Long, long post ahead!
Some months back, one of my friends suggested an East Malaysia trip, with the highlight being a hike up Mount Kinabalu. Myself and 5 other people jumped at the opportunity to push our leg muscles to the limit, so along with the fella who made the suggestion, we found ourselves in the city of Kota Kinabalu (henceforth referred to as KK), Sabah, Malaysia on the 19th of August, 2014.
A little background: Standing at 4095m above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in Malaysia, and one of the tallest in Southeast Asia. I’ve only ever been up half of one mountain before this, that is Mount Murut in Sarawak, but that wasn’t much compared to what I was about to put myself through.
To even attempt to ascend Mount Kinabalu, you have to have a permit, and we obtained ours under a package by Amazing Borneo Tours. It cost us almost 900MYR per person, just for the permit, a guide, transportation to and from KK, and lodging and boarding while we were on the mountain. Pricey? You be the judge.
At 6.30 in the morning, we climbed into a van that would take us to Timpohon Gate, the starting point of our hike. We spent the night before in a condo unit right in the heart of KK, where I shared a room with 3 other girls. None of us got any sleep. Pro tip if you’re going to hike for hours on end: GET SLEEP. Maybe we were too anxious/excited/nervous, but being sleep-deprived wasn’t too great. Adrenaline kept us going well enough, though.
Not too sure about this, but we probably reached Timpohon Gate about 1.5-2 hours later. We unloaded our bags, met our guides, were briefed, and off we went!
I get the feeling that many people think hiking up a mountain is pretty simple stuff. While it wasn’t incredibly difficult, it still was challenging. The terrain changed considerably along the way, beginning with very steep and earthy steps, moving on to granite boulders and slippery slopes, clay earth, and even more slippery boulders. You could definitely try the hike even if you’re just the average, not-so-fit Joe, though. You would just have to climb very, very slowly.
The first part of the hike was 6km long, to our base camp at Laban Rata, where we would spend the night before attempting to ascend to the summit. We were told that most people take about 6 hours to reach Laban Rata. The fastest member in our group eventually reached in a little under 4 hours.
Personally, I made it in almost 5 hours. I cleared the first 4km in about 2.25 hours (yay!), but then altitude sickness slowly crept in.
At about the 4.5km mark, it was already about 2500m above sea level. I began to feel very dizzy and nauseous, and out of all the medication I had packed, I forgot to get altitude sickness pills. What a stroke of genius.
By the time I reached the 5km point, I was ready to give up. I could barely breathe, and everyone who passed me was stopping to ask if I was okay. I later learned that I had turned so pale, that there wasn’t any colour in my face. How long did it take me to cover the remaining kilometer? A whooping 1.5 hours. I probably stopped to catch my breath every 200m or so.
Out of the seven of us who climbed that day, I suffered the worst from altitude sickness. The rest of them barely had any symptoms. Take-home message? Bring your pills. Who knows if you might be that weakling who hyperventilates at higher altitudes (i.e. yours truly).
It was 2 in the afternoon when I reached Laban Rata. I rested, changed out of my wet clothes, and pulled on thermal undergarments and a windbreaker. It was a little chilly up there, around 5 degrees Celsius, I think? As my breathing and heart rate both began to normalize themselves, I felt a lot better and thought that I could possibly make the climb to the summit the next day, at 2am.
Until I came down with food poisoning 2 hours before we were supposed to start.
I had gone to bed at around 7pm, and at 11.30pm, I woke up and started throwing up! When I started throwing up bile and hyperventilating all over again, I realized that I had gotten food poisoning for the umpteenth time. I don’t know if I have a weak gut, but I seem to come down with it a little more often than most others, and at all the inopportune times, it would seem.
I took my anti-emetics, went back to bed, but when I woke at 2am, I realized that I was still very weak. And that it was raining cats and dogs outside.
At the canteen, they told us that we would have to wait for clearance to climb to the summit because the path up was all steep rocky slopes, and rain often turned many parts into mini waterfalls, which meant greater danger for the climbers. So after waiting an entire hour, with the rain still not letting up, we were told that the ascend was called off. What luck. One of my friends informed us that the previous year, weather only got in the way 7 times, and none of the 7 were in August!
I was not-so-secretly pleased with the decision, because if they hadn’t called it off, I would have went ahead in my weakened state, and I would probably have suffered very badly because of that. But everyone else has my sympathies. It was still a waste, and I regret it slightly, but not enough to complain about it. Instead, I went back to sleep and then walked around to take more pictures.
Some climbers decided to still take the risk though, and went ahead in spite of that. 2 of those climbers were part of our group! And they did make it to the summit! The rain cleared midway through their ascend up the 2.7km hike, but it was still slippery and one of them slipped about 10 times. The guide was with them all the way to keep them safe.
After they reached Laban Rata and had rested, we began our descend.
Everything was wet and muddy and somewhat slippery, but going down is definitely a lot faster than going up. It has to be said though, that all our knees and calves were already sore, so there were many grimaces and “Ouch’s” on the way down.
Two days after that climb, we were all still going down staircases like 100-year-old grannies. You should have seen us grasp the railings and slowly inch our way down, with our faces contorted to make us look like the most attractive people on earth. The pain is real. So real.
After all that’s said and done, it was worth it. All the muscle aches and vomiting spells and dizziness were all worth the climb. It was a shame that 5 out of the 7 of us didn’t make it to the summit, but hey, we still have a future ahead of us, and who knows, maybe we’ll attempt it again at some point. :) I just thank God for keeping us all safe, and for keeping me well, albeit a little unhealthy up there.