- Elevation: 2,110 m (6,923 ft)
- Prominence: 668 m
- Ribu category: Spesial
- Province: Peninsular Malaysia
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
Gunung Irau (not to be confused with the mountain in Papua of the same name) is the highest peak in the popular Cameron Highlands, a plateau developed in the 1930s and named after Scottish geologist William Cameron who first surveyed the area in 1885. The road winding up from Tapah to the main town of Tanah Rata is quite exhilarating and the region is an extremely popular tourist area today.
Located on the main Titiwangsa mountain range, Tanah Rata lies at an elevation of around 1,450m above sea level. The temperature is delightful and allows a wide range of plants to be cultivated, including fruit, vegetables and most notably tea – the vast Boh tea plantations cover the north-east end of the plateau. The main road in the Cameron Highlands runs between Tanah Rata, Brinchang (sometimes spelt Berinchang) and Kampung Raja near the tea plantations and there is a regular, cheap bus running back and forth throughout the day.
In the past, the area has been popular with hikers, with local tourist maps detailing numerous jungle trails. Today, the main attraction aside from the tea plantation, local produce and tourist stalls is the so-called Mossy Forest, a boardwalk along a ridge on Gunung Brinchang (2,032m) which is the second highest peak in the Cameron Highlands and usually combined with Gunung Irau on the same trek. The hiking opportunities ought to be great, but recent local mismanagement and lack of reliable information means it is often a rather disappointing and regimented experience.
There are signs for the Mossy Forest everywhere, and it appears to be the number one tour offered to tourists in Tanah Rata, whether for sunrise or as a half-day out in combination with a trip to the tea plantation. For experienced hikers, there is nothing particularly special about the forest here as it is quite normal for mountain ridges of this elevation in this part of the world to be ‘mossy’. It is the accessibility (most of the time!) that has lead to its considerable fame and popularity.
Gunung Brinchang (or Batu Brinchang as it is also known) can actually be driven up and is the highest section of road in all of Peninsular Malaysia. The junction for the Brinchang mountain road is opposite the Cameron Square shopping mall (1,605m) and it is around 6 kilometres from here to the summit ridge. This access road is steep, narrow and pot-holed in some places but despite what you hear, most regular cars should be fine if driven by careful and confident drivers. Most people go on tours arranged in Tanah Rata and the biggest problem you will encounter (other than the long list below) is the sheer number of other cars on such a narrow road. For those who prefer to walk up, allow around 2-3 hours to hike up to the Mossy Forest entrance and 2 to descend.
Looking at the maps and the shape of the mountains, and ignoring the bureaucracy and hassles noted below, the best full-day trek would be to follow what used to be called Jungle Path 1 (more recently Brinchang Barat trail) from the outskirts of the town of Brinchang (1,500m) and ascend to the communications compound and towers at the top of Gunung Brinchang (2km, 2 hours or less) before somehow squeezing along the side of the compound fence then walking 600 metres northwards along the summit access road, entering the Mossy Forest walkway (1,972m), heading out to Gunung Irau (allow 2 hours each way) and then back out at the Mossy Forest and just under 6 kilometres down the road through the Sungai Palas tea plantation to the main road (1,605m) where you can catch a bus or taxi back to Tanah Rata or wherever you are staying. Total hiking time would be around 8 hours not including breaks.
The section between the Mossy Forest entrance and the summit of Irau is not as simple as it might appear. Although it begins as a boardwalk (sometimes known on maps as Jungle Walk 14), and only 2.35km long, the ridge leads up and down and goes via Mini Irau (roughly 2,050m elevation) which is a false peak and is also sometimes used as a campsite. Much of the trail is very muddy, yet quite pleasant moss forest. That is why it takes most people two hours in each direction.
Unfortunately, there are so many problems with this fairly simple plan that we have decided to produce a list, to help visitors be aware before they arrive, and also on the off-chance that the clueless authorities see sense and simplify matters for adventurous tourists.
- Gunung Irau, Gunung Brinchang and (more surprisingly) the Mossy Forest are usually closed three months of the year (start of November to end of January). This is not widely-publicised online or even in Tanah Rata, so many people plan their trips assuming it will be open to find, very disappointingly that it is closed and all are forbidden from entering. It is basic manners to publicise such important information – a simple website of tourist sites in Malaysia and seasonal closure times would be very simple to produce and save many folk from wasting their time. If the forest needs to be closed for a period, it seems odd that it is still closed in January as the wettest months are in April, May, September, October and November according to average rainfall graphs.
