Mt. Kinabalu recalling…

Raining day. I am in my room, facing my laptop and has just finished the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer.

The book reminded me of my climbing to Mt Kinabalu, Malaysia last month. Honestly, I climbed to the mountain with my silly excitement without any physical and mental preparation which caused my unable-reaching-the-summit. After reading the book – described in detail the trip to Everest’s summit, I know what and how I should do for my next time climbing to Mt. Kinabalu.

Mt. Kinabalu is one of the highest mountains in the world. According to all information I read on-line, it is officially the tallest mountain in South-East Asia basing on a successful commercial ad operated by Malaysian government . Mt. Hkakabo Razi (5.881m a.b.s) in Burma/Myanmar is actually the real highest one. I got a list of ten highest mountains in South-East Asia and I do love to climb up to all of them. Mt. Fansipan in Viet Nam is at No. 9 (3,143m a.b.s). Here are some website for your reference: BISEAN, Mt. Kinabalu Borneo Blog. No comment here – Mt. Kinabalu is the greatest one to me.

Mt. Hkakabo Razi, Burma – It summit is at 5,881m a.b.s – No. on Top 10 Highest Mountains  in South-East Asia

Hkakabo Razi is the highest mountain in Myanmar. Myanmar was until 1987 known as Burma. The summittip borders also Tibet and India. The mountain is an extension of the Eastern Himalayas. Although low in comparison with Himalayan giants Hkakabo Razi is perennialy snowcapped. Hkakabo Razi lies in the Hkakabo Razi protected area, established in 1996 which covers over 3812 square kilometres. Before 1993 this area was not allowed to foreigners. The first recorded attempt was made in 1995 by Takashai Ozaki, from Japan. He failed due to persistent bad weather. A year later he returned, and this time succeded. Nyama Gyaltsen from Myanmar made it too. Like the main Himalayas, these mountains are heavily affected by the monsoon. Hkakabo Razi is certainly not a walkup. Huge cliffs with D+ climbing, hanging glaciers with large crevasses, and corniches, makes it a mountain not to be toyed with. The approach to the mountain is a major obstacle: Streams have to crossed over instable bridges, over huge gorges. For the most part, journeys are made on foot along footpaths that hug the mountainsides and wind through dense jungle undergrowth. Ozaki needed four weeks!(walking) to approach his basecamp above 3000m/10000ft.

Difficulty: Major Mountain Expedition

I did some hiking in the North of Viet Nam, esp. in Sapa. I have not ever tried to climb to Mt. Fansipan – which is the tallest one in Viet Nam. Where I am living is totally flat. There are some high hills which are just around 500m-something a.b.s, which are called mountains by local people. I did reach the summit of Mt. Sam, Mt. Cam and Mt. Ba Den. Those were very interesting experiences.

Mt. Fansipan, Viet Nam – Its summit is at 3,143m a.b.s – No. 9 of Top 10 Highest Mountains in South-East Asia

Fan Si Pan is the highest summit in Vietnam. It can be climbed in a two days walk. The first day leads through dense rain forest up to 2600 m. The second day up to the top and the whole way back to Sa Pa, a small town in the montains at about 2000 m.

Difficulty: Scramble

I should have read the book before I started my trip to get to know that climbing to the mountain was not a joke, even it could have been not that super high. However, I finished the book with my little basic experience of reaching the summit and understood how the feeling of the mountain climbers when they were at that height and what they could not have done was understandable.

Jon joined the climbing group to Mt. Everest because of a part of his job – a journalist and his interest, his ambition to reach the summit actually. He used to climb to many mountains in his country before the great trip to Mt. Everest while I had no climbing experience, neither any real climbing courses – a girl from the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam. More importantly, both of us shared the same hobby of conquering the height, I thought. We had different ways and stories on our trip though.

Jon was leaded by one of the greatest climber Rob Hall, who reached the summit many times and was one of reliable successful climbing guides. He ran a package tour to Mt. Everest for many rich people who had desire for going to the top of the mountain but did not have enough experience for rough trips. I do not judge his business or any concept of conquering the mountain with sport spirit or commercial market. To me, reaching the “Roof of the World” means a lot, no matter how you do it; paying to go there or climbing there by oneself. Meanwhile, when I climbed to Mt. Kinabalu, my girl friend and I shared the ‘package tour’ with two other Swiss men; just to save up a couple of bucks. Our guide was a local, who has been working in the National Park for around three years. I did not think having a guide was a good idea at the beginning of the trip. I thought there was only one way to go to the summit so why I needed a guide with me. Later, I knew how helpful and necessary to be escorted by an experienced guide.

Jon started the trip on Mar 29, 1996, reached the summit on May 10, 1996 and went home on May 19, 1996. Mine was started on May 20, 2010 and ended on May 21, 2010. Now, you can see that I can hardly compare my trip with his. I just want to express my options and my stories of a twenty-six-year-old-woman-climbing-to-Mt. Kinabalu-first-time.

Trail Map of Mount Kinabalu – The one I took and people at the National Park said that trail was easier for me.

