This is the second part to this article. The first installment of this article can be found here: “A Decade of Mount Kinabalu (Part 1)”.
Sleep? What sleep? Whatever sleep that we managed to get always feels like it was just a short few minutes nap and that is exactly what I felt again even after going through this routine for these 10 years!
Nevertheless, the excitement from my other friends and the other climbers; some scrambling out of bed to rush to the washrooms, some already in front of the washroom mirrors brushing their teeth, some frantically looking for their misplaced gloves or worst… permit tags (The permit tags that are issued by Sabah Park before the climb must be worn at all times, and is especially needed to get pass Sayat-Sayat, the last checkpoint prior to reaching the peak).
As soon as we had our supper, we were all set. Every groups are asked to gather at the entrance of Laban Rata for a briefing from the guides on the remaining journey. This is where I always expect the guides to ask their standard but very important question, “Is everyone okay? Is everyone fit? No one sick?”. Then the guides would make eye contact with each climber to make sure we are really okay and good to go. This process, although seemingly unimportant to most climbers, is actually very critical to ensure the safety of the climbers as it can get quite dangerous at some points of the climb.
Once the guides were convinced of our good condition, we finally set off into the vast darkness, assisted only by our headlight that lights up our path.
NOTE: Do not let the following pictures fool you into thinking its quite bright throughout this last half of the journey. I must emphasize that a headlight is compulsory. It is pitch black throughout the whole trail before the sunrise.
This part of the journey begins with a lot of wooden steps. Most people would already be in their windbreakers this part of the climb, but there’s actually no need to zip up all the way. Gloves are already put on since there is a need to hold on to the wooden handrails at some points in case you slip; this would save you from dirty hands or worst situation, splinters.
The weather is extremely humid at this time and it gets quite difficult for your body to breathe since all the plants around you are releasing carbon dioxide. It is very normal to feel easily out of breath since the oxygen is quite thin (and will get even thinner as you progress, so do not let this demotivate you!
After around an hour, those wooden flight of steps and alpine plants began to disappear, giving way to a path filled with many stones, a lot of which are loose. Be careful on your footing here, there is a big risk of twisting your ankle here. Always go for the flat stones that are solid on the ground rather than rounded stones that might wobble on your weight.
We reached a certain point where the moon finally showed herself and helped us in lighting our surrounding. We could see a silhouette of the menacingly steep and long climb ahead of us.
As the moon shines brightly and the stars fills the night skies, I thank God for the beautiful weather that He has bestowed on us today. I was excited to another magnificent show of sunrise from one of the highest peak in the world!
Finally we have reached the end of the ‘easy’ section. In front of us lies the solid granite rock face of the mountain top where it will be continuous steepness from here onwards. The ‘scary’ part of the whole climb begins here; having to pull yourself up with your two hands and upper body strength only to be greeted with an extremely narrow edge on the side of the mountain face.
The edge of the mountain face is only narrow enough to place your foot, one in front of the other. There are ropes bolted to the rocks with solid mountain bolts for everyone to hold on to. This is your only guarantee for safety.
Eric turns to check if the rest of his group mates are doing okay. One should always hold on to the ropes here. Even if a person seem steady enough, a swoop of the wind against the mountain face is enough to send you tumbling down into the abyss in a matter of seconds.
The narrow edges continues further for awhile before proceeding upwards again. Notice how steep the mountain face is at this point. The next picture shows the fantastic view from this vantage point.
Bracing myself against the mountain face with one hand holding on to the rope, while the other hand tries to stabilize itself enough to get this fantastic night view of the land below. The lights down below are from Kundasan town.
This picture is a good example of the amount of steepness that we had to endure for this last part of the climb. From here onwards, it is just you against your body. It will be a mental fight, with your body telling your brain that it is so tired. The lack of oxygen at this altitude also joins in to put negative thoughts into you. Fight back! Take control of your body! Tell it that you must do it, one step at a time. One phrase that I always remind my fellow teammates. SLOWLY BUT SURELY.
