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My Walks of Life

The mountain knows

MALAYSIA | Saturday, 10 February 2007 | Views [1047]

I have recently embarked on the tallest journey I’ve ever been - on foot. More than 4100 meters above sea level, that’s how high Mount Kinabalu is. It’s not the highest mountain in the world, but if you ask my legs, they will definitely tell you otherwise.

The beginning was spent pondering over what to bring. And this was before the climb itself. I was weighing what is necessary so that I don’t have to carry more than what I need. However, of all the things I brought with me, the $3 walking stick I bought at the foot of the mountain became my most trusted companion. I even brought it home with me!

I think Mount Kinabalu is one of the very few mountains which you can just walk up without any specialist gear. As I was walking up the “stairs”, the feeling of being in nature was so refreshing. I can’t help but feel relaxed. We started off walking at 1800m above sea level. Sort of a cheat until you consider the next 2300m that you need to climb - I’m glad I started where I started!

We had a guide to take us through the whole trail - all 8 km of it. The first 6 km will bring us to a rest house. The last 2km will bring us to the summit. The first thing the guide told us was to respect the mountain. No shouting in the mountain. No plucking of flowers. The tag line by the Park Authorities is:

Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints

So, off we went at 8.15 am, armed with the wooden walking stick, an ID tag around the neck, and the neatly stuffed bag full of food, water, and clothings to face the elements. There’s even porters for hire if you think you can’t carry all that stuff all the way up!

There are a few huts along the trail to Laban Rata rest house - the end of the first 6 km of the climb. I rested in every single one of them! Of course, I even rested in between the huts, especially between the 4km and 6km stretch. The trail became steeper and more demanding. On top of the steep climb, the altitude might have caused the increased heart rate. After 4 and a half hours, I finally stepped on to Laban Rata.

My body just fell flat onto a rock. I lied down with the hands spread wide. At that moment, the mist was just floating by, re-energising the body. Together with the afternoon sun, the body rested itself peacefully on the rock. The guide motioned us to go into the rest house and do the necessary paper work so that we are checked into the hostel. First things first - FOOD!

The food was understandably expensive. The ingredients were carried up by porters daily. Our guide brought with him some instant noodles. He won’t be joining us until 2.30am the next morning, the time when we will proceed with the remaining climb to the summit.

I ordered a plate of Malay fried rice - $14. It was a big serving but I gobbled it down to the last grain of rice. We were lucky enough to stay in a hostel with heating facilities, so after lunch, I went straight to a hot shower - ah… bliss….

The weather there was very kind to us that day. After hearing about the rain on previous days, I think we were really lucky that day to be met with full sunshine. As I’ve only got a pair of trousers, I took them out for some sun bathing so that it’s dry and ready to be used again the next morning. I sat out together with my trousers laid flat on a table. It must have been 2 hours later when I felt some pain on the skin and the scalp. Never would I have thought I could get sun burnt in the mountains. I covered myself up in a hood and finally went indoors when I started to get headaches.

We were advised not to sleep so that we can go to bed around 7pm, to be able to wake up again at 2 in the morning. So, dinner was at 6pm. I didn’t have much and the headache was getting worse. I tried not to think about it and drank plenty of fluids. At around 7pm, I went to bed, hoping some sleep might make the headache go away.

I’m not sure if it was the sun or the altitude, but the headache got worse and sleep wasn’t nearing anytime soon. My head was really heating up and there were definitely feelings of nausea. At 9pm, I just got out of bed and took some paracetamol. And that did help the headache a bit. At least I got some sleep. At around midnight, I woke up again, feeling a bit better, but the nagging headache hadn’t subsided totally. It wasn’t too bad though. Just wished that the climb would start immediately!

After what seemed like ages, alarms started to ring. You could hear people’s footsteps outside the door. The main event was finally here. I fumbled around to get my toothbrush. After the morning routine, I got dressed and headed down to the meeting point.

At 2 in the morning, it was somewhat bright, thanks to the full moon shining down on us. I brought my torchlight along, but only had to use it occasionally. We followed a thick white rope laid down by park rangers. It was mostly rock surface in this last leg of the climb. Feels like walking on an alien planet. It was totally barren, apart from the eager tourists that dotted the rock's surface!

Because of the hard surface, climbing up was quite taxing on the legs. There were some steep surfaces where you actually need to hold on to that thick white rope! After a while, it was a slow walk up a slope. We arrived at the summit at 5am. Too early for the sunrise. It was COLD….. The sunrise was 45 minutes away, so some of us cuddled together to get some warmth.

I took a quick photo shoot at the peak, and then began my descent. As the sun began to appear, we started to see the full majestic view of where we were. We were above the clouds. My descent came to a halt while I took in the full view of where I was. Although the temperature was low, the sun was there to give us sufficient heat while the eyes feasted on the beauty around us.

As I was writing this, my memory seemed to fade into those clouds. It’s quite unbelievable that I was actually standing there. The descent was made more amazing when I realised how many steps I had to walk down!

We stopped over at Laban Rata rest house again to check out, have a quick breakfast, before starting to descend the remaining 6 km. Some of the group “ran” down the mountain in 2 hours. I took about 4, almost the same time as I came up. I found going down more difficult than going up. When I finally reached the bottom, I held my walking stick in a victory pose, and headed out the gate.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Although I had “stairs phobia” after that - going down stairs was quite a “challenge”!

As some closing thoughts, I find I didn’t actually climb the mountain. I wasn’t thinking of reaching the top at the time of climbing, just taking the next step. I think the mountain somehow knew when you’ll hit your limits. If you try to conquer the mountain, you will fail. However, if you try to conquer yourself, you will definitely win.

Tags: hiking, malaysia, mountain, sabah


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