A Travellerspoint blog

Conquering Mount Kinabalu: Aftermath


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I woke up a little sore; not as bad as I expected. Hopefully it won’t last five days like what others have told me. I had a massage late morning, rested and did close to nothing.

I didn’t think much of my achievement or accomplishment as it didn’t feel like one. I didn’t even look at my photos till mid-afternoon.

I can’t remember what prompted me to do Mt Kinabalu. It had been on my bucket list probably since a few close friends (mostly of average fitness) went up many years ago. You could call it “inspiration”. Or maybe it’s like “if your friends tell you to go jump off a cliff, would you?” But they were all smarter for doing it at an earlier age.

At 47 years old and not having exercised for the last two months on the road, I suppose I did OK getting to the top and even carrying my own pack. The only preparation of sorts I did was further back when I was still working … I walked up 18 floors non-stop without breaking into too much of a sweat.

[Edit: As I look at my photos on the big screen computer for the first time a couple of days later, I'm starting to feel good about what I have done. The photos do look pretty amazing and I finally feel that I've achieved something. Thank goodness for that, considering the torture that it was.]

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Conquering Mount Kinabalu: Day 2 (Success)


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large_5550_13604849574537.jpgHere's the proof (other than the certificate received later).
Getting to the summit

I was up before the alarm which was set for 0150. Supper (which was a good cooked breakfast) was served at 0200. I met my guide at 0230 and set off.

The walk started with steps, yes more bloody steps. Like yesterday, I nearly gave up in the first half hour. Then the terrain changed to inclined rock faces of various gradients. Some of the steeper ones had an optional rope for climbers to hold on to, while the steepest ones required climbers to pull themselves up with both hands to assist the work that the legs can do. Fortunately I had good gloves, otherwise my hands would have been worn raw by the ropes after being frozen by the cold.

We rested a few times.large_5550_13602579717872.jpgSunrise in the east.I broke off some chocolate but in the cold altitude, it was hard and tasteless. As it was a clear dark night, we saw plenty of stars, a thin crescent and twinkling lights from villages and the city of KK down below.

As we got reached the Summit Plateau near the top, the terrain was like a badly poured concrete ramp. If it hadn’t been for the altitude, this part would have been reasonably easy.

The last little bit to get to the summit (Low’s Peak, elevation 4095m) was rocky which I conquered on all fours. I wasn’t the most elegant one around but I didn’t care as this morning’s climb was in complete darkness except for headlamps.

I conquered Mount Kinabalu at 0550 with a hint of red in the eastern sky. There was no sense of joy or achievement, perhaps relief mixed with apprehension of walking down the terrain and gradients that have so far been hidden by the dark.large_5550_13602579711374.jpgSt John's Peak illuminated by the rising sun.Yes, very much like my first cat General Santos that knew how to climb up on to the roof, but needed Daddy to carry him down. Meow!

The journey of 2.7km from Laban Rata resthouse to the summit, rising 822m, had taken me 3h20. It appears to be an average speed but today there were some people overtaking me. There were still people who arrived after me.

Getting back down to the resthouse

We stayed for sunrise and some photos before heading back down at 0630. A couple that I had met before weren't taking many. I enquired and they replied that it was too cold to keep taking their gloves off; I agreed!

The scenery was amazing coming down from the summit with the broad expanse of slopes that disappears into nothingness (actually, thin air, cloud and green pastures below).large_5550_13602579725827.jpgNot a victorious jubilant gesture. Rather it says "Give me a hug, that was tortuous and I don't know how the f**k I'm going to get down".I had been extremely lucky with the dry clear weather.

There were parts in the descent where Mohdin simply walked down with his two legs but I needed my two legs, two hands, a walking stick and my bum to sit on. With his instruction I mastered the steep slope and ropes without great fear.

I did find it tiring and had to ask for some breaks. In the past on any kind of hikes, I’ve always found myself to be slower than others going downhill (and average going up). But today, I found myself to be really bad getting back to the resthouse around 0910, 2h40 after turning around.

Most people had finished eating as they had been back about an hour already! This Australian guy ran down in only 40 minutes. Apparently most injuries and deaths occur coming down when people run, skip and bounce only to trip and roll as well.large_5550_1360257972263.jpgSouth Peak (L) and St John's Peak (R).

Back down to Park HQ

After a good breakfast, I reassembled my stuff into my pack and set off at 1000. I was amongst the last to make the return journey back to Park HQ. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my knees were playing up on the downhill. They were painful and towards the end I was shuffling; I was also wishing that I had paid Moidin to carry my bag. The walking stick I had rented for RM10 turned out to be the best RM10 I had ever spent.

