After days of going around the Kundasan area (click here to read about the adventures before), the big day has arrived: The climb up Mount Kinabalu which peaks to a high 4,095 metres. My group members have trained for months to prepare for this trip; stamina building for the long duration hike and leg muscles building to tackle high steps. Even for myself (this is my 8th climb), the last part of the journey can be quite challenging depending on the weather up top.
We awoke to a misty morning, one of the most misty morning I have ever encountered among my many trips. I was a bit worried for my group as the weather will definitely be the biggest challenge to overcome. Nevertheless, I kept my worries to myself and joined in the group as they went out to experience the cold but fresh misty mountain air. Some of them went out with just their t-shirts on purpose to experience the chill!
The first order of the day was to head for the Park’s Headquarters to register ourselves for the climb. There, we were introduced to our mountain guides and given our name tags that must be worn at all times during the climb.
After that, we headed for the nearby Balsam Cafe which was located just below the Park’s HQ. Breakfast was buffet style with a lot of variety of dishes to choose from, many of which are my favourites!
Balsam Cafe’s interior is spacious and cozy. The warmth in the cafeteria is a getaway from the coldness of the chilly mountain air outside. While everyone made their way to the buffet spread, I made my way to the most important section of the cafeteria. Coffee! (Although it has been said that we should avoid caffeine at high attitudes).
Although the buffet spread offered many other dishes of chinese and malay cuisine, I made myself an English breakfast equivalent.
Our packed lunches are also collected from the cafeteria. With it, comes a very nice Sutera Sanctuary Lodges recycle bag which I have kept until today.
As soon as we finished our breakfast, it was back to the HQ where our guides were already waiting. We were given the choice of hiring porters to carry any items for us, which was weighed on the spot and charged by the kilos.
From the Park’s HQ, it was a 15 minutes van ride to Timpohon Gate, the starting point of our climb where we would finally put our months of training to practice. The whole climb actually consists of two parts: first half of the journey involves starting the hike from the starting point Timpohon Gate to reach Laban Rata Resthouse, where we will rest for a few hours; and finally the last half involves starting the climb from Laban Rata somewhere after midnight to reach the peak in time for behold the glorious majesty of the sun rising from the horizons.
A group picture before we step foot beyond the gates of Timpohon, away from civilization.
(Left): A wooden bridge is one of the first sights that you will encounter, and it will also be a welcome sight for the journey back as it signals the nearing of Timpohon Gate and back into civilization. (Right): Carlson Fall is the first and larger of two waterfalls that we encountered.
The initial hike is easy, only going over uneven ground made up of rocks, some of which can be quite dangerous with sharp edges and especially slippery when its wet from rain. Naturally, the flat ground eventually gets steeper as we progressed.
Before long, steps carved out of the surface, strengthened and secured by wooden planks introduced themselves to us. Needless to say, were tortured by these steps for hours after hours where it all seems unending. Many a times when we stopped for a breather, some porters would just walk by at what seems like a snail’s pace, but they would overtake us each time we took a rest! Slowly but surely, I suppose!
(Left): Every now and then, we encountered flat ground which was a sight for our sore legs. We savored each flat ground that we could walk on, which was usually only for a short distance before meeting the next exhausting flight of steps. (Right): Even tree roots became obstacles for us as we risk ankle injury if we are not careful.
Here’s how a typical resting hut looks like; circular sitting area for two or three groups. At every hut here is always a toilet (a proper with flushing system) and even a tank of fresh cold mountain water for you to wash your face or to refill your water bottles (at your own risk since it is unfiltered and unprocessed water).
At each of the hut especially those at the lower attitudes, we were greeted by friendly fury friends. They are so used to have visitors resting around these huts feeding them food. Everyday must be a party for them!
The typical ferns found in any rainforest appears to be larger than usual at these attitudes. The sun’s rays manages to penetrate through the vegetation.
Every now and then, there would be clearings where the peak, our final destination would reveal itself, as if teasing us from the distance.
A tree’s gigantic root that has been carved so that hikers do not lose their footing going over it.
(Left): Everything seems to be larger than usual up here; this fern which has not bloomed is the size of a fist! (Right): Mushrooms growing on moist cliff surfaces everywhere.
I have no idea what are these flowers called, but they captured my eyes as they were all pure bright white against the trek’s dark green vegetation. Anyone mind helping me to identify these flowers?
The trail does not get easier, in fact it gets harder every hour of the way. No surprises there, but still our hearts can’t help but feel the need to reach the destination soonest. We were already a little over half of the journey towards Laban Rata and the steps became more and more rocky. Another obvious difference from the lower attitudes are the lack of tall trees to provide us shed from the sun’s heat.
The colour gradient on this fern is so striking, from shades of green slowly transforming into shades of shiny purple.
Even this leaf is unusual with white spots on it; there were a few of these kind of leaves around.
Pure white flowers can be seen littered at the sides of the trek with the combination of the cold air makes it feels as if it’s Christmas.
I would advise any climber to try to enjoy the journey as much as you can. Sure the hike up can be extremely tiring to the point of losing mental concentration, but most people I know only ever want to climb the mountain once and that is enough for them. The pitcher plant is one of those things that you can also find along the way if you pay close enough attention. The pitcher is so gigantic against a normal sized palm.
Even Soon Wang’s shoes grew a mouth and started to object from the torture it was receiving. Never mind, we’ll just shut the mouth up by tying it with a string.
After around 6 hours of climb (by then we already lost all sense of time) the path started to clear, making way for unsheltered route and very different theme of vegetations.
The plants at this attitude were all severely lacking of colours from the absence of flowers and the greens was dull and dark.
Even the mighty Yun Hung (front most) shows signs of exhaustion on his face; but wait! Soon Wang is still all smiles? He and his shoes with the opened mouths must love smiling. Behind us are our guides doubling up to be our porters as well.
After awhile, flowers started to appear again, and having climbed this route many times, I knew that we were nearing Laban Rata.
Is it only around the vicinity of Laban Rata that these bright yellow daisies bloom. Seeing these are a sure sign that you are near Laban Rata.
Sure enough, the sign confirms it. Civilization! (For now)
A group picture taken just outside the empty clearing, behind us stands the Laban Rata Resthouse we have been climbing 8 hours to reach.
Sunsets at Laban Rata is quite different, instead of the sun setting on the horizon, she sets herself under a pillow of clouds.
All the major mobile operators has reception at Laban Rata, including high speed 3G! So what are you waiting for? Make that important call home, post your latest status to facebook, share your pictures to your friends.
The good news is that we’re finally in Laban Rata and we can rest our aching legs. The bad news is that we only have around 4 more hours (after bathing and dinner) to rest before our final half of the journey to the summit in pitch darkness. The next part of the climb is a whole different level!
Click here to read the next part of the story.