Monday, July 7, 2008

Thrills and spills at Duck River

"Boom boom .... boom boom...." No, we weren't at the artillery range, nor were we in the line of canon fire. That was our guide yelling at us to crouch low in the raft as we hit the rapids at Sungai Itek (Duck River). Phew! Cleared the highest class rapids along Sungai Itek with all occupants still on board. " Gimme a five everyone!" our guide said and we jubilantly raised our paddles to hit it together in the air before clumsily smacking it back into the water.

It was only a class 3 rapid, on a grading of between classes 1 to 6 rapids, it is but a mere nursery playground for hard core thrill seekers. But enough to get adrenaline pumping for city folks like us whose thrill of the week is cutting off the next driver on the highway.

Instead of another typical weekend of errands and church, a bunch of us city dorks decided to seek adventure at Sungai Itek. Amy of the RATS (the white water rafting operator, not the rodent) took us through the safety briefing which covers paddling commands - forward paddle, backward paddle, to the left, to the right, on the job and my favourite ..... boom boom. We were taught the right way to hold the paddle and how not to hold the paddle lest you hit someone and capsize drills - what to do when you fall into the river. Pay attention to instructions on how to body raft we were told. "Draw up your knees and keep your feet together, otherwise its bye bye to Father's Day guys" said one of the guides.

With the safety briefing and demonstrations over, it was soon time to buckle up the life jacket and hit the water. Woohoo! We headed to the starting point at the backyard of My Gopeng Resort.

"Into the river everyone, body raft past the rock and then swim to the left bank." Darn, there goes my notion that we will be gently lowered into the raft as I peered over the raging river. One by one we had to jump into the river and body raft past the swirling eddy around the rock to get to calmer waters where the raft and the rest of the team of guides were waiting for us.

We clambered on board the raft and soon our coordination or lack of was apparent. "Forward paddle" our instructor barked. Chaos ensued. "Hah? forward ah?" Er..... which way ar?". "Eh... not like that lah.... forward lah, not backward", "Oi, watch your paddle, you nearly hit my face with it" We paddled in six different directions like a group of drunken sailors as our raft careened crazily around. Finally, we managed to get into some sort of coordinated rhythm and made progress down river.

The RATS had a safety raft that went ahead of us and stationed themselves at capsize prone areas, at the ready with a throw bag to fish us out should we tumble in. And tumble in we did, despite our best efforts to stay in the raft. One of our crew fell into the river and during efforts to pull him back on board, the raft tipped over at the rapids and spilled its guts into the swirling waters. Mercifully, I managed to quickly kick up and break surface, all the while trying to remember instructions to keep my body in the right position. The water was not deep but the swift current swept me down stream. I was bobbing downstream like a cork until help came to stop me from floating further down river. My posterior was sore from bumping and grazing the rocks.

Despite the thrills and spills, which were all part and parcel of enjoying the white water experience, Sungai Itek is well suited for beginners. There are 9 major rapids between classes 1-3. Apart from those adrenaline pumping moments, the rest of the trip was a pleasant and uneventful ride. In between paying attention to instructions that our guide barked out, we slacked off and sat back to enjoy the idyllic surroundings as we floated down river. Wild durian trees laden with fruits dotted the river banks and had us salivating. Unfortunately the fruits were not ripe for picking yet. Shucks!

Three hours and 12 km later, we arrived at the Kampung Jahang ending point and waited for the lorry to transport us back to My Gopeng Resort where we were staying for the night. I was rather sorry for the adventure to come to an end.

Next up.... shooting class 4 and 5 rapids at Sungai Selangor. Anyone game for it?


Monday, April 14, 2008

Chilling out at Chilling Falls

I heard the thunderous roar of the waterfalls from afar. The sound of the waterfalls was music to my ears. After an hour of tramping up and down the trail through the damp forest of dense bushes and tall ferns, scrambling over fallen tree trunks, sloshing through the water logged footpath of sand and pebbles, got nearly swept away by the swift river current; I finally arrived. And my! The sight that greeted me at the end of the trail was well worth the effort of the hike. So, there I was, at Chilling Falls on Federal Territory Day, 1 Feb, 08; soaking in, (literally), the beautiful scene of a wall of water gushing down the 20 meter cliff.

Not exactly a relaxing way to spend a public holiday, mind you. But it sure beats hanging out at the nearest coffee joint for overpriced caffeine shots, trawling the shopping malls with 6.9 million other KLites or hiding at home and slumber. (hmm…. the last option does sound good when you are in the thick of the trail; wet, foot sore and hungry) Anyway, I was glad I got off my ‘cityfied’ rear that day and joined B and his posse for the day at Chilling Falls.

