Sunday, February 11, 2007

Conquering the Mighty Kinabalu

20 January 2007

"Whose harebrained idea was it to climb Mount Kinabalu?” I muttered while clinging on for dear life on a rope and trying to haul my sorry ass up the steep incline. Darn, it was my choice to tag along. Sigh.... why can’t I be content with lazing on the beach and taking a stroll in the park?

I was up since 2am, after a fitful 3 hour sleep the night before. The rest house at Laban Rata was a hive of activity in the wee hours of the morning as climbers prepare for the Summit Climb. It’s a 2.7km hike to the summit and climbers start out early in order to get to the peak for the sunrise. We kitted up in warm clothing and fortified ourselves with hot Milo. At 2.45am, after a climbing brief from our guide, we were good to go. The temperature was 8 degree Celsius, not too cold. It was dry with clear skies; perfect climbing condition. Still, I stepped out into the chilly darkness with trepidation of the climb ahead.

We climbed up in single file up a short rocky path to get past the Gunting Lagadan and Panar Laban Huts. After which the trail leads to a long steep flight of rickety steps. We tramped on silently in the inky darkness with only our headlamp illuminating the step ahead of us. On hindsight, it was a good thing, for surely if we had been able to see the climb ahead; many a faint hearted would have turned back, including, yours truly.

Fifteen minutes into the climb and I was already sweating buckets and gasping for breath. Fitter and more able climbers passed me by as I laboured my way up. This isn’t looking good, I told myself, I was seriously questioning my ability to make it to the summit. The first half hour was difficult as my body struggled to adjust to the thin air and the fatigue that set in. After that, I settled into a mind numbing routine of putting one foot in front of another and shuffling along. We managed to reach the checkpoint at the Sayat Sayat Hut within the targeted time. The prospect of getting to the summit in time for the sunrise was looking good, declared Hali, our guide. Park regulations require that all climbers register and produce the climbing pass at the checkpoint before proceeding and likewise on our way down.

Beyond the Sayat Sayat Hut, there is scant vegetation; rocky granite surface stretches out as far as the eye can see. Ropes are anchored into the granite to aid climbers. At some stretches, the incline is at a 70 degree angle to the mountain. With no vegetation to shield, chilly gusts of wind bore down on us and the cold began to seep into our bones. We allowed ourselves only a short rest at Sayat Sayat. Ernest forged ahead while we girls hung back with Hali our guide. It is another 1.3km hike to the summit from the checkpoint, an eternity to my befuddled brain. The thin air was making me a little light headed and images of my warm comfy bed crossed my mind, I just wanted to lie down and never ever have to get up again. Soon, I was visibly lagging behind the rest. Hali took me by the hand and literally dragged me up the second half of the climb. “See the light over there? That’s only 100m ahead, let’s trek up there and we can rest,” he tried to motivate me. I trudged on resolutely cheered by the prospect of a rest, only to find out that it was a moving target. “Tipu! Lampu ‘tu bergerak!” (Liar, the lamp is a moving target!) I cried.

For the last leg of the climb, we had to scramble and haul ourselves up over boulders. Finally, we reached Low’s Peak at 6.25am. Low's Peak at 4,095m, is the highest summit of the mighty Kinabalu. At the very top, it is no more than a pile of rocks on a narrow strip of plateau. It was an anticlimax of sorts for me. By the time I got there, I was so tired that nothing interest me beyond finding a place to park my posterior and getting off my aching legs. That is, until I looked up and saw a band of deepening amber at the horizon lighting up the skies. Puffs of mists swirled and flitted amongst the various peaks rising up at different heights. On the west side of the peak, the valley stretches out in a patchwork of green for miles. I stood and gaped in awe of the splendour of God’s wondrous creation, tiredness forgotten.
"Ah.... since you've made it to the top, the next time will be easier for you" our guide jolted me out of my reverie. Next time? You gotta be kidding! Well.... maybe. Ask me again when memories of aching limb and tired muscles have faded.