Friday, November 27, 2009

Highway to Arca

Good news for Puncak tourists! The German cemetery at Arca, one of the great curiosities of the Puncak region, is now accessible in only twenty minutes from the Puncak toll exit thanks to a couple of kilometers of fresh asphalt that have been laid on the road above Situ. When we explored that area last year the road above Situ was so potholed that only a very reckless car owner would risk their vehicle on it. But with the new surface the cemetery can be reached even in the most low-riding sedan. Just turn right toward Gadog at the Indomaret, 100 meters past the traffic light at the end of the toll road (Puncak exit). At Pasirmuncang village, 5km up from the turnoff , continue straight onto the minor road, instead of following the main road as it curves around to the left. Drive on through Situ and onward and upward for three more kilometers to find the cemetery on your left just before the end of the asphalt.

Whether these graves of German U-boat sailors, described by Alex in the Sector B guidebook, can become a real tourist attraction is open to question. But all foreign visitors, Germans especially, are sure to be impressed to find this neat and beautifully-maintained memorial in such an anomalous location. (Geoffrey Bennett evocatively describes the site and gives the full background in his book "The pepper trader", published by Equinox.)

With the cemetery as a starting point, we were able to explore the forest higher up the Pasir Arca and also to check out an alternative crossing of the Ci Sukabirus, higher up than the one described on the B4 route.

Starting from the cemetery, you can continue up the broad track for 1.1km until you reach a large water storage facility on the left. If you want to cross the Ci Sukabirus you can turn left here.

We decided to continue up the Pasir Arca into the forest first, returning to the same water storage building later. If you do continue up to the forest, be aware that the forest entry is now much higher up than shown on the WIPA map B. On the map the track above the German cemetery enters the forest at an altitude of about 1084m. But in fact there are now vegetable fields, tilled by migrants from central Java, all the way up to about 1276m. Once in the forest it's easy to follow the path. Simply keep left, mostly following a white irrigation pipe, without of course going over the steep drop on your left. Eventually you approach the head of the valley and can cross the stream to the Pasir Baruleunca at an altitude of 1428m. I would recommend turning back at the stream. We actually crossed over, climbed up to the ridge on the east side, and then looped back around the head of the valley to return to the Pasir Arca; but this was a heavily overgrown trail in some sections.

Returning to the water storage building, you can do a very beautiful walk across the Ci Sukabirus. At the path just above the water building, head east for 200m, then turn left at the large grassy area through the steel gate. This path heads down the ridge through some scrubby undergrowth and comes out at the recently-built villa of an Australian romo (Catholic priest). Navigate through the garden, with its interesting religious statuary, and the mixed vegetable plots below the villa. About 200m after the villa descend a stepped dirt path to the right. As you exit the vegetable fields you will encounter a black and yellow sign saying "Kawasan Hutan Taman Nasional Gunung Gede-Pangrango".

From here, veer right again and contour down toward the valley. Take the left fork at the first junction. 100m after the fork the path turns 90 degrees left and descends directly toward the Ci Sukabirus, but not as steeply as the descent on the B4 route. Another advantage of crossing here is that the valley floor is still quite narrow, so you avoid the hassle of picking your way round the edge of all the fields, as you must do lower down the valley.

Cross the bamboo farmer's bridge (we stopped for a cooling dip in the river as well!) and then head up the hill immediately on the other side of the bridge. Contour left, heading north along the edge of the valley. Above you on your right is the pine forest, while on your left is messy secondary vegetation. As the valley floor drops away to your left the view becomes increasingly spectacular across the broad expanse of banana fields, giving way to paddy fields further down. You can follow this path along the valley edge for some 1500m, overlooking the swathes of plantations, the rushing river and the steep forested slopes on the far side, seeming to frame the cloudscape like no other valley in this area. This is a lovely path, though a head for heights is desirable as it's also rather narrow in some sections and has a steep drop off. After contouring along the valley side, ignoring the paths leading straight up out of the valley, for 1300m, you will cross the WIPA D4 route, which follows the farmer's path climbing up from the valley floor. Cross straight over the up-down path and continue along the valley side for a further 200m into an area of vegetable fields before forking left and heading down into the valley, with the houses above Situ village visible on the far side. About 200m down, you have the option of turning left or right at the edge of a vegetable field. The left path leads down to cross the river on an improvised "bridge", just below the musholla, consisting of an overhanging tree and some bamboo poles. The right path heads toward a sturdier bamboo bridge. Either way, once on the valley floor, you face a tricky task to navigate across to the river; the embankments on the paddy fields seem designed more for fairy feet than for hikers' boots.

