Sunday, November 07, 2010

Scaling The Summit of Mount Kinabalu

My last visit to Sabah was some 15 years ago, then it was a working trip and climbing Mt Kinabalu was certainly never my agenda. This trip with SANL led by T.S. comprised 10 of us with an equal gender distribution of 5 guys and 5 gals.

The highlights of this adventurous trip included scaling the summit of SEA's highest peak, Mt Kinabalu at 4,095.2m, attempting the Via Ferrata at more than 3,000m and roughing out the grade 4 Padas River on a water dinghy.

With trepidation, we left on 28 Oct by Jetstar and on arrival at KK airport, our guide, Andrew from Amazing Borneo was already waiting for us at the airport. It was around 1300 hrs and we were first taken to Wisma Merdeka for our lunch. During my last stay in KK 'umpteen' years ago, Wisma Merdeka used to be my regular haunt being located just next to the hotel where I used to put up, the Hyatt. I cannot recognise the shops in the mall now. We had our lunch in this foodcourt styled in typical fashion back home. After lunch, we were ferried to Zen Garden, our hotel accommodation which is located some 1,500m in the national park region. The journey took some 2 hours to reach. We were given 5 rooms for the 10 of us, both Chua and I shared a room. Dinner was served at the hotel. A quick briefing by Andrew was made during our dinner to better prepare us for the climb the following morning.

We got up by 0630hrs, had our breakfast at 0700hrs and by 0730hrs, we were raring to leave for the national park office to do the registration process first and then to commence the climb. When we arrived at the national park office, we were introduced to our two assgined mountain guides and the sole porter. We were all in awe when we learnt that our assigned porter turned up to be a lady hailing from the tough Dusun tribe. She can carry a maximum load of 30 kgs up and 50 kgs down which made us guys 'malu'. I didn't let her carry my load, both Chua and Alan too while the rest simply off-loaded bulk of their load to her including lunch-boxes - faint man. They charge RM4 per kilo per way for the porterage service. By my reckoning, my own load should be lesser than 10 kgs, Chua's load should be more because he brought more clothing along.

After registration at the national park, we were transferred to Timpohon Gate which is already standing some 1,866m above sea level. I didn't see my watch but it should be around 8.30pm when we commenced our climb. It was an easy ascend, there are man-made steps along the initial part of the climb. We can hear the gushing noise of a waterfall nearby, the Carson Waterfall to be exact. We were taking it very easy, everyone was in a relaxed mood and moving in a group. Rain came shortly after, sigh and we had to take out our poncho or raincoats. The weather had been unpredictable, given it is a start of monsoon period. One moment it was sunny and the very next, it can pour without warning. Fortunately, the downpour was not heavy throughout the climb. I was moving up quite fast, breaking away from the slower ones. Only Alan, T.S., Chua and later, Zhangting and Siti managed to re-group with me at Layang Layang rest point at 2,702m. We had our packet lunch comprising two sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg and a chicken drumstick. I didn't take the drumstick, the oily stuff simply put me off but Chua had mine instead.

After lunch at Layang Layang, I broke-off with the rest as I wanted to arrive at Pendant Hut (3,270m) to take a longer rest & to acclimatise. I took a breather at some point, waited for a while hoping to re-group with Chua, T.S and Alan who should be moving faster than the rest. There were no sign of them after 15 mins of waiting, I decided to move on. The path was mostly rocky, quite easy to climb albeit slippery somewhat due to formation of algae from the intermittent rain. Fortunately, the vegetation did help to shield us from the rain.

I can feel my muscle straining but I ignored it and kept going. After climbing for more than 1 hour, I can see a hut from a distance and I knew I am quite near to our rest station at Pendant Hut. As I neared, I saw a sign pointing to Laba Rata and not long after, another sign pointing to Pendant Hut which was to be our accommodation for the night. I kept to the direction of Pendant Hut, it was not difficult to follow as it has been a single trail from start to end. Finally, I saw a long single row of wooden steps leading all the way to Pendant Hut. I took one step at a time, paused at some point to take a breather and finally, I was at the entrance of Pendant Hut. It was 1215hrs when I looked at my watch. Nothing to fuss, it was a small resting place good for a night and the view up the summit was simply awesome. As I arrived first, I took the chance to 'chop' the whole room of 8 for our group so that we don't mix with other groups. But for the couple, Katherine and Long they had to bunk-in with others in another room. It is dormitory-style living, everyone has to share one big room.

Via Ferrata briefing for all of us must be done by 4pm and those arriving past that time will have to miss it. Chua, T.S., Te and Alan arrived around 2pm. Not long later, Siti, Te and Zhangting arrived too. We were still waiting for Anne and the couple, Kat & Long. Anne arrived after 3pm but she immediately declared she won't be scaling the summit nor doing the Via Ferrata - "wasn't it a waste of money", I wondered to myself. We were still waiting for Long and Kat to arrive, hoping they will make it before 4pm deadline for the briefing. At 3.30pm, there was no sign of them though our mountain guide who was with them reported back they should be arriving by that time. At 3.45pm, still no sign. We kept our fingers crossed. Finally, at exactly 4pm, we saw the two of them slowly inching up the wooden steps. We went out to welcome them, rooting them on. They were totally exhausted but were certainly happy & relieved to have arrived just on the dot. The right side of Long's pants was sliced wide-open, exposing a large part of his 'sexy' leg. It torn off as he did a full stretch we were told but sheepishly, he admitted he is fat. Spurred on by Siti, I took a quick shot of his torn pants with 'evil' intention to post it on FB for everyone viewing when back.

