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.

My Kinabalu Story: Chapter 1 – Connecting the Dots

Starting off Travel Tuesday with more of Kinabalu but in detail. Ready, set, GO! The first chapter.

Introducing: The Team

First and foremost, introducing the team. The team comprised of 5 Singaporeans and 13 Malaysians. Team captain was Abang Amirul who is Musaddiq’s cousin. Abang Amirul is a seasoned mountaineer who has been to Mount Kinabalu twice prior to this trip. This time, he opened the expedition to his Petronas colleagues and as fate has it, we came into the picture – literally.

sg team big grp pix

The Singapore team’s Overnight Flight

On Wednesday night, we departed from Singapore via Air Asia to Sabah at 5.40pm, reaching Kota Kinabalu International Airport (BKI) at about 8.05pm. We took a cab from BKI to our hotel at KK Central, settled down and went out for dinner. After walking around for about 15 minutes we found a place called Stesen Ikan Bakar, a pretty chillax place selling all kinds of grilled fish. You name it, they have it. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to have a good night’s rest before starting the day full swing and meeting the Malaysian team tomorrow.

stesen ikan bakar ikan dan sotong bakar

Soaking our feet (and body) at Poring Hot Springs

Thursday morning, we headed off to go to Poring Hot Spring. Why hot springs first before the climb? For 2 reasons – it was along the way to Kinabalu National Park and, going on weekdays surpasses the weekend crowd. I remembered coming to this place on a weekend with my family and saw some families settling down their picnic spot with their own pot of rice.

3 hours later we reached Poring Hot Spring, which is in Ranau. It only takes 1 hour from Ranau to the base of Mount Kinabalu. Amazing scenery greets us along our journey.

mountain view

We stopped by some shops and markets on our way to have lunch, get some necessities, and meet the Malaysian team.

corn stick

Remember those old skool keropok jagung in the shiny plastic wrappers with 3 corn sticks inside? These are them! In less glamorous packaging but delicious nonetheless.

sabah houses

On our way we passed by many of these houses. I always wonder how these people’s way of lives are. They literally live amidst the mountains. And they don’t seem to don any thermal wear, I guess their bodies already adapted to the weather there. Most of them are also very fair-skinned, due to the cold weather. Reminds me of Adira, the singer who originates from Sabah and her snow white skin (or “putih melepak” in Malay).

hot spring sign

A little bit about the hot spring: Hot sulphur spring water is formed by the less violent manifestation of volcanic areas. Even where the volcanoes are no longer active. Many hot springs contain carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in varying proportions and mineral salt are always dissolved in thermal spring water. Thus you have sulphur in the hot spring.

The left pipe contains hot spring water that flows continuously – it’s really boiling hot, while the right pipe contains cold tap water. You have to mix the two to get your desired temperature.

two pipes

Or if you’re too lazy to wait for the water to flow, you can always go straight to the medium-sized tub which is already filled with hot spring water. You need to let your body acclimatize to the temperature though, because it’s not as warm as it looks – it is really hot at first!

tub spring

The water in here is too hot for any soaking as it is above boiling point, hence entry is prohibited. It’s so amazing how Allah makes water of different kinds of temperatures and they all exist for a reason. SubhanAllah.

dilarang masuk

Hot water vapour from the restricted areas of the hot spring. After a long day of travelling and relaxing, we headed off to Mesilau, our place of stay for the overnight rest before starting the climb. Yes, we were going to start from Mesilau Trail instead of the Timpohon Gate which is normally used by first-time climbers.

hot vapour

Arriving at Mesilau Nature Resort

We reached Mesilau Nature Resort at about 7pm. Upon stepping out of our vehicle, the coldness of high altitude greeted us. Mesilau trail is situated at approximately 2,700 m above sea level while the other entrance start point, Timpohon Gate starts at 1,688 m in altitude. So it was already more challenging as we would be dealing with possibilities of AMS, which starts from 2,400 m onwards.

