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.

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.