Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Walk Up Mount Serapi of Kubah National Park

"Climbing is as close as we can come to flying."

Margaret Young

Must have been written before flight was invented.

On the 30th of March, I decided to drive 22 kilometres out to the countryside and climb a mountain that I see everyday from the balcony of my apartment. Everyone who lives in Kuching have seen it, because after all, it would be hard to miss it considering how it dominates the eastern skyline.

Mount Serapi
Mount Serapi from my house in the morning.

Mount Serapi is a 911 metres high pimple on the surface of the world and its summit is located within the Kubah National Park - which recently made international headlines for being selected as the site of the most beautiful sound in the world by a contest organised by BeautifulNow. Kubah is also renowned for its palm and frog biodiversity in the same way that Penrissen is famous for its birds and leeches, and Santubong for its ability to exhaust hikers and turn men into little girls with its punishing ascent.

In spite Serapi being a full 100 metres taller than Santubong, it is such a walk in a park that some septuagenarians regularly do it as part of their weekend exercise. That's because the path to the top is literally a walk in the park that's paved with concrete - a gentle incline all the way up that rarely exceeds 30° in any significant portion. There are other trails in the park that actually takes you into the jungle like the waterfall trail, the Belian trail, the Selang trail and the Rayu trail (that takes you all the way to the Matang Wildlife Centre) which branches from what is dubbed the "Serapi Summit Walk". "Walk" here needs to be prefixed with "cake", if you ask me.

Mount Serapi Trail
This is how the Serapi Summit Walk looks like.

Mount Serapi Photographer
The most common fauna that can be found in the park.

The walk to the top of the mountain was estimated to take the average person 3-and-a-half hours from base to peak, which I found insulting so I resolved to beat that time. I started off at around 7:30AM with two whole litres of water in my backpack. I finished all my water on the way up to Santubong and had none coming down, and I did not bring a single drop of water with me at Penrissen - so you can say that I have finally learned my lesson.

A little distance from the park's headquarters, I encountered the summit walk's first landmark, a natural frog pond which naturalists believe was created by the indigenous bearded pigs.

Mount Serapi Frog Pond
Not pictured: frogs.

The informative sign there says that these manly pigs purposely dug and churned the forest floor into a muddy flurry to create a "wallow" in which they can roll and cool off in. Over hundreds or perhaps thousands of years of pigs coming to this site as if it is some sort of porcine spa, it eventually deepened into a bona fide pond. Then humans come along and walled it off with a boardwalk so they can gawk at the frogs that have made it their home.

I could hear the croaks of frogs and at one point, caught a glimpse of a maybe-frog swimming under a log, but it was daytime and seeing as frogs are mostly nocturnal, it was a disappointing diversion from my uphill stroll.

Of course, keeping to the concrete path also made it less likely for me to spot any genuinely interesting specimen of Kubah's natural denizens, but I did came across a few (mostly lepidopterans) which have ventured out of the woods.

Mount Serapi Caterpillar on Road
A fuzzy red, white and back caterpillar with a death wish.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 2
A Vindula dejone or Malay Cruiser partially blending into a litter of dead leaves.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 4
The Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea) on a leaf. Could also be a female Horsfield's Baron or Malay Baron.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 3
A female Common Archduke or Lexias pardalis looking very different from the black males with beautiful green, blue and purple iridescent markings.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 1
A male Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber) basking at the top of a tree.

Two-thirds (I think) of the way up, I came upon a clearing where the shrubbery was noticeably shorter, revealing Mount Serapi's telecommunication tower sitting at the crown of a hill. It was then that crisis struck like a rumble deep inside my belly.

Mount Serapi Panorama Halfway Up
Stitched photograph of Serapi's peak. Click to enlarge.

It was a literal rumble inside my middle - y'know, that twisting herald of imminent poop. With the nearest toilet being right at the foot of the mountain, I was forced then to answer a philosophical question: If I shit in the forest and no one is around to smell it, does it still stink? Standing behind a large boulder, I fertilised Mother Nature's ample bosom with the earthiest of earthly offerings and as luck would have it, there was an obliging water source - a diverted rivulet - at hand for me to wash up.

