Definitely a mountain not a molehill!!!

Trip Start Sep 26, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Sunday, October 21, 2012

For this section I've (Matt) been given the task of writing this blog for a change. I think this is partly down to the fact that I enjoyed the following a whole lot more than Lauraine and she's still just too traumatised to write about it. So if this sounds like your reading a 10 year old's homework then you know why, but I'm sure Miss Richardson will soon straighten it out afterwards when she does a spelling and grammar check. He he!
First off I have some bad news! Following the past few days events, Lauraine has officially retired from climbing mountains! So I think her walking boots may be heading for the bin pretty soon.

We got collected from our hotel in the city around 3pm so this gave us plenty of time to have a good lay in and get some supplies for the trip as it recommended taking high energy food, chocolate and nuts. So now with a big bag of chocolate, sweets and water to carry as well as our luggage we got in our lift. There was another couple in the bus who turned out to be from Finland, Hans and Anna. These were lovely people who we saw a fair bit of in the coming days. It took us 2 hours to get to the Kinabalu park. The drive there was fairly hairy to say the least. As much as the driver was doing a very good job of getting us there nice and quickly there was an awful lot of over taking and lots of very windy roads going up smaller mountains. Some of the views were brilliant as we climbed higher in thick forest. Seeing far down below and way up high as we wondered which lovely tall looking mountain was going to have the joy of us walking up it.

The Kinabalu park was situated at a height of 1560m above sea level. So first thing we got to notice was the drop in temperature from what we were used to and the air was very damp with low clouds. We checked in and were whisked off to our accommodation for the night. This was a short drive from reception down a narrow road totally surrounded by heavy forestry. We approached some large cabins which looked quite picturesque a short drop from the road and deep in the trees. With everyone expecting 6 or 8 sharing dorms we were all amazed when the Finnish couple got a nice double room and we got a 4 person family room with 2 bunks. All the bathrooms and toilets were shared but this was no problem an this was a lot nicer than most of the other hotels we've been staying in. Along with this there was a very cozy looking lounge area with nice stone walls, wooden stairs and a big balcony with chairs inside and out. It almost felt like it was a shame we only had one night there. Within minutes of us entering our lovely clean room, it turned into the biggest mess you can imagine, as we all had to rearrange our bags to get the right things sorted for the trip. After commenting that we had no air conditioning we soon found out why as once the sun dropped the temperature dropped even more, actually to the point of being deemed pretty cold especially for what we'd been used to. Queue windows closed, flip flops off, socks, shoes and jackets on. To top that off it had started raining quite heavily. So not only now were we thinking about how wet we were going to get tomorrow we were going to get wet just walking back to reception to go to the shop and for dinner later. Never deterred, me and Lauraine dug out our flash totally unused rain jackets and off we went leaving Gareth behind. It was only a 10 min walk if we got a bit of a move on so we went to the shop and had a general look round the area to see what it all looked like and as it was an hour or so till dinner and with no wifi we had time to kill.

We got to dinner ok and were greeted by a lovely lady showing us to a table and offering to get us drinks. We ordered beers expecting we possibly had to pay but at 5 RM (so 1) a can it didn't matter. The food choice was amazing. Almost having to rub our eyes at the choice and quality of it all. There was everything from curries, noodles, rice, wedges, fried chicken, kebabs, pasta, omelettes, fruit, salads and a whole load of desserts. This was the best spread we'd seen by a mile since we've been away and tasted so good. Once we'd finished we then discovered that beers actually cost 23RM each instead of 5. So this may not seem expensive but the problem is you get accustomed to what this cost and that little bit tighter knowing you're on a budget. All these added together made this outrageous basically. Not only were we tricked into thinking we had to buy drinks from there they charge you pretty much 5 times the normal price for doing it, when there's free drinks at the buffet anyway. A scam like this should be on the real hustle the thieving $%€?#!!!! Toe rags! Never the less it was still 5 quid for a can of beer which is expensive whichever way u look at it. As fuming as I was I withheld my comments and just paid as there was the smallest price menu there so no doubt it was probably my fault for not reading it first. We headed off back into the rain and dark for an early night and to save our energy for the morning.