My group started at Timpohon Gate at 10.45AM, May 12, 2010 (which was 1,866m a.b.s). My team-mates went very quickly and left me behind easily. It is easy to understand that because they were taller and stronger than I, a thirty-six-kilo-and-one-hundred-fifty-three-centimetre Vietnamese woman. There were many milestones on the way to let people know where they were. I used them as my little break, every five-hundred meters. Slowly I went up to the mountain. I kept in mind that the final destination was my hotel, which was 3,273m a.b.s and I had around five or six hours to do that before the darkness could sallow all things. I walked. I climbed on my two hands. I rested. My guide then showed me how important his present was. He talked to me. He encouraged me with his limited English. He showed me some local plants and fruits. He told me some stories and jokes. He gave me many good climbing tips. Without him, my trip to my guesthouse would be really slow and I might have arrived really late, which was not good for myself.

On the way to my guesthouse, I met some other tourists, who were professional climbers, or businessmen, families. I met one middle-age mother from KL, who wanted to prove to her daughter that she still could be helpful. Some Korean climbers equipped themselves very well with sticks, good hiking shoes, oxygen bottles, etc. Everyone were friendly and nice to each other. All wanted to go to the summit with different purposes.

The way to my guesthouse got harder and harder. Sometime I thought I gave up because it was so far away. Five hundred meters had been nothing for me if I would have walked in a flat area. Five hundred meters in Mt. Kinabalu took me more than thirty minutes. Kinabalu National Park staff made the path easily to hike for tourists. It looked very naturally though. Thanks to them, danger decreased. Now, it was not really to conquer the mountain, I think. Tourists just spend time and energy hiking up in higher locations. If your body is good enough, you can make the trip done quite easily. The matter here is TIME.

On every mountain climbing trip, we – tourists – need porters who are usually the local. I saw many of them on the way. They had a great physical body. They were strong enough to carry a thirty-kilo package three or four times a day. That amazed me a lot. They looked tiny and short, like other Asian. They are some of ethnic minorities in Malaysia (there are around thirty-four ethnic minorities in Borneo, Malaysia, as I was told by one of the guide). They had a great spirit as well. It is so hard to carry a twenty-kilo gas bottle for kitchen in the flat area. Here, with a straight-up path, you can imagine how great they are. I still do not understand why many tourists carried many backpacked for just two or three day hiking. Somehow it is good because it can bring jobs to the local. I personally think it is useless. The weather is super cold. You do not need to take a real shower. The guesthouses offer all necessary things such as towels, blankets, pillows, etc. You cannot get cold inside that well-equipped guesthouses.

My first rest was near Carson Fall (first five-hundred meters) – which was a tiny waterfall. I guessed because of the dry season, the water was not that strong to make a beautiful waterfall (good enough to take good photos). My second rest was in Kandis Shelter (Km 1). Next, there were Uboh Shelter (Km 1.5), Lowii Shelter (Km 2.5) which was Komborongoh Telecom Station, Mempening Shelter (Km 3). At Km 3, even though I knew it was half way to my guesthouse, I felt so exhausted. My guide – Jason – kept saying “C’mon, girl!” to encourage me. I listened to music on my iPod since I had started hiking to help me forget the long path ahead. I kept walking and walking. Following rest stops were RTM Station – Layang Layang Hut (Km 4) which was 2,702m a.b.s and one of the resthouses in Kinabalu National Park, Willosa Shelter (Km 4.5), Paka Cave Shelter (Km 5), 3,052m a.b.s which was a helipad as well. I hardly breathed then and was wondering what the heck I was doing in the mountain. Suddenly, clouds were gone and the clear blue sky appeared with a beautiful rainbow and the summit. I knew why I was here, spending so much energy and time to go up and up. No word could express enough the beauty of the mountain and the scenery nearby. I simply conquered.

I arrived in my resthouse Waras Hut, which was 3,244m a.b.s after six hours walking while my team-mates did it more quickly than I. It was a small house, ten minutes walking to the restaurant. I went to the main building, which was aslo a resthouse, Laban Rata (3,273m a.b.s) to check in. A receptionist offered my team to stay in a six-bed dorm of Laban Rata. It was so great. We did not need to walk outside for our meals. On my bed, there were two thick blankets, two pillows, and two towels. Getting back on what Jon described on “Into Thin Air”, I was totally fine and safe. He stayed in a dirty place (at a small local village or at the Base Camp) or in cold tiny tents (Base 1, 2, 3 and 4) with snow and strong wind outside. There was strong wind when I was in Mt. Kinabalu, but snow. I believed the temperature at that time could be around three or four Celcious degree. It was freaking cold to me, who was from the average temperature of twenty-five Celcious degree. I cannot never imagine how minus seventy or fify Celcious degree is and I am not sure whether I can survive in such weather condition. It could work if I practice walking everyday.

