Climb every mountain

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of Indonesia  , Kalimantan Tengah,
Friday, August 20, 2010

Salamat Jatan,

By the time we arrived at Kinabalu National Park, everyone knew the rules to the evening card games (it only took 5 days but we got there eventually) so the competition became fierce and we drew a crowd from the lodge staff who found our game much more entertaining than whatever work they were supposed to be doing. They paid us back for the amusement we caused them by bringing us a plate of Malaysian cakes and doughnuts which would have been a lovely treat if we hadn't already secretly stuffed ourselves with the pile of free biscuits and tea and coffee on offer!

On our first full day we visited Poring Hot Springs where we played our luck card one more time to see the wild orangutan who frequently visits the park as well as a flying lemur having it’s daily nap on a tree trunk.  We took a leisurely walk to a waterfall on the grounds and then braved the heights of the tree-top canopy walkway to get the jungle from a different perspective.  To relax after our midday exertions we spent some time in the natural hot springs, however the system was rather strange in that you had to individually run your own bathtub full of the water from the slowest tap imaginable.  After an hour of listening to a tap running we managed to sit in about four inches of hot water goodness and then had to head off to catch our ride back to lodge. 

The lodge we were staying in was perfectly situated with a stunning view of Mt Kinabalu and we had some drinks in the evening from one of the viewing platforms.  At such a serene and quiet time as sunset it seemed so unlikely that this pretty mountain would be causing me so much pain in the coming days, but I looked my enemy in the face and showed it I was ready for the challenge.  On our second day here we actually drove up to the start point of the hike and took a nature trail downhill for an hour or so ending up in the botanical gardens at the bottom.  During the walk none of us spared a thought about leeches, we had come a long way since our first walk in the jungle, Richard was just wearing sandals and Steve and I had bare legs.  Therefore you can imagine our surprise when later that day we noticed Val’s sock with tell-tale blood marks on leading to even more suspicious puncture wounds underneath.  The offender himself was never seen so it was the perfect crime, but so cruel to strike the most prepared person and not take out his blood-craving on one of us more deserving victims, he was clearly after a challenge.

We would be climbing Mt Kinablu the next day but spending the night in a swanky five-star hotel back in Kota Kinablu.  This allowed us to soak up some luxury before the horrors of the climb began and there seemed no better way to start than to order cocktails at the swim-up bar in the hotel pool.  I started to become very envious of Val staying here while we trudged up and downhill for two days but knowing that we’d be coming back here afterwards was enough to make me convinced I’d see it through.  We had a good night sleep in another exceedingly fancy room and were the first at the breakfast buffet to get a good innings before we set off.  Steve and Richard were cautious about how much they ate in case they felt sick during the climb, I on the other hand managed nothing short of my six plate expectation and filled all available pockets with croissants for the road.  I considered this achievement the first mountain I climbed that day.

When we arrived at the Timpohon Gate we were in good spirits and set off for the 4095m summit.  The walk would take two days, on the first day every step was uphill, sometimes stairs, sometimes slopes, sometimes rocks, but always up.  We pulled ourselves up the mountain with fitness that surprised ourselves and a hefty boost of enthusiasm and adrenaline never hurt anyone.  Our target for that day was the Laban Rata hut at 3272m where we would sleep for the night (by night I mean 'for a few hours’ as we would be making our ascent to the summit at 2.30am in time for sunrise). During our climb it seemed someone kept moving the hut further away from us.  We had signposts marking each 500m mark which seemed to come frequently in the early hours of the walk but as we knew the hut was approaching and the path was getting steeper and steeper the final 500m took us close to an hour to complete.  The second the hut came into view like a mirage in front of us the rain started to come down which spurred the final bit of energy in us to get through the door and into the warm and dry.

Walking into the hut was a confusing moment; in that it wasn’t at all what we had expected to find half way up a mountain.  There was an open kitchen with six chefs cooking up a huge range of fresh food for a buffet later that evening and our bunk room was just for four people with freshly made beds and clean towels.  The unexpected luxury, and free tea, buoyed us through to a slap up buffet meal as good as any we’d had throughout our trip.  By the time it was 6pm we all agreed we were suitably exhausted and when our guide confirmed we would be setting off at 2.30am I could feel my eyes closing already.  We left the rest of the hikers to scrabble for any pickings of the buffet we had left behind and crashed out in preparation for more hard work.

