Climbing Mount K, Are You Mad?

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Monday, September 12, 2005

As I said in a previous post, Mount Kinabalu stood at 4095.2 meters ASL (Above Sea Level). I was starting at sea level and within 24 hours I'd be shivering triumphantly at the top, completed in four stages, this is my story and how I achieved success.

Stage 1. Getting out of bed
7am, not an easy start I can tell you, I managed to get some toast with lashings and lashings of peanut butter to fill up on fuel for my walk to catch the bus. The journey was two hours long with smatterings of trying to be social and continuing with my sleep. It was tough. We arrived at Park HQ, about 1600 ASL, 88KM from KK. After an amount of bureaucracy that I've not seen for a while we were allowed to start climbing. Apparently the paper work is to do with making sure everyone that goes up makes it back down....

Stage 2. A very quick 4K
I originally thought that the park HQ was the starting point of the trail, but no, myself and my happy group of travelers bounded into a minibus and were driven 4KM up a windy road to the Power Station (A real indication of how Malaysians treat their rainforest), I'm now 1866 meters ASL, almost halfway, and it's been a breeze.

Stage 3. Hike to Laban Rata, when the going gets tough, I start complaining
An ascent of 1800 meters stood ahead of me (by coincidence exactly the height of Ben Nevis in Scotland). We started, and we started by going downhill, I knew that for every meter down they'd be an extra meter back up and although it seamed fairly funny at the time I didn't realise that once it started going up, it kept going up. The climb is 99% uphill and according to the Lonely Planet it's 'unrelenting', I could certainly have come up with something more descriptive that that that that, hey LP put me on the payroll, how about 'mind numbingly painful', 'make's grown men cry', 'knee surgery inducing', you get the idea. The first section is only 6KM in length with rest stops roughly every 750 meters. You really start to crave these stops, just to avoid the man made steps that have been built into the side of the hill, and of course to try and catch your breath. Since we'd come from sea level that day we decided to take our time, thankfully there weren't any mad climbers in our group and we all stayed together.

It was great chatting to the people that were coming down. They were all genuinely pleased to pass on their best wishes any to say how spectacular it was. As we approached the 3300 meter night stop it started to get a little chilly and as we arrived it was downright cold. We'd taken 5 hours to cover 6KM, we arrived just in time to tuck into the all you can eat buffet, and we ate loads, all in the name of carb loading you understand. The main room wasn't heated and I was starting to get too cold sitting there in my hat and several layers. Just after 7pm we decided to call it a night, and headed for bed. When I booked the bunk I didn't realise that there was a choice of room types, namely unheated for 17 Ringgits (2 pounds 50), or heated 34 Ringgit (5 pounds). I'd booked an unheated room and was starting to get a little worried about it. My room had 4 bunks and when I turned up there was a Japanese couple already in the bottom bunks looking rather snug in their 4 season sleeping bags. I had to make do by basically wearing almost all my clothes from my backpack....
2 pairs of thick socks
1 pair of underwear (non-thermal)
1 pair of long shorts
1 pair of trousers
1 long sleeved T-shirt
3 short sleeved T-shirt
1 tracksuit top
1 hat
2 pair of gloves
1 cotton sleep sack
1 blanket from my bunk
1 blanket from the unoccupied bunk beside me
1 prayer
1 waterproof jacket on standby
1 windy night
1 drafty room
2am rise to look forward to.

Stage 4. The reach for glory
I met my fellow mountaineers at 2:30 the next morning ready for the 800 meter push to the summit, they'd all stayed in the heated rooms. They barely got a wink of sleep as it was too hot! They'd lay there with as few clothes as possible with the window open just praying for a little sleep. I meanwhile had managed to get about 5 hours sleep between 7pm and 2am, I was awoken by my bladder at 11pm. There was no way I was getting out of my cocoon to satisfy one bodily function when all other bodily functions and organs were happy where they lay, a vote was taken, it was a landslide victory. We originally planned to get going around 2:30, but by the time all the faffing was completed we set out around 3am. I was still wearing all my night time attire with the exception of the cotton sleep sack and blankets, and the inclusion of the emergency waterproof jacket. I was still cold.

