Saturday 19th March
After a good nights sleep I had a light English breakfast of fruit juice, croissants, toast, home made jam and marmalade, washed down with a couple of cups of good strong Malaysian coffee. I eschewed the full English breakfast of sausage, eggs and bacon, etc. After all Id be back in time for a late lunch and another large meal that evening.
I set off from the Old Smokehouse Hotel on the short forest walk to the top of Pine Tree Hill about 5 km away, leaving at around 10:30 and expecting to return approximately five hours later. It's interesting to reflect that the sequence of fives continued: the walk finally took me five days! As the path was supposedly well marked, the weather was warm and dry and no untoward hazards were expected I didn't think to take a great deal with me; just a rucksack with one and a half litres of water, a camera (of course), for some unaccountable reason a sweatshirt and a pair of long trousers, a three quarter full toilet roll (well, I am British after all!), my wallet, a small towel stolen from the hotel, spectacles, (unknown to myself then) my Maglite torch, and, most importantly as it turned out, my mobile phone. For food I took what had been left in the hotel room's complimentary bowl - an orange, an apple and a small packet of three shortbread biscuits, plenty of food for such a venture. Crucially I didn't have a map (there were none available) and didn't think to take my compass. I was wearing my Rolling Stones 2004 tour tee shirt, shorts, 1,000 mile socks and Brasher walking boots. Oh, and my Cambridge Folk Festival green hat!
The path was indeed fairly well marked (to start with, at least) and I ascended to a clearing with the Selangor/Pahang border marked by a white stone, similar to a UK trig point. It took a while to find but I discovered the uphill path and continued towards the summit, passing a number of small shelters, inside one of which was a very large and fine looking moth. I passed a commune of termites moving material from one place to another in one of their typically regimented lines and carried on upwards with the path still marked by "AWAS" (caution) tape on poles, occasional markings on trees and, now and again small brick-like concrete posts in the ground. But there were many paths going off at some pretty strange angles. Nonetheless, if you're going to the top of a hill and continue in an upward direction, you're bound to get there, aren't you?
During the ascent I passed a number of signs giving the kilometre countdown to the top and finally reached what I believed to be the summit. I spent a few minutes there, took some panoramic photos as Bukit Fraser could be clearly seen some distance away, it was the only one on which there were any sort of buildings. Remembering the heat, humidity and strenuousness of the climb I was drinking plenty of water but I still had more than a litre left.
I started downhill at about 13:30 and quickly found what I thought was the right path, it twisted and turned rather a lot and there seemed to be an absence of AWAS stickers, signs and markings, but I was going downhill, so that must be right, mustn't it? Actually, I began to be a little unsure of the route, so I backtracked, left a marker and tried again. I did this about three times before shrugging my shoulders and continuing down the descending path. Gradually the path petered out ending on the top of a cliff with a pretty long sheer drop. What to do? Well, of course the sensible thing would have been to have spent an hour or two to climb back to the summit, phone for help and wait there to be rescued. But hey, I've walked the Pennine Way, Offa's Dyke Path, done the Yorkshire Three Peaks in 8½ hours; I could find my own way. Looking back, this was my near fatal mistake.
Well, if there are no paths you can make one for yourself. So I headed downhill and it quickly became steeper and more and more overgrown, but I continued. Thorn bushes, the bane of my life in the days to come, ripped at my arms, legs and clothes, the undergrowth became more and more dense and the trees closer and closer together. A general gloom descended, despite the bright sunlight above. After a while I reached a stream and I remembered the tale of a young British girl, who had become lost descending from Mount Kinabalu, had followed a stream down and had safely reached a village and rescue1. That's what I would do. I followed the very small and shallow stream by simply walking in it. It turned to the left: I've no idea in which direction, as I had no compass, but as it joined other streams and became larger I thought it might be the river that fed the Jeriah Waterfall at Bukit Fraser that I'd visited the previous day.
The stream became deeper and wider and to keep my feet fairly dry, I took to the bank from time to time, only entering the water when the forest became impenetrable. On the banks the foliage was green, rich, very dense; difficult for the sun to penetrate. Creepers hung down from the trees and with there being no real seasons, the forest floor was covered with damp and decaying leaves; all around were bushes, small and very large ferns and occasional clumps of bamboo. The bamboo seems to fall over when it reaches a certain size and, until it begins to decay, presents a formidable barrier to the progress of a weak, stupid white man.
I was spending more and more time in the water sliding over the slippery rocks, taking the occasional tumble and beginning to feel rather battered and bruised. I was down to about ½ litre of water and it was getting towards five o'clock. I had the growing realisation that I might not make it back to the good Old Smokehouse tonight and that filled me with dread. I'd never slept in the open air before, except the wimps' way with a large sleeping bag, tent, cooking stove, pots, pans, lead cut crystal glasses, fitted kitchen, bathroom, toilet, shower, camp site shop............
I fell several times and hurt my left thumb pretty badly with blood mingling generously with the water and lost the precious hotel towel; how useful that would have been later. Then I cut my right middle finger and had difficulty in stemming the bleeding. The light was beginning to fade, I was very wet, battered, bruised, scratched and bloodied and I needed to find somewhere to stop for the night. Round the next corner was a small sand bank on the right hand side, sloping towards the water's edge with the sides of the river rising very steeply up for further than the trees would let me see. So I cleared the stones as best I could, gathered leaves to hopefully keep me and the wet sand apart, removed my wet boots, socks, shorts and tee shirt, hanging them on branches to dry overnight. I put on my sweatshirt and long trousers, ate a very bruised apple and orange, drank some water and, as the light faded, lay down on my leaves, using the rucksack as a pillow, exhausted and hoping to sleep. I'd been walking for nine hours, but I'd done more than that before although, admittedly, over rather more friendly terrain.
Of course, as it became darker it got colder and the noises of the creatures of the forest became louder and louder, making me appreciate how relatively quiet a place it is in the day. I suddenly realised that I was alone, no-one knew where I was and I had no way to contact anyone. I didn't even bother calling for help as I knew there would be no-one nearby. I didn't sleep. My feet were freezing cold, my injuries were bleeding, my bones were aching and I was thoroughly miserable in this lonely, noisy place. I put on my wet socks and put my feet in my hat inside a Morrison's carrier bag, hoping that they would warm a little, but to no avail. I found my torch and furtively shone it into the trees, hoping to catch sight of whatever creatures were making the abysmal din, but seeing none; I shivered and shook, both from cold and fear and, in the absence of sleep, decided what I must do the next day.
The Malaysian night is about 12 hours long and those are very long hours indeed when you have no control over your circumstances. I probably slept for around three hours altogether, worrying about Noelene, who would be expecting me to call her and wondering how I was going to get out of this mess that I'd got myself into. I decided to try to climb to a place where I could get a mobile phone signal, call Noelene and ask her to summon help. I would be rescued on Sunday, manage to get back to KL in the evening and be in time for my customer visits on Monday morning. That was settled, then!
1 Six months later I visited the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and they told me that, far from finding her way to safety, the poor unfortunate girl had fallen into a gully and perished.
©John Gillatt, 2005