Shawn and Patricia takes a breather while waiting for Eric to clear the section of the rope. It is a good idea to wait until the person before you finishes the section of rope so that the your pulling of the rope will not throw the person off balance. Notice the small tiny lights in front, just below the moon? Those are the lights from the headlights of other climbers ahead of us. The caterpillar of light. Yes, there is still that much distance to go!
Still plenty of distance to cover, but at least from here we can see St. John’s peak, one of the better looking peaks on this mountain range. NOTE: The iconic peak that you always see on postcards are usually of St. John’s peak and not the actual highest peak (Low’s Peak) itself!
Upon reaching the summit plateau, which is a flat area just around 1 km before the peak itself, the weather took a turn for the worst. Thick rain clouds started engulfing the entire area. Our visibility of the path in front of us got worst from the rain droplets blown into our faces. Needless to say, our chance to watch the sunrise from the peak is no more.
That seemingly big abyss in the centre is the infamous Low’s Gully, a scary looking bottomless descent into nothingness. Many adventurous who are well-trained have lost their lives in the gully. It is known as one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
In this picture, I’m standing at the peak shooting down at Eric coming up. On the left of the picture is Low’s Gully, which is cordoned off from climbers’ access. Most climbers will not even dare to look down from there. All this 10 times that I have been up here, the Low’s Gully still gives me the chills each time I am near it. This is also where the latest fatal accident where a German climber.
Pictures of us on the peak. Although it does not seem so from the pictures, it was already raining. The rain is in the form of small tiny water droplets but is many enough to soak us wet! I’m actually taking a big risk taking my camera out to take these pictures.
Here’s Eric transforming himself into Mr. Baker for a pose on the peak of Mount Kinabalu.
I feel sorry for my team mates as they did not manage to witness the most magnificent sunrise of their lives. However, in a way, thinking of the positive side to it, this is my first time to experience the peak in such dreadful weather. In all my years of affair with her (Mount Kinabalu), she has never rained on my parade. Oh well, there’s always a first time for everything and I’m happy that I got to experience this. It reminds me that although we’ve been together for 10 years, there are still plenty that I do not know about her!
Just when I thought I could not get any worst, then rain started pour. What was dry hard mountain face that we climbed on is now extremely wet slippery complete with mini waterfalls from every edge possible! At this point, we have stopped worrying about getting our shoes as water is practically flowing everywhere!
Visibility is also reduced to near zero. This picture shows how bad visibility is and how wet my camera lens is! In the distance is Sayat-Sayat hut, the last checkpoint that climbers will need to flash their permit tags to the Park Ranger on duty before reaching the peak.
I recorded the video above with my camera so that you can see with your own eyes exactly how bad it was up there on the summit plateau. My camera Tokina 11-16mm lens went dead after this recording as it was already soaked with water! Luckily I still had my main lens, the Canon 24-70mm F2.8 which I could still use for the rest of the way.
Mini waterfalls everywhere! Whatever waterproof wear that we have was rendered useless in this kind of rain. There was no way that we could have gone on without our shoes wet inside out. The only purpose of still keeping our raincoats on would be to trap the heat inside so that we can stay warm.
When it rain buckets, many very unique organism tries to escape the big flood. Picture (left) shows an earth worm as long as my whole arm! Just compare the size of my shoe against the size of the worm. Picture (right) shows another kind of worm that resembles a gigantic leech. Just compare the size of the leaf against the size of the worm!
Carlson Fall is the waterfall not more than one kilometer from Timpohon Gate. The gushing water that flows from the top was so turbulent and all the plants around that area were swinging in every direction as if we were in a typhoon.
But alas, the sight of this waterfall is always welcomed, for with this, I it means that we are just a few meters away from our end point the Timpohon Gate and the my successful 10th climb of Mount Kinabalu!
A Decade of Mount Kinabalu
Congratulations to myself on my 10th successful love affair with Mount Kinabalu. Some of the most common questions that I get asked is ‘Will I be climbing Mount Kinabalu again?’, or for those are sure I will climb again ‘When will you stop climbing?’, or for the enthusiastic ones ‘Bring me on your next trip!’.
A job well done to everyone of my group members as well. We trained together and achieved it together. However, this will certainly not be the end of our adventures. What started out as routines to train and exercise for Mount Kinabalu will now become our way of life… a healthy life.
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