If you make it successfully to either bridge without collapsing an entire rice terrace, you have only 30m along a concrete wall to reach the irrigation ditch on the west side of the valley. Turn right and you can follow the ditch all the way along to Situ. If you want to return to the German cemetery, you can find a farmer's track leading up the valley side to the village of Sampalan Linja. This path is downriver if you crossed on the tree near the musholla, or upriver if you crossed at the bamboo footbridge. From Sampalan Linja it's about 1km up the main road to the cemetery.

Our total walk covered 14.5km. But you could leave out the long hike up to the forest and just do the section from the German cemetery, up to the water storage building, past the romo's villa, across the Ci Sukabirus, along the east side of the valley, back over the valley to Sampalan Linja and back to the cemetery. That would be a very pleasant circuit of about 6 km exploring one of the most beautiful valleys in this region.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Top of Pangrango

Pangrango! After describing Alfred Russel Wallace's 1861 exploration of the Gede-Pangrango summits in a February 1 entry on this blog ( I can now add some rather more up-to-date tips following a hike up Pangrango last weekend (October 31st 2009) by myself with Chris Starkey, Ben Walters and Scott Thompson.

Anyone reading nineteenth-century accounts will be struck by how little has changed, as the main trail from Cibodas botanical gardens, at least as far as the hot springs, has been used for nearly two hundred years now. No doubt the trail then was rough and narrow. Today this trail is not quite as well-frequented as the main Bogor-Puncak highway, but it's not far off.

Climbers of Gede have a number of route options. According to old hands, the easiest ascent is from Gunung Putri village (start of WIPA circle route D2) via the Suryakencana Alun Alun (grassy meadow) reaching the summit in 4-5 hours walking. The hardest ascent is from Selabinatana, on the south (Sukabumi) side of the mountain, again via Suryakencana. An intermediate option is the "historic" route from Cibodas Botanical Gardens, past the scenic waterfall and hot springs and up to Kandang Badak, on the shoulder between Gede and Pangrango.

If you're climbing Pangrango only, this last is the most sensible route, as the others will require you to climb over the top of Gede before you even get to Pangrango! As the Gede summit (2958m) is already quite familiar to most of our team, we focused last weekend on the Pangrango summit (3019m).

Accordingly, we turned up at National Park Headquarters in Cibodas on Saturday 31st October 2009 well before opening time. Most inconveniently, you must show up in person at the Park Office to get a climbing permit, but the office does not actually open until 9 o'clock, making it practically impossible to get a permit and make the round trip to the summit in the same day. Another bureaucratic obstacle is the recently-introduced obligation for all groups to take at least one guide, at a cost of Rp325,000 to Rp400,000 depending on the route. Apparently even the guides are now complaining about this as the compulsion has repelled many potential climbers, even those who might have hired a guide voluntarily in the past.

We managed to persuade the management that Scott was experienced enough to function as our guide but we took a porter anyway, at Rp275,000, to help transport our tents, instant noodle stores and packs of freshly-bought nasi bungkus (rice take-aways). Bea, the porter was our main expense, along with food, the only other obligatory fees being Rp42,000 per person for the climbing permit and Rp3,000 per person entry fee at the Cibodas "tourism zone" entry gate.

Cibodas Botanical Garden is a major local tourist attraction and the dozens of food stalls and souvenir stands that ring the outside car parks start to open soon after daybreak. We tucked into a tasty breakfast of nasi goreng at Warung Cantigi, in an alley opposite the park office. Scott told me that Rizal, the warung owner, led the rescue of seven climbers lost and feared dead on Gunung Ciremai earlier this year- we hoped not to give him the chance to further prove his rescue credentials on our party!

Breakfast in stomach, permits in hand, we were finally able to start climbing. As seen in WIPA map D square Z4, the route first follows an asphalt track that runs between the golf course and the iron fence of the Botanical Gardens. After about 400m we turn left to find the National Park Checkpoint, where we show the permit and then begin the ascent up to the ranger huts and along the trail to the Cibeureum Waterfall. We managed to spot some lutung (ebony leaf monkeys) playing in the trees just a few hundred metres beyong the checkpoint. Since the WIPA maps show the valleys and villages encircling Gede-Pangrango, rather than the mountains themselves, we soon leave the WIPA map to walk on the broad footpath that leads to the waterfall. On weekends this is a hugely popular jaunt, and you'll probably meet more people than a kitten heading to St.Ives, including picnickers on the somewhat dilapidated boardwalk that park authorities have built across the swampy section.