The early morning start was made just bearable by the chefs tremendous job on a ‘midnight feast’ buffet and I really wanted to hold myself back but the porridge, pancakes, scrambled eggs and French toast were just too much to ignore.  I must have carried more weight up to the summit in my belly than my backpack!  We found our guides, Dennis and Man-goat*, donned our head torches and began as we left off, putting one foot higher than the other and not thinking about how much more was to come.  The altitude was proving a problem for some but other than some shallow breathing the three of us were largely unaffected which was a great relief.  The path kept getting steeper and steeper until ropes had to be used to haul ourselves upwards when it was too steep to walk, all this in the pitch black with a head torch and starlight to go by.  I thought it was magical. I surprised myself with how much fun I was having and what a unique experience it was for me.  I think that the perfect weather conditions were the determining factor in how much I was able to enjoy the summit climb as we dragged our way up the final granite shelf and the wind picked up I got a dose of what a dramatic difference it can make.  Just as the first beams of sunlight were peaking over the horizon we emerged victorious on the very top at Lowes Peak, the highest point in South East Asia.  Were it not for the 100 other people all balancing on the peak for sunrise, it would have been a moment to savor for longer.  Instead we got our photos taken for evidence and backed away from the jostling elbows to a safer spot from which to look out over all of Borneo from sea to sea, and wave down at Val in the hotel somewhere below.

As the sun lit up the path we had walked in the dark it was amazing to see the bizarre rock formations and granite moonscapes all around, I had truly never been anywhere like it.  Then contrary to all my wishes there was no helicopter service down so we began the long descent starting at 6am and finishing at 2pm with just an hours break (albeit for yet another slap up buffet at the hut).  I hate walking downhill, the process doesn’t agree with me and my hatred was proved well-placed when my bum hit the granite for the first time after only 10 minutes into the descent.  The three of us all encouraged each other, and our knees, to see us back to the very beginning by which time my legs were shaking so fiercely I was worried I’d start drilling into the ground and Richards legs had given up taking any instruction from him whatsoever.  Steve remained the only seemingly unbroken party however a few choice jabs to his quads proved he wasn’t a robot after all!  The final 30 meters of the walk to get to the gate was uphill and I had been promising Steve a sprint finish race since we set off so true to my word the two of us see off at a sprint for the finish line with any possible energy left available to us.  The effect was much like trying to walk in a straight line after spinning around a broom handle, after a few strides on my exhausted legs I had no control over my feint to the left and crumple to the ground while from the floor I watched Steve made it to the gate victorious and only slightly smug.  Man-goat and Richard were right behind us and we all crossed the final line together before heading for one more celebratory buffet!  In total we’d been walking for 11.5 hours with only one hours break and few rest stops, but more impressively we’d had 4 buffets in less than 12 hours and I’d stuffed my face at all of them – now that’s mountain climbing Amy-style!

When we made it back to the hotel the muscle fatigue had started to set in and we were all walking like we’d been fitted with wooden legs much to Val’s amusement.  We found a nice spot on the hotel grounds where we could have some local Malaysian food for dinner that we were hoping to be small portions but turned out to be enough to feed a small village.  Finally we then dragged our weary and broken bodies to bed in an attempt to help our legs heal.  Little did I know that it would be four days before I could walk in a straight line without the occasional yelp, or downstairs without drawing a crowd of people guessing what terrible illness I was inflicted with.  The following day was our last day of the trip together, and coincidentally Val and Richards wedding anniversary,  so despite aches and pains we made plans to visit the nearby wildlife sanctuary that was wheelchair accessible so we just about thought we’d be able to hobble round the attractions. 

It turned out to be a big hit as there was a chance to see the animals we had seen in the wild for a closer inspection as well as the much rarer creatures we wouldn’t have been able to spot.  The gibbons were the firm favorite of the day who entertained us with their acrobatics and altogether tidier bottoms than the monkeys with tails.  When we got back to the hotel we had a surprise in store, earlier I had made a complaint about a few things broken in our room (and a visiting cockroach), when we got back to reception we were told we’d been given a new room.  With one night left we weren’t keen on moving all our things but as it was just a few doors down we decided to go anyway.  As it happened we’d been upgraded to a six room suite!  We had a stunning view out over the ocean from our dining room and both our balconies!  We had two bathrooms and two tv’s not to mention the dressing area and lounge!  It was so exciting, I’ve never imagined I’d stay in a room like that in my life, we tried to swap with Richard and Val but they were having none of it as their flight left in the early hours anyway.  To make matters even better the hotel extended our check-out to 6pm when our flight left the following day so we had the whole of the next day to enjoy the room and the pool and even the fancy car that took us to the airport when before we knew it we had gone full circle and were sleeping on the airport floor in Kuala Lumpar once again.

And so ends a wonderful trip that has added even more unforgettable moments to our portfolio and we both want to thank Richard and Val so much for having us with them on their holiday and taking us from rags to riches and scraps to buffets.  Hope you both enjoyed it as much as we did.

Lots of Love,

Amy and Scrambling Steve

Featuring Rocky Richard and VIP Val

* Not his ‘official’ name but one he would happily answer to.  As you will agree from the photographs it is both fitting and to be expected if one is to grow ones facial hair like a goat and spend all day on the side of mountains.
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