Air Itam - Off the grid to Rain Gauges 28 or 29 (brown trail)
For the lovers of more serious hiking in Penang, getting off the paths and finding your way through the forest without the help of a "proper" path, this is your hike. As usual it all starts at the Kek Lok Si in Air Itam. Find the Kwarn Inn Sahn Pow Yin Sian Psi (P) gate and walk to the Air Itam Dam. It should take 25-30 minutes.
Just before the gate to enter the Air Itam dam, there is a steep beginning of an unmarked trail. It's easy to miss it so if you try this, keep a close look to your right. The trail at first is very steep and slippery but quickly turns into a proper path. Within 5 minutes you will reach a water transfer station. There are two trails, take the one just after the station that leads steep up.
You will pass a water collection point (photo below). The path continues straight ahead and drops steeply. Within a few minutes there is a T-junction where you connect with Route B. Left goes down to the dam, right goes up in the hills.
Alternative, you can pass the gate but don't cross the dam. Once you come down the steps, look for the resting area to your right up. There is a path leading up. Pass the bench and walk to the end of the path. There is a forest path leading up to the transfer station. Pass it to the left (there is a tree hanging over the path in the photo below) and hike up. The path is very clear from here on to the water collection point and the connection with route B.
Don' cross the dam but continue walking along the dam to the iron gate. Just before the gate you will find the entry of the trail, marked by papers of the Hash Runners. This is not an official path, it's more a climb over rocks to a higher area where water is collected. On the way up to the water collection point (different from the one you will find at Route A).
After some minutes climbing, you will pass the junction of Route A. From this junction to the water collection point, it's continuing straight up over boulders, is only 5 minutes and 10-15 minutes for the climb from the dam up to the water collection point. There's some views towards the Air Itam dam but you're still not very high.
Once at the water collection point look for the Malaysian flag to your left. There seem to be a path at the back of the well too. I checked it but it didn't look to go anywhere specific.
The Malaysian flag shows the water company (and maybe others) do come here occasionally.
After a few meters or so, the first of several short sharp and steep climbs start directly to your right. The Hash Runners marker papers show the way. If the markers are no longer there, look up for a lighter area with burned forest. That's where you have to go to. The trail is for the most reasonable clear but like I said, it's steep and when it has been raining very slippery, dangerous and difficult.
There are a total of 3 steep short climbs and you may have some troubles to get up. Once done that, turn around for a nice last view to the dam. Now you have to climb up some 25-30 meters in the burned forest area where already new young shoots find their way up..
The trail seems to be clear. You can go left for about 15 meters and climb straight up a few meters where you join the path should you have climbed up first and than go left.
The trail, although reasonable clear, can also be a little deceiving and seem to come and go. Attention is necessary. In case you're not sure, walk a little back and try to find the Hash Runner marker papers which are now infrequent. I've done this trail twice up and once down, when going up I lost the trail for a short moment, when coming down it was altogether guessing.
The trail keeps climbing, there are some fine views towards George Town (if weather permits). Although the trail keeps climbing it's not difficult anymore. Still you have to keep alert to stay on the path.
You will find a junction with a path to your right and a few meters on that path a T-junction. In an attempt to hike the trail back I lost the main trail and ended after a very steep and dangerous descending on the trail that leads left out. Because of this, my recommendation is to ignore this trail.
A little further there's another junction to the left but the forest department has blocked the path with plastic marker. That path is a dead end (I've checked). From this point on, the connecting path to both rain gauges 28 and 29 is still 20 minutes away. Although sometimes it's wide and comfortable walking, it gets small and unclear at times too.
The trail slowly keeps climbing for another 10-15 minutes until it reaches the connecting trail rain gauge 28-rain gauge 29 marked by a marker stone. The trail to rain gauge 29 from the beginning is described on this page.
Although you have not made much distance, it still consumes quite a bit of time. This is because you have to keep alert not to loose the trail and do quite a bit of climbing on trails which are not easy or not even clear where to climb.
In case you consider doing this trail reverse, be aware it's easy to loose it. As I wrote above, I did loose the trail and had much trouble to find a proper trail back. Another reason might be the few climbs after the water collection point. These slopes, though short, are difficult and after rain very slippery.
Route A (towards Rain Gauge 29)
Don't think you're done yet. After all, you're only just 10 minutes above rain gauge 28 and it's another 60 minutes mostly steep climbing to rain gauge 29. Route A continues to rain gauge 29, route B to rain gauge 28.
The trail at reasonable clear. It will lead back to the entry of the forest after the first burned forest area. After about 15 minutes there is a junction to your left. Ignore it as it is a dead end.
Once at rain gauge 29 you can decide to continue to 5 Way Junction (straight) which is about 40 minutes walk on the Old Ridge Path. The other option is to continue right in the direction of Penang Hill. The junction Penang Hill/Kek Lok Si is about 45 minutes (see this page for details of the whole walk from the Kek Lok Si to rain gauge 29).
Route B (towards rain gauge 28)
Once arriving at the junction, to your left it leads to rain gauge 29. Take the path to your right, it leads steeply down. In 10 minutes you reach rain gauge 28. The path keeps being steep and (when it rains) slippery.
After 12 minutes another junction appears. You can either left or right as both trails in 10 minutes reach the concrete road leading to the Air Itam Dam junction you have passed earlier. That junction is less than 10 minutes away. The Kek Lok Si is another knee breaking slope down.
The map below shows the brown trail both Route A and B.
Time schedule to expect (Route B, Route A see this page for details ):
Schedule is not to be taken exact.
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