mesilau nature resort tea without sugar winter melon soup dinner

We were welcomed with a cup of hot tea (without sugar) upon our arrival. Our dinner started off with winter melon soup and an array of dishes. Delicious food Alhamdulilah. What we observed was that the dishes contained a lot of ginger. Ginger being a natural remedy to warm up our bodies was a perfect ingredient to be included in the dishes since we were at such cooling temperature, so perfect MashaAllah how everything is provided by God.

stairs

Our chalet is a double story but level 1 and 2 is only separated by a small flight of stairs. There’s a heater in every room, hooray! A mini fridge and other usual amenities were also provided. Actually from what we had been informed earlier, we were expecting a less comfy bunk bed type of place, which would have been totally fine with me. But Alhamdulillah we were surprised to arrive to a comfy place with comfy beds. Happiness… till the next day, when we were to start our climb…

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.

Summit. (Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue)

“Where are you?” I asked Khadijah, my sole female climbing buddy for the Mount Kinabalu expedition.

“I couldn’t make it up,” Khadijah replied.

“What do you mean?”

“The altitude sickness got to me and I had to climb down halfway. I’ll meet you guys back at the start point.”

My heart sank. Five of us had reached Laban Rata, the mid-point rest house where we were to rest for the night before climbing up to the summit. We were now waiting for the rest of our team members and I was on the phone with her, separated by an altitude of 2,000 metres.

Khadijah went on to explain that she was having breathing problems and felt nauseous at 4 km onwards, and as much as she wanted to continue on, the rangers had advised her to stop. There have been been several cases of climbers meeting a fatal death due to the decreasing oxygen in the increasing altitude so I was thankful that Khadijah was okay.

But this would mean I had to continue the rest of the climb up to the summit without her, as the only girl in my team. I felt upset, scared, and somewhat, alone.

Girlfriend company

Khadijah, or Dja as she is affectionately called, and I first met during a rockclimbing gathering with some friends. She was a friend of a friend, and our similar interest in adventure brought us together. This expedition was our first trip to the mountains together so we had developed a sisterly bond through our trainings.

There were only 2 girls in the team, which meant I depended on Dja for girlfriend company. Our 18-men team had consisted of 13 Malaysians, all guys, and 5 Singaporeans, consisting of Ezriel (who is also Dja’s fiance), Musaddiq, as well as his uncle, affectionately known as Uncle Man. Team captain was Abang Amirul from the Malaysian team.

At the start of Mesilau trail, we had positioned ourselves at different points for safety reasons, seeing that we were outnumbered by the number of guys in the team – me at the front and she at the back. So I was not aware of what was happening until I reached Laban Rata, 3,272 meters up in altitude. By then, there was nothing I could do but wait till the next day when we would reach Timpohon Gate, the end point…

Strength

After finding out about the news, I conveyed it to the rest of my team who was as shocked as I was. Later on I found out from Ezriel that Dja would be spending the night at a place near base camp, alone. I tried to gather as much strength as possible afterwards.

I prayed to God to keep both of us safe, in two different places. I prayed to God to keep me warm enough as the temperature had dropped and it was almost freezing. I prayed to God to protect me from altitude sickness as we were going to be in higher grounds. I prayed to God to give me strength to reach the summit and the wisdom to be OK if indeed reaching the summit was not meant to be for me.

Night Climb

At 12am we started our climb up to the summit. Coupled with our headlights, thermal wear, jackets and windbreakers, we headed off in the dark and cold night into the dark, always mysterious forest. There were many climbers from various countries and nationalities, but in the night only their accents differentiated them out as quiet chatter filled the air.

It is this same air, silently thinning as we go up, that threatened the breaths of several climbers. As we go along, some people had thrown up due to nausea from altitude sickness. It was scary to hear this in the silent night as every sound was magnified. I made a silent prayer for them to be okay. Also, I found myself getting breathless and so sipped my hydration pack of water more frequently than usual.

