Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mount Penrissen Trek 2009

Mt. Penrissen, 1326 meters above sea level
Five friends set off on a mission to trek to the summit of Gunung Penrissen one cool day. They were joined by 3 others and the group of 8, each armed with cameras (6 DSLRs and 2 compacts) drove to Borneo Highlands Resort, the starting point of the trek.

Mt. Penrissen (1326m)
Half of Mount Penrissen is in Indonesian Kalimantan

Mt. Penrissen - Google Earth image
The trail is logged by my GPS and loaded into Google Earth. Do not know how accurate the border line is as indicated by GE.

DSLR, essential tool for a shutterbug
Speaking of DSLRs, almost everyone who's into photography shoots with one these days. They offer much faster focusing and pin-point accuracy if you have a decent lens attached. This helps a lot when trying to lock focus on a small subject in a busy scene such as a squirrel far up a tree (dslrs use phase-detection auto focus while most compact digicams use contrast AF which is much slower and less accurate). You're also able to shoot at much higher ISO sensitivities in a dark forest without producing images full of noise. On top of that, you have a plethora of lenses to choose from, from versatile super-zooms to prime macro lenses.

The prices of digital SLRs have come down significantly and now you can get a very capable entry-level model from any of the top 5 makers, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Olympus. I shoot with an Olympus E510 but for this trek, I brought along a heavy Nikon D80 which caused me to lose my footing a few times. When carrying a camera with a heavy lens attached, I'm almost always more concerned about hitting and damaging the lens than hurting myself in a fall! I think all of you dslr users know what I mean!

I think digital cameras are both a blessing and a curse. They let us shoot more, faster and more conveniently. However, we also find ourselves wanting to upgrade to the next better model with better features and image quality almost every year. When was the last time you upgraded your film camera? Yep, you get what I mean.

Back to the climb
Kalimantan view point
Kalimantan View Point

We arrived at the pick up point of Borneo Highlands early in the morning and took an open sided bus up. When we arrived at the resort grounds, we all got into a friend's truck to get up to the Kalimantan view point. The trail to the summit of Mt. Penrissen starts here. We rode on the back of the truck and on the way up, picked up some more passengers. Hanging on tight, it was all we could do to keep from falling off and rolling all the way down to the foothills.

The resort also provides transportation to get up to the view point at RM15 per person (return). One may also choose to walk but it is an uphill task and quite a distance from the main resort grounds.

Taking photos of the mist?
It was too misty to photograph anything

First thing we did was to walk over to the border to get some photos but it was just too misty that morning and we couldn't see anything further than a few tens of meters away.

The altitude at this elevation is about 3281 feet or about 980 meters above sea level. Mount Penrissen stands at 1326 meters so we had less than 350 meters to ascend. Easier said than done!

Summit of Mt. Penrissen
That's the summit of Mt. Penrissen behind the trees, a steep climb up!

To get to the summit, it normally takes about 2 hours. We always take longer because we stop often to snap photos of anything interesting along the way. Bugs, plants, leaves, frogs, flowers, mushrooms...

Before starting the trek up, we took some time to slather on some mosquito repellent which should also serve to ward off leeches. There are many leeches in the jungles of Borneo but on this day we didn't see too many of them. I counted about 5 that got as far as my shoes before getting zapped with moz repellent. The leeches are a pesky nuisance but they are also very fragile creatures, easily killed if they come into contact with oils like camphor, citronella etc. Dettol and other anti septics also are lethal to them.

You have not been into the rainforest if you have never had your passport stamped by a leech! Some people, like myself, have a bad reaction to their bites. For one, the wound continues to bleed for a long (because of anti-coagulant injected by the bugger) while and when that's done, it can itch for days. Some leeches, such as the infamous Tiger Leech with a yellow band running the length of its body do not inject an anesthetic when they bite, causing a painful wound so watch out for those!

Removing leeches are fun, not!
Checking and removing pesky leeches can be tedious.

Small leech
Here's a tiny one moving up my shoe before it got zapped.

From the view point, we walked along a clear path which quickly turned into a wet, soggy forest trail littered with forest debris, mosses and dead leaves. Take care when negotiating big boulders strewn across the path as they can be very wet and slippery. I remember tripping and almost sent flying into a tree. And all I could think of was "Oh no! My camera lens!" : P

The trail was wet and soggy in some parts.

