Star2 monthly challenge: The couch potatoes get fitter for the climb

(From front) Kugan, Fernandez and Entaban on the suspension bridge to ‘heart attack hill’. Photo: ERIC IAN CHAN

(From front) Kugan, Fernandez and Entaban on the suspension bridge to ‘heart attack hill’. Photo: ERIC IAN CHAN

Our would-be mountain climbers experience dreams, shivers and torture.

SO how have couch potatoes become mountain-climbers and jungle-trekkers?

For the past few weeks, we’ve been asking you, our dear readers, to share your stories (and photos) of how you became active in Malaysia’s great green outdoors.

But we wouldn’t ask you to do a #Star2MonthlyChallenge if we were not doing it ourselves.

At Star2, we’ve been brewing our own in-house team of couch potatoes – Terence Toh, Nasa Maria Entaban, Nadine Fernandez and Jerome Kugan. They will take on Gunung Datuk in Rembau, Negri Sembilan, about half an hour south of Seremban.

The peak is 884m high, and regular hikers from Kuala Lumpur do daytrips there to train for their treks up bigger mountains, such as Gunung Tahan or Everest Base Camp, Nepal. But for beginners, it’s a tough climb as the trail is steep most of the way.

Accepting the challenge: (From left) Entaban, Fernandez and Toh on Bukit Gasing, their training ground for the actual climb up Gunung Datuk in Negri Sembilan later.
Accepting the challenge: (From left) Entaban, Fernandez and Toh on Bukit Gasing, their training ground for the actual climb up Gunung Datuk in Negri Sembilan later.

We’ve had some warm-up hikes at Bukit Gasing in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, which have some hill slopes resembling those at Gunung Datuk.

Nasa’s dreams

After our first Gasing ramble, Nasa says, “This challenge does require actual IRL (in real life) training as opposed to my imaginary hiking dreams where I scale Everest with the greatest of ease and grace. We did a climb in Bukit Kiara (in Kuala Lumpur) two months ago but it’s been so long ago, I don’t think it counts anymore.”

“So I dragged myself out of dream world and on to Bukit Gasing. It wasn’t too bad – the hardest thing was probably carrying the backpack with 2 litres of water in it, the mosquitoes, the slippery slopes, the sweating, the drizzle, getting used to the hiking poles ...” she relates.

“OK, fine, it was mostly hard, but definitely doable. With a few more sessions (OK, a lot more) and perhaps some daily office stair-climbing, Gunung Datuk should be manageable.”

Nasa used to be a fitness freak who went to the gym regularly. And she knows the jungle, too, having studied forestry.

“I was always doing outdoorsy stuff, right up to when I delivered my first child,” she recalls.

“This challenge will hopefully give me the motivation I need to get off the couch and away from my current hobby of watching TV – and back to the picture of health I once was.”

Nadine’s shivers

Nasa roped in her sister-in-law Nadine for this challenge.

“I didn’t put up much of a fight,” confesses Nadine, “because I thought this might motivate me to infuse regular exercise into my life.”

“In the end, however, apart from making good with one of my New Year’s resolutions, I do hope to have a spiritual and fulfilling experience hiking and to actually, finally climb up ONE gunung in Malaysia.”

However, her Bukit Gasing romp left her with body aches... everywhere.

“As a beginner in hiking, the one-hour trek through Bukit Gasing was actually quite an experience. I had fun!” recalls Nadine.

Jerome Kugan and the two girls on a later Bukit Gasing training hike. Photo: ERIC CHAN/The Star
Kugan catching his breath during the tough climb.

“Before our trek began, Andrew Sia the hike leader jokingly suggested going along a trek nicknamed ‘heart attack hill’. That sent shivers down my spine! Thankfully that idea was quickly shot down.”

After some light stretching, the group made their way in.

“But despite being in my early 30s and equipped with a trekking pole, I was huffing and puffing after every incline,” she adds. “What made my ‘non-fitness’ seem more worrying was the fact that we came across several over-50s who seemed to get around Bukit Gasing very easily. One was even walking around with what looked like a children’s Hello Kitty umbrella! Show off! (I kid!)”

After an hour of steep uphills and downhills, a few selfies and water breaks, everyone emerged unscathed despite a few mosquito bites. “I’ve made a mental note to use long pants and long-sleeved tops to deter unwanted bloodsuckers,” says Nadine.

“After that first hike, moving about hurt, but to be honest, it hurts so good. So good that I am having thoughts of renewing my gym membership and making this group hike thing a weekly affair.”

Terence’s torture

For training, some of us, like Toh, have been clambering up and down all 18 floors of our Menara Star office building in PJ too (read his story).

Toh confesses: “I have always been an extremely lazy person for as long as I can remember.”

His idea of exercise involves walking to the TV to change channels, and then walking back to the couch for a snooze.

Toh had some difficulties with training, initially. As he recalls, after climbing six floors of stairs at Menara Star two weeks ago, “I found myself out of breath. My knees started to ache, and my stomach started to churn; I had to sit down and rest for a few minutes.”

Some of his earlier trial treks also did not go, er, too smoothly, shall we say. So, in bringing the three trekkers (minus Jerome who couldn’t make it) into Bukit Gasing for the first time, this writer was most worried about Toh.

Kugan catching his breath during the tough climb.
Toh, Nadine and Nasa use trekking poles to help them get up the slopes.

I persuaded them to get used to trekking poles, even though they can feel a bit clunky at first. I knew from climbing Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal that these poles are of enormous help in climbing and descending long slopes (which is what Gunung Datuk will be like).

To my surprise, after the two ladies left Bukit Gasing (after an hour), Toh agreed to my suggestion to do more training.

After climbing up to a watch tower, we took a wrong turn. And then it started raining.

But Toh kept on going up and down several slopes for another hour – and rather quickly too. He had improved a lot since the initial “stairs of torture” two weeks ago – looks like small, but constant, amounts of training do pay off after all.

So, fingers crossed, we hope that all of us will make it up the peak of Gunung Datuk next month.


My colleague Eric Ian Chan took Jerome, Nasa and Nadine on another Bukit Gasing hike a week later, including up the infamous “heart attack hill”. When told that this hill is probably just 5% of what Gunung Datuk will be like, one of them sighed, “Oh, why did I sign up for this challenge?” But the good news is: Everyone survived the hike and is gradually getting fitter.


Our Star2 Adventure Challenge is ongoing till mid-May.

To recap, we’re asking you to share how you’ve transformed from a couch potato into a mountain-climber! We welcome stories (and pictures) of you doing jungle-trekking and mountain-climbing. How did you feel taking up hiking? What made you start?

Contributors will be paid for their story and pictures. In addition, the best entries will win prizes consisting of hiking equipment from Explorer Outfitter, an adventure goods and clothing retailer based in Publika mall, Kuala Lumpur.

The first prize is a 50-litre backpack (retailing at RM349), a pair of walking poles (RM238), a water-resistant 160-lumen headlight (RM99) and a pair of sunglasses (RM89). The total worth is RM775.

There are also second, third and consolation prizes up for grabs. Please keep your stories to below 800 words. Pictures should be in jpeg format, and in large sizes (500kb to 1MB).

Send your entries to us at under Star2 Adventure Challenge.