Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mt. Kinabalu

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

Chris and I have been staying with Mr. Cham (the father of a highschool friend of ours) here in Kota Kinabalu. Spots are limited for hiking the mountain and are typically booked in advance, or should be. I say should be because that’s about the only way to climb the mountain unless you know Mr. Cham. We arrived in KK resigned to the fact that we probably wouldn’t be able to climb the mountain, however when we mentioned that that was something we wanted to do Mr. Cham sprang into action. Still on the way home from the airport, he made a call to a friend and minutes later we were sitting in a tour company office and booking our trip 2 days out. He secured 2 last minute spots for us from people that had cancelled and thus, without much planning we were able to climb the mountain.

We started on the 23 June with a big breakfast at a hotel down the street from Mr. Cham’s office. As we were about to hope on the bus to the base of the mountain Mr. Cham gave us 2 hard boiled eggs each “for energy on the mountain”. Chris and I didn’t know where to put them so the obvious choice was our pockets. (Note, carrying eggs up a mountain can be a bit difficult, or at least messy). He also helped prepare us by giving us some water bottles which we stuffed in our bags. After the 90km drive from KK on the coast to the mountain Chris had a little surprise: his eggs were pretty cracked leaving shells in his pocket and his water bottle was empty and his bag soaked. It was quite a way to start the 18km hike.

We did the first 6km up the mountain in about 4 hours, stopping to eat our eggs (which were wonderful to have as my stomach started to grumble). We had lunch on the side of the trail, which was fairly well covered as there was pretty thick vegetation until 7km up the trail. At the 6km mark there is a lodge where almost all the hikers overnight before heading to the summit in the morning. We relaxed and rested our legs in the sunshine at about 11,000 ft while looking forward to the morning.

We woke at 2:15am to grab breakfast before leaving the lodge at nearly 3am, nearly 30 min after the majority of the hikers left. We took off with headlamps blaring and quickly overheating in our layers of t-shirts and windbreaker. There was a traffic jam as many of the hikers were struggling with the stairs. Chris and I, driven by the fear of missing the sunrise, were constantly making quick darts around the slower hikers. 1.5km passed the lodge the stairs gave way to bare rock with a thick white rope guiding the way and acting as a handhold as we hauled ourselves upward. At this point Chris and I had separated from the masses and could only see a few headlamps ahead and behind us. It was so cloudy/foggy on the mountain that we had pretty low visibility. We reached the summit quicker than our guide expected and had an hour to wait until sunrise. We were the 3rd group to the summit and took refuge behind a huge boulder to hide from the wind. We though we may be under-dressed and therefore brought towels from the lodge to act as an extra layer. As we were waiting the wind picked up and it started to pour. We are 13,000ft above sea level sitting in driving winds in freezing rain. The night went from black to gray to bluish white---there was no sunrise. We realized that the cloud cover was so heavy that we missed out on the picturesque sunrise. At that point we started to walk around and found that only about 30 people were at the summit and heading down quickly (160 had set out for the summit that morning). We pried our hands from our gloves to take the summit pictures and scurried down. We were soaked and freezing but excited to make it to the top. After returning to the lodge we striped off our wet clothes and hoped into bed to try to warm up; 2 hours later we started our decent and arrived at the park gate around noon.

It was an amazing hike even without the fabled sunrise and one that we will surely remember. I will try to post some pictures of the hike soon.

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