Interesting plants
This is an interesting species, wonder what it is? A type of fern?

Crude steps
Crude steps, some loose ones so watch out.

The first part of the trail to the summit was fairly easy. After about 1 or 2 km, the trail begins to move up the mountain. The ascent is pretty steep with many near-vertical spots. Steel ladders have been affixed here to aid climbers and they certainly make things easier. However, if you're afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo, it'd be wise not to attempt this climb in the first place! Do not get caught frozen in fear in the middle of a 3 storey high ladder!

Long way down!
The tallest ladder in the trek, it's about 3 storeys high.

Dizzy just looking at this
Without ladders, some places would be incredibly difficult to pass!

More steel ladders
There are many steel ladders along the way, I lost count how many!

Pull yourself up
In some places, you will have to pull yourself up like this.

Fallen branch with Coelogyne

I came across this fallen branch with Coelogyne orchids on it. The orchids on it looked severely stunted and dry which surprised me. It gets quite misty up here that I would have expected epiphytes such as orchids to do well and flourish. I spotted some more growing on tree trunks that looked like they were struggling to survive.

Coelogyne odoardi
This looks like Coelogyne odoardi.

Flowers of small herb
Flowers of a small herb.

We reached the summit around noon. The summit area is actually a mountain ridge with a mix of small shrubs and large trees. We came across some Nepenthes tentaculata here. This pitcher plant species is commonly found in high altitude areas.

Nepenthes tentaculata
Large green Nepenthes tentaculata pitchers

Mt. Penrissen summit marker
Summit marker stone

We stopped for a quick lunch at a clearing near the summit. Do not remain stationary for long in the wet rainforest because the leeches will soon converge on your position. Indeed we saw some making their way towards us and one got onto my shoe. A quick spray with moz repellent took care of them. After lunch, we proceeded to explore the other side of the mountain to photograph more plants. Apparently it was Coelogyne odoardi season because we saw a number of plants in flower.

Coelogyne odoardi
Coelogyne odoardi

Huge tree with orchids
A big tree with orchids.

Bulbophyllum sp.
A very beautiful Bulbophyllum flower.

We didn't get to explore far before the wind picked up and brought in the clouds, shutting out sunlight and making photography difficult. After nearly 2 hours in the summit area, we decided it was time to turn back and make the descent. We got back to the view point area in just over an hour. It was very misty by then and the place was quiet and empty.

On the way back down to the main grounds, we stopped by some bungalow lots (for sale but most have been sold) to walk around and take some photos. A nice place to have a holiday home but a bit too far and inconvenient to get to from the city.

Overall, it was a really fun day. And to think I had actually thought about pulling out of it! Outings are always much more enjoyable when you go with good company, friends who are also into nature and photography and who are understanding and patient when you need to take your time to frame and take a good photograph. Good conversations also help to make it more interesting and time passes by quickly when you're talking!

Looking forward to the next outing, a double camping trip! See you all soon!


sartenada said...

Great photos and "heavy" talk about digital cameras. I have Nikon D300 and I like it very much. When I am taking photos inside obscure churches, I am not using flash, because flash is destoying original colors. With this camera I can take photos inside when conditions are very obscure.

But, I also taking photos with my two old pocket digital cameras. They are handy in normal daylight situation, but they do not compete with Nikon D300. More You can read in my "About me"


sarawaklens said...

Hi sartenada,
A Nikon D300 would be really nice but its weight would make me fall and trip more often while trekking hahaha, because I am not one to lug around a camera bag as well unlike my friends (big tripods etc.). I just sling the cam over my shoulder or neck, which is why I shoot Olympus. A good compromise between size, weight and IQ. I also often shoot with a Fujifilm compact, (owned an F10, F45 and now an F50).

Homestay @ Annah Rais Longhouse said...

Could I have your write up on Mount Penrissen placed in our FB page wallpost?

Homestay @ Annah Rais Longhouse.

sarawaklens said...

@homestayannahrais, yes please feel free to link to this post on your fb page.

M. Zulfadhli said...

Hello there, is a day hike possible? and does one require a guide to climb this mountain?

sarawaklens said...

M. Zulfadhi, yes a day hike possible, enquire at the BHR services desk when you are at the resort.

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