We had our dinner at Laba Rata and the food dished out by them simply blew me away. At such high altitude of 3,270m, I cannot imagine they can still cook such sumptuous buffet spread for us. After a hearty dinner, we headed back to Pendant Hut for an early night. By 7pm, I was already on my bed in hope to rest well for the final assault to the summit. I was fighting hard to sleep but I was kept wide awake by Te's snoring just below me and Alan too, on my left. It was like a symphony choir that kept me awake the whole night. I tossed left, tossed right, counted sheeps but just couldn't sleep at all. At 1pm, I got up, brushed my teeth, dressed up and ready to move out. Everyone was awake by then. After breakfast, everyone except Anne was ready at 2pm for the final ascent. It was still pitch dark, each of us had our head-torch on. I had two layers of shirt, a tight fitting attire and a loose shirt and a sweater outside to fight the cold at the summit. To protect my hands, I first put on the surgical gloves and then the normal gloves. Our two mountain guides made a final count, 9 out of 10 of us with one opting out were ready and then led us all out. It was dark, the head torches were visible as more and more climbers made their way up. I was feeling quite charged-up though I didn't manage to catch a wink the whole night. I made my way past many. Before reaching Sayat Sayat at 3,668m, which was the final check-point, I began to feel uneasy. The breakfast meal that I took early was stuck somewhere near my chest, the 'buttering' feeling made me feel like I am going to throw out anytime soon. As if it was not bad enough, I needed to go toilet to 'bomb' big time. I knew the dreadful mountain sickness was beginning to take a toll on me, slowly but surely. Trying my best to ignore it, I pressed on. When I reached Sayat Sayat check-point, fortunately there is a toilet nearby. I made a dash for it, it was like a big stone had just been lifted off me. For that moment, I felt reprisal of sorts but only just. The uneasiness feeling continued to bother me as I inched higher and higher. The air was getting thinner, breathing was getting heavier and heavier. I had to walk few steps, stopped a while to catch a breather. I felt like vomiting as the mountain sickness had already kicked-in. It was still dark, by my reckoning it should be near 0500hrs. I took the chance to wait for the rest to catch up. Chua appeared not long after followed by Alan, T.S. and Te. I was already feeling sick but decided to push for the summit with them. A mountain guide told us it will take another 1 hour and a half before we could reach the summit. Each step seemed like eternity, slow and punishing on my body.

We could see the summit, the torches were clearly visible on the summit. The entire path leading to the summit was rocky, there was no vegetation to shield from element and some parts were steep too. Sometimes, we had to go on four. Only Alan was with me, we had broken off from the rest. I was feeling weaker and weaker due to the mountain sickness fatigue. I took longer rest each time and Alan stayed around, keeping pace with me. Finally we reached the summit. By then, Chua, T.S. and Te were already waiting and they will happily posing and taking pictures. I was feeling nausea, simply threw myself on the ground. Admittedly, it was a spectacular sight from the top despite my battered shape. A group of Taiwanese simply gathered at the summit, refusing to leave and we had to wait for our turn. It was very cold, I was shivering inside me. The two layers of clothes plus the sweater outside were not enough to protect me from the cold. After the Taiwanese group had left, we managed to move just underneath the summit, rolled out our nicely prepared banner for a group picture. All 5 of us, Chua, T.S., Alan, Te and I made it to the summit - much to our delight. Alas, Siti who was hit by mountain sickness waited somewhere below and Zhang Ting was further down at Sayat Sayat. As we had to re-group by 8am at Sayat Sayat for Via Ferrata, Siti and Zhang Ting had to give the summit a miss. Kat and Long, both suffered badly from mountain sickness had already made a detour back to Pendant Hut.

I felt much better as we descend to Sayat Sayat for our next event, Via Ferrata. After a good short rest at Sayat Sayat, we started our Via Ferrata event led by our instructor, a seasoned no-nonsense chap who insisted that we followed every of his instruction. Te began to feel jittery of the Via Ferrata decided to opt out instead. Thus, only the 6 of us instead of 7 to attempt the Via Ferrata. We were to move as a group in a single file, tied together. I was the leader, the first person to move off followed by Zhang Ting, Alan, Chua, Siti and T.S. in that order. Our instructor was the last person who watched us closely from behind. This was another exhilarating experience, imagine doing Via Ferrata at more than 3,000m. Though we were hanging high up, it was perfectly safe while we inched our way around the cliff. In all, it took us 2 hours to complete the whole circuit. We were told the slowest on record took some 8 hours. The completion of the climb and Via Ferrata in one go will soon earn us two certificates - I felt most satisfied.

The following day was the water rafting event at Padas river. Due to the constant downpour, the river was rated 4 which posed another big challenge for novices like us. We had another eventful day at Padas river and more pictures were taken. My only grouse was the short distance covered, sigh.

Both Chua and I stayed for 2 more nights after the rest had departed on 1 Nov. I took the chance to catch up with some old friends, Ronny, Tan and Maggie. During the additional days, we went island hopping and also did an exploration cruise on Klias river. I truly enjoyed this expedition with the group and have already confirmed my second Mount Kinabalu trip with another group of enthusiastic friends in April next year.

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