Monday, June 1, 2009

Scrambling up Bukit Kasut, Niah National Park

On 1st June 2009, two MNS Miri members decided to check out Madu and Bukit Kasut trails in Niah Caves National Park as part of a recce in preparation for our upcoming post trip event in conjunction with 62nd MNS National AGM to be held in Miri 3rd week September 2009.

The start of Madu trail is about 900m of comfortable stroll on plank walk and cement path from the archaeology museum opposite Park HQ across the Niah River. Madu trail follows Sg Subis – a small tributary of the mightier Sg Niah, and skirts along the western side of Subis Limestone, all the way up to Bukit Kasut trail. This particular forest trail can be wet and very muddy especially during the rainy season or after especially heavy downpour, many less fortunate souls have returned with one trekking shoe short. We picked a day that was relatively dry thus making our small adventure all the more enjoyable.

The forest habitat here is mainly riverine (or alluvial), peat swamp and limestone vegetation. We had the opportunity to cross Sg Subis at several places along the trail, on all accounts the view is most scenic and calming typical of any other rainforest enclaves we have come to know. Typical great examples of huge buttress roots and strangler figs can also be seen in many places along the trail. The air is filled with a cacophony of unfamiliar sounds. We heard plenty of birdcalls which indicated that this is a super place for birdwatching. Just a day before a separate party of MNS Miri members photographed and recorded the enigmatic calls of the Chestnut-rumped Babbler not far from here (article below). Continuous chirping of crickets and other insects filled the air. Those with an affinity for carbonates will be happy here. This forest trail offers a lot in terms of depositional carbonate structures, well-preserved with all the erosional imprints (rainwater, river and sea waves) from ages gone by. Clear carbonate depositional sequences can be observed along the trail at very close quarters.

The first 20 minutes of Bukit Kasut trail to the foothill of Bukit Kasut is flat similar Madu trail. The limestone hill is not considered high at 205m but it is very steep and presents a good challenge to any beginner to moderate climbers. Towards the last part of the climb, trekkers are aided by sections of ropes and long aluminum ladders fitted to the steepest slope. After an hour of strenuous, adrenaline pumping climb, we found ourselves at the summit with a beautiful view of the surrounding area overlooking the rainforest canopy of the National Park and the quaint Batu Niah township. We spent 40 minutes at the summit exploring the area and taking notes of the surrounding vegetation, resting and listening to traditional gong music wafting up the air from the town below, Batu Niah was apparently celebrating Gawai. The entire experience was as close to surreal as one can get at this elevation surrounded by old growth rainforest.

The climb down the limestone hill was as difficult as the climb up and for us it took approximately the same amount of time. Nevertheless, by 3:30pm, we were back in Park HQ, none the worse for wear except for some slight muscle soreness and scuffed trekking shoes.

Most people come to Niah Caves National Park to see the famous neolithic caves and artifacts of a millennia past. The Madu and Bukit Kasut trails offer a different kind of activities - jungle exploration and for the more active, a bit of adventure and adreline pumping sort of fun climbing and scrambling up the steep limestone hill we all know as Bukit Kasut.

Admiring events that took place over geologic time imprinted on rocks exposed on present day.

Carbonate boulders strewn around the forest floor.

Swiftlets nest harvesting station at on one the caves leading to Bukit Kasut summit.

Strangler figs close to overwhelming its gracious host.

Article by Sara Wong and Michael Lim
Photographs by Sara Wong

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