The breathtakingly beautiful vertical falls along the Chilling River makes up The Chilling Falls. Waterfalls of Malaysia cite it as the most beautiful waterfalls in Selangor. Fresh air, icy cold water, soothing forest greens can be found just barely an hour and a half away from the city of Kuala Lumpur and yet it seemed a world apart.

The Chilling River is located between Kuala Kubu Baru and Fraser’s Hill. Pass the sleepy hollow of Kuala Kubu Baru and drive on the road that wind along the newly completed Selangor Dam. When you reach the concrete bridge over Chilling River, look out for a place to park your car. Then walk up to the barrier with an overhead signboard 'Sanktuari Sungai Chilling' (Chilling River Sanctuary) Go past the barrier to find an open site for camping complete with shelters and public amenities; toilets and shower rooms.

Chilling River is a fish sanctuary under the protection of Jabatan Perikanaan (Fisheries Department). The place is clean and well maintained and the river is filled with schools of fishes that thrived in the protected environment. It is heartening to see conservation effort, when we hear so much of ravages to the environment in the name of development.

There are five river crossings in total before reaching the first fall. The first river crossing is a piece of cake, just walk over the hanging suspension bridge. After the bridge, there is a narrow trail that cuts through thick bushes and tall ferns. Watch out for the stinging nettles and the whiplash from the branches, especially if you are walking behind someone. Most times I kept my head down and held both my hands up to protect my face. The trail runs parallel to the river and it is sandy, muddy and wet; a haven for leeches. Did someone mention leeches? Eeks! Keep moving so that those critters won’t be able to latch on to you for a meal.

Overall, it was a fairly easy trek. Where the trail ends, we had to cross the river, it was waist deep (for me). Beware when wading across the river, the rocks on the riverbed are smooth and slippery, with the swift river current you can easily lose your footing and get sucked downstream.

I was swept off my feet and had my maiden dunking at the second river crossing. My trusty old Nokia 8210 went down with me and both of us were none the worse for wear after drying out in the sun. (Another point that makes me a loyal Nokia user) Oh, and be sure to bring a towel and extra change of clothing in a waterproof bag, unless you don’t mind wet clothes sticking to your skin on the journey home.

After about an hour of trekking and river crossings, we were rewarded by the magnificent sight of the lower waterfall. There are stretches of sand banks that made it perfect for a picnic spot. We stopped to take some pictures and a cooling dip in the icy cold water. But decided to move up higher to the next fall when the crowd began to fill in.

Climbing the steep trail for another 15 minutes, we caught sight of a fall that was splendid but not accessible. I tried to maneuver around a better angle for a shot of the waterfall. But the best shot I could take had a tree smack in the middle of the picture. I had to be satisfied with that since the edge of the trail falls off into a ravine, one misstep and it’s sayonara baby.

We climbed higher and reached the upper falls. Ah, no other human around, we claimed the place and decided to set camp on the flat rocks. The river current at the upper falls was swifter and we had to gingerly make our way around the rocks.
Make sure you secure your belongings high on the rocks out of reach of the swirling water. One of my fake Crocs fell victim to the river. Luckily P had brought extra slippers and loaned it to me. Otherwise I would have to hike back with one foot bare. A word of advice - do not go waterfall trekking in your expensive Nike trainers or genuine Crocs unless you don’t mind getting it wet and muddy or losing it to the river.

There is a pool at the base of the fall that is clam and clear; we swam around for a while with the fishes. For a natural Jacuzzi experience, sit behind the rocks where the water gush by and let it soothe aching muscles and tensions.

We ate our packed chicken rice lunch in companionable silence, perched on the rocks with toes trailing in the icy water. Listening to the roar of the waterfall and the gushing river, watching birds swoop over head and butterflies flit by. It was by far the best lunch break I’ve had in ages. B later boiled some river water in a Billy can and made us coffee to finish off the meal. Heaven!

Two hours of lazing in the sun and splashing in the water later, we were driven to pack up when the skies darken and the rain clouds loomed above. If it rains, the river could swell to dangerous levels and the swift currents makes it impassible, not to mention flash floods that could happen. So we made haste and hiked back downstream.

The return journey took only 45 minutes as we practically ran to beat the rain clouds. Fat drops of rain fell on us just after we waded across the second last river crossing. Phew! It was home run all the way from there.

Chilled and soaked to the bone, we changed out into dry clothing and then made our way home to the city. It was an invigorating day out in the sunshine and rain, admiring at close quarters God’s beautiful creation.

Wondering what to do on your next day off? Kick off your city duds and go chill out at Chilling.