The path becomes far quieter after the first hour, after the clearly marked junction where the summit path branches left from the waterfall path. First-time visitors will want to continue on the 300 meters to see the waterfall, as it's a lovely spot, before returning to the junction for the next stage of the ascent. The path becomes noticeably steeper as you head up to the hot spring. While the Cibeureum waterfall is a comfortable stroll up a gentle slope, the hike to the hot spring demands a higher level of fitness, but is still a broad, open path with easy footings.

After an hour and a half or two hours you are rewarded with the sight of steam wafting across the lush hillside and the chance to bask in the warm vapors rising from the scaldingly hot streams. The path here actually passes right along a ledge where the hot water cascades down into the valley below. Solid posts and ropes have been provided for your safety as you traverse the slippery, moss-covered stones. Wear good shoes here! Chris reckons his Ace Hardware work boots were melting away as the soles dipped into the scalding waters.

The hot springs is one of several places along the trail where park managers have set up little shelters and picnic tables. We tucked into our copious lunch of rice, chicken, rendang (coconut beef), nangka (stewed jackfruit) and daun singkong (cassava leaves), while enjoying the view along the Puncak ridgeline, although haze shrouded some features and made the villages visible in the far valleys indistinct.

After the hot springs, we climbed another hour past a smaller waterfall and several spacious camping spots before reaching our intended campsite, the broad and comfortable Kandang Badak. Here you will find piped spring water, a grim-looking concrete shelter and pitches for a dozen or more tents. Ignoring Bea's advice to raise our tents inside the gloomy shelter, we set up the tents on a flat site in a glade. It was a decision we soon regretted, as one of our tents succumbed to a torrential late afternoon downpour and become unusable. Some of our neighbors had rented tents from park headquarters and found them to be similarly leaky. Luckily, we were quick enough to save most of our equipment from a drenching, and managed, with the shelter and one tent, to cook dinner and settle down (if that's the right expression) for a few hours sleep.

At 2.30 am we rose to find the weather still cool, misty and threatening more rain. Scott, nominally our guide, decided he did not need to climb Pangrango one more time in foul conditions and pulled out, while Bea, our porter. stayed at camp as agreed to guard the tents. This left Chris, Ben and I without a guide to hike up to the summit in the dark and spooky forest. Although there were thirty or more hikers at the camp, most were heading to Gede, leaving us practically alone on Pangrango. Luckily, we did manage to team up with a couple of local climbers, and the path itself, although tough, was mostly readily discernible among the trees. The feared rain and cold did not set in, even as we neared 3000m altitude; I was quite comfortable hiking with just a shirt and t-shirt, though the cold quickly made itself felt at rest stops.

Confusingly, the path often splits to offer a choice of a steep, scrambly ascent up a gulley, or a gentler switchback, but then rejoins higher up. As far as we were able, we saved our legs by choosing the less severe ascent, but even this often involves hauling oneself over fallen trees, clinging onto roots for support and ducking under overhanging branches. This last challenge proved beyond me at one point and I needed an unscheduled sit-down to get over my dizziness, in addition to our regular pauses for drink and deep breathing.

From Kandang Badak to the summit would be just over two hours for quick movers, but closer to three for Chris and me. We gratefully reached the top plateau and strolled the last few hundred metres through the subalpine forest to the summit marker.

Unlike Gede's summit, with its yawning crater and sweeping views, Pangrango's summit is cloaked in trees. There is one break in the foliage toward the east, but cloud cover shut off the potential vista toward Gunung Gede, leaving us to pose for photos beside the graffiti-scrawled summit pillar and scoff coconut biscuits, as the frigid air quickly chilled the sweat we had worked up during the climb.

Once the frisky Ben explored the path to the alun alun (grassy meadow) a few minutes walk below the summit, we began the long descent back to the campsite and a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and honey. Headlamps no longer needed, we could now appreciate the splendor of the subalpine forest, with its dwarf trees, shrubs and verdant overhanging branches.

While young scamps with shock-absorber knees may skip down the mountain in half the time it takes to come up, older walkers should allow as much time for descent as for ascent- 2 to 3 hours from the summit to Kandang Badak, 1 and a half hours from Kandang Badak to the hot springs, 2 hours from the hot springs to the Cibeureum Waterfall, and an hour from the waterfall back to the park gate.

