Mount Kinabalu

Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
Trip End Jan 28, 2005

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Friday, September 17, 2004

Sunday Sep 12th - Day 130
To our immense relief, we wake up to clear blue skies. It's a nice day for a climb and having left our rucksacks at Rose Cabin, arrive at Park headquarters at 7am.

The Malays love a bit of paperwork and with entrance fees, permits, insurance and guides to pay for, there's no shortage of it here. A guide is compulsory (70R) but can be shared by up to 6 people, so we decide to wait for 4 more. Eventually at 8.15am we set off, 6 of us and our guide Guinea. I say guide but all they do is stay behind the last person in the group in case of emergency, we hardly saw him.

Sabahans are justifiably very proud of Mt Kinabalu, and everywhere we've been within Sabah we've been asked the same question "Have you climbed Kinabalu?"

Now I'm not sure if it was this or just something Rene felt she needed to do to prove to herself that she could, but she had a real hornet in her hat about climbing Kinabalu. Rene has a slight problem with her hips, so extended intensive exercise of any kind usually ends up with her in a lot pain, and walking up a 4095m mountain is in anybodies book extended intensive exercise. However no amount of reasoning could distract her from the goal she'd silently set herself. Rene can be stubborn as a mule when required, it's part of her Moffitt makeup.

At over 6 times the height of Snaefell, Mt Kinabalu is a daunting prospect, but we were banking on our climbing knowledge and experience (6 ascents of Snaefell between us, 4 by electric tram) to pull us through. We had all the gear imagineable (for a day on the beach) and enough food to last a week (2 chocolate bars and an energy sachet) as we set a steady early pace. The Laban Rata Resthouse where we spend the night is only 6km from the start, but its unrelentingly steep, similar in steepness to climbing Snaefell from the Black Hut.

There are over 2500 steps to climb to Laban Rata, some man made narrow wooden lader like steps, others just rocks or tree roots. Many were over 2ft high and had to be scrambled rather than stepped.

The first part of the trail winds up through magnificent tall forest, full of oak, laurel and chestnut trees with creepers, bamboo, ferns and orchids growing inbetween. The trees were alive with birds, such as Boreon treepies, fantails, bulbuls, sunbirds and laughing thrushes. At least that's what I think they were, my eyes were so full of sweat it was hard to tell, the most colourful bird, which I kept on seeing was unmistakably a purple cheeked, buff rumped, velvet fronted, puffing warbler called Rene.

Every half kilomtre point is marked and they seemed to take an age to appear. At the 2km marker the tall trees are taken over by dense stunted rhododendron forest. Luckily, each step requires concentration, so there's no time to look up and demorolise yourself with how far there is to go. Endless stepping, gasping and perspiring, only interrupted by a short rest every half km.

Several times we were overtaken bylocal men training for the Kinabalu climbathon fell race (21km) in 3 weeks time. They were running in flat soled rubber shoes powered by popeye-esque claf muscles. Our guide Guinea, used to do the race a few years ago and tells us he has a PB of 2 hours 50, the record is 2 hours 36, which doesn't seem hunabely possible.

It took us 3 1/2 hours of muscle burning step aerobics to reach Laban Rata. It was tough going and we were now at a height of 3272m and surrounded by swirling cloud and sheer granite rockface.

The resthouse is a large 2 storey wooden building that gets heavy use and has seen better days and plenty of them. Indise is a canteen, several 8 bed dorms, toilets and hot showers. The idea of leaving fairly early was to ensure we were one of the first groups to arrive, thus guaranteeing plenty of hot water. First come, first served. The down side to this ploy, was having to spend the rest of the day sat in the canteen, but we had a fine time chatting to the others in our group and drinking Milo (Malaysian Hot chocolate).

Dave and Sarah were on a months holiday having just completed their second year at Bristol Uni. Dave looked like a young Prince William.

Audrey and Chris were on a weekend break from KL, where they live in the same apartment block. Audrey who was from Quibec works for the UN and Chris is an architect. Chris is from Arkansas and a very quiet, thoughtful but extremely funny American. Hard to believe I know. He said he was on a mission to prove that not all people form Arkansas live in the woods and walk with their arms tight to their sides, but he did admit it was a one man show.

The rain set in about 3pm and lasted until dark. We ahd plenty of rice and noodles for dinner and hit our bunks at about 8pm. In order to make the summit for sunrise we have to leave at 3.30am (only daft milkmen get upat that time).