6am our beautiful alarms went off!! We had to get ready and have breakfast to meet our guide and set off. Breakfast was just as amazing as the evening meal. To my added joy we got a comments form to fill out. This being perfect for me to write a well deserved stinging comment about the beer events last night. 8am came and went as we waited for a guide along with the Finnish couple we had befriended. Around 8.30 a man popped up announcing himself as Nickles (nick-less) or Nicholas as we called him anyway. Nickles had the joy of being our guide for 2 days. He was only in his mid 20s and a local, so as usual rather short but seemed nice with his limited English. A short bus journey to the starting check point and off we set. The rough guide for this climb is 4-6hours to the Laban Rata lodge which you sleep in. However there's a leader board at the start saying people in the world races can get up to the top and back in not much over 2and a half hours. Nickles says him and others can get up to the summit in 2 hours!!!! This is incredible to be honest as it is an 8.5 km walk which ever way you look at it. To top that it it turns out with his job as a full time guide he has to climb to the summit 3 TIMES A WEEK!!!! Wot the hell??? He literally will take us Monday and Tuesday, getting down Tuesday afternoon then go straight back up Wednesday morning with another group, back down Thursday to go back up Friday morning again! Ridiculous, he's been doing this for 3 years now! And I moaned about my job. Imagine that on a day you can barely drag yourself out of bed or you've been drinking. Is no wonder he didn't seem to talkative to begin with.

The climb began with lots of people and their guides as everyone sets off at the same time but within about 15 minutes you could see people who were already starting to slow up as we walked past them. We stomped off with great enthusiasm, even though it was already raining this wasn't going to deter us. The terrain was muddy and rocky with a mixture of flat ish paths and man made steps in the ground. The first rest point was At 0.9km. This didn't really seem too far but it's surprising how so many steps can soon start the burn on your thigh muscles, and we all had backpacks which must have weighed roughly 10kilos with the amount of stuff we had to take with us. The rain was still joining us for the day but with it being so hot anyway and now with walking we were getting just as wet under our water proofs with sweat as we were in the rain so it was decided to ditch the jackets and just get soaked anyway. At the first stop point there was several people stopping and gasping for air. We got talking to a group of girls from Canada as we all just laughed at how tiring it had been already and how the rain was being a pain. We took pictures of them in their lovely pink and yellow ponchos and they did of us. The next few hours continued pretty much the same with the stop points being at 1.5km, 2.2km and 3.25km. It became quite amusing as the Canadian girls were obviously going at pretty much the same pace as us just slightly ahead of us, so when they stopped at the next stop we passed them and then they passed us at the one after and so on. This giving us the chance to have a little laugh and chat each time. There were several US Marines and US navy soldiers about but they weren't hanging about at all. Even though some of them were finding it tougher than they'd expected. The terrain turned from paths and steps to basically rock climbing on narrow winding paths through thick forestry with pretty much naturally formed steps. This seemed quite daunting as every time you turned a corner you were faced with a path of rocks but these were better to climb than the steps. Although they take a bit more concentration they seemed better on the legs. After about 1 or 2 km you could tell that Lauraine was struggling with the pace as she's the least used to endurance sports out of the 3 of us. Nevertheless she kept her moaning to herself and puffed on. Of course I was finding it quite tough but I'm used to walking up steps more and running about so it was no surprise she was finding it difficult. We slowed the paced down to suit Lauraine as we weren't in a race and it was for us all to enjoy and achieve. Of course Nickles was just wandering behind bored out of his mind with an umbrella up. To anyone who thinks of doing this it seems umbrellas are the way forward. As I said in wet gear you just get drenched with sweat anyway. With all the guides having umbrellas there must be some truth in it.

We made it to the half way stop point with not much trouble. Everyone was pretty keen for a rest as we'd been climbing a couple of hours by now and Lauraine was desperate to sit down a minute. As you will see in most of the pictures now basically we all look a state. Drenched right through, very out of breath and donning our best red faces (Lauraine more than most).
We stopped for dinner here as everyone gets a pack up from the park canteen and the high energy stuff we brought. Well we had biscuits and chocolate so the pack up was a result. These containing sandwiches and the smallest bananas you've ever seen. Who knows why they're so small or if they just pick them early but they still tasted the same. Of course in this area the wildlife catches on the fact people eat here so there were several very confident little squirrels running about. With people feeding them and just getting the bits dropped I'm sure they eat very well all year round.

