Mount Kinabalu Experience

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July 13th 2007
Published: July 13th 2007
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Well the last few days was an experience and not necessarily a good one - hard to believe that I am saying that about one of the things I had really looked forward to doing along with than working with the Orangutans that is and that was to Climb Mount Kinabalu But when you read on you may be will understand this comment.

But lets start at the beginning; we had to endure a grueling 5 hour car journey from Sepilok to Kota Kinabalu. It was the shame the numbness in certain parts of my anatomy couldn't numb me to the sight of the endless miles of Palm Oil Plantations. We drove for 2-3hours with no break in the swathes of forest that had been cleared. It was scary to think how many miles that we covered in that time and that this used to be jungle like Sepilok. It is really sad the devastation that Palm Oil is doing to the habitat of the my lovely Orangutans.

Anyway on with my Kota Kinabalu experience. We stayed at Fairyland Hotel but it did not feel very fairy land to me that night - it was pretty cold but that was probably because a Tropical Storm had hit Kota Kinabalu and outside the weather was pretty grim. Mount Kinabalu looked pretty foreboding image shrouded in dark grey clouds. The positive about Fairyland and that night was that a guy celebrating his Birthday came across with a piece of Chocolate Birthday Cake - not sure if he mistook the hungry look in my eye but really it was just the sight of chocolate

So on to our climb. I think the climb was almost doomed from the on set as in the morning we woke to heavy rain and the winds had not cleared at all and overnight and actually seemed to get worse. Maybe aiming to reach the summit on Friday the 13th was expecting too much not that I am usually superstitious, but afterwards I did have wonder!

The climb to Base Camp as I like to refer to the accommodation that reside at the top of Mount Kinabalu was grueling. The first 1km was hard as you adapt to the altitude and effort but after 3km it got tougher with rivers of water running down the rocky steps and made the already difficult climb even more treacherous constantly threatening to turn ankles or worse cause a fall. Encountering large step ups made me soon regret the extra 4kg of weight I was lugging up the mountain in the form of an SLR camera and which now looked like it was not going to see the light of day with the downpours.

The kilometre makers seemed to get further apart and our group of 9 attempting the climb soon split into two; the slower and the faster ones. I made slow but steady progress at the back and was relieved that I showed no signs of altitude sickness and only probably mild hypothermia from the drenching we were getting from the deteriorating weather.

Eventually we reached 5km which we were told was the point when you are know you will make the accommodation, which did eventually at 6km come into sight out of the gloom.

We all shivered and shaked out way into the crowded main area where similar cold, wet and exhausted people huddled looking like something from a Refugee Camp. With all the blankets gone and the promise of warm clothes for rent at the top materialising as being base ball type jacket we were not the smiliest people on the mountain.

Life didn't seem to improve when we found we had to go back out to get to our accommodation wing a further 100m away in the pouring rain. As the light faded after spending 2 hours in the main wing we scrambled our way along a smooth rock face running with a waterfall to make it to our accommodation for the evening .

Many of the group had no dry clothes to change into and with no heating in the accommodation at 7pm most if not all of us dived under the blankets in attempt to warm up whilst the storm raged outside.

The prospect of a 2am summit climb seemed remote so we were shocked at 2am when the guides knocked on our doors but it was mainly with the aim to deliver dried clothing to those that had used the laundry service but they did announced that the summit attempt was attempt able.

Only 3 of us was sufficient mad to try (me and the 2 Canadians Kat and Sarah) and wrapped up like mummies we headed off into the darkness. Lack of sleep and muscle aches made the first steep steps a daunting and exhausting prospect but we pushed on little aware of what was in store! Maybe if we had known we would have turned back then.

Edging along steep drop offs that dropped away into inky abyss was scary but worse was to come when faced with steep smooth rock faces that required you to physically haul your body up. After two of these rock faces, the effort started to take their toll on us and our stops became more frequent and our progress slower but the prospect of the climb back down in the dark with now numb hands possibly failing to hold the rope, we pushed on.

But soon the rain and winds came stronger and made progress even slower still - more climbers passed wearily by but Kat's asthma was also starting to prove a problem. At 3825m we stopped again and when our 'Mountain Goat of Guides' stood up and got blown sideways the decision was made that it was now getting too dangerous to continue and sadly so close to the summit we made the decision to turn back - though the downward journey seemed equally daunting. I did wonder if we were giving up too soon but I knew the chance of reaching the summit was getting increasingly unlikely and later found out only 8 fellower Summit Attempters made it that day and all they saw was clouds! But least we could say we tried.

Climbing back down to the accommodation was scary. Our guides helped Kat and Sarah by holding their hands but I initially preferred to hold onto the rope little realising that this would when we hit a vertical bit that my slow progress would mean the others would disappear from sight and I would be left totally alone in the darkness trying to control increasing panic.

For what seemed like an eternity but was actually only 10 to 15 mins one of the guides returned to find me. I think my tears of releif gave him quite a shock and I gladly accepted his hand to help me down - no longer feeling the intrepid mountaineer! Though as the light came to the mountain my confidence returned and I started to do sections again unaided especially as the weather started to improve as we got lower, so I got to enjoy a dawn of sorts from the mountain just not from the summit and even felt confident enough to brave a photo shoot or two.

Finally made it back to the accommodation and after breakfast we headed back down the mountain all the way to the bottom. Who ever said climbing a mountain is difficult is wrong - getting back down is 10 times worse! It hurts your knees and with only goal is getting off the mountain and getting warm it seems a long way to go.

Anyway that sounds like I hated the whole experience but actually I didn't. Maybe because it didn't go to plan I learnt a lot more about myself and what I am capable of including coping with hanging on a rope on a mountain in the dark!!! Sometimes it is the journey that counts and not the the final destination (or summit)

But you soon forget how you felt and start remember the good things and if nothing else I got to see Picture Plants which I really wanted to see.

And hey I may not have reached the summit it gave me a lot of blog to write about.

Do I think I will attempt to get to the summit another time - never say never but maybe it won't be on this trip as at this time of year it seems to raining pretty often and Mount Kinabalu seems to be shrouded in clouds one day too often so guess I will go with the guides recommendation of March to May which means I may just have to return to Borneo.....

And my recommendation if you plan to climb Mount Kinabalu -
i) take your own warm clothes with you and pack them in a plastic bag to keep them dry
ii) take more money than you think you will need - eating up there is not cheap compared to prices off the mountain.
iii)Pack as light as possible

Otherwise I would say it would be a fantastic experience (if you have good weather).

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