Mt Kinabalu towers above the rest of Sabah - a distinctive dome with unusual curved "towers" of rock reaching up into the clouds. At just over 4000m this was (and is, at the time of writing) the highest mountain I had ever climbed - because of proximity to the equator, however, there is no snow on Mt Kinabalu.
Like many mountains (perhaps all) all over the world, Kinabalu is considered sacred, and it is widely believed that no-one had ascended to the summit until the arrival of Europeans (British etc.) in Borneo. The summit is known as Low's Peak after the leader of the party many believe was first to reach the top. Aki Nabalu, the local name, on the other hand, translates as "The abode of the dead" or similar - the home of the departed spirits. As Mt Kinabalu is the main tourist attraction in Sabah, and attracts a lot of inexperienced trekkers (like myself), the government have made it mandatory to acquire a permit and take a guide.
Some Mt. Kinabalu Links:
Pic: Two cold blokes on the summit - one of the many other peaks of the summit plateau in the background.
It was in February 2002 that myself and Harashita set off after breakfast from our hotel on the Karambunai Peninsula for the Kinabalu national park. We payed for our permit at the Park HQ, confirmed our booking for a night's accomodation at the Laban Rata lodge (a hostel-type building at about 3000m - you need to pre-book this as it fills up) and secured the services of James, our local guide. We had torches, water (camelback), waterproofs and thermals, lots of food (peanut bars, dry fruit etc.) packed into daysacks. The weather was mild and drizzly and visibility was low. We were driven to the start of the trail - a huge gate in the mountain's perimeter fence - we showed our permits and passed through the turnstile on to the mountain.
The gate, known as Timpohon, is at an altitude of 1800m so that leaves you roughly 2200m of ascent. The first section of path is steep but well maintained - with steps cut into the hillside in places. As you make your winding ascent you pass through lush vegetation - the carniverous pitcher plants are a local speciality. As the ascent continues you pass through various climate zones - after the jungle section comes the true "montane forest" and the section known as cloud forest which is, as the name suggests, almost always shrouded in mist and cloud. This was one of my favourite sections as we slowly wound our way upward - I had been advised to take it slowly to avoid a sudden energy crash when we got into the thinner air at 3000m.
The summit trail on Mt Kinabalu is a major tourist attraction, and the authorities keep it well maintained. At regular intervals there are "Pondoks", stopping places with a roofed shelter. Each pondok also has a flush toilet, fed by water piped in from a mountain stream.
All went well up to about 3200m when we began to slow down even from our modest pace, and the last stretch to Laban Rata lodge was a bit weary. Once we arrived, the altitude started to take effect. Experienced climbers may scoff, but having never been at this height before I was not surprised to be feeling a bit sick. Flu-like would describe the symptoms - generally I felt rotten, with a dull headache and no energy whatsoever. Still, we found our room and had a bite to eat before laying down like a couple of sick old men for a few hours of coughing and fitful sleep. Surprisingly, we woke up feeling fine at around 2am ready for the night section to Lows Peak for a summit
sunrise. There was time for a brief but much needed meditation, with me scrunched on the upper bunk which was just too near the ceiling for me to sit fully upright, then we found James, armed with torch, ready for the off. I was wearing an improvised head-lamp made from a small torch tied into a runner's headband. I thought this was a great bit of money-saving ingenuity but I think it caused Harashita some embaressment as I looked pretty stupid.
Pic - view from the summit at dawn down to the clouds above lowland Sabah.
Of course, everyone does the "summit sunrise" thing, so numerous parties were starting their final ascent at this early hour. The landscape is awesome - in the darkness you are aware of great horned peaks and magnificent bluffs looming above you, outlined against the stars. No vegetaion here - not even any soil - just a lunar landscape of naked granite. A thick rope marks the route - ostensibly just to guide the way, but in places the rope was needed for support as we traversed steep faces (probably not so steep in daylight, but seemingly precipitous at night). If you take a look at
you'll see a bunch of daylight shots of this section - personally I've never been anywhere quite like this, except perhaps some sections of the Red Cuillin on Skye.
We felt no effects of altitude, so a few hours of acclimatisation had obviously been sufficient for this altitude. Also, the homeopathic skills of a certain Dr Megabhuti were doubtless helping out (He gave us carbo-vegetalis, as I recall).
On the summit we joined a small band of happy climbers shivering as the sun took forever to rise - I suffered a bit despite the numerous thermals I was wearing - I think the thin air makes it seem much colder, or perhaps it saps the body's ability to generate it's own warmth? Whatever, I was relieved to start the downward trek after enjoying the incredible summit views.
We ran much of the way down to Laban Rata, which finally trashed my running shoes (which had been ideal for the trek - no need for boots). We wasted no time, a we had a plane to catch, but as I recall (this is a bit dim in the memory now) we managed to scav a shower at the national park headquarters before catching a taxi to KK airport.
I rate this as a great trek - though it has to be said I have limited experience! It was physically challenging, and the landscape was outstanding. Some would baulk at the fact that the guide has to be taken, the mountain is so crowded at dawn etc, but for me these things didn't detract from the splendour of a sacred mountain of considerable height that a non-mountaineer can climb with confidence. If you happen to be on Borneo some time, check it out :)
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