We carried on our journey as by stopping for dinner we discovered our next problem. The cold! Of course it was exceptionally hot earlier but I think for every 100m's you climb the temperature drops 1 degree. This is ok when we were walking but as soon as you stop with being so wet you very quickly cool off. As we set off, Nickles decided we were going too slow for him so he said he would catch us up. Rubbing salt into the wound he was now climbing in flip flops, shorts, t shirt and his lovely umbrella. The next kilometre or so was quite similar to the last few just getting slightly harder with fatigue. By this point I think Lauraine had stopped enjoying herself but joked that it was further to go back down than it was to go on to the check point. We carried on through the still torrential rain and paths that were basically becoming rivers, we just kept check that Lauraine didn't fall behind. Once we got past about 3km up you start to meet the people from the day before heading back down. They all reassured us that's its well worth the effort. But as we sat with the Canadian girls again at a rest point a man kindly pointed out how awful the next 2km were saying it was just pure rock and quite steep in parts. Brilliant!!!! So not only were we all struggling a bit now it was all going to get worse, but we knew that we only had 2km to go then that was it for the day. To give him his due the guy wasn't lying. It was very rocky and quite steep. With the air getting thinner all the time this wasn't helping at all. There was times that it seemed that we had got past the clouds and the rain was stopping. But no! 5 or 10 minutes later it was raining again. Even I have to admit that by this point, never in my life had I spent so much time in continuous rain. With the tiredness and the feeling that this path was never going to end it was really starting to get quite testing. It was a really battle of will power from everyone so we kept egging each other on. Lauraine was so brave and worked so hard I can't even explain to you. As much as me and Gareth could of done it in a quicker time it was still tough like this and quietly knowing how I was feeling I really felt for her but was so proud. Soon we came to some rickety looking wooden stairs and a rock face. Which was steep and quite smooth so fairly slippy with all the water. This being confirmed as even a group of the marines' guide went slipping over on the stairs. Probably because like our guide (who by the way hadn't caught us up) he was wearing crocs so not exactly mountain climbing footwear. There was a rope up the side to help you pull yourself up but me and Gareth managed ok, but just for safety Lauraine was trying to reach the rope without falling over and low and behold a hand appeared from behind her putting the rope calmly in her hand. Dah dah Nickles to the rescue!!!!! Who would of thought after not seeing him for probably an hour and half he'd turn up exactly when he was needed. Safely up, there was another quick stop. We were now only just over 1 km away so we pressed on, Nickles deciding to catch us up again!! This prompting several jokes about how was he actually guiding us and how we bet that he'll turn up again about 10 feet from the Laban Rata cabin. This last kilometre was definitely the toughest purely down to being so awfully sick of the rain and now very much feeling the strain. We were constantly being passed by people who were on their way down now and even the US troops who were going all the way up and back down in a day. (No thank you very much), these were all saying how near we were now so that was music to our ears. We figured we must have been doing fairly well for time as we passed several people earlier on but other than the Canadian girls we hadn't really been passed by anyone else. Eventually we came to a bit of a T junction in the paths, so puzzled by which one to take and no guide to ask we took an educated guess. This obviously could of gone horrible wrong but luckily it didn't. This forcing the comment of "good job we're not actually paying him for his so called guide". To our absolute delight a building appeared out of the trees. YES it was finally the cabin to stop for the night!!! Seconds later (yep you guessed it) dah dah! none other than Nickles turns up. "Would you f*****g believe it!" rolled out of my dropped jaw as we all burst out laughing. Who cares anyway that was the last thing on our minds.

Walking into the cabin was a lovely moment. The joy of seeing seats, drinks and a canteen. Ah the relief. We couldn't check in quick enough but to our dismay as we were given our room key we were told that there wasn't any hot water!!!!!! So you can imagine the despair as for the last few hours the thought of a hot shower was pulling us on. We found our room which was a very basic 8 bed dorm with 4 bunk beds squeezed in a little room so well it was like a Tetris game. Funnily enough when we walked in it turned out we were in the same room as the Canadian girls, along with a woman who seemed to sleep a lot and we didn't really see and a rather anti social bloke. We quickly got out of our wet gear and had the joyous moment of having a freezing cold shower to try to freshen up. Although this was horrible it actually proved to be rather comical as we laughed at the girly squeals coming from the other cubicles as me and Gareth managed to completely shower in about 20 seconds. Once in our dry clothes that had been in sealed plastic bags in our backpacks we had to wait a while for our evening meal. We headed down to get hot drinks and sat with the girls chatting and laughing about our day's experiences. Their names were Vicky, Meg and Elise, were roughly our age and all lived in Toronto. They were so easy to chat to and we had laughs so the evening passed quite quickly. Listening to their stories was so funny as the day really had tested everyone and I think quite early on they were wondering why on earth they were actually doing this climb.

