You need more than a pair of strong feet to scale the highest peak in South-East Asia. CASEY NG suggests you conquer it with your heart too.
IT is said that one must scale Mt Kinabalu with one’s heart – not one’s feet. If the heart is willing, then the battle to conquer South-East Asia’s highest mountain can be won.
Even the spine-tingling gorges that seem to scream “We’re dangerous… go home!” will not deter you.
The cool highland breeze offers little respite for the splitting headaches that come with inhaling oxygen-thin air. Amid the shortness of breath and groaning muscles, giving up seems to be the sensible thing to do.
Yet, the mighty Low’s Peak that looms above seems to cheer: “C’mon, you can do it!”
Such are the emotional strings that tug climbers who make, or break, Mt Kinabalu year after year. It’s the kind of place that separates the chaff from the wheat.
Czech Republic runner Anna Pichrtova scaled it in just under three hours in September 2006 to win the Kinabalu International Climbathon. The rest of us mere mortals, however, will need two nerve-wrecking days.
Standing at 4,095.2m (and still growing a few millimetres every year), Mt Kinabalu is the highest point between the Himalayas and Indonesia’s Irian Jaya.
It is anything but a walk in the park. I had spent miserable hours dragging my feet through slushy paths and pouring rain, trying not to use the walking stick on the next person who said ‘Hey, young man. What happened to you? Old man like me also got no problem what!’.
Patience IS a virtue here. The reward: The rare view at 4,000m leaves you speechless. Sun-soaked clouds that stretch as far as the eye can see – a moment you hope will last forever.
Did You Know?
Mt Kinabalu is named after “Akina-balu”, a Kadazan-Dusun term that means “resting ground for spirits”.
In 1851, Perak’s second British Resident, Sir Hugh Low, took two weeks to reach the peak after cutting his way from coastal Tuaran through dense jungle. Low’s Peak is named in his honour.
Time Your Climb
There are two trails – Timpohon and Mesilau — and both are just as challenging. Most climbers use Timpohon because Mesilau is about two kms longer. However, Mesilau trail is more enthralling, with rare views of the mossy forest, pitcher plants the size of a jug, a la Indiana Jones hanging bridges and sharp ridges.
It normally takes five to six hours to reach Laban Rata, about six kms from base. Start between 9am and 10am so that you’d reach Laban Rata just in time for lunch.
As dawn breaks much earlier in Sabah, especially in high places like Mt Kinabalu, hit the sack early and get up at 2am for the last leg to Low’s Peak or you’d miss the spectacular sunrise.
Where To Stay (Accommodations)
Beds in Laban Rata are a HOT commodity. With howling winds and temperature dipping to eight degrees Celsius or lower at night, camping in the open is suicidal.
Everyone, including foreigners and tour operators, has to queue up to get beds and during peak periods, bookings must be made at least three months in advance.
A dormitory bed costs RM46 a night (unheated huts at Gunting Lagadan, Waras and Panar Laban) and RM69 a night for the heated hostel at Laban Rata.
Book your accommodations or lodges from Sutera Sanctuary Lodges (www.suterasanctuarylodges.com).
The entrance fee to Kinabalu Park is RM3 per person and the climbing permit is RM30 per person. The latter comes with a plastic tag that is checked by rangers along the way to the summit, so don’t lose it.
Guides and porters cost RM70-RM100 and meals at Laban Rata cost RM15-RM30. Pay RM10 for a certificate to show that you’ve scaled Mt Kinabalu. It’s a great souvenir to show off back home.
1. Call friends from Laban Rata. Tell them that sissies only get to see Low’s Peak on postcards but YOU get to see the real thing. All major mobile phone signals are strong and you can also use the pay-phone at the cafeteria.
2. As food supplies have to be hand-carried up daily by porters, even an item like instant noodles is a delicacy here. At RM11.80 a bowl, it’s probably the most expensive instant noodles in the country but it’s a must-have when you’re up there.
3. Send a postcard to yourself from Panar Laban’s post box for the unique Mt Kinabalu post mark.
4. Enjoy the view. At Laban Rata, you see conifer trees and people wearing anoraks, gloves and balaclavas. Hmm… a winter setting in equatorial Malaysia. It feels weird but nice at the same time.
5. Stop over at Kundasang on the way back. It is like Cameron Highlands of more than 20 years ago. The hamlet is peppered with vegetable, fruit and flower farms. The cool climate makes it lovely to walk around and soak in Sabah’s rural landscape.
How To Get There
There are buses that serve the Kota Kinabalu–Kinabalu National Park route. The two-hour ride costs RM15 one way. To get to the Timpohon trail starting point, hop on to a shuttle van. It costs RM30 for a return trip.
Tips for Climbing Mt Kinabalu:
1. Coming down is harder than climbing up and can give you a bad knee. Hobbling down the trail with weight thumping on your knees and ankles can be excruciating. Go slow and take small steps.
2. Wear hiking shoes or cross trainers on the way up but come down with open-toed sandals – unless you want seven hours of jamming your toes into the front of hiking shoes. A blood-clotted toe is not a nice
‘souvenir’ to bring home.
3. The cold, thin air is something you should take seriously. The climate is freezing at the Peak, so gloves, thick socks and winter clothes are life-savers. Your ears can feel like they’re dropping off and there are moments when you can’t feel your nose. Perhaps that’s why people rarely hang around for more than an hour at Low’s Peak. Breathing oxygen-deprived air can cause altitude sickness (read: crushing headaches). To
overcome this, aspirins may help.
4. It’s almost certain that one will bump into a rainy cloud or two even when it’s not the rainy season. Keep a raincoat handy and pack supplies in waterproof carriers. Try to climb between April and September when
monsoon storms aren’t brewing.
5. Isn’t it funny how chocolate tastes so good on Mt Kinabalu? Stock up on these goodies — and for a good reason too as eating sweet, high calorie chocolate bars raises blood sugar levels, boosting energy levels for the strenuous climb.
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