Mt. Kinabalu {Darrell}

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October 5th 2008
Published: October 16th 2008
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The Journey

With the sun starting to set on our time in Philippines, we made plans to get back from the beautiful paper-white beaches of Boracay to the Metro capital of Manila in time for our flight. Since the tiny planes making the inter-island hop had already filled all their cheap seats, we opted for a uniquely Philippino way of travelling. Taking the Ro-ro means boarding a bus, which drives across the islands, and onto ferrys for the crossings between them. Aside from air travel, it's the most direct route across a country made up of 17,000 islands.

While travelling in Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, we've found the night busses a great way to get around. You get on, fall asleep, and wake up in a different place. And your accommodation and transport are paid for together. So we thought that it would be best to buy tickets for the 12-hour journey overnight... Turns out, no.

The journey was broken up into 2-3 hour stints. Sure your bus goes onto the ferry, but you're not allowed to stay on the bus. We all had to get get off, and go upstairs to where we sat in a big hall watching badly-dubbed movies from the 70's. Then when the ferry docked, the buses all drove off, and we went back down to struggle through a mad dusty hustle to find the bus with the right numberplate while the drivers all encourage us to get a move on (I assume that's what they were shouting).

Once we had found our seats, the race was on, and it continued all the way into the heart of the island, with the young drivers overtaking on another at every chance despite the dark, winding, narrow roads through the sleeping villages. The bad news was that we had the front two seats, next to the driver, which meant no sleep as we had full view of all the blind-corner overtaking. The good news was that this was the first bus that we have found actually installed with seatbelts (or is that more bad news?...)

Then the cycle would begin once again as the bus pulled up at another ferry terminal...

We eventually arrived in Manilla, at completely the wrong end of town, just as the city was waking up. We collapsed into a Dunkin' Donuts and then, refusing to pay for a taxi to the airport, we tackled the Manilla subway system, just as rush hour was beginning. We had to watch 4 trains pull up, open their doors, and leave without us, until one arrived with space for us and our backpacks.

After spending the day in the city, fussing with trying to post some things home (tip: 1kg parcel costs 1/4 the price of a 2kg parcel) and updating this blog a bit, we eventually ended up waiting for our evening flight to Borneo, Malaysia.

The flight was not bad, and we touched down in Kota Kinabalu at 7:40pm. As expected, all the hostels in the guidebook were full, and all the ones our cabbie knew were overpriced, but we managed to find an okay place to drop our bags. We even ended up with an air-con room, which was a real treat!

The next morning we were up at 6am to catch our bus to Mount Kinabalu National Park. The drive around Bornean valleys filled with morning mist was really refreshing, and when we finally arrived at the base of the alleged tallest mountain in South-East Asia (apparently there's some dispute, though I can't see how hard it could be to settle it?), we were itching to get climbing. Buying permits and organising a guide turned out to be something of a shambles, but we had fortunately chosen to hike the slightly longer Mesilau trail that begins about 15mins drive from the main trail. It was a good thing too, because while everyone else was queuing at the base of the trail waiting for a guide, we were whisked off to start our climb on an empty trail.

The Destination

The hike up Mount Kinabalu made us re-commit to doing more hiking all over again. It's just a brilliant way to get the feel of the natural beauty of a place. The hike we did is a 10,5km climb up the face of the mountain, and then back down. We were glad to find that we were still pretty fit, and so the walk through the rainforest was really enjoyable, and being the only people on the trail, we really felt at ease to walk at our own pace and stop whenever we felt like it. We had heard stories of fit people not making it because of altitude sickness, so we were
Pitcher PlantPitcher PlantPitcher Plant

They are actually quite small (about 10cm). Photos like this make them look big.
not keen to push it. Rather take it slow and see the peak.

Our guide was a friendly chap, with a winning smile. When we asked him questions about the local plants, he would answer us with the Latin names and explaining the differences between the species, but he didn't volunteer up his info easily. Most of the way up he just followed a little behind us. He did tell us that he was one of the guys who takes part in the annual race up the mountain, with a personal best of 3hrs 20mins. UP AND DOWN! It's a feat we came to admire more and more over the next two days.