Mount Serapi Shower
There was no soap dispenser nearby though.

I have never felt more one with nature.

A mere five to ten minutes later, I found myself at a junction - one leading to the true summit where the telecommunication tower was located while a sign leads off the concrete path, promising a "Viewing Tower" if I follow it for 75 metres. I approached the telecommunication tower but a friendly (if armed) infantryman stepped out of the guardhouse to turn me right around. Drat, it's a military installment of some kind. Robert Frost never had this problem.

With the road less traveled by closed to me, I headed in the direction of the viewing tower. I was keeping time and from the park headquarters, it took me little more than two hours to reach the top (that's almost one and a half hours less time than was estimated). I might have taken me less time if I didn't stop to take pictures so often (and to evacuate my bowels).

Mount Serapi Summit Viewing Tower
The belian wood observation tower.

The advertised tower was lichen-mottled construction that rose over the palm trees and undergrowth so visitors can enjoy the scenery and countryside surrounding Kubah. A yellow-and-black signboard by its side said,

This Viewing Tower was built in 1997 and made of Belian timber. For your safety, it can only accomodate 6 persons at one time"

Belian (Eusideroxylon zwageri) is apparently a rare timber tree well known for its durability and favoured for outdoor constructions that's indigenous to the Malesia region. It is also known as the Borneo ironwood. In a lot of historical sites around Kuching, including Brooke's Cottage at Peninjau and the original church at Mount Singai, the only things left behind are their belian pillar stumps.

It was a very clear day so the view from the top of the tower was nothing less than rousing.

Mount Serapi Panorama Summit
Stitched from 5 photographs (click to get a larger copy). From left to right was Sampadi Island, the turtle-shaped Big Satang Island which stood behind Small Satang Island, and the Santubong peninsula, where I climbed Mount Santubong.

My elation at another successful ascent was sadly shortlived. Before long, small group of sweaty middle-aged men interrupted my solo commune with nature and set up a picnic at the base of the Viewing Tower. I was apprehensive and my fears came true when a few of them took out their cigarette packs and lighters to relieve themselves of the fresh mountain air they climbed up to get.

Mount Serapi Summit Smoker
Look at this ugly motherfucker.

This is the 3rd time in three months that I have been beset by these bastardly cigarette addicts at a mountaintop. I was gassed by them at the top of Santubong at the end of January and then at Pha Ngeun in mid-February. The regularity by which I run into these verminous rats is surely a testament to their ubiquity. Why can't they be content with fresh air? Why can't they be thoughtful enough to not indulge in their killing habits in the presence of non-smokers? I moved myself out of the reach of their malodorous smog and indulged in a meal of chocolate, vividly daydreaming scenarios in which I torture these men by burning their corneas off with a lit cigarette before gouging their eyes out, cutting their genitals off and making them chew their severed manhoods till blood drool from their mouths, and crushing their fingers with a sharp stone, phalanx by phalanx as they scream and scream and scream. Before long, my mood began to improve.

They left after an hour, leaving me with the sole occupancy of the Viewing Tower and after reading from my Kindle a little, I decided to head downhill as the sun crawled ever closer to its house in noon. The day was still young so I decided, on a whim, to take a real hike on one of Kubah's other trails because, why not?

PART TWO: A Dip in a Waterfall at Kubah National Park

Walked in a park,
k0k s3n w4i


Anonymous said...

spend more time with your wife and son

k0k s3n w4i said...

Anonymous: Great idea! Now, I'll only need you to buy me a plane ticket to Penang from Kuching to make that happen. When I went to the Kubah National Park, my wife and kid were on a whole other landmass.

Anonymous said...

You mean Cheryl and Darwin left you to be on a different landmass. Pity! MH tix should be dirt cheap by now, am I right Doc?

k0k s3n w4i said...

Anonymous: I mean, they are visiting Darwin's grandparents. Who the fuck are you?