Hiking the Summit Once Just Wasn't Enough


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Asia » Malaysia » Sabah » Mount Kinabalu
August 3rd 2007
Published: August 23rd 2007
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Believe it or not, my time in Japan came to a close and I was set loose to embark on my dream trip through Asia: Casey's Asian Invasion. Ever since I came to Japan I started to envision my trip post JET. It is hard to believe that it has actually begun...and started out with a bang! I was sad to leave Japan. I consider myself the antithesis of Japanese culture, yet over the past 2 years have fallen in love with the country. It has changed me, and I have definitely changed Kabe. Only now is is starting to kick in that I will not be returning to Japan, that someone else is an ALT at Kabe Senior High School, and that someone else is sleeping on my futon. But, when one door closes another opens, and mine is WIDE open! I am hitting the road for 4 months, starting off in Borneo.

First Stop: Mt Kinabalu



I woke early on August 2 from Brians apartment, boarded the bullet train to Osaka, turned in my gaijin card, and before I knew it was waving goodbye to Japan for my very last time. I was completely exhausted from packing
Mt. KinabaluMt. KinabaluMt. Kinabalu

Hoping these clouds would clear
and saying good byes in Japan that I actually slept the whole way to Kuala Lumpur, and then again on the plane bound for Kota Kinabalu (KK). I couldn't even stay awake to read Harry Potter or watch Shrek! I arrived in KK and headed to my hostel and quickly fell asleep. I was a bit apprehensive since I was on my own, hoping that things would all fall into place and that I wouldn't find myself stranded in some gutter in Malaysia.

Before arriving in Borneo I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do because I had limited time and most activities required booking in advance. I tried to book accommodation on Mt. Kinabalu before I left, but the mountain lodges were full, leaving me a bit worried that I may not get to hike the mountain. For those of you that know me, you know that hiking is my life. If I went all the way to Borneo and did not get to hike the mountain, I would have been gutted. My friends in Japan that had been there said that the mountain is always full, but people always seem to figure it out lodging once there so I figured I would go to the Kinabalu Park Headquarters and see what turned up. At my hostel in the morning I started talking to people about the climb, and one German guy told me I was never going to get to climb the mountain if I had nothing booked in advance. Then I went to tour companies and they wanted me to pay $300 to hike the mountain. I love to hike, but that was absurd and the money was clearly going straight to the travel company. As I boarded my local minivan bound for Mt Kinabalu, I was crossing my fingers toes and and eyes hoping that something would work out. As we started to leave KK and into the Borneo jungle, Mt. Kinabalu loomed in the distance with a ring of clouds around the peak. I could barely sit still I was so excited! I HAD to be there....

People usually take 2 days to hike the mountain. They start hiking from the park headquarters, then spend the night at the mountain station called Laban Rata. Climbers then wake up at 2am to hike the remaining 2.7 km in the dark so
World Challenge Group World Challenge Group World Challenge Group

plus one American
they are at the summit for sunrise. After sunrise its a long way down to the park headquarters. It is 10km to the summit at 13,432 ft. The mountain can be climbed in a day, but being at the summit for sunrise is a wonderful experience so most do it in two. At the end of August they have the Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon and runners race to be the first up the mountain. I could not imagine climbing up and down the mountain in 3 hours! I planned to spend the night at the park headquarters to acclimatize to the altitude, then hike to Laban Rata, wake up for sunrise, and then climb down, making it a 3-day adventure.

Once at the park headquarters I put on my biggest smile ever and went up to the receptionists hoping that they would like me and somehow make it work. My first attempt...failed. Flat out, no room available. I started talking to them, laughing with them and was innocently asking questions about the wait list and what my chances were of getting a spot in a hostel up at Laban Rata. They started to warm up to my American girl charm, but still, I was without a bed. Then, luck struck. A group of English high school students came up to me and tell me that they have an extra bed up at Laban Rata and they would be willing to sell it to me. I was halfway there! All I needed was a bed at the park headquarters! Before I could even ask, one of the receptionists leaps over and tells me that there is a bed at Grace Hostel at the Park Headquarters. I don't know how miraculously a bed appeared when 5 minutes before nothing was available, but I chose to not ask questions. I started jumping up and down and screaming- I was going to hike the mountain! Mid-celebration dance I also asked if they had room for me to share their guide (you can't go up without one). Low and behold, I got even luckier and a spot on their hiking squad. When all the ringit was dispersed for fees, beds, guides, and god knows what else, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce myself and figure out who my saviors were. It turned out I had agreed to hike with 12 English
Fellow HikersFellow HikersFellow Hikers