Everyone had to set off at 2am to give you time to get to the summit before sunrise. So everyone was in bed by about 7pm. Which was sensible enough but we soon found out that just because you go to bed early it doesn't mean you go to sleep early. I'm not sure if it was the altitude or what but no sooner had I got in bed it felt like I hadn't been for a wee all day. After trying to ignore it I gave up and went to the loo, turns out Lauraine and Gareth were having the same problem so we had a team toilet break. This happened again and again nearly every 30-40 minutes. Us finding it hilarious in the end as it as only like 9 so we were still struggling to sleep but had just spent 2 hours laid in a dark room bursting for a wee the whole time.

1:30am alarms went off!! This was like music to my ears for a change as after not hardly sleeping but just tossing and turning all night I was overly glad to get up. This turned out to be the case for most people. We got all our clothing back on, with some of it still being wet, and met Nickles in the lobby. Being 2am it was obviously pitch black and freezing. So everyone now had hats and head torches on. The walking was ok and was quite strange trekking around a mountain in the dark but people soon started to flag a bit. Obviously the aches from yesterday and the thin air taking effect. So we soon passed several older groups and Chinese groups. Not too long after though these same problems were starting to get to Lauraine as well. As hard as she was trying, she was struggling for breath. I was as well a bit but my lung capacity is far bigger than hers so was understandable. Lauraine being Lauraine she soldiered on none the less even though she clearly was finding it hard. Nickles had done his usual disappearing act again, not long after we left the lodge as he needed a wee. This prompting me to call him a few swear words as I'd specifically told him to keep an eye on Lauraine as I knew she was gonna find this hard. In his defence no sooner had I finished slagging him off he appeared again. After about an hour we came to the point when the steps and rocks finished and the smooth slope of the mountain top started. There were ropes that you had to hold on to but this all looked rather dangerous as it was still pitch black, the rock was still wet, slippy and it was fairly steep as well. This obviously worried a lot of people and another guide said it was like this all the way to the top now. As we all hung on for dear life we could see tiny little lights way down below as we looked over the surrounding towns. It was beautiful. It was a good 30 minutes or more we were shuffling along on these ropes with some quite tricky bits and very steep drops till we reached the check point. As we sat and had a breather it turned out Lauraine really wasn't feeling too good and was struggling massively also really not enjoying hanging over the edge of a mountain with just a rope to hold on to. She was really struggling for breath and said her fingers, toes and lips were tingly so either this was just too much for her or the altitude was getting to her. After a rest and a little debate she decided to throw in the towel as she didn't want to hold us up and miss the sun rise and she just really didn't think so could go on. Even though what she had done so far was still a massive achievement for her it was a shame as the top was only now 1.5k away. Now was just the job of her getting down. I told Nickles of her problems and very strictly told him to look after her and make sure she got down safely as me and Gareth would just follow the other people so could manage without a guide. (Not that he'd been helpful at all anyway) queue Nickles suddenly having a personality change. As we said our goodbyes he took Lauraine by the hand and guided her down. Lauraine saying that he was so nice, chatty and caring of her she couldn't believe it. He carefully guided her showing her where to walk and almost slipping himself a few times keeping her right. A relieved Lauraine safely made it back and she snuck back into bed as it turns out to get a few hours sleep whilst we were still away. Of course me not knowing this was worrying about her as I hadn't seen his personality change and I knew how horrible it was going to be getting down those ropes again.

Me and Gareth continued but now at a faster pace which suited us a bit better. About 30 minutes or so after leaving Lauraine it was clear that it was probably a good decision of Lauraine's to turn back as it was definitely getting harder and steeper. We were just walking up an almost 45 degree angle but on a smooth granite slope with the odd piles of rocks to climb over. This was tough, tougher than I'd thought as it just went on forever and we couldn't see how far was left as it was so dark still. The darkened clear sky was so picturesque, with it being perfectly clear all the stars were on show and I'm sure I saw a couple of comets zip past, it was lovely. Gradually the sky began to lighten as the sun started to come round. We kept the pace up as much as we could knowing we had to get there before sun rise but even we needed breathers now and then and so our pace was now at slow walk as we really flagged some. We knew we must be getting near but it just didn't seem it. 2 and a half hours it took from dropping Lauraine off to getting near the summit. This was much longer than I'd thought it was going to take and we were going at a fairly good pace. The mountain really wasn't being kind as the further we got the harder it got as the last half kilometre was climbing up massive boulders to the peak. WE MADE IT!!! Finally and before sun rise. So we quickly took pictures (of Melman as well) and at the sign as proof as it was freezing up there. The Canadian girls arrived shortly after so we got a picture with them as a reminder of meeting them. I felt I had really achieved something as I looked round and took in the beautiful scenery as the sun came up. I was so pleased for myself, Gareth and Lauraine for trying her hardest.

