When I first got the invitation to join a group climb to the top of Gunung Baling Mountain, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. The 546-meter-high mountain would be easy for a badass like me; at least that’s what I told myself. After all, I had already conquered Kedah’s Gunung Keriang and have the victory selfie to prove it, so another notch on my mountain climbing belt would probably be the New Year’s kick in the pants I needed.
Mountains have a way of empowering the meek and lazy way better than any self-help book or therapist. If you ever have any doubts about yourself, your life, the world in general, then go climb a mountain. Mountains are good for the soul.
Gunung Baling Mountain
Gunung Baling Mountain is located in the town of Baling, Kedah about 30-minutes from Sungai Petani and 1 hour from the border of Southern Thailand. It is one of three substantial mountains in the area (the other two being Gunung Pulai and Gunung Besar). Gunung Baling itself is 546-meters high and has one trail to the peak which around 1.85 to 1.90km in length.
From the street level, the mountain doesn’t look especially daunting. The trail itself is obvious and easy to follow too. But it isn’t exactly the walk in the park some people will tell you it is. Of course, it may be super easy for experienced hikers, but for those who are new to mountain trails or hiking in general, you can expect to find it challenging. I certainly did!
The Gunung Baling Trail
The Gunung Baling Trail is well marked and has a few handrails and safety ropes in place, but they are inconsistent and unfortunately not necessarily at particularly tough locations that could really help out a beginner. However! Word on the street is that more handrails and safety rope installations are in the works. The flat area trails are quite easy, but the majority of the more vertical trails are mainly mud and rocks making for a potentially slippery foothold. Unless one is well-versed in rocks and mud, each upward or downward step may need to be taken with a degree of time consuming caution.
Signs are in place along the trail to let you know how high you’ve gotten; victory markers if you will. And of course, victory photo ops as well. You may not look your fresh as a daisy best, but sweat and matted hair can be sexy (so don’t forget that). Just say cheese, and smile your best I-can-do-it smile.
Timewise you can expect the journey to the top of Gunung Baling mountain to take at least 2 hours (it took me 3 hours). If you’re wearing a watch you won’t need to ask your guide, “How much farther?” which will likely be answered with something encouraging like, “Just 10 minutes more” or something like that. After a few rounds of ‘just 10 minutes more’ you may lose perspective on the intensity of your climbing adventure and feel disheartened. Just remember, when the going gets tough, just go to your mind’s happy place, because you will get there when you get there. You’ve got this!
How Did My First Gunung Baling Climb Go?
My group started our climb at 5:30am, so we could see ‘The Miracle’ (aka the magical mountain range sunrise). That my friends is early. But me being the go-getter that I am, I was pumped for the wee hour adventure.
It took less than 30-minutes for me to get a reality check. The first part of the climb was an easy peasy cement staircase adjacent to the well-lit parking lot. And then suddenly it became intensely dark with the trail only illuminated by the climbers’ headlamps. I myself didn’t have a headlamp, but by the time one was lent to me it was too late.
My sudden lack of visibility made me feel disoriented and uncomfortable. My enthusiasm bubble burst and a whole lot of feelings came floating through. I was scared, embarrassed and literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Had I not been with a group of witnesses, I probably would have immediately turned and slithered back down the hill. But I was with a group and had a commitment to fulfill. I also had to save face.
So, after having a quick but intense pep talk with myself, I forged onward far behind my group, one tentative step at a time. Graceful is not a descriptive word for how I maneuver mountain trails, and onlookers would likely imagine that I’m in great pain, because I am slower than molasses. I’m also not opposed to crawling on my hands and knees or sliding on my butt, as long as I reach my goal.
After the first 300-or -so-meters, what-have-I-gotten-myself-into part of the climb, the first flat trail section appeared, giving me a surge of confidence. In fact, the rest of the trail is pretty much like that; a challenging as heck vertical part and then a small flat part. However, you must truly keep your confidence up to get through the labor intensive sections, because they can be grueling. But if I can climb Gunung Baling mountain, then so can you!
