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!