Among the 16 trekking routes in the Puncaktrek series of maps and books, route C3 Mandalawangi (in the Cisarua sector) at the foot of Gn Pangrango is the jewel. It brings the hiker deeply into the forest, undisturbed by road noise, with abundant flora and bird life. There is also the romance of visiting the site of a former outpost, a small settlement of perhaps 10 houses that was evacuated and burned by the Indonesian army around 1960, during the Darul Islam rebellion. The climb from the Gn Mas tea plantation is a gentle one on an old Dutch horse road, and leads to the site of the former Mandalawangi outpost at 1790m. From there, the climb to the Puncak is not for the faint-hearted, so the full route is only recommended for advanced hikers with a taste for adventure. Also, you should allow about 10 hours for the hike, so an early start is essential. Risk-averse hikers are encouraged to venture as far as the site of the former outpost and then to return to the tea plantation. In this way, they can enjoy the pristine environment while avoiding the rough patches further on.
During the last four weeks I have had the exhilarating opportunity to walk C3 three times with three different groups. This enabled me to explore an essential detour in the route, required by the recent blockage of the short path from points C to D on the north side of the site of the ex-outpost. The directions given below are adapted to our map of the Cisarua sector, and may not make much sense to a reader who doesn't have the map in hand.
On 29 September, I walked the first half of route C3 with Robert Baldwin and his wife Nina, who have a house in Kmp Pancawati (near the start of routes B1 and B2) at the foot of Gn Pangrango, with Pak Santoso of Green Radio, his friend Teddy Wibisana, and Teddy’s 2 children Bimo and Cemara, ages about 12 and 9. This was my first time on the route since early 2006, 30 months ago. We only started walking at 9 a.m. from Kmp Gn Mas and only reached the clearing at the ex-outpost at 2 p.m., too late for the ascent to the Puncak, so we were forced to retrace our steps to Kmp Gn Mas in order to guarantee a safe conclusion of the trek for all members. While at the clearing, we learned that the path from points C to D was blocked by new growth of trees. The saga of this trip is recounted by Pk Santoso on the Green Radio website, with my comments appearing also on the site. Despite the setback, we were blessed with good weather and enjoyed this deep excursion into pristine nature.
On 13 Oct, I walked route C3 with Nick Andrew, Phil Rich and Pascal Arnaud of the Java Lava group, Dwi "Bolang" Sukma Nura, an outbound operator who had walked this route several times during 1999-2002 while gathering data for the Puncaktrek maps, and Pk Acep of Kmp Tajur Halang (who works at my vila on Gn Salak). We began walking at 7:30 a.m, reached the clearing before 11, and began climbing to the Puncak at noon. As planned, we took a detour shown on the map, a detour that first proceeds a short distance ENE from the clearing at the ex-outpost, on a clear footpath leading to another side of the ex-outpost (with more foundations) in a small valley. From a branching point there (call it point C1), the path climbs NNE to Pasir Mandalawangi, on a route shown on the map. On top, we reached a T-intersection with a good ridgeline path (call it point C2), also shown on the map (at about 1900masl), and turned left to approach point D. From point D, we resumed the route marked on the map and narrated in the book. We contoured along the western slope of Pasir Gegerbentang in a direction that gradually veered from ENE to NNE. The path was overgrown, closing up more the further we went. Nevertheless, we persevered, placing our faith in the GPS coordinates of the next point, E, as shown on the map. Although we managed to deviate from the trail for about 200m, we were able to return to the original path, to find the path that climbs to Pr Gegerbentang, and thereby to reach point E. By this time, it was already after 3 p.m, indicating that the trek from the clearing had taken us over 3 hours to cover a distance of a little more than 2km. From point E, we followed the Puncak ridgeline (which separates Bogor and Cianjur regencies), enjoying the occasional long views, and reached the highway at point F on the Cianjur side of the Puncak Pass. The day was mostly overcast, with only a brief drizzle to dampen our spirits.
On 27 Oct, I walked C3 with Henrik Schmidt, a businessman who lives in Ciawi, together with Robert Baldwin and Pk Acep. The four of us are shown resting at the ex-outpost in the above self-timed photo. A few minutes later, we explored a fine water source beside the ex-outpost (see the photo below, with Baldwin), perfect for would-be campers. This time after climbing to Pr Mandalawangi, we took the alternative route, turning right at point C2 (mentioned above but not marked on the map). We proceeded on the ridgeline a few meters in a ENE direction, until the ridgeline disappeared at the foot of Gn Gegerbentang, which sits astride the Puncak ridgeline. Here was a fork in the trail, where a new trail, which is not on the map and which I have never explored, appears to head straight up Gn Gegerbentang. We, however, took the old trail that veers left to contour along the western slope of Gn Gegerbentang; this was in fact the route that I first explored in 1994-95 and traversed several times after that before 2006. The route proved itself to be even more precarious than I recalled. The slope was as steep as ever, and the path very narrow. The ground under foot was rather fragile, due to the steep slope, and one had to take care to avoid stepping on loose soil or a void. We crawled under or clambered over a number of large trees that had fallen onto the narrow path. In this way, we advanced 380m in 45 minutes (including about 15 minutes of heavy rain), to reach a crossroads in grid square I27 on Pr Gegerbentang, call it point C3 (marked with the altitude, 1844). This is actually a main crossroads, with a path leading down to Kmp Pangsalatan in Cianjur Regency and another path leading up to the summit of Gn Gegerbentang. From here, we continued straight on a easy walk along Pr Gegerbentang to point E and thence to the Puncak highway. The entire journey from the clearing took 4.5 hours. The sky was overcast most of the day, with about 45 minutes of drizzle and a brief shower.
Given the drawbacks of these two routes, two alternatives need to be explored, both beginning at point C2 on Pr Mandalawangi. The easiest alternative would probably be to go left and follow Pr Mandalawangi all the way back to the tea plantation, as shown on the map. This would not exit at the Puncak highway but would avoid the rough spots between points C2 and E. The path is open from point C2 to point D, and is probably open back to a branching point near the edge of the forest and just above point B on route C3. A more challenging alternative would be to climb the new path ascending Gn Gegerbentang; this path would almost certainly connect to point C3, either by way of the summit of Gn Gegerbentang (which soars about 200 vertical meters above above point C3) or by way of a traverse below the summit. It would be a steep climb in either case, but might offer surer footing than the precarious traverse from points C2 to C3.
Would someone else like to explore these alternative routes on their own and report their findings on the web? Feel free to do so. I am unlikely to revisit the area for some months.