4,095 metres above the sea

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu (or KK if you are in the know) with very little idea of what we were going to do in Borneo, or even how long we might stay which was quite a nice feeling after a couple of months of hopping between checkpoints and places-we-had-to-be.

The one thing we were certain we wanted to attempt was climbing Mt Kinabalu, despite the fact that it was rainy season and some of the people in the hostel we stayed in were talking disparagingly about the cost and the chances of getting a clear view from the top. We ignored these naysayers and strutted down to minibus stand where Sarah proclaimed to the group of drivers "We want to go to Kota Kinabalu" . There were some confused looks and laughter from the gathered people (we were already in Kota Kinabalu) but they knew what we meant and were happy to relieve us of a bunch of cash so that we could sit in the minibus for about 3 hrs waiting for it to fill up and then finally set out on our way towards the mountain. Luckily, there was a very nice French couple in the bus who were also heading for the mountain which meant that we were able to split some of the costs for a guide and transport with them.

Being cheapskates we had declined the 2 night package price offered by the park company and were planning on staying the 1st night at the bottom of the mountain in a homestay outside the park gates and then enter the following morning to start the climb. This worked pretty well, with the small exception of the massive storm that the bus dropped us off in and the fact that we had to walk back along a windy mountain road from the only restaurant in the area in the pitch black fog periodically throwing ourselves to the side of the road as lorries and cars came careening around the corners.

It pissed with rain all evening and into the night (the mountain was nowhere to be seen) and we went to sleep thinking that the best we could expect from the following day was a long walk in the rain and the worst was that we might have to abandon the climb altogether. Therefore we were amazed, surprised and excited when we woke up to a bright sunny day with the mountain looming behind us in the blue sky. We set off as early as we could and made it all the way to the Laban Rata hut at 3000m just before it started raining and then settled in to drink tea, chatting to the other climbers and watching the thick cloud and rain outside. Periodically more climbers would arrive dripping wet and exhausted from the slippery climb and we would sympathise with them, slightly smug at having avoided the rain.

Obligingly the weather then cleared up again for sunset and we had high hopes for the final climb the next day (it was slightly surreal sitting in a mountain hut watching the sunset over the sea nearly 4km below us!).  It was definitely not to be a late night though as the final climb to the summit starts in the wee small hours to be at the top for sunrise so we all rather reluctantly settled down for bed at the heady hour of 9pm for a few hours sleep or, in Gordon's case, telling himself he didn’t need to climb down out of the bunk and stumble around in the dark looking for the toilet.

The rain was still holding off and the sky was actually clear when we clambered out of bed and headed for our first breakfast at 2am.  It was a pretty tough but fun climb in the pitch black following a white rope up over massive granite rocks into black nothingness.  If watching the sunset over the sea was surreal, it was even more incredible clambering up the rock face in the pitch dark while looking down on the tiny lights of the valleys and the coast way below.

We reached the top at about 5am, still in complete blackness and sat, rather cold, eating chocolate and waiting for the sunrise. When it did come it was an absolutely stunning view. We had not really seen a mountain like it before: huge otherworldly faces of rock & pinnacles and nothing even remotely as high in any direction;  we were looking out over the island to the surrounding rainforest and clouds and all the way out to KK, the coast and the islands beyond.

After savouring the summit while the sun rose it was time to face the descent.  The scramble along the ropes down the huge rockfaces towards the sea of cloud that was starting to form in the valleys below was amazing but by the time we stopped at Laban Rata for our second breakfast (although the price was high to climb the mountain this did feed us like hobbits) our knees and thighs were already quite sore – and there was 2000m descent still to go! The kilometres seemed to countdown very slowly as we walked, stumbled and then staggered back to the park gate for lunch.

We hadn’t really thought through our exit from the park (or where we would go next) so along with an English guy called Phil Neville (no not the Phil Neville) we flagged down the first coach headed east. Unfortunately, there were no seats but as we feared it might be the first AND last coach we boarded anyway and spent a very uncomfortable 4 hours sat on the floor in the aisle.... just what our tired legs needed.

Despite the pain of the descent, and the incredibly sore muscles that lasted for a full 4 days afterwards, it was one of the best treks we have done -worth every penny- and we were incredibly glad we ignored the naysayers in KK.
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