- Despite the closures (which could of course change from one year to the next), most tour operators in town (including the so-called Tourist Information Centres which are commercial rather than impartial as you would hope) are happy to sell people tours to the Mossy Forest and then lead them on a disappointing, shortened tour lower down or on a side trail but for the usual price. This is very poor manners.
- The road up to the Mossy Forest is in sufficiently poor state for all taxis to charge extra to take you up there, and all motorbike hire companies to forbid you from taking your motorbike up there (or lose your RM100-150 deposit). This is a very odd situation, but as common in Asia, it is often in local folks’ interests to keep roads in bad shape in order to have an excuse to charge you more. Again, this is very poor form and should be rectified either with a newly-surfaced road, or with a local law to prevent overcharging. Given that most people want to use a taxi or bike to visit the Mossy Forest and most other places can be visited using the very affordable bus, tourists ought to think whether it is worthwhile renting a car or taxi.
- The area ought to be wonderful for trekkers, but the authorities seem intent on closing trails. Jungle Trail 1 (Brinchang Barat) is apparently closed permanently with warning signs at the old entrance near the water treatment works. This may be to do with the installations at the top of Gunung Brinchang, but it is pretty disappointing for tourists. Most obviously, it means you are not able to do a decent full-day circuit of the highest peaks as suggested above. At present, we have a really weird situation of tourists either not being able to hike in what should be a wonderful hiking area, or else getting onto the trails by climbing under or over barbed wire and past warning signs. It remains unclear if lesser peaks in the area such as Gunung Berembun (1,812m) to the east of Tanah Rata is also closed.
- The whole region, including the access road itself, is covered in ‘keep out’ or ‘no entry’ signs. This gives a very poor impression and makes you feel unwelcome and in some kind of strange outdoor prison with perimeter fences. Not very friendly at all, especially considering that hiking in the forests appears to be increasingly discouraged by indifferent or plain inept authorities.
- Even if the Mossy Forest is open when you get there, in 2018, the trail was closed between Mini Irau and Irau summit due to a landslide area. As far as we know this is still the case in January 2019. One wonders if the authorities simply like putting up warning signs and such like or whether they actually intend to fix the trails and re-open them as soon as possible (which they would do if they were competent and respectful of visitors).
- Finally, even if the whole trail to Irau summit is open, the hassles of getting a ‘permit’ to be allowed to continue to Gunung Irau are more than most visitors will be prepared to deal with. Perhaps this is what the authorities want. It is likely that many hikers continue to Irau without a permit because of this, which is more of a risk. Much better if you could simply pay a small fee at the Mossy Forest entrance rather than search for a forestry office in Tanah Rata and have a meeting about getting permission to hike for 2 kilometres and back. It is especially difficult for foreigners, who are immediately assumed to be less competent and more likely to be ordered to take an expensive guide with them on a regimented experience. This, sadly, seems to be the norm in Peninsular Malaysia. Why can’t they make the process simple? An online booking form would suffice but even that appears to be too difficult for the authorities to manage.
In view of the above issues, an alternative, very different and more demanding approach from the northern road (1,400m) near Green View Garden via Gunung Pass (1,587m) and Gunung Yellow (1,667m) might be preferable, especially doing a full traverse by finishing at Mossy Forest. It would certainly be much quieter for the most part, far from the tourists, restaurants and weekend traffic jams of the Tanah Rata – Brinchang road, and is apparently doable in one long day or spread over two days with one night camping. It can also be combined with Gunung Suku (1,797m) to form what is known as the Trans Jerging (named after a local river) and is generally hiked in the order Suku – bonsai tree ridgeline viewpoint – Irau – Yellow – Pass because Suku offers some great views of the Titiwangsa range.
Bagging report by Daniel Quinn (January 2019)
- Getting there: Lots of buses from KL to Cameron Highlands from both KL Sentral and Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (RM35 one way in 2018, allow 4 hours). Ipoh is the closest train station and also has bus connections (around 2 hours).
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Irau information pack can be downloaded here.
- Permits: Apparently, since March 2019 it costs foreigners RM30 per person to enter the Mossy Forest. You are supposed to get a permit from the forestry department if you wish to hike from Brinchang to Irau but in reality very few hikers do. Along with the Mossy Forest itself, Irau is usually closed November-January. You can register and pay for an e-Permit online for the hike to Irau from the Forestry Department of Malaysia website.
- Water sources: Unknown – carry sufficient bottled water with you. Note there is NO shop at the Mossy Forest.
- Travel insurance: We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
Local Average Monthly Rainfall