aren't they cute?!
high school students who were on their World Challenge Adventure. They were all 17, with a World Challenge guide and a teacher from their school. I started to doubt myself and think "What in the world did I get myself into?" Still I was hiking the mountain, and I figured this little adventure would be just like my days at Skylake Yosemite Summer Camp.

That afternoon I hiked around the park headquarters to break in my new shoes. For having full occupancy at all the hosteis/lodges, the park was like a ghost town. I kept asking myself...where is everyone? I met up with some other hikers for my first official dinner in Borneo/my trip. What I thought was a potato turned out to be a huge piece of ginger that put my mouth on fire. I headed to bed a bit early, eager for the morning to come and the hike to begin.

I met up with the 14 other people I would be hiking with for breakfast. They were as apprehensive about me as I was about them. They looked at my small and very unprepared backpack and my jeans thinking "who is this crazy American girl?" I felt like the loser kid at breakfast that no one wanted to be stuck sitting next to. I personally like to hike in jeans and yes my backpack was very unprepared- I assumed I was not going to get a spot on the mountain and packed very poorly. whoops. But, what I looked like or what I had with me didn't matter to me- all that mattered was who got to the summit first!

First Summit

We grabbed our hiking sticks and started our ascent to the top around 8:30. The mountain was covered in clouds and had been that way for the past 4 days. There was the possibility that the foul weather would continue and we would not get to go further than Laban Rata. I had high hopes that the clouds would part and that my luck with sunny Mt. Fuji sunrises would carry over to Mt. Kinabalu. We passed disgruntled hikers who were unable to summit due to the foul weather. The lower part of the mountain was beautiful lush Borneo rainforest, with tall trees and amazing plants and flowers blanketing the ground. I was so happy in the rainforest that if we only made it that high I was content- but summiting of course would be worlds better! We hiked a bit slower because one of the students caught a stomach bug, yet was determined to climb. I can't believe she made it the whole way. I would have died! We had porters pass us carrying everything from large dressers to long poles. They made us look like whimps. We also had runners passing us with calves the size of my thighs who were training for the Climbathon at the end of the month. The hike was quite fun as I talked to all the students. I taught them the important things, like what a kancho and gorf were, and I think half of them are going to sign up for Camp America or going to teach English in Japan. They are all going to turn out like me! Watch out Skylake and Japan.

At about noon the clouds parted and we had a beautiful view of the area below us. It was amazing. Stumpy, the World Challenge leader said that if we got to Laban Rata early enough, we could hike to the top. Unfortunately, we arrived at 3pm and
The View DownThe View DownThe View Down

And the clouds were parting!
there was no way the high schoolers could make it to the top. I ran into some hikers that I met the day before who summited that afternoon already, and they said that I could easily summit before sunset. I paid one of our Malaysian guides a bit more, and said take me to the top. The weather could have easily turned foul for sunrise, and I did not want to risk not getting to the top. It was so close and I was not going to miss out. I could tell Stumpy wanted to come, but he had to stay with the students. So, Johan and I headed for the top.

The last 2.7 km was a bitch! It was a bit scary because the wind started to pick up, it was a granite sheath to climb up, and at time we had to use a rope for stability. I kept asking Johan if it was safe and he kept telling me yes. Thank god he was there for support and guidance. It was like I was hiking Half Dome all over again! Although it was a very short distance, it took FOREVER due to the rapid increase
HikingHikingHiking

I make this look good
of altitude. I could only walk 10 feet and had to stop and take a breath. Johan, on the other hand was like a little monkey and climbed the mountain with ease. He told me he climbed the mountain for the first time when he was 10 years old. He had a son and when he turned 10, he was going to take him climbing as well. Johan was great company and would wait for me as I huffed and puffed along.