Now came the tricky bit of getting back down and realising that it took 9 hours all in to get up so how long would it take to get down? Getting down proved to be harder than getting up. With it at such a slope to walk down it really hits your thighs and knees. This not being good when my knees aren't exactly great from basketball anyway. 1 and a half hours it took to get back to Lauraine. That 1 and a half hours seemed like the 4 all over again. It was very awkward getting back down all the ropes and steep edges but the view was now amazing as after yesterday's rain we had a perfect clear sky all morning, we could see for miles and took some lovely pictures. The lodge couldn't come soon enough as I felt I couldn't hardly walk any more. My knees really feeling the strain. We got a lovely welcome from Lauraine and we had a well earned big breakfast to sort us out.

We had about an hour ish then decided to set off getting down as we had another trip booked at 3 and it seemed good to try get down whilst it wasn't raining. The girls decided on going back to bed for a while as they really were suffering some with one of them looking close to tears as they arrived back. We set of with a bored stiff Nickles in tow again but he was pleased when I thanked him for looking after Lauraine. Getting down was quicker than getting up but seemed slow still just mainly because of the difficulty hopping down all the rocks. Even Nickles agreed that he thought getting down was harder than getting up. He was a lot more chatty now after befriending Lauraine. We soon started to pass the super fit people who were basically running up the mountain including more US marines. So we chatted with them and bumped into the couple from Finland we'd met before. The first half we got down quite alright but the 2nd half became hard. Gareth seemed to be ok and Lauraine was doing alright but it was my turn to be struggling. My knees really weren't happy. I really wondered how on earth I was gonna get down as my legs were getting wobbly and knees caps felt like they could just fall off, we still had 3k left so we just marched on. The Finnish couple were having the same trouble as Hans also had bad knees. His were worse than mine though as he was now going down 1 step at a time so we chatted with them then passed by. Our luck changed just before the 2km left mark as the rain returned. It wasn't as bad as the day before but was still enough to soak us. We decided again to ditch the rain jackets and just got wet. This sped us up though as we then motored on to get down in 3hours 45mins as we really picked up the pace. I really can't explain how pleased I was to see the finish line. Feeling so tired, achy, in pain and soaked through again we'd made it. A quick picture with Nickles and we were off to get changed and go for dinner. Hans and Anna didn't get down long after us so we shared a bus back. Hans in great discomfort with both his knees giving in.

There was no rest for the wicked though as after lunch we were whisked off in a bus to some hot springs which we had with our trip. It seemed a good idea at the time but we just wanted to go to bed now. An hours drive with a very friendly and chatty driver led us to the springs. Once we were there it was well worth the effort as the spring water was so hot and we could fill our own pool up to lay in. It was bliss laying in such a hot natural bath soothing our legs and feet. We did this for an hour then headed back. With the hour journey to the springs that then meant it was a 3 hour journey back to our hotel as it was in completely the wrong direction. We soon all fell asleep and woke up with only about an hour left so that was such a relief. We went out for well earned beers then headed back to bed around 11.

The morning brought new delights as we woke up in a world of pain. It almost felt as if I'd rolled down the mountain instead of walked. So we soon became the laughing stock of the girl behind reception as we couldn't hardly walk up and down the stairs for 2 days. I can definitely say I have never ached so much in all my life and Lauraine definitely hasn't. The aches took nearly a week to fully go but it was well worth every single painful step. I'm so so proud of all 3 of us and all the lovely people we met on the way. Definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done but possibly the most amazing thing.

Whilst we were trying to drag ourselves up and down a mountain, 2 very special ladies were being spoilt rotten and quite right too as it was their birthdays! Happy 8th Birthday Alannis for Monday when we were just getting ready to climb & big birthday wishes to Beth for Wednesday when we were on our way back down! We hope you both had lots of fun and celebrated in style! Xx
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