The Mountain - all 4095m of it
Kundasang Travel Blog› entry 2 of 3 › view all entries
July 14th, 2009 – by: cja17
We had a guide, but he did so in name only - there was one trail and one trail only.
The trail is a broad path which starts by climbing through thick forest, passing an attractive waterfall early on, with wood-reinforced steps easing our passage on the steep parts. Damp but firm underfoot, it was a steady and pleasant trudge, passing the time by chatting or guessing the nationality of those who you overtook or overtook you by their clothing or rucksack brands (Osprey - USA; Macpac - NZ; Montbell - Japan!!).
Once past the edge of the forest, it didn't seem that long before we reached Laban Rata. As is common round here, clouds had built up steadily through the day so, although the hill above was still visible, it was very English and grey, and much cooler than further down the hill. Our home for the night wasn't Laban Rata, but the smaller and newer Pendant Hut which sat on a rockslab a hundred metres away.
By 8pm it was lights out and heads down. As always on these nights, I got very little sleep - far too excited about what lay ahead, so was perfectly OK about the stupidly early start and the hurried breakfast which followed.
Eventually the scrub gave way to bare rock and a final checkpoint had to be negotiated with passes ready for inspection before the path pretty much disappeared and we were hauling ourselves up the rope which crossed the open slabs of smooth rock. Below us a continuous line of bobbing headtorches stretched a kilometre or so into the blackness - Kinabalu was clearly a popular hill. For the final couple of hundred vertical metres there's a lot more rocks and boulders around, which heightens the tension as the final summit, Low's Peak, comes into fuzzy view in the pre-dawn semi-light.
By now, some of those we passed were reduced to slo-mo zombie-like plodding and I saw a teenage Australian girl vomiting on the side of the trail, but I don't think anyone turned around - take it steady and a really nice peak can go in the bag for everyone. St John's Peak, a few hundred metres West is only 5m lower than the summit, but looked like a full roped climb and if that had been the top, the mountain would have been a very different proposition.
The final hundred metres or so up Low's Peak is a fun scramble through the boulders and, before we knew it, the tatty wooden sign was upon us, a metre beyond which a cliff fell away into the black void of Low's Gully. After posing for the obligatory pics, it was time to huddle up and wait for the sun.
Back down at the Sayat Sayat hut at 3700m, our group broke away from those plodding back down the path to take on a roped Via Ferrata descent down one of the steeper slabs. It was fun, but the addition of second safety rope to the already safe Petzl Scorpio VF harnesses made the experience a little disjointed and not really worth the extra cost.
This was where Kinabalu has a sting in the tail. All we had to do was walk 6km down a hill right? Wrong - what we had to do was climb down about a MILLION steps. I've never gone DOWN a hill so slowly in my life, and as the odd cloudburst made the forest properly jungle-like - it became pretty slippery underfoot. Other people I know who have done the hill say the same - even the strongest set of knees (not mine!) never forget Mount K - days later I would still be climbing down sets of 2 or 3 steps like an old man - death grip on the handrail and shuffling both feet onto each step before tackling the next!
As the afternoon went on we steadily counted off the kilometer markers, still taking it all in and enjoying the day, but looking forward to the end now.
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