It's difficult to describe a hike. I guess the best part of it was getting a day of exercise and fresh air. Just having the time walking steadily, enjoy the nature and think about things. I usually have a kind of "To Think About" list of things which I push to the side in the manic rush of daily life. A day wandering around with my thoughts is generally welcomed and often needed.

After a morning of hiking through the jungle, we came to Laban Rata, a collection of dormitories built at 3300m, at around 3pm. We were treated to a sunset view of the route we had walked (as well as what was still to come!), hot showers, and even a decent buffet meal. It was pretty ridiculous that our best meal of the month should be half way up the mountain, all carried up on the backs of porters! Unfortunately, you can't hike the mountain without an overnight booking, and you can only book overnight at Laban Rata, and it always includes the meals. People rant and/or laugh about it all the time, but it's a case of "Pay up or stay at home". And it's too late for staying at home.

The temperature at this altitude a was a chilly 7 degrees Celcius. We enjoyed our hot meal, and after a hot cup of Milo (it's a favourite in Borneo) we bedded down with our torches close at hand.

At 2:30am the alarm went off, and by 3am we were climbing the last 2.5km stretch by the light of our tiny Maglites. This time were on the only path to the summit, and everyone had left at the same time, so we were in the middle of a slow moving queue. As people began to stop for rests, we passed them, and ended up approaching the last 500m of the climb 1 hour before sunrise! Out on the exposed granite face of the mountaintop, the wind was well below freezing! A group of about 20 of us all huddled together behind a low pile of rocks, shivering and looking at the stars. It was a very long 45mins that we lay there.

When we eventually set off again we only had the final push left before the peak. We timed it well this time, arriving just as the sun was beginning to break over the horizon. This is pretty close to the highest I have ever been on land, and since it is one of the 20 highest mountains in the world by prominence (free-standing height) it is a really dramatic view over Borneo with the whisps of clouds rising from the smouldering valleys.

The hike down gave us incredible views from the granite dome over the jungle below. We were very fortunate that the clouds did not rise to surround the mountain as they had the day before. The warm sun was a welcome relief from the icy wind. It was rather strange to suddenly be so cold after having been in sweltering heat for the past month!

We stopped again at Laban Rata for a nice long breakfast break on the way down, and then began the descent via the main trail. The hike down was also spectacular, and because we'd been in no rush to get going right after breakfast, we were once again mostly alone on the trail. The jungle was so lush and peaceful, but the continuous steps back down (they say there are 2500 of them!) had taken it's toll on our knees by the time we reached the bottom at around 2pm.

At the base, we were given the last of our great buffet meals, a lunch that was completely overboard, and then we walked down to the main street to wait in the rain for the bus to our next destination.

Mt. Kinabalu Tips

The whole Mt Kinabalu package, which is very standardised, it designed so that most people in good health can make it up the mountain. If you are pretty fit, there are
At the topAt the topAt the top

And still waiting for the sun!
definately some changes that would make the trip better:

* Hike the Mesilau trail - After sorting out your permit, you can catch a taxi down the road to the start of a much less crowded, and more relaxed trail. It is 2km longer, but then if you're paying so much to hike (as opposed to just paying for the summit experience), you do get more hiking for your money.
* Don't leave at 3am - If you're pretty fit, stay in bed till 3:30 or 3:45 and leave after the crowds. It's cold and very exposed on the top before sunrise.
* No need to rush the breakfast stop on the way down. The guides are keen to get going. But you'll be down by lunch anyway, so you may as well enjoy you time on the mountain (eg. reading a book) at Laban Rata after breakfast.
* Staying in KK is fine - We were advised to sleep the night before the hike at the park, but because of our late flight had to stay in KK. It tuned out fine. There's lots of transport to the mountain in the morning. We only got hiking by 10am, but then be were at Laban Rata by 3pm.

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


Heading back down.Heading back down.
Heading back down.

Walking backwards eased the knees
Best timesBest times
Best times

These guys go up and down in under 3 hrs! A hike that took us 2 days!

26th October 2008

completely diff from your tropical honeymoon islands. I don't trust you two when you talk about climbing mountains ... you make it sound much easier than most people :) hugs!!

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