Dec 3, 2008

The Mysterious Pasir Kramat

In the 17 years I have walked at the foot of the twin peaks, I never once set foot on Pasir Kramat, a wooded ridgeline between two ridgelines that we often trod -- Pr Pancawati (in route B2) and Pr Pondokcateng (in route B1). From afar we thrilled to view the thick forest and hear the shrieks of the Javan gibbons (owa) on Pr Kramat, but never ventured into that jungle. The WIPA surveyors visited Pr Kramat some years ago. They told of a steep climb, a prime forest, and a holy place (tempat kramat).

Last month, Robert Baldwin, who lives in Kmp Pancawati, began asking about the mysterious pasir and my interest was piqued. We left his house early on Monday, 1 Dec, and headed up Pr Pancawati, as for the B2 route. After vainly exploring a turnoff to the right near the forest entrance, we proceeded to the junction shown on the map above 1200m. Thence, around 10 a.m., we veered right and contoured around the head of a small valley to reach the upper end of Pr Kramat. The crossing was easy, but the trail became hard to find. As we worked our way down the ridgeline, a faint trail began to appear on the left side at around 1190m, with some mysterious holes dug beside the trail. The forest here is in excellent condition, consisting largely of rasamala trees that may have been planted as long as 30 years ago. The ridgeline lost altitude very slowly as we proceeded "down" it to the WNW. Not until much further along, when we had descended to 1060m, did I notice a small stump had been cut by a sharp tool, meaning that the forest above was untouched by woodcutters.

Soon after, we began to hear the shrieks of the bands of owa, annoyed, we supposed, by our intrusion into their remote kingdom. Below 1000m, we crossed a notch in the ridgeline and climbed to a flat spot with some graves, said to be of holy persons. We then resumed a descent along the ridgeline that became very steep in places -- the very reason so few villagers venture here. By 2 p.m., it began to drizzle. We reached Kmp Pancawati at 4 p.m., our strength much depleted by a strenuous but very satisfying trek.

Oct 30, 2008

High-altitude Detour on Route C3 Mandalawangi

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.

Aug 10, 2008

With Antony on Route B1

Toward the end of July, I walked route B1 again with Antony Sutton, author of several blogs on tourism near Jakarta. It was a hard slog for Antony, as he relates on one of his blogs, but he was a good sport and we managed to complete the trip without incident. See his blog:(