Up and Down Again or Pain and Suffering

Mount Kinabalu Travel Blog

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The foothills of Mount Kinablu.

A short while (and an amusing Malay radio station playing Malay covers of metal anthems) later we reached the foothills of the mountain. I'd never been near a mountain before, and so I can imagine I managed a pretty good impression of a goldfish as my jaw gaped as I gazed up, and up at the slopes shrouded in mist like a modest lady stepping out of the shower in a soft downy towel. Still, poetic images of craggy naked chicks were pushed from my mind as the bullet train of realisation crashed into the station that is my brain with one terrifying thought: you've gotta climb that fat boy.

A note, now, on my physical condition or lack there of. I am alive, and fulfill most of the basic functions that denote life and sentience, and for the vast majority of my time cluttering up this planet that has sufficed for me nicely.

A view of the mountain from the road.
I am over weight, I used to smoke, a lot. I drink. I don't excerise because it's hard work and I look bad in lycra. This, for all you smart people out there, is obviously not a condition to attempt to climb a mountain in. Ho hum. A quaint English expression comes to mind to sum up my plight: bollocks. Big, fat, hairy bollocks.

Still, the mountain was a pleasing site. It dominates the landscape, and exudes that natural power of overwhelming significance that only giant slabs of rock can. Nestled on the slopes were small communities (and many, many Catholic churches showing a persistence to be admired), and little craft villages. We stopped at one of these for a tea, pee and to stretch out tired legs. Behind us the mountain rose ominously into the late afternoon - a stark reminder of nature and its real permanence, not like our feeble attempts at building.
Mt. Kinablu. Doesn't look so bad...
You get the feeling that if the earth was a face, then a mountain must be a nose, and all of our cities, sky scrapers and other paraphernalia are the equivalent of a lip ring or eyebrow piercing - small, and easily removed.

That night we stayed at the Strawberry Cafe. The room was serviceable, all four of us managed to fit in, although we did have to share our space with a couple of lizards and a cockroach or many. But we weren't there to enjoy ourselves, rest was the order of the day, readying ourselves for what lay in store on the morrow. One good thing about being so near to the mountain was the drop in temperature and humidity. For the first night since I'd arrived I slept without the aid of air conditioning. And considering my pensive state of mind I slept well and deeply.
Mt. Kinablu.
However, the morrow dawned too soon, and the moment of truth arrived.

We had to climb just over six kilometres to reach Labanrata, a base camp two thirds of the way up the mountain and Low's Peak. This, our Iban guide Hadi assured us would be easy. "Not too steep," he said, "be there by lunchtime, plenty of time to rest." We nodded sagely, each of us I'm sure weighing up this information, timeline and our own chances of making it. Well, I say all of us, I kept having to drown out the perpetual cries of "shit, shit, SHIT" running through my head, and stop angling my body for a blubbering flight back to the safety of a car.

We got a taxi to the Timpohon Gate located 1,800 metres up. "Great!" I thought, "most of it'll be done for me!" Again, the folly of an ill-prepared idiot.
An attempted panorama of the mountain. Didn't work so well...
As we left the taxi, our guide advised us to buy a walking stick - it was the best three ringgit I would (and I'm sure will) ever spend. Armed with Sticky, we all assumed a jaunty pose, (feeling quite like characters from the Lord of the Rings), before heading off, first down an alarming number of steps (these nearly killed me on the way back) before the path began sloping up.

The scenery is awesome, if you're able to lift your head and look at it. The path is often rocky or slippery, and I spent more of my time looking at my feet than around. That is the handy part of having an unfit git like me around, rest stops, and plenty of 'em. This allows you to get a look at the impressive vistas that surround you, and they're worth looking at. Initially you're surrounded by trees, which allow you to see birds, small squirrels and insects.
The slopes of the mountain.
But as you climb, and the trees fall away in place of rocks, you are able to see the scale of the task you've undertaken as the rest of the world falls away like a rumpled patch work quilt. I'd say it was breathtaking, but that would be a lie as the mountain was responsible for taking all my breath away.

We continued to climb. One of my companions, (an irritatingly fit soul), skipped on ahead. He revealed to me later that at one stage he stopped to wait for me and the others to catch up. As he did so, he heard some muffled cursing, (which turned out to be my mauling of the Queen's English), and one clear phrase stood out: "This is hell. Why am I doing this to myself?" He laughed as he told me, for he said it made him think how long had that been going through my head before I vocalised it.
My mate and mountain. To scale...
I'm not sure exactly how long it was (I don't remember saying it - in truth I don't remember much except the pain), but it was probably a while. The mountain hurt. Picking up your legs to climb yet more steps, yet more slope became laborious, tiresome, depressing. I was hopelessly out of condition, and I must have looked it as sweat streamed from every pore, while obscenities bounced around my skull. But we kept going. Labanrata lay above, and there was bed, there was food, there was rest, salvation, a cup of tea...

Suddenly, there it was. Well, I say suddenly, after much climbing, physical and mental agony and a rather heavy rainstorm (that made your footing all the more treacherous) there it was. I had never seen a more welcome sight in my life, it was like the Holy Grail, the Mona Lisa or Maggie Gyllenhaal all rolled into one.
You can't even see the top of the thing! This was when I started to panic a bit... It's awe inspiring though.
I staggered in the door. My fitter friend leapt off of his seat and sauntered to my side. "Well done," he intoned with a broad grin. "You made it, that's a fantastic achievement! I got here an hour ago, come and sit down. I've got you a cup of tea." Here, and my memory is hazy from exhaustion, I may have kissed him. I'm not sure, but he was willing to have the bottom bunk so anything may have happened. I collapsed into a seat, and sipped at the tea. It was wet, warm, soothing. Ah, bliss.

