My Kinabalu Story: Chapter 2 – The Climb

summit trail sign

At 9 am we gathered at the start of the Mesilau Trail to start our climb. As Mesilau Trail starts at 2,700m above sea level, by this time we could already feel the change in altitude.

I felt giddy with both excitement and anxiety. Excited to start the climb (meeting the mountains are like meeting old friends) and anxious because I had never climbed above 2,400 metres, which is the height climbers start experiencing altitude sickness due to the decreasing oxygen in the air. My previous experiences climbing Mount Ophir (1,276 m) and Mount Stong (1,422 m) helped me with mental stamina, though starting off almost breathless at 2,700 metres was definitely a first for me.

summit trail start

Abang Amirul, our team captain chose the Mesilau Trail because it was more scenic (Timpohon Trail which starts at 1,890 m, as I discovered on our way down, had loads and loads of steps – going down was quite a pain on the knees! but more on this later…) and also more challenging for us; plenty of uphill and downhill slopes for us to manouver. Here’s a map of the two trails:

mt_kinabalu_trail

(click to enlarge)

As you can see, eventually both Timpohon and Mesilau climbers will meet in the middle and head to Laban Rata together. This is where you will meet more people as majority of people start climbing through the Timpohon trail. That day, we were the only group that started at the Mesilau Trail so once we reached Magnolia Shelter we got to meet other climbers.

big grp pix

Pre-climb briefing by our 3 guides, Kasree, Jo and a third (cute) one whose name I can’t remember.

pre-climb briefing

My fellow sister climbing partner for the whole trip. I’m super thankful to have this strong and determined sister as my traveling companion for this Sabah trip. I would not have embarked on this journey without her!

dja and me before climb

Here we go. Bismillah! Ready, set, go! Dja and me split up, she at the back while me at the front, to balance it up with the rest of the guys.

Views of the summit looming ahead of us. Bonzai plants can be seen as usual at high altitude places. Also, we were thankful for a clear day and good weather. On foggy days you may not be able to see the peak and at worst may have to cancel the climb if it rains or it gets too foggy. At one point we sat to rest and could hear the loud sound of the winds, which sounded like the waves in the ocean. That was how loud it was, signaling how strong the winds were blowing at that elevation. Us Singaporeans who have never experienced winter or extreme cold weather were needless to say very surprised with this discovery.

bonsai

Hearing the sounds of the winds reminded me of Surah Adh-Dhariyat, translated as “The Winnowing Winds” in which the first 5 verses explains the different types of winds:

  1. By the (Winds) that scatter broadcast;
  2. And those that lift and bear away heavy weights;
  3. And those that flow with ease and gentleness;
  4. And those that distribute and apportion by Command;-
  5. Verily that which ye are promised is true;

Plenty of time to reflect on these verses during the climb.

Mid-way, we began to see steps being built at places where certain slopes had become “non-climeable”. Now when you see steps, you know it’s going to be one long climb up. Steps are a torture to the knees and sometimes, your spirit because you are always stopping and starting, stop and start, stop and start. Slopes are better. However, I imagine the pro climbers who take part in the annual Kinabalu marathon will not be needing the steps at all.

more stairs

Uncle man’s porter carrying 3 backpacks – 2 Uncle Man’s and one of his own. We left our bags at Mesilau Nature Park to be transported to the base camp at Timpohon gates. So we only had to carry a small backpack, containing a jacket, water, some food, and necessities for the night stay at Laban Rata rest house. If you want a porter, it is chargeable at 10RM for every 1kg of your load.

uncle man porter

However… we could see why Uncle Man’s porter did not mind the weight of his bags because we saw other porters transporting bulky items on their backs! And in this photo if you look closely, it is a lady who wears the headscarf. MashaAllah. So inspiring. To carry these all the way from base to Laban Rata and do it everyday as part of their normal working life. Amazing!

porter box

Reaching Laban Rata

At about 4 pm my group of 3 (our big group of 18 had divided itself into smaller groups based on speed) managed to reach Laban Rata rest house.

laban rata view

We were the second sub-group to reach and waited for the rest of the team while we had our late lunch cum dinner. Food was buffet style, coffee, tea and hot water were provided. The only thing was queuing up a very long line but other than that, the food tasted good. Although when presented with limited choices after a hard day’s climb, you take anything you can get!

sub team at laban rata

The feeling of reaching Laban Rata was of euphoria. Like finally, a place to rest! The afternoon heat during the journey to Laban Rata has this ironical effect of making you feel sleepy mid-climb, and accompanied with your decreasing energy you really just want to sit at some rock and just doze off instead of continuing. The rest house is a cozy place to be; being high up in the mountains it has this kind of floating effect. In and around it, you are greeted with the sight of climbers of various nationalities and shapes and sizes. One day, I’m going to climb Kinabalu again just so I can be back at Laban Rata Resthouse. I mean, look at that view…

view 2

Rangers enjoying a game (or two) of volleyball at the heli-pad…

heli-pad

At about 6pm, the sun started showing signs of settling down. The moon took over, and night came engulfing us in darkness. By this time, the strong winds had arrived again, and it started to get really chilly. Everyone had their jackets and windbreakers on, and people started going back into the rest house to call it a day. We needed to sleep and wake up at 12 am for the night climb to the summit.

sunset1sunset3

The rest of our team managed to reach at about 7pm, just before it started getting really dark. Unfortunately, it was here I received some news. Dja couldn’t continue up to the summit, as she had  suffered from severe AMS 4 km to the climb. She badly wanted to continue, but was advised by the ranger not to continue due to her condition. For her safety, and because you really need to listen to your body at times like this. And listen to the ranger who has years of experience and seen all kinds of things happening.

The only thing I wanted to do listening to her on the phone was to give her a hug right there and then, but it had to wait till the next day at the base camp near Timpohon Gate where she had been arranged to stay for the night. I had no other choice but to continue to the summit since I was already halfway there.

Layered up for the short sleep as my bed was nearest to the window and it was super cold by then. I was worried of getting hypothermia due to my thin frame, so I layered up as much as possible and went to sleep with a heavy heart. I had my fellow brothers in my team but there is nothing like girlfriend support especially when you’re tired and sleep-deprived. All I could do at that time was pray for both our safety, she alone at the base camp and me alone as the only girl in my team to the summit.

mardmood: This post is part of the series “My Kinabalu Story” based on my expedition to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on 26th September to 1st October 2012. For more chapters go to ‘Kinabalu Khronicles’ in the Categories section.

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