Compared to many Indonesian volcanoes, this is a very attractive and not too challenging hike, with a pretty forest, attractive landmarks along the route and a solid and easy-to-follow trail. First-time visitors though, should climb Gede in preference to Pangrango, as the summit views are far superior, while the speedy and ambitious could attempt both over two days, perhaps hiking to the summit of Gede for sunrise on the second day, moving on to Pangrango by midday and returning to the park gate in the afternoon. You could do a round trip up either Gede or Pangrango in a single day, but, as with other Indonesian mountains, the chance of finding a clear view from the summit in the middle of the day is quite small.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lost in the Forest?

Since 1991 when I began hiking the foot of the mountains, the worst surprise that ever befell me was to get into time trouble on a forested ridgeline at nightfall in the year 2000, with no choice but to await the morning while standing in the rain. This nearly happened again on Aug 17, when Robert Baldwin, who lives in Pancawati, and I decided to explore the route up Pasir Pondok-cateng and down Pasir Kramat in B Sector Ciawi, on the slopes of Gn Pangrango. I had in tow two workers from Vila Botani (on the slopes of Gn Salak).

On the map, our plan looked doable. We merely had to ascend Pasir Pondokcateng, advancing about 4km from the edge of the forest, to cross over to the next ridgeline to the left, Pasir Kra-mat, and to descend that ridgeline, again for about 4 km. The WIPA maps show all these trails as solid lines, meaning they should be easy to follow. Baldy and I had already descended Pasir Kramat last year after entering it at 1300masl from a good trail on Pr Pancawati, as recounted in a 3 December posting (Puncaktrek blog).

A leisurely morning walk brought us by 11 a.m. to point B on Pr Pondokcateng (route B1), a wide spot on the ridgeline amid intact rainforest, a place I had traversed at least a dozen times and Baldy thrice. From here we ventured further up the pasir for the first time. Our advance slowed as the trail narrowed. Around 12:30, we contoured into the valley on the left on a well worn trail entering an area that had been clear-cut some decades ago and was now mostly covered in tall bamboo forest, "awesome" said Baldy. After 20 minutes, we realized this was the dead end shown on the map, not the hoped-for crossing to Pr Kramat. It was 1:15 by the time we had backtracked to the faint ridgeline trail and I knew we were already in time trouble. Five hours before nightfall weren’t enough to des-cend on the intended route on Pr Kramat, but we could still hope at least to cross over to Pr Pancawati (the ridgeline behind Pr Kramat) at an altitude of 1300m before nightfall and thence escape the jungle on a well-worn trail.

From this point the ridgeline trail up Pr Pondokcateng was overgrown in places. Fortunately, Pk Acep from Vila Botani had his golok, so he moved ahead and began hacking at the overgrown brush. By 3:30, we reached a zone onthe narrow ridgeline at 1300m with few young trees – most likely, another clear cutting site. My altimeter showed we were up exactly 330m from point B, meaning that the trail should turn left and cross to Pr Kramat, according to the map. Instead the trail petered out.

What to do now? To advance we needed to cross two valleys; simple bushwacking would take too long. To retreat we needed to des-cend 4 km on a difficult path that had taken over 5 hours to ascend. Either way we were likely to be stranded in the forest, unable to advance in the darkness without a flashlight. After mulling a bit, I awoke to a clue that Baldy had already noticed – we stood before an eroded, overgrown bulldozer track. It traversed the ridgeline and led north toward the valley. It looked as if it had been dug out 2 decades or more ago – perhaps the route by which the missing trees had been removed. Baldy wondered if we had even been here last December, as he recalled seeing a similar track then, but that wasn’t possible, as my GPS showed we were some distance (less than 300m) from a point on Pr Kramat where we HAD been in December. But there was a darn good chance that the two tracks were connected.

So we began to follow the eroded bulldozer track. Pk Acep again took the lead, hacking away at the bushes and small trees. From time to time I lost sight of the track, but Pk Acep was miraculously able to follow it as it snaked its way down a gully in a westerly direction, to reach the point where a valley formed and to descend thereafter on the right lip of the valley, on the next ridgeline (Pr Kramat). Then the track suddenly turned right to cross that ridgeline and contour up the edge of the second valley. We crossed a tiny creek (for which I did have a waypoint from December) that separates Pr Kramat from Pr Pancawati and began to contour out of the second val-ley. By 5 p.m., to my delight, we had reached the main trail on Pr Pancawati (another waypoint) and began to race down the ridgeline in a light rain. By 5:45 we were out of the forest, in the clear, proof that we’re pretty safe with a good trail map, an altimeter and a library of waypoints in the GPS memory, even when trails have become overgrown. We reached Baldy’s house before the downpour started.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tabrik to Gedeh plantation ring route

I agree with Alex that the ring route is dynamic. The route shown on the map has the advantage of including a lot of little-used forest tracks, which are fascinating to explore. The disadvantage is that some seem so little-used that they are difficult to follow or have not been maintained at all.

