Since I was still planning to head to Kerinci, I expected Friday to be my last day in Harau. In order to be sure to see some good stuff in my limited time, I signed up for the tour guide services of Riki, Ikbal’s brother. We had communication problems from the start. I spoke to some other westerner’s who’d just completed the Riki’s standard ‘jungle trek’, an all day walk through the jungle, including that hike to the top of the cliffs I’d been dreaming about. These other westerners were very happy with the jungle trek, but Riki did not want to repeat it with me. Friday is a special religious day for Muslims so he wanted be at the mosque at noon, not in the jungle.
I was fine with taking a break at noon, but I definitely wanted also to hike to the top of the cliffs, get a view of the valley, and explore up there a little. I tried to communicate this, but he wasn’t getting it. He had all kinds of other trekking ideas, but I couldn’t tell if they included hiking to the top, which is all I really cared about. I’m still not sure if he was intentionally misunderstanding because he just didn’t want to go up there for some other reason, or if his english was bad and he didn’t want to let on. Whatever the reason, the next morning I ended up sitting on a motorbike for two hours instead of hiking before I called off the guided tour and took matters into my own hands.
Luckily there were a couple of adventurous Aussies, a father-daughter pair, who were also up for some trekking. We set off on a trail together on the advice of a drink vendor who claimed it led to the top of the cliffs. After some heavy sweating and a few is-this-actually-a-trail moments – precisely what I was hoping for – we were victorious.
Not knowing where it would lead, we followed the trail along the upper level. It was not a ridge, but just a flat plateau with jungle. On this trail, the jungle had been cleared in many places to farm something called gambir. I couldn’t find an English translation, but Ikbal told me it’s a gum-like ingredient used to make that red stuff they chew in India.
We hoped that our trail would lead us to an alternate route down to the valley floor so that we could avoid descending the sketchier portions of our ascent. Indeed, after an hour of walking we could tell that the trail was following a more gradual slope down to a place not so distant from Abdi.
For anyone reading this who is considering a visit to the Harau Valley, the hike began on a trail taking off up the section of valley with three waterfalls near the road. To get to this area, you have to turn right on the road when it forks leading into the Harau Valley, then follow it about a kilometer to the end. We walked past all the vendor stalls, then veered right to find a vague trail that becomes more distinct in the trees following the right edge of the narrowing canyon. The trail is mostly flat for a while, less then a kilometer, before it rises sharply to the right and you have to climb up using tree roots. Later, there is another difficult section where someone has put a rope to assist with the climb. These are very difficult, only possible for the fit, and would be more dangerous if slippery from recent rain.
At the top of the canyon the trail forks. To the left there is a small bridge across a spectacularly deep, narrow gap dropping back into the lower jungle. After admiring, we took the right fork instead since this seemed more likely to lead to a view. The trail splits again soon after. Our first viewpoint is reached by taking the left trail just 100 meters. Then we turned around and took the right branch of this second fork and followed the main trail all the way to the village at the end. There are some other trails branching off. When we were there the main trail was always fairly obvious, but conditions could change and it is definitely possible to get lost up here. Be extremely cautious if you decide to try going without a guide. Take some food and LOTS of water for everyone. Though I did not always follow this advice myself, I do NOT recommend trying to explore these trails alone. There is a high chance of getting lost. I heard a story about a guy who got lost until after dark up there alone and only managed to find his way back down one of the very steep paths to the valley floor in the wee hours. Again, EXTREME CAUTION and go prepared to stay at least one night up there if you have to.
In all, this hike took three hours from the three waterfalls area back to Abdi. I estimate that it’s about 5 miles (8 kilometers), but that’s purely based on personal experience with hiking speed and terrain, not on any GPS device.