Expenses (7RM / Pound): Accom 68, permits 207, guide 35, lunch 48.30, drinks and snacks 11.20, dinner 32.20

Monday Sep 13th - Day 131
I think the smell woke me. It's an interesting aroma, which can only be achieved when 8 adults who have sweated their way up 2500 steps, sleep in a small heated room with 16 pieces of fetid footwear.

We quickly dress into all our t-shirts and our tracky tops. Rene's sporting a balaclava bobble hat, socks for gloves, and sleeping bag liner for scarf. Everyone keeps saying how cold it gets up top, but outside it's very still and pleasant.

Obviously it's pitch black out at 3.45am so it's torches all round. The first half km was more large boulders and rocks with water flowing down between, it felt like we were walking through a world trials championship section. We soon cleared through the last of the rhododendron and sayat sayat shrubs and onto the steepest and hardest part of the climb where thick fixed ropes are used to haul yourself up the smooth granite sheets, as you gasp for breath in the thin mountain air.

This section from the Laban Rata resthouse to the summit is only 2.72km but in that distance we climbed 823m or 2469 feet. It was hard going, especially towards the summit when we had to stop regularly to let the dizziness and waves of nausea pass.

Lows Peak is the highest point and we clambered our way up this last stretch. Then we sat huddled together grinning like lottery winners as we watched the sun rise over Sabah from the very top tip of Borneo.

It was breathtaking, quite literally, and the thin cold air meant hanging around in a perspiringly damp tracky top wasn't a good option. We took plenty of photos and had a good look down into the dark abyss that is Low's Gully, before starting our descent.

Audrey, overcome with altitude sickness was the only one of our group who didn't make it to the top.

I saw a rat at the summit, I nearly fell off my rock. But I guess the fact that 50 or so people sat munching chocolate explains its prescence.

It was light as we made our way back down, allowing us to appreciate the incredibly harsh, desolate granite landscape near the summit and the thousand square mile views of trees, steaming with cotton wool clouds.

Possibly one of the highest public toilets in the world came into its own when Rene, overcome with relief and self cheffedness was caught short. At an altitude of 3668m, login and download was completed with aplomb or should that be a plop.

We reached the resthouse at 7.30am and devoured breakfast. Audrey still felt awful when she returned and went for a lie down. Another lady who was also sick ended up being carried back down on a stretcher.

By 9.30am Audrey felt well enough to continue the descent. We were all starting to stiffen up and I knew the 2500 steps back down were going to be a killer. And they were. Halfway down the 6km return leg, Rene was starting to struggle. The hieght of many of the steps meant muscles in the legs take a real pounding, especially the thigh muscles. Rene's muscles had retired and her legs were like jelly, so they were no longer protecting her joints from the pounding. It was slow and painful, the last few km seemingly endless. But inspired by the porters, men and women,who pass us on their way up to the resthouse, carrying huge loads on thier backs, and by the fact there was no alternative, Rene made it to the bottom. It was a good feeling.

Rene was still smiling (or grimacing) when she collected her Kinabalu climbers certificate.

Within half an hour of finishing, we'd said goodbye to our fellow trekkers, picked up our rucksacks and stumbled onto a bus heading for Kota Kinabalu, 70km away. It was a struggle to stay awake on the bus, but the tinnutis inducing volume of the onboard Bollywood movie assured we did. It was a strange film,a cross between Grease and the Terminator, I've no idea what they were saying or singing, but that doesn't really matter with a Bollywood film, subtle they are not.


Off the bus, into the taxi, up in the elevator of the Kinabalu Daya Hotel. As the adrenolin subsided the stiffness set in and I was happy to collapse into bed for a couple of hours rest. Lee (who wasn't suffering quite to the extent that I was, if at all!) went out to explore our surroundings, get some cash and search for a Lonely Planet Australia so we could plan the next leg of our trip.

When Lee returned a couple of hours later he'd not only found us a lovely little Italian restaurant where we could have dinner but he'd decided to take full advantage of the fridge in our room and celebrate our climb with our first bottle of wine since leaving home. The iceing on the cake, or rather the cake, was walnut cheesecake.

By the time we returned from dinner the Australian white was perfectly chilled and the cheesecake tasted as gorgeous as it looked. We toasted our success (I'm not sure I'd have made it without my personal Mr Motivator and body crutch) and let the wine work its magic, soothing the pain and inducing a satisfying, deep sleep.

Expenses: Bfast 17.30, certificate 10, taxi 7, bus 20, accom 90, wine and cheesecake 52.50, drinks 3, dinner 60.60
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