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.

No comments: