I did it! I climbed to 4095m! :-) It was the highest mountain I have ever climbed- almost 3 times higher than the previous mountains I have hiked. But it was not a walk in the park, no ways! It was a test of my endurance, determination and perseverance.
Ok, so I will start at the beginning. 2 months ago we tried to organize to climb Mt Kinabalu, but were told that all the huts (below the summit, at about 3200m) were all fully booked. But last week we phoned the offices and were able to secure 2 beds at Waras Hut.
Climbing Mt K isn’t cheap! You have pay for the accommodation, 4 meals, climbing permit, a guide, insurance and entrance to the park. Only one company runs the all the huts on the mountain, so they have a monopoly and so can charge whatever they want.
The day before we climbed (on Saturday) we left KK (Kota Kinabalu) and made our way to the Kinabalu National park, which is at an altitude of 1564m. Spending the night at this altitude helped us acclimatize for the following big day. The place we stayed at was really nice- it stood high up- so we had great views of the surrounding valleys and hills. Since it was raining we chilled indoors and played Scrabble. I had such great letters! I was even able to (for the first time in my life!) use all my letters at once to spell the word “snuggled”. This put me in the lead ;-) But credit must go to Honza for being good competition….and maybe when we play again, he will beat me. (Which will put me undoubtedly to shame….)
We went to bed early- to be fully prepared for the next day. The next morning (Sunday) we got up and went to the Park headquarters, at the base of the mountain. We paid what was needed and met our delightful guide- Ginsos. Ginsos is 54 years old and has been climbing the mountain for 37 years! He goes up twice a week as a guide. He has 10 children and was just about the most contented person I have met in a long time. He had a permanent smile on his face- even at 3000m! His English was very basic, so we couldn’t talk much.
We took a bus to the start of the hike- at Timpohon Gate, 1866m. At 8:45am I begin the grand ascent! Honza, being a regular mountain man, quickly sped away up the mountain, with me leisurely taking it easy. In the beginning it was all about time, and I tried to go as fast as I could. Then I asked myself “what on earth is there to rush for?” I was in no rush, and all I had to do was take one step at a time and rest when I felt like collapsing. Taking numerous 30 second- mini breaks was how I managed to get to the top. The path made its way through jungle/lush agriculture for most of the way up- so at least it was cool. The people coming down also played a huge part in motivating me to keep going. Simple words like “good luck!”, “you can do it!”, “you’re almost there” really helped. So when I came back down- I repaid the kindness I was given to those coming up.
I climbed 6km uphill in 3.5 hours, which I think it not too bad! ;-) The clouds overhead pushed me to keep going- because the last thing I wanted was to get caught in the rain! I met the cocky-but-cool Serbian dude on the way up. He was coming down and told me about his shitty experience on the top: he was unlucky that it rained the entire time he was up there, and even experienced ice rain! I was a little afraid I would experience the same fate….but we had luck on our side and had fantastic weather the entire time :-)
So, at 12:15pm I arrived at Waras Hut- 3244m. I was still able to talk, stand and even smile! :-) We relaxed a bit then Honza suggested we climb a bit higher today- help us to acclimatize. Now I must say that I actually never suffered from altitude sickness, although I did feel a little nauseous at around 2000m but it disappeared quickly. I think the high altitude made me a little crazy, because I said “ok, let’s climb more!” I had just suffered for 3 hours and now I was deliberately going to cause myself even more. What the hell? ;-) So, while our guide took an afternoon nap, we went on. You aren’t allowed to hike without a guide, but we thought we could just do it and apologize later. The first part was relatively east- just ascending up on dirt/rocks etc. But from 3668m it became tricky, but oh-so-fun! :-) We had to climb up the rock face-there were ropes to assist you. I thought we were only going to go to about 3600m…but we just kept on going and going…and about 2 hours later we reached the top! :-) It was the best feeling in the world to look down and see where I just came from, especially since I did it all in one day!!! What we experienced was extremely rare, since people usually share the top with many other hikers. (The normal “procedure” is to wake up at 2am, and start for the summit around 3am to watch the sunrise). We had the entire mountain top all to ourselves! I can’t really articulate what it felt to conquer this mountain- words like “spectacular”, “incredible”, “awe-inspiring”, “unbelievable” just don’t quite explain it. Take a look at the photos to try to get a sense of how utterly special and jaw-dropping it was... I still don’t quite believe it….but the pain my leg is a constant reminder :-)
We stayed at the top for about 1.5 hours. The weather was just perfect: sun shine in the afternoon is uncommon, so we had nature on our side :-) To hide from the wind we took shelter behind the rocks: it was just perfect! What more do I want than to chillax out on a rock, sunshine on my body and feeling on top of the world! :-)
It took us just under 2 hours to get back to 3200m- in time for supper! Hiking can develop a serious appetite, and nothing beats eating after a hard day’s work on a mountain! ;-) It was so cool to sit in the restaurant with no one else knowing that we had just conquered the top!
I have great admiration for some of the hikers who arrived at 7pm, probably hiking all day. It just shows that if you want something, you can get it. Even if it takes all day!
But I think I admire the porters, who lug stuff up the mountain, the most. On the way down I passed many men (and women) carrying dozens of eggs on their backs—even a guy carrying TWO MATTRESSES on his back!! WOAH!! But I guess if you do this several times a month, it becomes second nature.
The next morning we woke to watch the sunrise. Lucky for us we could just stay in our warm beds and look out the window to watch pinks, purples, oranges and yellows being smeared across the morning sky. I am really glad we got to the top the day before; as I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it at 3am! After a great breakfast, we made our descent. Climbing mountains is a super overall- balanced type of exercise: going up it’s all about cardio, and going down it’s about muscle strength training. It took me about 2.5 hours to reach Timpohon gate. We still had to get back to the park’s headquarters- which is about 4 km away. But in true Honza-style, he suggested we take another trail there. It was so cool! For 5.6km we trekked through real jungle! :-) Up and down we traversed- past tall trees with interesting trunks (one was shaped and coloured to resemble a leg muscle) and small waterfalls. I found myself a walking stick, so I felt like a true explorer. My legs were absolutely deadbeat- but to keep my spirits up, I sang to myself and to the birds.
We had lunch at the headquarters- another grand buffet! One of my favourite things at the moment is banana fritters: deep fried pieces of banana-hmmmm so yummy! :-)
We got back to KK in the early evening and our hostel had no water! I hadn’t showered in 3 days, so I did not smell like an English garden. But later, after dinner, we asked the backpackers next door if we could shower there: and in true Malaysian style said yes.
This morning my legs were achy, but I could walk :-). I haven’t done much today- just some hand washing and updating my blog…later we will go have dinner and meet some people for a beer…. I must say I do enjoy this lifestyle- there is nothing I have to do, nowhere I need to be and no time constraint. I feel extremely privileged to be able to travel like…so thanks Korea!! :-)
And one more thing—Borneo hasn’t been affected by the earthquake in Japan, so I am safe :-)
Wow! If you have read up to here- well done and thanks!! :-)
I must give credit to Honza for his photos: they are all the numbered photos of the mountain.