GUNUNG MATCHINCHANG - FEB 2006
Matchinchang is only 700m high but its location dominating the northwestern tip of the small island of Langkawi ensures that all eyes are drawn to it. This small mountain culminates in a ridge of steep-sided peaks with forested slopes leading up to bare rocky bluffs just below the summits. One of these tops, at the western end, is accessible by ultra-modern cable car and is one of Langkawi's main tourist attractions. Another top, a kilometre or more to the east, can be reached by trail and is much less frequented.
The path begins at Telagah Tujuh, the "seven wells" waterfall where visitors to Langkawi often head for a swim in the natural pools above the falls. I arrived here in the early afternoon with comrades in arms Adelino (de Paris) and Daulot (de Seattle). It's a ten minute stroll up a steep stairway (above) from the highway to the Seven Wells. Where the steps head up from the road, stalls will sell you cold drinks, coconuts and the usual tourist tat. Once at Seven Wells, as well as taking a dip in the pleasant waters you can slide around from pool to pool on the smooth rocks - it's a natural water park and surprisngly on this occasion there were only a handful of people (and a troop of monkeys) enjoying the fun.
From the pools you can take a trail up into the jungle - a vague signpost gives details, but basically for the summit you just get on the trail and keep heading up. The trail is easy going at first but soon gets challenging as you cross stream gulleys (dry at this time of year) and negotiate steep slopes and traverses with the aid of the permanent guide-ropes. We met a french couple in their seventies who had been half way up then aborted the attempt - they were a little bemused, having been advised that the larger waterfall was a few metres up the trail beyond the pools and that they could get lunch in the cafe there......a bit far fetched as there is no fall above Seven Wells and certainly nowhere to buy stuff - just a thin, twisty trail and a short but challenging climb.
Oh, and some nice flora and fauna.....
The climb was sweaty work but not too taxing, as we'd opted to walk this one rather than run it (unlike previous outings on Penang, or Daulot's early morning dash up Langkawi's other peak Gunung Raya).The roped sections were good fun - no more than a scramble but don't take anyone up here who isn't sure-footed; it's an awkward climb back down with a casualty.
Once we got to the top of the ropes and picked our way up the bluff to the summit, we were able to enjoy the view across all of Langkawi and the other peaks of Matchinchang. I had been up the cable car a few days earlier on a gorgeous day where bright sunlight alternated every few minutes with dense mist, but the view just isn't as beautiful if it doesn't come as the reward of a little exertion.
View of the cable car station to the West
And the remainder of the Matchinchang ridge to the East
The whole climb was about an hour and a half from the road, and the way back was obviously quicker, but not that quick, as the steepness and the profusion of awkward tree roots means you have to take your time. We lingered to enjoy the views on the way down but hurried the last section (mostly flat) so we would have time for a dip in the wells. Like the view from the top, the cooling swim is much more satisfying after you've worked up a sweat on the hill.
Daulot surveys the view from just below the summit.
Langkawi is a very beautiful island and it's a shame that the only attractions touted to the visitor are the beaches and the tourist traps (shops and craft centres). This trail up Matchinchang is probably the best climb to be had on the island, as the higher peak Gunung Raya has a highway right to the top. The Matchinchang trail is short and therefore can't be called arduous by any stretch, but it was great fun and a decent challenge for a typically sweltering Malaysian afternoon. The ridge-runner in me obviously wanted to find a route to the cable car station along the ridge, but this would require a machete to hack through the undergrowth and probably ropes to deal with the steep or even sheer slopes - maybe some day an intrepid person will blaze a trail along the ridge - then the climber would be rewarded by a cold drink and a foot massage at the end of their hike, not to mention a ride back down the hill.
I feel very lucky that I get the opportunity to visit places like Matchinchang and Telagah Tujuh - although the nature on my doorstep is beautiful and my local hills offer all the challenge I need as a runner or walker, it's great to see these other corners of the world and just revel in their different forms of beauty. Wherever I go, if I see a hill I want to either run it or climb it, and whenever I run or climb, the experience is always rewarding..
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