I arrived at Park HQ at 1520 and had lunch with some Sabahans. I felt really old; the young Malay woman with a headscarf (along with her mates) had done a longer trip including Mesilau and had beaten me down. But she is probably half my age.

I got shuttled back to my hotel via the city in rush-hour traffic. It was shower, quick dinner then bed!

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Conquering Mount Kinabalu: Day 1


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large_5550_13602519082560.jpgMy shoes (see next photo) and my 6kg pack.
Getting to Park HQ

I walked down to the hotel lobby at 0715 for my transport to Kinabalu Park [Kinabalu-Park-travel-guide-1327299] HQ; it was perfect timing as the driver had just walked in. Also on the transport was a large man from the USA who teaches in Beijing, on a day trip to the Park.

The ride took more than 1h30 minutes including a brief breakfast stop. On the way, the American noted that Sabah is very much like Costa Rica; I’ll have to remember not to go there when I can experience it right here!

At the park HQ, the driver introduced me to my guide Moidin, did my registration then gave me my packed lunch. I had packed my bag perfectly … so perfectly that I didn’t have any room for my packed lunch.large_5550_13602519088989.jpgMy fake North Face from Vietnam cost USD20 and survived the trip unscathed.

Margaret, another guide who was meant to take me, said I should rent a walking stick (one of those extendable hiking ones). She’s quite a little salesperson … she also suggested that Moidin carry my pack for me as well since Moidin was a porter before qualifying as a guide.

My pack weighed in at 6kg, surprisingly heavy. It contained just my polar fleece jacket, light raincoat, light long trousers, headlamp, point-and-shoot camera, some first aid and toileteries, snacks and water. I chose to carry it myself.

Moidin and I, along with a few others and their guide were shuttled to the Timpohon gate by minivan to start our climb. Looking back, it was pretty unceremonious for something that was so big which will definitely be a “once in a lifetime” event. Really, it should be bigger than a wedding!

Starting the climb

Moidin and I walked through Timpohon Gate (elevation 1866m) at 0940, some 20 minutes before they close to climbers.large_5550_13602519096674.jpgTimpohon Gate is the gate to hell.We were welcome by a pretty scene at Carson Fall (singular). Then the steps began in earnest. I nearly gave up in the first half hour.

As we climbed, the scenery changed from cool humid lush jungle to bonsai-like shrubs then finally a little tussock-like grass further up. The thing that remained constant were the steps. There were plenty of them, interspersed by flat or inclined walks. There were big ones and bigger ones. They may be fashioned out of the soil or rock, or built with wood; but they’re still bloody steps.

Along the way were 6 shelters which we used as rest areas. There were toilets and tanks of untreated water from the mountain at most (if not all) of them. I used all the shelters as breaks and asked for several more; I truly needed all those stops.

At Layang-Layang shelter, I forced myself to eat the terrible sandwiches that were supplied in the lunch pack (which did contain a very good apple).large_5550_13602519101916.jpgPast Timpohon Gate, it looks misleadingly like the Garden of Eden at first. Then hell begins.Kamaruddin the cat lives at this shelter and is quite fat for a Malaysian cat; I thought it was a pregnant female and suggested to the locals his name was Kamariah before I noted his balls. My repulsion for the sandwich was shared by others who all tore bits off for Kamaruddin.

We eventually reached Laban Rata resthouse (elevation 3273m) at 1500, which was 5h20 after we had set off. We had covered a distance of 6km rising 1407m. While it wasn’t a competition, I felt good that my speed was kinda “average” as I kept running into the same people (including those half my age) as we rested and set-off again. I found myself to take fewer and shorter breaks than others but walk at a slightly slower pace. I don’t recall many people overtaking me but there were plenty of people already at the resthouse who must have started earlier.large_5550_13602519111531.jpgHell begins with steps which lead on to more and more steps.

It was very disheartening to realise that some sections along the way which seemed to last an eternity were actually only 30 minutes, and the distance covered only 500m. Even 100m is a very long painful walk in these conditions. An Australian who has considerable experience in Tasmania found the climb quite difficult; it was the unrelenting steep steps that he found tortuous rather than long inclined walks up mountain slopes. Despite this, authorities require a minimum age of 10 year old only.

The nightstop

I checked into my dormitory accommodation. My OCD made me brave an icy cold shower at 3273m. There is a sign saying that power supply has been interrupted due to generator issues. It wasn't just the cold water I had to brave for my little wash; the air was cold too.large_5550_13602519119060.jpgMohdin looks at a porter doing his old job.