Most in my group attributed my slowness to my age, but the real reason I am overly cautious in climbing rocky terrain is that I spent nearly 30 years of my life in the medical field. As a Respiratory Therapist I have worked in Intensive Care Units, Emergency Rooms and Neuro and Spinal rehab units. I know first-hand what can happen to humans with skull and spinal injuries. So, yes, I take safety precautions very seriously and probably a bit to the extreme, but safety first is my motto!
Which of course doesn’t mean not challenging myself, but it is my own challenge. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘racing to the top’, but for me, just getting to the top in a reasonable amount of time is usually good enough for me. .
The Gungung Baling climb was challenging for me, mainly due to my uncertainty of the rocks and mud. My guide actually cut me a walking stick which helped tremendously. I had always thought those walking sticks were for sissies, but low and behold they are especially helpful in balancing on 30-45 degree surfaces. In fact, I ordered one from Lazada as soon as I got back home.
At any rate, at around the 3 hour mark my group finally came into sight and victory was officially mine. The final lap to the tippy top peak I didn’t make (due to lack of time and sheer laziness), but I still made it to the 1.7km marker which is an impressive 465 meters high. I also have the selfie to prove it. I may have missed the sunrise miracle, but for me, making it to the top was a miracle in itself as well as a proud moment.
And of course, what goes up must come down and to be honest that might have been even scarier for me. Going up is about heading into the unknown, but going down is about seeing in vivid detail where you could land if you slip and fall. But like I said, I’m not opposed to ungracefully sliding down rocks on my butt as long as I reach my goal safely.
Although I was born and raised in very flat Florida USA, I have since been able to experience a few mountain trails in Malaysia. Gunung Keriang being my main training ground. Had I not already had that experience, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the top of Gunung Baling. This is just my humble opinion, but if you are brand new to climbing muddy mountain trails, Gunung Baling is probably not a good first choice if your goal is to reach the peak. But it is definitely a good second choice. If you have the option of turning back without becoming anyone’s problem, then go for it. There are enough lower level, brag-worthy goals that can be reached without the pressure of reaching the peak.
What to Wear and Bring
Having previously made fashion and equipment mistakes on my previous mountain adventures, I prepared for Gunung Baling passably well. But I was still missing a few items and could have done better. So, here’s a list of what to wear and bring that you might find helpful.
*Loose lightweight pants
*Wind breaker or extra shirt for layering
*Lightweight day pack
*Lightweight sport shoes with grip (not heavy boots)
*Lightweight gloves (especially if you are wearing any rings)
*Energy bar snack with real calories (not just junk food)
*Adequate amount of water
My Two Cents
*Carbo load the night before, plus get a good night’s sleep
*It gets chilly on top of mountain, so be prepared clothing wise
*Try to carry your equipment close to your waist to help balance your center of gravity. Things swinging from your neck or arms unnecessarily are a hindrance to mobility.
*If you find yourself in a situation where several helpful passer-by climbers are trying to verbally guide you at the same time, focus on your guide and let him (or her) know that the others are confusing you. Trust me, five different people telling you how to safely maneuver over a tricky obstacle can be nerve-wracking.
*Regardless of your age or weight, having mobility and leg strength will be in your favor. If you are planning a future climbing excursion make sure you are physically capable by doing some basic training in advance, both mentally and physically.
*Remember, don’t take unnecessary risks to prove anything to anyone but yourself. Listen carefully to your inner coach.
Ready to Climb Gunung Baling Mountain?
Gunung Baling is not a solo adventure and you can only do the climb with permission and a guide. The minimal number of climbers is 30 people. The application procedure is as follows:
*Applications must be in to the Baling District Council 3 weeks in advance
*Approved applicants will receive a letter (via email), and must bring the letter on the day of the climb
*The preparation of the individual climbers is the applicant’s responsibility
*Each applicant’s group must be accompanied by a certified guide(s)
*The Baling District Council also provides certified guidance for groups or special programs
*Cost is RM10 for locals and RM30 for foreign visitors
For further enquiries, contact:
Pendakian Gunung Baling
Open: Daily 8:00am
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 04-470 1803
Have fun and happy climbing!
My participation in this media trip to Baling, Kedah was arranged and sponsored by QTT Group PLT , Global Travel Sdn Bhd (KOLA), and KembaRojak. Special thanks also go to local sponsors; Majlis Daerah Baling, APM Baling, the good folks at Gua Sireh and Malim Gunung.