Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gunung Gegerbentang

If you contemplate Puncak trek's Cisarua map (Sector C) for a while, you are bound to notice three little mountains marked by red triangles and named in red; these three are the outliers on Gunung Pangrango's north slope, between the Puncak highway and the Pangrango summit. Gunung Gedogan (1642m), lies on the C4 route described by Alex in the guidebook. Gunung Joglo (1844m), the most imposing of the three against the skyline, could be included on a variation of the C3 route; we walked over it during the traverse from Cibodas to Taman Safari (

Gunung Gegerbentang (2042m) also lies fairly close to the C3 route, but climbing it would need a 2 to 3 hour diversion off the main route, not very convenient given when tacked on to what is already a full day's hike.

On 21 February, Jody and I, together with Chris Starkey and Scott Thompson, decided to make Gunung Gegerbentang the focus of our walk, which we started from the Kampungnangka villas near the vulcanology center, in square P31 on the Cisarua map. (An alternative, slightly easier start, would be from point F on the C3 circle route, in map square Q30).

The access road to these villas is on the one way section of the Puncak pass highway; if heading down from Puncak toward Cipanas, you descend to the end of the downward one-way section, then do a u-turn, ascend the upward one-way lane, and enter the small side road on the left through the villas. (This is a pretty glade and a good place to rent a villa if you plan to hike in the area.) Once the asphalt peters out, the track remains broad enough for a four wheel drive vehicle, as it heads to the vulcanology station, where the staff monitor 24-hours a day seismograph readings from the Gede-Pangrango slopes. In map square P30 (before reaching the vulcanology station), there is a hairpin bend at the Cilember stream; a footpath here (not marked on the map), heads up beside the stream, crossing the stream south to north about 200m up. After crossing the stream, stay on the main footpath for a further 200m as it winds up to the top of the ridge; then turn left and head upward.

This path comes out on the broad track just above point B on the C4 route; turn left and continue climbing. Though we have walked on this trail before, the clear air of a rainy season morning provides a fresh view of this beautiful landscape, looking down toward Cisarua and the Gunung Mas plantation.

Ascending this track, you pass the ruins of an old ranger hut on the left; then at a fork around a large tree, leave the track and take the narrower footpath on the left that climbs up into the forest. On our walk, we were reassured by some helpful signs, probably left from a military training exercise, pinned to trees and giving directions for Joglo and Gegerbentang. We also gleaned some directions from a bird trapper here who had strung up a large net between the trees. 600m distance after the left fork, one comes to a four-way junction atop the ridge (1638m altitude), with an open area large enough for a small tent. Take the path immediately on your left, climbing up the ridge. (The second, lower path to the left is worth exploring for a minute or two, as it offers clear views of Mount Joglo in the foreground, the knoll of Gegerbentang, and Pangrango looming at the back.)

You are now climbing the Gegerbentang ridge line, mostly enclosed in forest but with occasional glimpses of Joglo and Pangrango through the foliage. We were glad to meet here a happy band of campers from Bina Nusantara University at one of the several clearings and crossroads along this trail. The main path is easy to follow, rising and dipping up the ridge. At 1844masl, we came to the crossroad we encountered on the Cibodas-Taman Safari traverse. Turning left here, you could descend directly to Cibodas, while heading right would bring you over Gunung Joglo and down toward the Gunung Mas tea plantation.

Our route, though lay onward and upward, a further 600m fairly steep push up to the top of Gunung Gegerbentang (2042m). The summit here is unspectacular, but broad enough for a rest and a snack. Continue a few hundred meters beyond the summit to enjoy clearer views through the foliage and better vantage over the spectacularly large gorge on the right that separates Gegerbentang from the bulk of Gunung Pangrango. This section beyond the summit is narrow and thick with vegetation, demanding careful footwork as it wends on and off the ridge top around the dwarf trees.

At this point we faced an important decision about the continuation of our walk. Our original plan had been to backtrack to the crossroad at 1844m and then down to Gunung Mas. But with the time still only 10.00 a.m. and no sign of rain, the map offered an intriguing alternative. The path beyond Gegerbentang summit continues south to exit the Cisarua map in square A21. Would this path eventually link up with the path on the other side of the valley, which exits the Cisarua map in square A18?

Scott had a strong hunch that it did; we resolved to find out. This involved a time risk, as we had no idea how far we might need to walk, and had no camping equipment should we end up benighted on the mountain. So we were relieved when the ridge top finally broadened a little, allowing us to walk at a comfortable speed. But progress slowed again, as after a descent to 1876m the path leaves the map and starts to climb increasingly steeply. With the altitude over 2150m, and the clock nudging 2,00 p.m., we considered turning around for a quick retreat to civilisation before nightfall. But fortunately, just a few meters higher, we found a footpath descending to the right which, we felt sure, would lead us down safely to Taman Safari.

This was indeed the path that enters the Cisarua map at square A18 and altitude 1932m. It descends rapidly, indeed rather more steeply than we would have liked as the afternoon downpour turned everything to mud. Drenched once by the rain, we realised on closer scrutiny of the map, that we would be drenched again by the river, as this trail involves three crossings of the Ci Sarua river, all without bridges. This might be very pleasant in the dry season; but at the height of the rainy season, after a sudden deluge, it was a definite challenge. Had the water reached chest height, we would surely have been swept away by the fierce current; to our relief, the water was never deep enough to rise above our waist. With help from Jody's extra height, some overhanging branches, judicious handholds on the submerged rocks, and a little teamwork, we were able to wade through, with growing relief, since the river gets faster and fuller as it descends from 1420m at the first ford to 1320m at the third.

Finally, a dilapidated pumping station reassured us that the toughest stretch of the path must be behind us, and we proceeded on the well-used path that runs along the water pipe, past the Taman Safari boundary fence and then up to the Gunung Mas plantation via the rear footpath overlooking Taman Safari. With the daylight fast fading, we were glad to be out of the forest and enjoying the open tea plantation tracks that would take us back to the car park and a much-needed hot coffee.