I recommend everyone using the WIPA guides to explore the delights of Puncak independently to proceed as I have done. Start with the easier circle routes. This will build confidence with the maps and make full use of Alex's clear route descriptions. Then move on to the more difficult circle routes and then the easier ring route sections, which are in the Ciawi sector and the Cisarua sector up to Taman Safari. The ring route there is at lower altitude, meaning the valleys are not as deep. There are plenty of farmers to ensure that the paths are well-used and to offer advice to the disoriented walker!

You will thus have lots of familiarity with the maps and terrain before you get to the ring route in the Cipanas and Cugenang sector, which counts more as an arduous hike than a weekend stroll.

Hopefully, with a few more walks we'll build up enough knowledge to advise on the current preferred routes for everyone exploring this beautiful area of Java.

There is certainly some great walking on the ring route in the Cugenang sector, which is a lovely area scenically, and largely free of the motorcycle noise that you get on the north side of Gunung Gede. The views, southward toward Cianjur, are quite distinct from those close to Puncak itself, and the people are less affected by the Bogor tourist bustle.

The two main difficulties are the steep and difficult valley crossings at the Ci Salande (map square O9, also a part of the E3 circle route) and at the Ci Binong (map square Y17, just before the ring route joins the E2 circle route). As Alex describes, sliding down on your butt is about the only way to make this second descent unless you have a pair of sharp climbing poles to dig into the soil; a simple wooden staff is not secure. Next time, we'll look at the next crossing lower down the valley, or perhaps just stay in the tea plantation zone, where the navigation is easy! With so few farmers or even woodcutters around in this area, it is very easy to get lost in the kaliandra, as seen in the photo!

It was certainly reassuring navigationally to be back in the huge Gedeh tea plantation , where the landscape is all open, with nary a tea shed to obstruct the view! Once safely in the plantation we were able to enjoy the sunset without fear of getting caught out in the forest overnight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ring Route in Cugenang at the end of the Rainy Season

In the last few weeks, our team took two long days to explore the ring route in Cugenang, from Kmp Tabrik to the Gede tea plantation. There were four of us on both occasions: Me, John Hargreaves, Jody Randall and Chris Starkey. Dave van Dyke joined us on the first occasion. We were blessed by good weather both days –no rain on Saturday, 6 June, and a short and light afternoon rain two weeks before that.

The ring route is largely the same, but some of the recommended connections have changed. From Tabrik, it works out better to ascend the ridgeline for a few hundred meters before crossing to Pr Panon. From Pr Panon, it works out better to follow the pasir all the way down to a T-junction near its bottom, then go R to cross back over the river before going L on the lower leg of route E3 to make the traverse to Kmp Baru Kusuma. From Kmp Baru Kusuma, the crossing to Pr We above Cijoho is the same, except that the trekker may prefer a lower crossing of Ci Legokkuray if it is wished to visit the charming Kmp Loji Kolot. From Pr We to the Gedeh Tea Plantation the crossing is as shown, but be aware that the descent from the contouring path to approach the waterfall (Curug Leunca) is extremely steep – some of us preferred to slide down on our butts for a good 50m descent, believe it or not.

The crossing of the tea gardens is as shown until point 1314 at a water tank in block C’14. From there, however, the trekker will do well to diverge from the ring route on footpaths and instead follow route E2 on stone roads to an intersection with a major up-down stone road in block E’16, marked with a tea-shed symbol. Trudge up the long ascent on the stone road to rejoin the ring route at an elevation of around 1475m, then traverse to the tea shed symbol at the foot of Pr Culamega, in block I’13, shortly before “10 rasamala trees”.

During our crossing of the Gede plantation, I was surprised by the disappearance of familiar tea sheds that had long served us as reliable landmarks, including those in block B’16, block I’13 and block I’17. They appear to have been cannibalized, perhaps no longer needed. But the scenery remains stunning, particularly on the high traverse of Gede. In the two days we walked over 35km, but that included some backtracking. Actual distance on the ring route, from Tabrik to the was probably 25km or less.

The ring route is dynamic and needs an fresh guide from time to time. Such a guide, complete with GPS waypoints, may soon be under preparation by some members of our team.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A difficult crossing

I'm not surprised by John and Jody's bafflement on where to cross from Galudra to Perkebunan Gede. Starting in the mid-Nineties, I got lost more than once trying to cross the valley of the Cibatulempar. The valley has many waterfalls and is very deep in places. Back around 2000, we had a good route, then one dry season, the route disappeared with some major landslides. After which we did find another route but not as good as the old one. Good luck on your next try, I'll join you if I can.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rainy days in Puncak

Scared of hiking in Puncak in the rainy season? You should be! I may have encouraged you to risk the rain in my last post, a recent escapade in the forest above Pasaripis has persuaded me to change my opinion 180 degrees!

Well, not quite... But we were reminded that an afternoon cloudburst on steep, muddy and indistinct trails deep in the forest provokes anxiety, even more than driving one's Kijang through an axle-deep Jakarta flood, wondering whether you will make it to the other side.

The goal of this walk was to cover the next section of the ring route, from the Sarongge Tea Plantation in the Sector D map to the Gedeh Tea Plantation in the Sector E map finishing in Gedeh village itself, below the tea factory.

Jody handled the GPS, I read the map, and our intrepid photographer Clarence Garay took all the pictures shown here, at great risk to his safety, sanity and equipment. Without Alex to guide us, we realised we would need all our navigational resources as we made our usual dawn start on 21 February.

The first section of the route, from the strawberry farm above the Sarongge tea plantation, was the same as on the Sarongge to Cipanas trek described below. We accompanied the early-morning commuters to the fields above Babakan Sarongge. This track serves a vast swathe of ploughed fields and at sunrise it is busy with farmers heading up and schoolchildren heading down.

About 150m above Babakan Sarongge the ring route diverges from the larger D3 track onto a smaller side path. 200m up this smaller path is another junction with a yet smaller path to the left across the fields, which may be sprouting carrots, cabbages or more exotic vegetables depending on the season. At the edge of the field we need to hop over a small rise to enter the brush and descend steeply to the Ci Anjur Leutik. The first few meters are overgrown but the path becomes clearer lower down, though still steep.

Emerging from this valley we enter more fields of cabbage and broccoli, this time pleasantly shaded by a few sparse trees. Crisscrossing paths complicate routefinding, but as long as we head southward and upward we will reach the Pasir Galudra ridge top, where we descend the ridge along the main track, busy with the familiar motorcyclists struggling up the rutted trail with sacks of fertilizer.

The descent to Galudra village offers fine views back across the valley toward Sarongge and down toward Galudra itself, with its handful of impressive villas, in spacious, grassy lots at the top end of the asphalt road. Walking time to this point was 3 hours for the 5.5km, and the first drops of rain were beginning to fall.

Drawing level with the whitest and newest of the villas below us on our left (only the four villas further down are marked on the map), we find a small path on the right that cuts back to the valley of the Ci Gadog. After a refreshing splash in the stream we climbed out onto the ridge above Pasirmalang. Reaching the ridge top itself was again tricky but by forging due south across the fields we made it onto the main up-down path, which also forms part of the D4 circle route. The ring route here accompanies the D4 circle route, ascending Pasir Malang and entering what is shown on the map as forest but is actually the "mixed garden" blend of ploughed fields and eucalyptus trees. (A WIPA D4 sign on a tree marks the entry to the "forest".)

The section across the next valley, the Batukasong, is in good condition but heavy rain as we emerged into the fields persuaded us to have lunch in a newly-built bamboo farmers' hut; the family, including husband, wife, two sons and a daughter, who were also sheltering from the rain, remembered me from my visit last year while on the D4 route, a reminder of how few foreigners pass this way.

Once the rain eased we set course for Pasir Lini, reinvigorated by a gift of delicious bananas. Our final destination, the Gedeh tea plantation, was now in plain sight, but the valleys separating it from Pasir Lini are intimidatingly steep. Instead of following the ring route marked on the map, which heads down the ridge, we sought guidance from the farmers and scouted out another valley crossing, higher up above the fields. This brought us onto Pasir Barusintok (which appears on both the south edge of the Sector D map and the north edge of the Sector E map) at an altitude of 1551m. Again the paths were somewhat confusing until we found the main up-down path, which we ascended to our day's high point of 1605m.

From this point, we turned left to seek the path that enters the forest to descend to the river. (It is in square C10 on the Sector D map, and in square M'10 on the Sector E map, above the monkey symbol.) We did eventually discover the well-concealed path, but from this point things become a little hazy, as teeming rain obliterated my notes and deterred Jody from recording GPS points. Dim light under cloud and forest canopy makes it hard to read the map, even when the water has been wiped off. Interestingly, the thick vegetation saves us from having raindrops pounding on our head, but the whole forest seems to soak up water like a sponge, so that it quickly seeps through to the skin.

