Somewhere near the rest house on the way up, it was more than 3,000 metres high
It is my fourth consecutive climb to Mt Kinabalu climb and barring any unforeseeable, I should be doing my fifth climb next year. I do not organise many trekking events but Mt Kinabalu is always close to my heart. It has been an annual ritual of sorts to pay homage, something words can't describe. Last year, I led a group of 20 and this year, I had 14 comprising a motley group of outdoor enthusiasts, eight men and six ladies from The Philippines, Myanmar, Belgium, India and Singapore. The oldest member is close to 60, Jimmy who is a friend of mine and he is joining me for the first time. I must admit the ladies were surprised when they learnt of his age. Further, he does not look anywhere near 60 age range, one even guessed he is in his 30s. He even proved that look age aside, he has the fitness and physical strength to reach the summit. I am impressed, I must say. Months prior to the trip, some of us did organise a weekly step training at one of the 40-storey flats in Toa Payoh and a 2-round trek up Gunung Pulai in Pontian. On whole, I was confident this group will do well.
These ladies were among the first to reach Timpohon Gate after a successive climb
Though it was my fourth climb but each experience is always different. I developed acute mountain sickness (AMS) in my first climb in 2010, was ill-prepared for that then but with much perseverance, I barely made it to the summit. The weather is always unpredictable at that high altitude, fine one moment but totally disastrous the next. We must always prepare well if we do not wish to be caught 'unprepared'.
Our departure was on 2 August by AirAsia from Singapore and it was a late afternoon flight at 1740 hrs. Our arrival will be late at 2000 hrs and we will have some two hours coach ride to the national park for a night stay at the resort. 13 of us left on the same flight. Only Jonathan had arrived one day earlier. Our arrival was on time and very quickly, we cleared the immigration and customs to be met on arrival by our guide from Borneo Trails, Ryan. A late dinner in Kota Kinabalu town was arranged for us before we set off for the national park. After our last minute shopping at the kiosk nearby, we were ready to move on.
It was past 2300 hrs when we finally arrived at our resort for the night. The weather was cold though it was not raining. Soon, I released the seven keys to everyone. Milan shared the room with me. It was too cold to take a bath even though there is water heater. After brushing my teeth, I went to bed immediately. I needed as much rest for the climb the next morning.
At 0700 hrs, we were ready to check-out and headed for breakfast at the restaurant near the national park office. It was cold at about 1,500 metres high. Three mountain guides were introduced to us. They are young lads, 19 to 20 years old but they can only speak halting English. Majority in the group do not need porter service, even for some of the ladies. They will carry their own load up. In the midst of arrangement, I realised one member wanted to pass a 1.5 litre of mineral water to the porter to be brought up to the rest house. No offence to him, I questioned his wisdom. Why would he want to bring up that extra bottle of 1.5 litre of water when he can top up as much water as he want at the rest house? Further, he had his own 1.5 litre of water with him which was more than enough. That bottle of water costs RM1.50 which weighs about 1 kg and the porter will charge RM10 per kg. This bottled water of his is probably the most expensive in the world if carried up by the porter. We had a good laugh and when common sense finally prevailed, he took the cue. The bottle was eventually 'donated' to our tour guide who was not following us to the summit.
We were transported to Timpohon Gate, about five km from the national park office. We had our group picture taken at the gate before entering the first check point. Our guides had a brief discussion with us and once done, we were ready to move. As the expedition leader, I was at the back. This is to make sure no one is left behind. Vanja, our lady member from Belgium and friend, Jonathan should be among the first to reach Laban Rata rest house. Both of them are strong athletics. The distance from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata is six km. If it is walking on flat ground, it will take less than one and an half hour to finish. We moved off at about 0900 hrs and generally, most should reach before 1500 hrs. The weather was still cold but no rain. I was wearing a tee and was in Bermuda shorts. I did not feel cold as I was on the move. Further, it was so nice to trek in such a cool weather and I hardly sweat. Those with me at the back were Jimmy, Huiwen, Swie Min and Rio while the rest quickly disappeared in front of us. Our pace was steady but not fast, we took about 40 mins to cover one km. I have learnt a valuable lesson not to walk too fast. We need to slowly acclimatise to the altitude as we trekked up. I even made sure I took Diamox pills one day prior to the climb. The five of us were mostly together up until about four km mark. One member was complaining that cramp was slowly building up on her but she still pressed on. I was all the way behind, so too were our two mountain guides who were also carrying our loads.
They were the first few to reach the summit and it was really cold
After dinner, I retired to bed early. I know from my three previous times, I will not be able to sleep at such altitude but rest is important before making the final attempt to the summit early in the morning. I was at the restaurant at 0200 hrs and all the ladies were ready to move off. However, our guides were still not around yet. We can't move off without our guides. Early breakfast was served. I didn't take much, just two slices of blank bread. We wanted to move off earlier and when I saw our guides, I told them we were ready. At exactly 0230 hrs, we set off. The weather was cool. I was hoping it will remain so for the longest time. There were many climbers leaving around that time too. It was still pitched dark and we must have our head light on. Again, I was covering behind. Shortly after, one member told me that she was breathing hard and she decided not to carry on. This was definitely a sign of AMS. Wise decision for her. The weather suddenly turned cold and wind was howling at about 30 km per hour. I was wearing my jacket but did not zip up. I felt the chill when the strong wind continued to pounce on us. I had to zip up my jacket up to my neck and pull the hood to cover my head. Adrian, Raymond, Wai and Jimmy was with me. The wind was so strong that it almost threw us off balance. We had to hold on to the white rope to balance ourselves. There was a group of students from Manchester. One boy was severely suffering from AMS but he was coaxed on by the leader. I had suffered from AMS previously, I know what was it like and I empathised with the young lad. He just pressed on. Along the way, I saw a young Caucasian woman throwing out. It must be awful for her. Raymond was breathing hard too. I was hoping he was alright. The wind did not seem to have relented. The howling sound was deafening. Jimmy was clearly tired but he persevered on. It was just behind Jimmy and we had to walk on four while balancing on a steep part. Suddenly I heard something dropped out of Jimmy's pouch. I saw his new IP-5 sliding down and with a quick hand, I managed to hold on to it. Had I missed, the phone will slide all the way down. Lucky for him. We cannot take too long rest as it was too cold to sit still. We were near the summit and it was already way past 0600 hrs where first light was supposed to be seen but the foggy weather camouflaged any slightest sign of light. It still looked like in the dark of night near the summit. The final ascent to the summit required some physical strength but the joy of reaching the summit simply pushed any tiring climbers to go the extra mile. I can see that in Raymond, Jimmy and Adrian. They were too exhausted but they were not prepared to give up. By then, some of our members were already on the way down. Among the first few to reach the summit were Jonathan, Vanja, Milan, Swie Min, Rio, Suvidha, Hong Choon and Eunice. They could not stay long at the summit. It was just too cold. All 13 of us reached the summit except for one.
On the way down from the summit
Another picture showing climbers moving down after the summit