For the arm-and-a-leg that they charge for the dorm bed, it is shocking that they haven’t installed solar heating! The direct rate here is RM800 per dorm bed per night with minimum stay of 2 nights. One can get an agency package for 2d/1n at around less than RM900 (if Malaysian; more for foreigner) inclusive of transport from KK, guide and all meals.

A buffet dinner was served at 1630. It was excellent even without considering how all ingredients had to be portered up from Park HQ. More surprisingly, it is catered by the same company that made the horrible packed lunch back at Park HQ where they have easy access to everything! By the way, rubbish is also portered down to Park HQ for disposal.

After preparing my gear for the next morning’s hike (consisting of only camera, headlamp, gloves, raincoat, chocolate and water), I retired at 1900 along with most people.large_5550_13602519125391.jpgPorters carry provisions and construction material to the restaurant at the guesthouse, then the rubbish back down.By 2100, I was sick of lying in bed wide awake and searched for my sleeping pills. I couldn’t find them.

I then remembered I had not brought them along; I didn’t want to be mixing them with all the other stuff I was taking. There’s Diamox for altitude sickness (which I suffer badly from, knowing from previous experience) plus a mucolytic, ventolin and seretide for my post-flu bronchial issues. As these issues have been lingering for over a month despite two rounds of antibiotics, it seems timely to bring out the prednisone (steroids) which my doctor gave me for emergency use … but with diving and the big climb, it was just too risky in case there was residual infection that could blow up with the steroid.

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Catching up with an old mate


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large_5550_13602495762109.jpgMt Kinabalu at 4095m seen from the flight from Tawau to KK ... I'll be up there in a couple of days.
The dive hotel wanted to charge RM150 for transport to the airport as opposed to RM90 charged by the taxi counter in the opposite direction. I managed to find an illegal taxi for RM90 which agreed to wait for me a couple of doors away from the hotel.

I got to the airport a little before the doors opened and flew to Kota Kinabalu [Kota-Kinabalu-travel-guide-1096832]. I had booked this early flight because Kim was meant to be travelling with me, connecting at KK onwards to Hong Kong and Auckland.

Upon arrival at KK, my old classmate David picked me up. We spent the day at various food spots and at his home, catching up on the last year. He took me up to the hills behind his home for a drive before a great seafood dinner in town.

I got dropped off at the Tune Hotel at 1Borneo where I had booked five nights. It was cheap enough for me to keep the room when I’m away at Mt Kinabalu. Also, being next to a mall, I thought I’d have everything handy for before and after the big climb when I’d want to rest-up.

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Sipadan again ... how lucky can I get!?


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large_5550_13597824348051.jpgClownfish at Turtle Patch. Photo courtesy of Mark Gan.
While waiting for my chicken thosai with curry for breakfast, I noticed the young waiter (about 15 years old) buying cigarettes from a younger boy (about 6 years old). Strange, considering he sells cigarettes at the café.

I asked him about this. The café sells cigarettes at RM10 (USD3) per pack while the boy on the street sells them at RM2 (USD0.70) per pack. They must be smuggled, I thought. I inspected the packaging expecting them to be Indonesian but everything was in English so presumably it is Filipino.

Today it rained while we were walking to the boat; I was soaked. But the rain cleared before we got to Sipadan. Yes, someone else had cancelled and I got to dive Sipadan again! Yes, three days in a row! I feel like the luckiest diver around to have dived three days in a row in one of the top five sites in the world (according to some rankings).large_5550_13597824341938.jpgWhite-tip reef shark at Barracuda Point. Photo courtesy of Mark Gan.

1. The first dive was at Hanging Gardens, which was a beautiful wall dive with lots of small colourful fish and largely hard coral (with some soft). Naturally, being Sipadan we saw some turtles and sharks.

2. The second dive at Turtle Patch was similar but I did see something new, a couple of Variable Thorny Oysters which are colourful and snap themselves close when they sense motion (light-sensitive).


3. The third was at Barracuda Point. Visibility was less today and we still saw plenty of turtles, sharks, huge school of jackfish and many other smaller fish. The humphead parrotfish were nowhere to be seen today. Likewise there were no barracudas even though we all twirled with our nipples suggestively to attract them (that’s the sure way of finding them, says the divemaster).

On the boat back to Semporna [Semporna-travel-guide-1098708] we saw a few schools of dolphins jumping through the water at various times. We were all very excited; they appeared quite small and may have been young ones.

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