly. Ahmad said it was not good to be alone in the jungle at night as spirits abound.
He made us promise not to leave him alone again. He was also greatly frightened by all the noise from the firecrackers. He had never experienced that before! We really felt very sorry for him. It was entirely unintentional on our part to push his emotional safety past breaking point. So we apologised and gave him warm drinks and food around our firecircle. It was my duty as Chief medic to also ensure the good health of our only guide besides the group members.
We sat around the fire circle having our dinner and enjoyed looking up into the clear night sky. It was so pure and clear we could see millions of twinkling stars above us in every direction!

But the best view was still the peak of Gunung Tahan.

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