Mt Kinabalu a.k.a Mountain of Doom

This will be my last post about Borneo.  I’m quite sure you are all thrilled to hear that!  It has taken me ages to write this post because looking at the pictures still gives me the heebie jeebies. 😀

When I lived in Japan, a Japanese friend told me that they have a saying that goes something along the lines of: A wise man climbs Mt. Fuji only once.  Clearly I am neither wise nor do I have the ability to learn from past experiences because I have climbed Mt Fuji THREE times.

Why, I hear you ask, why would anyone do that??  It was a question I frequently asked myself as I clambered up the side of the mountain in the freezing darkness, and more often than not, the rain.

They say the mind has an amazing ability to block out traumatic events, and perhaps that is the reason why every time someone asked me to climb Fuji with them, I would say “Sure!  That sounds fun!”

Perhaps that’s also why when I booked my trip to Borneo and saw that we would be climbing Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain between the Himalayas and Papua New Guinea, I felt only a slight twinge of trepidation.  I remembered that I had climbed Fuji 3 times (my mind helpfully blocked out how horrible the climbs actually were).  No problem, I thought.  Mt Kinabalu is only a few hundred meters taller than Fuji, I’ll be fine.  I’m sure it will be great fun!

Before leaving for Borneo, I carefully researched the climb and made sure I had the right equipment – head lamp, raincoat, sturdy shoes etc.

It wasn’t until I got my first glimpse of Mt Kinabalu that I began to feel afraid.

Mt Kinabalu is in Kinabalu Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Kinabalu Park covers 754 square kilometers, or an area bigger than Singapore according to our proud mountain guide.  He also told us that as we climbed the mountain, we would be passing through 4 climate zones.  I was sure that fact would be much more interesting once I had gone up and come back down.  Alive.

The morning of the climb dawned clear and sunny, although even at 7:30 a.m., clouds were beginning to move in.

Mt Kinabalu was a glorious sight and had I not been about to climb it, I probably would have enjoyed the view.  As it was, I felt a bit nauseous.  I started to doubt all the websites that had claimed climbing Mt Kinabalu was “challenging but easily done by beginners.”

We met our mountain guides at the Park entrance and they explained our route.

Photo: Sebastian McNeilly

We also learned about the Mt Kinabalu International Climbathon, which is when crazy people race up and down the mountain.  Most of the winning times (in a variety of categories) were between 2-3 hours.  I’d be lucky if I made it to the 1km mark in that time. 🙂

Everyone had to wear a pass while they were on the mountain.  Presumably so they could identify your body if you hurtled off the edge of the mountain.  I also wore a bright pink T-shirt so my body could be found at the bottom of deep, dark crevices. (It never hurts to be prepared!)

Our lovely guide told us that the mountain guides sacrifice chickens every year to appease the mountain’s spirits and thus keep the climbers safe.  I wasn’t entirely sure if that made me feel safer…

The summit trail started off by going downhill.  The trail meandered through beautiful, lush rain forest and passed a waterfall.  There were birds in the trees and frogs in the undergrowth providing a soundtrack to climb by.  It was lovely and I began to relax.

And then the stairs began.

There were big stairs and little stairs, stone stairs and wooden stairs.   There were stairs that looked like they used to be part of a river bed, and stairs that were so steep I had to crawl.  Was I really doing this on my HOLIDAY?

I was pretty happy to reach the 2km mark!  (They had these signs every 500 metres.  I took a picture at each one but I will only post a couple.  Mostly because the higher we went, the sweatier and more disgusting I became. 😀 )

More stairs.

Thankfully, there was lots to look at.

Pitcher plants and neat moss

Colourful ferns

Argh.  More stairs.

I began to hear a chorus of angels every time a rest stop came into sight. I noticed these British-made (see the Union Jack?) stretchers in each rest house.   Our guides looked remarkably fit but I sure hoped I wouldn’t have to be carried down all those steps.  Yikes.

The stairs were ridiculous.   (And this photo is terribly unflattering.)

Although the space between the markers was only 500m, it began to feel like 500km.  I very nearly cried with relief when our “hotel” appeared on the horizon.

Photo: Kate Griffiths

Dinner has never tasted so good!  It didn’t even matter that I wasn’t entirely sure what it was.

We were staying at Laban Rata, a guesthouse at 3,270 m.  It was warm, snug and would have had hot showers had the generator been working.  It was amazing considering everything had to be carried up by porters!!

Our bunks were cozy and inviting and I think we were all asleep by 6:30pm.

Our alarm went off at 1:45am. I scrambled into warmer clothes, found my headlamp, and we were off!

It was COLD.  Thankfully I brought some of those little bags that heat up when you shake them.  (I’m sure there is a technical term for them but I don’t know what it is! 🙂 )

Climbing at night is always fun.  Our guides told us to keep following the white rope, so I did.  It was all I could see until the dawn started lighting the sky.

The sunrise from the top was fabulous. And then, we had to go back down.

Follow that white rope!

Photo: Sebastian McNeilly

When I saw what we had come up in the dark, I was horrified.  No wonder they make us climb at night!  We wouldn’t do it if we could see what we were climbing!

Photo: Kate Griffiths

Every time I saw the knots, I hoped whoever tied them knew what they were doing!

Finally, we made it to the bottom, and got this lovely certificate.  It is currently hanging on my wall where I can see it every day.  It serves to remind me that while I’m glad I climbed Mt Kinabalu, I don’t every want to do it again!! 😀


About Carrie K

Teacher, writer, traveller. Slightly neurotic. Overly talkative. Loving life. You can also follow me on Twitter: kimchigirl72
This entry was posted in Borneo, Malaysia, teaching in Korea, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mt Kinabalu a.k.a Mountain of Doom

  1. megan says:

    You’re a legend. Do we do stuff like that so we can appreciate our everyday life more. Very nice certificate. I just got back from an intrepid trip to India, had a great time. Doing a post grad diploma in education and trying to travel as much as I can!

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