‘Bukit Tabur guides operating illegally’

Stranded hikers are usually brought down the steep ridges of Bukit Tabur by the Hulu Langat Fire and Rescue Department operations team.

“STAY out of Bukit Tabur or we will fine you for trespassing.”

This is the warning by the Selangor Forestry Department (Perhutanan) to hikers who choose to ignore the ruling despite no-entry signs at the hill’s east and west entrances.

According to the department’s website, Bukit Tabur, which goes by the official handle of the Gombak Quartz Ridge in the Hulu Gombak Tambahan 1 Forest Reserve, has been closed for all climbing and recreational activities since Oct 10,2016.

Since then, entry into the permanent forest reserve, known as Form 6 by the Central Selangor District Forest Office, has been frozen.

Anyone entering the area will be in violation of Section 47 of the National Forestry Act 1984 and liable to a fine not exceeding RM10,000 or jailed not more than three years or both.

A spokesperson from Perhutanan said its decision stems from the many accidents, some of them fatal, that have occurred here in the past.

“We urge the public to value their own lives as Bukit Tabur is unsuitable for recreational activity.

“In the event of a mishap to an individual, insurance will not cover as Perhutanan has already decreed it as a forbidden area.

“Over the years, we have seen too many horrific injuries, mostly caused by falls onto the jagged rocks in the ravine below, ” said the spokesperson.

From past reports, head injuries caused by falls have been cited as the most common cause of death.

The spokesperson also urged the public to disregard offers by so-called professional guides attempting to lure visitors with the promise of breathtaking scenery, opportunities for once-in-a-lifetime selfies and the thrill of having conquered the longest pure quartz dyke.

“Perhutanan has not appointed any guide to take visitors on hiking trips up Bukit Tabur. Those who claim so, are operating illegally, ” said the spokesperson.

Between 2014 and 2016 Khamarrul Azahari Razak, who is currently Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Centre director at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Kuala Lumpur, completed a state-funded study on the geometric and physical characteristics of the quartz ridge on Bukit Tabur.

The study was carried out with the support of the Federal Department of Town and Country Planning (PLANMalaysia) and Mineral and Geoscience Department (JMG) Selangor.

Light detection and ranging sensors were used to capture information on the surrounding landscape and estimate conditions and characteristics of the ridge.

The slope stability was assessed using field geological input and rock modelling to forecast risk of detached materials, their trajectory, and spatial probability of future failure.

It was discovered that the terrain on Bukit Tabur was rugged and posed a danger to hikers.

“From one decade of records, we found a significant number of casualties. They were largely due to unfamiliarity of the site, curiosity- led explorations and unknown level of danger.

“Potential dangers such as falling boulders and wind-induced hazards prevail in the area, ” wrote Khamarrul.

He said the ridge was listed as a national heritage site under the National Heritage Act 2005 (Act 645).

“In the geological time scale, the ridge is about 200 million years old.

“Due to high weathering and environmental pollution from human activity, there is already an opening between the 14km-long ridge.

“This means a hiker would have to sort of jump over to reach the other side. This makes it dangerous as a misstep will send one crashing into the rocky ravine below.

“Weathering has also caused some parts of the ridge to become unstable. So, if an unknowing hiker steps on an unstable part, and that part gives way, he is in trouble, ” said Khamarrul.

Institute of Geology Malaysia (IGM) president Datuk Zakaria Mohamad and Society for Engineering Geology and Rock Mechanics Malaysia (SEGRM) council member Askury Abd Kadir, who conducted studies on Bukit Tabur between 2015 and 2016, affirmed that due to weathering, fracturing had occurred in parts of the ridge.

Although quartz was hard, they said it also had a brittle nature and that blocks of the ridge could fall off.

“Unlike granite, which can turn into soil due to weathering, quartz will just break into smaller granules.

In rainy conditions, quartz granules on a surface was akin to walking on marbles and made it slippery for the hiker, they said.

As Bukit Tabur is a unique geological monument with tremendous tourism potential, Zakaria suggested that mapping be carried out to identify safe paths for hikers.

Forest rangers and geologists could work together on this, he said.

“On how much the mapping process will cost the state government, it will depend on the amount of data they already have.

“It won’t be much. IGM and SEGRM have a pool of experts who can help, ” he added.

Johnnie Lim, 65, who was a regular climber at Bukit Tabur before the area was closed, said most accidents happened on the western ridge.

“In some parts of the quartz ridge, the path is narrow, measuring less than a metre wide.

“Due to overgrown bushes that cover the edge, it is easy to fall off unless one stays on the middle path, ” he said.

He said he had seen hikers risk life and limb in their quest for the ultimate selfie.

“They sit or even stand on rock formations that are right at the edge. Little do they know that certain rocks are loose.

“If your luck is bad, this rock can give way and the consequences will be dire, ” he added.

Lim was alerted to loose rocks on the ridge after an Australian hiker informed him that one of the boulders at Checkpoint 9 moved when he gave it a shake.

“The boulder was the size of a small refrigerator and it was moveable at the base. So, the possibility of it toppling and causing serious harm to a descending climber is high, ” he explained.

Group effort

Concerned over the number of mishaps, residents in the area have set up a volunteer group called Reactivate Bukit Tabur to stop people from encroaching into the area at the west entrance near the Klang Gates Dam in Taman Melawati.

Taman Melawati Residents Association chairman Azhari Abd Taharim said the volunteer project started in late June with residents standing guard at the west entrance.

“Despite notices put up by Perhutanan, many hikers still go up Bukit Tabur.

“During the weekend, there are as many as a hundred people coming here. Believe it or not, I know of one ambassador who has been here because he was recommended to do so by an online tour service, ” said Azhari.

He added that many hikers remained unperturbed by the number of accidents that have occurred there.

Just a day after Fire and Rescue Department personnel successfully brought down five hikers who were stranded on the ridge following a four-hour search-and-rescue mission in June, Azhari saw a group of teenagers in the area who confessed that they had descended from the ridge.

Head of the group Lim Soon Ann said members were now taking turns to be there in the early mornings to advise hikers against entering the area.

“Some will heed our advice but some will insist on going ahead, ” said Lim.

An experienced climber himself, he said those who encroached were putting their lives and that of rescuers at risk.

During the search-and-rescue mission involving the five hikers, Team Rescue Bencana Malaysia, a private non-profit rescue outfit, had to be called in to deploy its drones to accurately pinpoint the location of the stranded hikers.

Persatuan Penduduk Kampung Warisan chairman Mazlan Jamaluddin, whose house is beside the east trailhead of Bukit Tabur, said Perhutanan should either look at ways to step up enforcement or consider ways to manage risks, increase safety awareness and improve safety.

“Due to the many private orchards and housing estates around Bukit Tabur, hikers can easily bypass detection by avoiding the main trailheads.

“As the ridge is up to 14km long, it will be a challenge for Perhutanan to monitor.

“So, the next possible alternative is to regulate entry, ” said Mazlan.

Suggestions put forth include ensuring only tours with guides licensed by Perhutanan are allowed and that the number of hikers be controlled.

A Perhutanan forest ranger, who was met at the western entrance, said patrols were being carried out three times a week from 8am to 5pm on weekdays and 8am to noon on Saturdays.

“We are there. We will take action if we see trespassers in the area, ” they said.

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