We were still in the tree line so were relatively sheltered. After about an hour this changed and we reached the point where it's too cold and windy even for plants. A huge expanse of rock with a white rope to lead the way. One of our group was starting to suffer and eventually we split taking our guide with her, so the five remaining went forth with only the white rope to lead the way. The path was still 'unrelenting' as it continued uphill. Eric the Norge had been suffering from a headache the previous day and it returned as he gained more height, he was suffering from the altitude and the fact that we'd not had enough time to properly acclimatise. At about 4:30 we reached the summit checkpoint where we checked in before continuing. It was a strange sight ahead watching a stream of torches all heading the same way. Just after the checkpoint the incline increased to about a 45 degree angle and officially became 'mind numbingly painful'. The only way up this section was to take it slowly and zig-zag from left to right. I passed a group that were using wine-gums as their major source of energy and amusement (at this point the mountain wasn't providing amusement), myself and my peanut MMs passed them with relative ease, obviously a superior mountain snack.

I knew that the sun rose at approximately 6am, I wanted to be at the top for this so I had to push on. I found myself on my own, but there was no way I was waiting for the others since I'd just get cold. I passed a few very cold looking souls on the way up, but it was just me, the white rope and the impending sunrise that kept me going. A little before Low's Peak the sky started to change colour and I knew that the sun was almost here. I made it just in time, found a little cove in the rocks and watched as the sky changed from a very thin red line through to a more yellow flourish of colour. I took my gloves off in order to use my camera without the fumbling. Within two minutes I couldn't feel my fingers and even after the replacement of my gloves my fingers were still numb for about half an hour. David and Jackie arrived at the summit not long after me and I climbed the last 10 meters to get my photo with the plate at the top. I was so happy that I'd made it that I celebrated by immediately descending to get out of the wind.

I'd not seen a thing in the dark more than 20 meters either side of white rope on the way up, but with the arrival of sunlight the whole mountain opened up to me. Walking back down I looked across one of the most famous shots of Mount K, a vast smooth granite rock which is then twisted at the very end into the shape of a shark fin. Maybe it was the cold, or the tiredness, or the altitude, or maybe it was the realisation of what I'd done, of where I really was, but tears came to my eyes as I started walking down looking at the shark fin. I was just so happy to be standing staring at the view. The view that I'd been familiar with over the last number of years through photos, yet here I was seeing it for real, it was one of those moments in life where you have an amazing feeling of well-being and contentment which just makes you glow from the inside. We meandered our way back down to Laban Rata, arriving around 8am. Out of the six in our group, five of us made the summit. Poor Rachael was so close but was forced to turn back due to the cold, she was perhaps only 30 minutes away and able to see the summit but it wasn't to be. The attrition rate on the hillside is quite high as it really is a tough climb, so her story is an oft repeated tale.

Stage 5. The Secret Level
I guess it was the heat of the moment, but in all the excitement I completely forgot about the walk down from Laban Rata to the power station. After we demolished a fair portion of buffet breakfast each we started our decent around 10am. It didn't take long before the heat of Borneo came back to us and we were able to start taking off layers of clothes. Back to shorts and T-shirts, that's what holidays are about. We were in a jovial mood resting each of the shelters. We'd chat with the new arrivals that were heading up the hill passing on gems such as "Good Luck", "Wrap up warm", "Slow and steady". We'd then be rather rude and talk about them behind their back, "They only had two t-shirts and a fleece", "They don't have a hat", "They don't have a bed booked at Laban Rata!".

It didn't take long before the steep steps down started to really take their toll, my thighs were really starting to ache with each downward step and the knees were taking a good old knock. People walking up were probably looking at me and starting to worry. In the end it took us 5 hours to decend this section. Exactly the same length of time it'd taken us to ascend, that just goes to show how knackered we were by the time we got to the bottom. From start to finish it took us 28 hours, 15 hours of those were walking and 13 hours resting. I got a bus back to Kota Kinabalu after the climb and was in my bed around 8pm, I slept for 12 hours and when I awoke everything was sore, even my arms! I need some more rest time before attempting to get on with anything else. I'll always look back at the climb as one of my highlights of this trip, I loved it.
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