With 20 routes of varying difficulty, the via ferrata (or ‘iron road’) of Paya Gunung Extreme Park in Jerantut, Pahang offers thrilling adventures, writes Zulkifly Ab Latif
ROSLAN Rasli, a climbing instructor from Malaysian Mountaineering Federation, holds up a climbing harness and proceeds with his safety and technical briefing at Paya Gunung Extreme Park. I hear unfamiliar terms such as “safe working load” and “kilonewton”. Much of what Roslan says flies over my head, but I get the gist of the jargon-loaded briefing: “The harness will support your weight if you fall”.
“Fall”. The word comes to mind as I look up towards the pinnacle known as Tower A, which I am about to climb, along the via ferrata, with 10 other people. I am part of a group of journalists and tour operators invited by the Tourism Malaysia Eastern Region for a programme called Nature Across Climbing, which aims to promote rock climbing at Kampung Paya Gunung in Jerantut, Pahang.
“Via ferrata” (Italian) means “iron road” and is a climbing route that features steel safety cables affixed onto the rock face. It originates from Europe, due to the need of the inhabitants there to safely access remote alpine locations.
Having donned the necessary gear such as helmet, harness and slings attached with carabineers, the group follows Roslan and his assistants from Paya Gunung Extreme Park up a path beside Tower A to begin our adventure. It is a steep but short climb through a patch of jungle, and in less than 10 minutes, we arrive at a tall aluminium ladder leaning against a rock face.
Making my way up the ladder, one of the guides instructs me to attach the carabineers of my climbing harness to the steel cable beside the ladder. The carabineers slide up the cable as I climb further up, and when it snags on the pins that secure the cable to the rock face, it is time to unclip the carabineer and attach it pass the pin. With two carabineer clips on my climbing harness, I am always attached to the steel cable with one clip while repositioning the other one — a via ferrata safety feature.
Just as I begin to think the route is not that difficult, I come across a section that sees me clinging to the rock face, unable to move forward as I cannot find a place to step on. One of the guides points me to a small indentation in the rock face, which barely fits the toe box of my left shoe. And for a few moments, this precarious foothold is the only thing propping me up against the rock wall while I cling to the steel cable some 40 metres above the ground. Along the route, I find myself in the same unsure situation a few more times, all the while trying to put my faith in the strength and the stability of the steel cable I am clutching on to for dear life.
It takes about 1½ hours to finally reach the peak of Tower A. It’s a spectacular sight, a panoramic 360-degree view of Paya Gunung village and Jerantut, Pahang’s largest district. Initially, at some 59 metres, I was sceptical of whether the climbing experience was anything to write home about.
Malaysia is already home to the world’s highest via ferrata — Mount Kinabalu’s in Sabah that starts at 3,400 metres high and ends at 3,800 metres. But I am happy to admit that the thrill factor as well as the challenge to traverse the route places the Paya Gunung Via Ferrata on the list of exhilarating outdoor adventures I’ve experienced, regardless of its altitude.
The journey down the tower after completing the climb is also quite thrilling, as it requires me to abseil down the peak using harness and rope. To attempt the iron road of Kampung Paya Gunung, it is advisable one is of good physical fitness and without a fear of heights. Accompanied by guides, climbing experience is not necessary as it is suitable for beginners.
ALL FOR THE LOVE OF THE SPORT
Back near the base of Tower A, I meet Zuhairan Daud of Paya Gunung Extreme Park who is working hard to develop the pinnacle as an extreme sport destination. With the help of boys and girls from the nearby community of Kampung Paya Gunung, Zuhairan has been at it for 10 years, developing climbing routes using his own finances.
“The via ferrata is fairly new, and it’s been attracting visitors steadily,” Zuhairan says. “But what attracted me as well as other climbing enthusiasts to the pinnacle here is that it has so many routes to discover, each with varying degrees of difficulty.”
There are 20 climbing routes, each offering different challenges. Of course, I chose a beginner’s level route that is 15 metres high.
FROM THE PEAK TO THE CAVERNS
Other than climbing the pinnacle, another activity at Paya Gunung Extreme Park is cave exploring. The Paya Gunung pinnacle is a free-standing limestone rock formation, the remnants of a long abandoned mine. Due to the natural dissolution of limestone from rainwater, a system of caves has been carved out near the base of the Paya Gunung rock formation.
With names such as Gua Kelawar (Bat), Gua Biawak (Lizard) and Gua Itik (Duck), the caving route takes 1½ hours to complete. At one point of the route, I am forced to crawl on my stomach through a small tunnel that barely fits my frame. The caving experience here is certainly not for the claustrophobic, but for other visitors, it is a fun, albeit a dirty adventure. Emerging the cave entrance, I realise that apart from reaching the peak of this majestic mountain, I have managed to crawl through the caverns of its base, making it a complete circle of exploration and adventure.
CAVES STEEPED IN HISTORY AND MYSTERY
I have breakfast at Felda Tekam Residence, a resort retreat set in the idyllic landscape of Tun Razak Agricultural Research Centre, Jerantut.
The Nature Across Climbing event has officially ended and in a few moments the group will disperse and the participants will journey home. Fauziah, a tourism officer from Tourism Malaysia Eastern Region, approaches me and asks if I would like to join an unplanned visit to Kota Gelanggi Caves, a group of caves 20 kilometres away from Jerantut. This unexpected visit is a welcome one, as it is another opportunity to explore what else Jerantut has to offer visitors.
Arriving at the entrance of Kota Gelanggi, I meet Azmi Baharuddin, a recreation supervisor who looks after the caves. Gazetted by the state of Pahang as a Historical Heritage Area, Kota Gelanggi Caves is a multiple caves complex exuding an air of eerie mystery and is rich in history. The caves are where various archeological artefacts have been discovered, ranging from pottery to tools and even funeral ornaments believed to be 4,000 years old. One popular legend about Kota Gelanggi is that it was once an ancient civilisation, but due to a curse, the place and its inhabitants were transformed into stone.
Hearing Azmi talk about Kota Gelanggi and explain the various evocative names of the caves there such Gua Terang Bulan (Bright Moon Cave), I see that a two-hour unplanned visit is nowhere near enough to really take in the grandeur and wonder of Kota Gelanggi.
With the development of Gunung Extreme Park as well as the continued preservation of Kota Gelanggi Caves, Jerantut is indeed a haven for nature lovers and thrill seekers. Although the district is the entry point to Taman Negara, Pahang through its township of Kuala Tahan, visitors to Jerantut now have more options to choose from when looking for memorable travel experiences.
Stay: Felda Tekam Residence, Tun Razak Agricultural Research Centre, Jerantut, Pahang.
Eat: Murtabak Ferry Jerantut, Kampung Jerantut Ferry. Oversized stuffed pan-fried pancakes which is somewhat of a famous local food. Do not eat before attempting the via ferrata rock climbing.
Do: Rock climbing and the via ferrata at Paya Gunung Extreme Park, Kampung Paya Gunung, Jerantut, Pahang. Paya Gunung Extreme Park is 20 minutes’ drive from the town centre of Jerantut. The “iron road” is the first of its kind in Peninsular Malaysia. Go to www.facebook.com/Paya-Gunung-Extreme-Park or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For something a little less extreme, try the plantation tours available at Felda Tekam Residence.
Go: Explore the historical heritage area of Kota Gelanggi Caves. Visitors can drive to the area or arrange for guided tours at Felda Tekam Residence.