An hour and 50 minutes later I summited the mountain! Johan and I were the only two people on the mountain. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. Never again will I experience such solitude and personal achievement. I felt like i was on the moon surrounded by the most incredible craggy cliffs and rock formations. I let out a big scream as I stood at the summit and raise my hands in victory. Johan smiled and laughed at the crazy loud American. It was a great way for me to start my solo trip. Even now I think back to that experience and it is still hard to believe it happened.
Carrying a pole the whole way?Carrying a pole the whole way?Carrying a pole the whole way?

Yeah I don't think so
We could see all the way to kK. The sun was hiding behind a patch of clouds and it was a bit too early for sunset. I feared hiking down in the dark, so we headed down after about 10 minutes at the top. Johan the monkey just hopped down, I on the other hand, resembled Spiderman using my hands and feet to get to the bottom. Johan again just laughed and smiled at me. It was just dark when we arrived back at Laban Rata and I was overjoyed to tell the students I had made it and they were going to get to do it at sunrise.

Second Summit
As I climbed into my bunk I was debating if I would get up again for the sunrise. The students wanted me to. My body was telling me no, but my mind was telling me I would regret it if I didn't go. At 2 am my hiking squad woke up. Stumpy came in with a big smile on his face because it was a clear night and would be an awesome sunrise. I was cold, could not sleep with the altitude, and said hell, I will do it again. People boast that they hike the mountain once, but not many people can say they did it twice. I wasn't sure if this was a smart or stupid thing to be doing.

All you could see on the trail was a bunch of headlamps from fellow hikers. We started our second ascent when suddenly, 1 km from the top and one of the girls collapsed. Stumpy ran to her side and she clearly was not okay. He was going to have to take her down the mountain. This was a sad moment for Stumpy because on all of his World Challenge Trips, his team never managed to see a clear sunrise. He was hoping this would be it, but his job was to keep the kids safe, and taking Sara down was more important. All of us stood there wondering what was going to happen and I was already acting as the other guide since the English teacher decided not to continue to the top. Stumpy pulls me down next to him and says "You are going to take the rest to the summit." My eyes bulged out of my head as I said "Okay...." I was
Getting to the Summit....Getting to the Summit....Getting to the Summit....

Can't see it yet but getting close
in charge of taking 9 17-year-old students to the summit. A little more than I bargained for, but hey, I could do it. Without me there, they may have had to turn around with Stumpy and Sara, so first they were my saviors, and now I was theirs.

They whined and complained and wanted to turn around, but we all made it! The students were freezing and immediately jumped in this orange tent to keep warm. Katie, one of the girls, and I said on a rock and watched the sun rise....amazing. I was sad not to have my victory beer like I did atop mt. fuji, but still it was as incredible as fuji, if not more impressive. After half an hour I was freezing, rounded up the kids, and we headed back down. It took us all day to hike down the mountain. It felt great to be at the bottom.

We boarded our minivan and headed back to KK, where we coincidentally were staying at the same hostel- I think it was fate that we hiked together.

So, I get to brag that I hiked the mountain twice and not just once! As amazing as the sunrise was, being the only person on the mountain right before sunset was an experience I have trouble believing it happened, and won't forget any time soon. I loved my World Challenge High School Students and would not have chosen to hike with anyone else.

I didn't know if my trip could could get much better. I started out with quite the experience. Next stop- Uncle Tan's for some Jungle Camping!


Additional photos below
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Monkey and SpidermanMonkey and Spiderman
Monkey and Spiderman

ie Johan and Casey


24th August 2007

Bonzai!!!!
Hey dude! Glad to hear you made it up to the summit safely... twice!! Wish I ahd been there to climb with you, I would have fit right in with those complaining teenagers ;) Be careful on your next adventure and keep me updated!
31st August 2007

livin the life
My family and friends always tell me they're jealous of Vicky and I's travels........if only they knew how jealous I am of your great trips!!! but you need to post more often, I need more stories and pics to check out during my downtime at work!!
29th February 2008

borneo '07
hey is this the team you lead to borneo in 2007? with stumpy as the world challenge leader? I just came across this on the internet searching for world challenge expeds to borneo. I recognised that it was the team that our school team (monmouth comprehensive BLUE) kept bumping into whilst in country.
1st March 2008

Stumpy and the Gang
Yup David, indeed it was! I had a great time with them! Shame I didn't run into while I was with them. It was a GREAT experience!

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