The climb to Labanrata was tiring, but my muscles stopped aching after an hour or so and a lay down. We ate (and ate well as it was a buffet), and made plans for an early night so that we could be up at two to set off for the peak and see the dawn at the top.
The slopes of Mt. Kinablu.
Everyone was more buoyant, up beat, and relaxed. We reasoned we'd got so far that the worst must be over, and that in twenty-four hours we'd be back at the bottom looking up with nothing more than memories. We soon turned in, ready to rest and be refreshed when we started out the next day.

The first problem was that the room was too hot - odd considered the height of the mountain and the drop in temperature to a very chilling 4-5 degrees Celsius outside. The heater came on automatically, and we couldn't change the setting or turn it off. In a small dorm with a tiny window, all six of us slowly started to melt. More blankets were kicked off, more layers lost. More time passed, and soon there was no getting around the fact we had to get up, ready or not.
The MOUNTAIN... (It gets capital letters as it inspires feeling of fear and bowel loosening in me. Even now...)


We assembled outside, dressed for the cold and started to climb. The mountain was much steeper here, and in pitch darkness, with only a hand held torch (in my case), much less forgiving. I started to get hot, too hot. I removed layers. Soon I was only in a tee shirt. I reached six and a half kilometers. My legs were wobbling, I was breathing very hard, and my heart was beating a staccato rhythm in my chest so hard and loud I thought that it might burst. The cavalcade of climbers went on. I had to sit down.

As soon as I sat, I knew, deep down, that this was the end of my mountain adventure. I felt woozy, I couldn't focus properly, I felt sick and retched several times. Another climber diagnosed altitude sickness. I don't know if he was right, I didn't care then - I felt terrible, both physically and mentally.
Mt. Kinablu.
The column of climbers continued unrelenting. I sat, waiting to feel better. My breath returned and I got shakily to my feet. I tried a few more steps before I fell. Nope, the only way was down for me.

Alone, in the darkness, wobbling mightily I started my descent. I slipped and slid over rocks. I bounced down steps on my arse. At one memorable moment I fell off the path, sliding down a slope before grabbing a tree. My heroic cry of "Oh shiiiiiit!" attracted the attention of some Japanese tourists who rescued me (I hope I remain a pub story for them forever more, and that they know I'm eternally grateful). Eventually, I reached Labanrata again, and collapsed inside.

By dawn, I had recovered, and I began looking to the summit, thinking of my companions and hoping that they had made it to the top ok.
One of the guest houses on the slopes of the mountain. They all look like they are going to fall off.
Inside, I felt ashamed at my failure, but realistically it was always going to end this way. The dawn was beautiful, even from Labanrata. I settled down again to wait for them to arrive so that we could all begin the descent proper and head to the luxury of a four star hotel, a hot working shower and climate controlled rooms in KK.

When my companions arrived and had rested (which involved me running around fetching tea, toast and towels), we began the climb down. Initially, we started quickly, and whole kilometers elapsed before we rested. To begin with our legs were (relatively) fresh, and the pain wasn't there, but after a few kilometers our calves burned, and our footing grew less sure. I relied more and more on Sticky, and felt less and less like Gandalf as we meandered slowly down the side.
View from the slopes of the mountain.
The views were still magnificent, the vistas tumbling away from you in all directions. This was more breathtaking.

Finally, we were at the bottom. As already mentioned, the steps to Timpohon Gate nearly killed me. We were there. They had done it. I had failed to climb the easiest mountain in the world. Right then I didn't care. I was alive, and I never had to do this again, that was consolation enough. Looking back now, the mountain was a mixed blessing. The scenery was brilliant, and worth the climb for that alone. It also convinced me to do something about my rather poor physical state. It's just a pity I did it at the wrong time to really make the most of the opportunity.

One final word about the experience of Kinabalu is to mention the guides.
The Strawberry Cafe and Guesthouse. Our home for a night.
These guys climb the mountain three times a week. They do this with tourists, and carrying their heavy luggage. Ours, a man named Saigol, took over thirty kilograms, half his weight on his back. He told us he could reach the top in three and a half hours. He rarely looked tired, he had calf muscles the size of grapefruit, he smoked. He was my hero. These dudes, they really, I mean really, work for their living!

reikunboy says:
awesome read
Posted on: Aug 23, 2010
andytite says:
Well it was certainly a challenge!
Posted on: Aug 02, 2010
sleepingsunshine says:
great job :) I don't even dream of making it to rabanrata
Posted on: Aug 02, 2010
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The foothills of Mount Kinablu.
The foothills of Mount Kinablu.
A view of the mountain from the ro…
A view of the mountain from the r…
Mt. Kinablu.  Doesnt look so bad.…
Mt. Kinablu. Doesn't look so bad…
Mt. Kinablu.
Mt. Kinablu.
An attempted panorama of the mount…
An attempted panorama of the moun…
The slopes of the mountain.
The slopes of the mountain.
My mate and mountain.  To scale...
My mate and mountain. To scale...
You cant even see the top of the …
You can't even see the top of the…
The slopes of Mt. Kinablu.
The slopes of Mt. Kinablu.
The MOUNTAIN...  (It gets capital …
The MOUNTAIN... (It gets capital…
Mt. Kinablu.
Mt. Kinablu.
One of the guest houses on the slo…
One of the guest houses on the sl…
View from the slopes of the mounta…
View from the slopes of the mount…
The Strawberry Cafe and Guesthouse…
The Strawberry Cafe and Guesthous…
View from the Strawberry Cafe Gues…
View from the Strawberry Cafe Gue…
View from the Strawberry Cafe Gues…
View from the Strawberry Cafe Gue…
View of the road from the guesthou…
View of the road from the guestho…
Mount Kinabalu
photo by: Deats