Gunung Tahan test skills, endurance of elite firemen

Photo used for illustration purposes only

KUALA TAHAN – Ascending Peninsular Malaysia’s highest peak Gunung Tahan is no walk in the park even for the fittest of climbers who have given the trek up the 2,187-metre mountain an eight out of 10 rating in terms of climbing difficulty.

For climbers who love a good challenge, Peninsular Malaysia’s highest peak, located in Taman Negara in Pahang, has it all – long and arduous root- and rock-filled trails criss-crossing thick forests and steep 90-degree slopes, and river crossings that can test any climber’s physical and mental stamina.

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Recently, this writer had the opportunity to join a five-day, four-night expedition to Gunung Tahan organised by the Pahang Fire and Rescue Department (JBPM) as part of their training and risk assessment programme for members of their elite rescue teams such as the Multi-Skilled Team (MUST) and Special Tactical Operation and Rescue Malaysia (STORM).

The Sept 13-17 expedition – held in conjunction with flying the Jalur Gemilang on the peak of Gunung Tahan to mark this year’s Malaysia Day – was co-organised by the Pahang Media Club in collaboration with the police and Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia.

For their climb up the mountain, the 70 participants of the expedition took the trail that started from Taman Negara and went through Sungai Juram-Kuala Luis-Kem Kor-Permatang-Berlumut-Kem Kubang-Bukit V-Bongsai-Kem Botak before getting to the peak of Gunung Tahan. The trail up the mountain is about 32 kilometres long.

Training

Pahang JBPM Fire Safety Division assistant director Senior Superintendent of Fire 1 Wan Ahmad Fadillah Wan Abd Rahman, who also participated in the expedition, said this time around the department decided to have its training session at Gunung Tahan as it wanted to expose the firefighters to applying rescue techniques appropriate with the area, as well as improve their skills, competence and confidence in carrying out operations in high altitude terrain.

“Our firemen need to go for intensive training to familiarise themselves with the mountain terrain and trails as Gunung Tahan is popular with climbers (between 2014 and 2018, the peak attracted about 2,800 climbers),” he said, adding that the department is also planning to create a mountain search and rescue team for Gunung Tahan that will also include mountain guides.

Wan Ahmad Fadillah said Pahang JBPM is also currently developing a series of intensive training sessions at various mountains in the state that are favoured by climbers.

Head of Pahang JBPM STORM unit Muhammad Haziq Hazmi said the Gunung Tahan expedition enabled them to identify areas that can serve as landing points for the department’s air team and to carry out rescue operations using the winching technique and provide first aid in the event some climbers are injured.

Fire officer Mohd Fais Aminrul Mangsor, 30, who is among the five members of Pahang JBPM’s MUST unit, said although he has been with the team for three years, it was the first time he was setting foot in Gunung Tahan.

He found the training expedition useful as it gave him and his teammates the opportunity to brush up their rescue skills, particularly for night-time rescue operations.

Real-life rescue

During the expedition, there was an occasion when Mohd Fais and three of his colleagues’ skills were tested. They were at Kem Botak when they received a message at about 11 pm asking them to climb down to the Bongsai checkpoint, located 1,500 metres above sea level, as one of the expedition participants had fainted due to sheer exhaustion after having “navigated” through a winding and muddy trail.

“We had just arrived at Kem Botak then and although we were very tired, we rushed down to help. We didn’t even know the actual condition of the participant because communication between us and the climbers was cut off.

“Fortunately, the participant’s condition stabilised after we gave her some medicine and she managed to get to Kem Botak safely,” said Mohd Fais, who is attached to the Fire and Rescue Station at Taman Tas in Kuantan.

At Kem Botak, situated 1,900 metres above sea level, their skills were tested again that same night. At about midnight, two participants were struck by hypothermia due to the cold weather (eight degrees Celsius) and strong winds and they were attended to by fire officer Mohd Tajudin Mohd Yusuf, 38, who administered emergency medical care. In half an hour, their body temperature returned to normal.

“My advice to Gunung Tahan climbers is to pack suitable clothing to keep themselves warm, especially in Kem Botak, where the night temperature can dip to as low as eight degrees Celsius,” he said. Mohd Tajudin is attached to the Fire and Rescue Station at Bandar Muadzam Shah, Rompin.

Fire officer Mohd Asraful Syafiq Ikhmaruddin, 28, who is a MUST member and works at the Fire and Rescue station in Genting Highlands, said the experience he had gained from the expedition was invaluable.

“On the first day itself, I was involved in helping participants who were overcome by exhaustion to get to Kem Kor. On the third and fourth days, I had to climb the mountain whilst carrying a 25-kilogramme backpack belonging to another participant.

“One needs to have a great deal of strength and energy to do this but I did it to gain experience as I may have to encounter even more difficult situations in the future,” he said.

Challenging experience

This writer who has been involved in mountain climbing activities in and outside Malaysia for five years, found the Gunung Tahan expedition rather challenging and taxing.

On the first day itself, she found herself wading across four tributaries, and hiking and climbing up punishing trails for several hours whilst lugging an eight-kg backpack before finally arriving at Kem Kor where the group spent the night.

The following day’s climb was even more demanding as the fatigue from the previous day had yet to dissipate and there were another 16 kilometres – including a ramp-like path dubbed Bukit Good Morning and several narrow trails strewn with rocks covered by mud and slime – to conquer before reaching Kem Botak, from where it is just a 45-minute climb to the peak.

After stopping at Bukit V water point, the track became increasingly winding and at the Bongsai checkpoint, the writer had to stop to help her friend who was injured. At that point, it was 10 pm and by the time they climbed up to Kem Botak, it was midnight and freezing cold up there.

But their efforts paid off when the participants, led by Pahang Media Club president Datuk Nik Naizi Husin, ascended the peak of Gunung Tahan and proudly hoisted the Jalur Gemilang at 6.45 am sharp on Malaysia Day (Sept 16).

Up there, a visual treat awaited them, namely the breathtakingly beautiful sight of the clouds blanketing the Tahan Range – the very views sought after by climbers, especially Instagrammers. The attractive wild orchids and jungle plants growing in abundance add more appeal to the peak.

The expedition officially ended at 2 pm on Sept 17 when the participants arrived at the gate to Kuala Juram at the foothills.

— BERNAMA