The descent to the river here is steep, overgrown and muddy, producing a treacherous journey down to the stream, which, as we arrived, was quickly turning into a torrent. At first we failed to find the path on the other bank and waded downriver to search for it, only to eventually discover that the right bank path is actually a few meters above the crossing point, not below it. Finding this path gave us a great sense of relief, though we were still very far from out of the woods. Numerous dead-end woodcutters' paths soon led us astray and left us disoriented, dashing our hopes of crossing directly through the forest to the Gedeh tea plantation. Certainly in future we will assess the potential difficulty of long forest crossings more carefully before attempting them in such a deluge.

Finally we decided to descend to the river to the crossing point above Curug Gaol, return to the left bank and then climb back out to Pasir Barusintok. We wearily descended the main up-down path, to meet up with the E1 circle route at 1326m (square M'15 on the sector E map). This route offers a much more comfortable route across the final valley, although a major landslide has torn out a broad section of the mountian side at one point. Once safely past the landslide, we soon entered the tea plantation, which was mostly shrouded in mist that blocked out the usual spectacualr views. But the route was still a comfortable stroll, rounding the top end of the plantation to get on the right ridge for the descent to Gedeh village.

This was journey's end for me as I stayed in one of the tea factory's two guest bungalows (contact telephone: 0263 261724) . They are by the road in the village and offer simple facilities in the cool climate of a tea factory vilage. Clarence and Jody drove straight on to Jakarta for a well-deserved bath and a rest. Including our various diversions we covered over 19km. Time on the trail was 10 and a half hours, most of it with intermittent or heavy rain. Next time I will be taking an extra rain cape!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hiking above Cipanas- the ring route in sector D

Scared of hiking in Puncak in the rainy season? Don't be!

We took that chance on the slopes above Cipanas last February 7th and were rewarded with a lovely hike- cool, sweat-free and with beautifully clear air looking up to Gunung Gede and down across Cipanas and the Cianjur plateau. Yes, there was rain, but just enough to cool us down without soaking us, and just enough mist to build suspense as we wondered what would be unveiled as it cleared.

Alex, Chris Starkey, myself, Jody Randell and our photographer Clarence Garay (not seen in photo) made a dawn start in the chilly strawberry fields beside the Sarongge tea plantation. (GPS point 9251453 724690
, alt.1339masl; on the sector D map this is in square L16, where the word "strawberries is written above the end of the asphalt road).

Our first sector was to the historic kampung of Babakan Sarongge, where we were lucky enough to enjoy the hospitality of village founder Pak Rosidi. After reading the story of the kampung in the sector D guidebook (pp 40-43), it was a pleasure to visit in person and be warmed up by the sweet tea and interesting tales.

From Babakan Sarongge we followed the D3 route in reverse. This passes first through mixed forest and vegetable garden, where motorcyclists haul vegetables up and down the rutted tracks (see photo).

It then veers into the forest. A landslide at the entry point forced us to cling on to the roots in the hillside for a moment but the rest of the path proved quite simple to follow- having Alex with us no doubt boosted our confidence we were on the right route!

After emerging from the forest just above D3 point B at the National Park sign at 1528 masl ("We guard and protect the animals' bodies and ecosystem" it says), we left the D3 path, heading upward toward Gunung Gede along the boundary between the forest and the fields.

A couple of hundred meters up this path joins the D2 route, which we followed in reverse, reentering the forest at GPS 9251475 0722618. Map users should note that there is a three-way fork at a clearing not marked on the map some 400m after the forest entry: take the center path to keep climbing up to D2 point C, where a friendly WIPA sign is posted on a tree. At 1706masl, this was our highpoint for the day.

Here the path leaves the forest again to enter what is called mixed garden. As Alex points out in the guide, this is supposed to be a reforestation project with a mix of eucalyptus trees and crops. However, the farmers make sure that their vegetables get the lion's share of the light, resulting in the rather scrawny-looking trees seen in the photo.

Continuing along the D2 route in reverse, we rounded the top of the deep gash known as Legok Bangke (Valley of Corpses, allegedly so-named after the 1965 massacres of communists) and shortlyarrived in Gunungputri village, enjoying the clear skies and views across Cipanas below.