Lost…

My group had planned to gather at Gunting Lagadan hut, where some of us stayed, before proceeding to the gate leading to the start of the summit climb. However, in the darkness of the night I had unfortunately lost my sight of the hut and by the time I realized this I was already several steps ahead.

Fearing being lost of the tracks in the dark and ending up not knowing where I was, I did not turn back but instead continued on following a group of Japanese climbers in front of me. Ironically, I found comfort with their presence as it indicated that I was going the right way, and that I was not lost.

…and Found

Halfway through, I stopped an sat on a big-sized boulder to take a break and drank some water. Few minutes later, I saw 2 of my team members, Ridzwan and Baizuri, the fastest guys in my team. At that moment, the sight of them had never been so comforting. I had been climbing on my own with a different group and now, seeing them meant I was in familiar ground again. Perhaps God wanted me to feel this way so that I could appreciate the struggle. As happy as I was climbing alone, I was of course, happier climbing with my group. There is nothing like familiar territory to make you feel comforted.

This familiar territory then went on to question me, wondering why in the world did I start the summit climb without them. Umm, sorry guys. Totally didn’t mean to. And then another 2 of my team mates Musaddiq and Ezrieal appeared, wondering the same thing. You can question me all you want, I thought, I’m just glad I was found. At that point, they were my family for the expedition, and you know how families can be. They annoy you but you love them anyway. I must add that they were also happy to see me as they had been wondering where I had been all those while. Thanks, guys!

Step by Step

By now the terrain had gradually changed from dirt tracks to steep boulder-like tracks. It was more difficult because boulders can be slippery. Hence due to the absence of trees and easily accessible branches, there were strategically placed ropes at certain spots and these really helped me navigate my way up. It was also getting harder to breathe as per normal, and we had to stop every now and then to catch our breaths and drink up. I just went step by step because at some points, I just did not have the strength to speed up. It was all mental from then on.

The last checkpoint we stopped by was the Sayat-Sayat Hut, which contained a small office where the rangers would record your name by checking your tag as you go through this checkpoint. This was for the certificate that you had indeed summited Mount Kinabalu. On the way down, the rangers would double-check again with the climbers to make sure who reached the summit and who did not. Every climber would get a certificate regardless of reaching the summit or not, but the difference would lie in the color (summit in color, non-summit in black & white) and of course, the text. After a brief rest at this hut, we continued on.

I swear this last few moments to the summit felt like the longest journey ever. The summit was just right in front of me, but it was not. Every time I get close to it, I’m not freaking there yet. It was so frustrating and the mental aspect of it was excruciatingly painful. Trying not to think of my tiredness, as well as accompanied by my team mates who put their strength and ego aside to wait for me, I tried with all my might to just put one foot forward and go.

Finally, the summit!

After an excruciating and very slow climb, finally the summit, the real one, was now in sight. It was already daybreak and we had been climbing for almost 6 hours. But there was one last obstacle. The terrain here was an all-kinds-of-sizes-boulders, vertical uphill climb. The good thing was that even though it was uphill, it was not as steep as the previous terrain and there were a lot of literally climbing up with your whole body, hands and all, to get up. Again, all mental from now on. 80% mental strength and 20% physical strength.

When I finally, finally reached the summit, Alhamdulillah, all thanks to God, I was just…speechless. Just in awe of the smallness of myself against God’s majestic mountains. And the view, it was tremendously awesomely amazing beyond words can ever describe. As I stood at the summit point, thinking of Dja, thinking of my late adventure-loving dad, thinking of my upcoming wedding, and then everything else that happened prior to this expedition which almost did not happen, I thought, it’s not about reaching the summit. It was about many things, but it was never about the summit to begin with.

Out of the many things it was, one word was what it was to me: Humility.

Weekly Writing Challenge

mardmood: This post is also 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.