During the trip, I was fed well with many delicious food, Western and Malaysian ones. On the first day of the trip, we got a lunch box including sandwiches, chicken, boiled eggs, an apple and a bottle of water. It seems not much but I hardly ate all of them at the same time. At the buffet dinner (super early, around 4 P.M), we got noodles (like pad thai with lots of vegetable), fried rice, beef, lamp, vegetable salad, potatoes and so on. We also had a great dessert with brownie, fried banana, agar, sweet green bean soup, etc. I tried to eat as much as I could to refill my lost energy. I needed more sugar than anyone in that rest-house. I got many hot Lipton tea with sugar and milk. The following meal was a buffet supper at 2 AM. I also forced myself to eat more and more for four-hour walking up to the summit. After climbing down, we got a buffet breakfast before check-out. When we made it to the head-quarter of Kinabalu National Park, we got our last buffet lunch. We ate a lot. All food became energy which was burned so quickly. My trip was so easy – I got everything being prepared in advance. Reading Jon’s trip, I felt I needed to try more. I believe in such a height, you cannot eat well; too cold and less oxygen.

The path to the summit was a big challenge for myself. I woke up at 1.30AM. I could not sleep well enough because of the same reason – too cold. First part of the path, my friend walked behind me. Later, I was too slow and took a lot of breaks so she left and went forward. I kept talking to myself: “You can do it. Just a couple of meters left. Keep walking, Angie”. Many other guides, who somehow knew my name, encouraged me a lot. It was nice of them. Our team joined other teams and we made a long line,  like colorful ants climbing on slippery mountain edge with a very strong mental spirit. I should bring waterproof warm jacket and gloves. I wore all clothes I brought along: three Tees, two warm jackets, two pairs of shocks, a warm hoodie, a beanie, and a sneakers (which later I think was not suitable for hiking in rocky area). At Km 6.5, one national park employee recorded the time we started to climb up and down. Everyone in the package tour had to give all necessary information like full-name, emergency address, passport number, nationality, etc. and they were given a number depending on which level they registered at the head-quarter. I kept walking and took break more frequently. My guide said I should not do that because I would feel asleep and cold and I could not continue. I hardly walked on my feet. I used hands to climb, to keep ropes tightly to walk up to the top. Two-something kilometres left seemed too far for me. The path seemed straight vertically and there were nothing to feel stable on the ground. Rocks were everywhere. The sky was so dark. My head-torch was so dim that my guide helped to change new batteries for me.

I reached the South Peak (3,933m a.b.s) – Km 7.5. There were one thousand six hundred metres left to go to the summit. I was totally exhausted and could not breathe. I believed I could try all my best and continue walking. I knew I could not make it down though if I used all my energy. I of course did not want to stay in the top for a couple of hours for my body recovery. I talked to my guide that I gave up. On my mind, I found myself so hard: one thousand and six hundred meters left or just one hour left and I could be on the top of the t”allest mountain of South-East Asia” or going down to protect my little body and I could come back and conquer it again. I chose the second option. I even could not climb down myself. I could feel the coldness as if my whole two hands and feet were frozen. I could not move my body. My teeth were shaking. I could feel the coldness deep inside my bones. And yes, I finished my trip to the top at South Peak. I went down and rested at Sayat Sayat Hut (3,668m a.b.s) for one hour. I were not allowed to walk down to Laban Rata by myself because it was dangerous and my guide needed to escort my other team-mates to reach the summit. Staying the hut with me, there was a middle-age Korean man. I managed to get some sleep but I could not. Wind yelled outside. I sat by the window and observer the sun rising which was one of the greatest moments in my life.

Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia – Its summit is at 4.095m a.b.s – No. 5 of Top 10 Highest Mountains in South-East Asia

Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain of Borneo. It is located 70 miles from the northern tip of the island. It is an impressive flat-topped granite block, rising in isolation, thousands of feet above the gently sloping plain. It is a rugged, heavily eroded mountain, scarred by gullies, with jagged rocks and sharp pointed peaks surrounding the main terrace. The lower slopes are farmed, while the higher slopes are covered in thick jungle with rich biodiversity. The mountain’s high peak is easily climbed, but all other peaks require rock climbing skills.

Kota Kinabalu is the provincial capital, and is the most important city in the area. It is just 35 miles southwest of the mountain, and is accessible by either air or boat from Singapore.

Difficulty: Scramble

After the trip, I felt content and proud of myself. South Peak was not the summit but I thought a wise person knew what was good for oneself. I still have many chances to get back Borneo, Malaysia and make it to the summit, sooner or later. I do not have any analysis of how many people giving up, how many people having accidents or how many dead people while doing the trip to the summit of Mt. Kinabalu. I do not think there are many. The mountain is quite easy to reach – you need to have a healthy body and strong spirit and you can make it successful. I try to practice everyday walking around.  I want to go and conquer Mt. Fansipan in my country before getting back Borneo, Malaysia. Then, “hello Mt. Kinabalu. I’ll see you again!”


One thought on “Mt. Kinabalu recalling…

  1. Indeed climbing over 4000m in altitude takes some preparation and being in a good physical and mental shape.

    Lights as you are, you have some advantages over heavyweights like I am!

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