Alex left us at this point, 10.9km and 5 h 30 minutes from our start point, while the rest of us enjoyed a pleasant coffee break at the Gunungputri angkot terminus (9252846 722210). The trip between Sarongge and Gunugputri would certainly be a satisfying walk in itself, combining as it does some of the best sections of the D3 and D2 circle routes. But our further goal was to reach Cibodas and link up with the Cibodas-Taman Safari route we covered in December. We left the D2 route to head up toward the Botanical Garden, at first on the asphalt road, and then on the footpaths marked on the map with the red ring route arrows (of course we were following the arrows in reverse). Note that where the footpath turns off the asphalt road, the agrotourism resort has cemented the ridgetop path down toward Gunung Batu, and even built a pleasant lookout shelter. This shelter was particularly fortuitous as this was the one sector of our walk blighted by rain.

But the rain soon let up, bringing fresh, clear skies and a fierce breeze, enabling us to enjoy both great views of Cipanas and the spectacle of those bamboo windmills that usually seem to be lying dormant beside the fields. On this occasion, the owners were out in force to lend support as a wind strong enough almost to blow us off the path set the blades whirring like helicopter propellers. To see these in action, follow the ring route footpath across the Walen valley rather than the asphalt road that passes trhough the Botanical garden.

Our 14km route finished just below the Cibodas tourist area entry gate, which was the starting point for our previous hike over Puncak to Taman Safari. The large car park here has a variety of warungs, providing generous portions of nasi goreng and a selection of Indonesia's most popular beers. The price is half that of Jakarta bars and the air is ten times cleaner!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

more on puncak traverses

Writing a book on the ring route, as you suggest Alex, certainly sounds an exciting proposition. All these mental maps, data and photos need to find a good use. I hope we can soon post some info about the ring route in the sector D area around Cipanas.

Backtracking to Taman Safari, I certainly agree with Alex that the most "normal" route between Joglo and Taman Safari gate would be along the edge of the tea plantation i.e. after descending Gunung Joglo arrive at Point B on the C3 route and then turn right to follow the C3 route in reverse back to point A, then veering left to contour along the top of the tea plantation.

We instead turned left at point B, descending steeply toward the Taman Safari boundary fence. That path was indeed steeper and rougher than the C3 path, so not ideal near the start or finish of a long day, but we had an "ideological" desire to pass as close to Taman Safari as possible.

I didn't get a chance to explore further over Christmas as I was diving in Lombok.

ButI did have a chance to reread Alfred Russel Wallace's classic travelogue "The Malay Archipelago". I actually read that book shortly after I first arrived in Indonesia, and rereading it now that I have actually visited many of the places described I was even more impressed than the first time with Wallace's enterprise as a naturalist and with his many-faceted insights into Indonesia.

The most relevant section for this blog is in the chapter on Java, which Wallace visited in 1861. After a few weeks around Surabaya and Gunung Arjuna, Wallace caught the steamer to Batavia, before setting off to explore the Puncak and climb Gede and Pangrango. He felt disappointed by the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (he had by this time spent several years in Eastern Indonesia), he describes heading up toward the "Megamendung Mountain" with a hired horse and porters. But he soon decided to get off his horse and walk, so inspired was he by the "villages imbedded in fruit trees and pretty villas" as well as by the system of terrace-cultivation, which was "I should think, hardly equalled in the world."

After passing a fortnight staying in a roadkeeper's hut near the pass to collect wildlife specimens, he moved on to begin his ascent of the mountains, describing the landmarks familiar to those who climb Gede or Pangrango today: the "governor-general's country house at Tchipanas", the branch of the Botanic Gardens, the picturesque waterfall and the hot spring where the torrent "foams over its rugged bed, sending up clouds of steam". At that time, there was a "hut of open bamboos at a place called Kampung Badak" and Wallace stayed there to keep out of the "thick mist and drizzling rain" in between his ascents to the top of the two mountains.

For Wallace, who had spent most of his time in Indonesia's lowland forests, the thrill of the trip was in observing the change from tropical to temperate flora as he ascended the peak and in considering how European style plants, such as strawberries, raspberries and the "rare and beautiful Royal Cowslip" could be found on an isolated mountain peak south of the equator. He speculates that during a previous ice age temperate flora had spread right across the tropics, but then retreated up the mountain slopes and into the higher latitudes as temperatures rose.

Wallace refers us to "Mr. Darwin's Origin of Species, chapter 2" for a fuller explanation of this phenomenon.

And I refer readers to chapter VII of Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago", which is widely available in Jakarta book shops, probably somewhere near the WIPA Puncak Trek Guidebooks. It's even available in full text online, for those with glare-proof eyes. It really does offer a fascinating view into Indonesia as it used to be.