Climbing Mount Kinabalu (PART 1)

I am a beginner climber.  That itself enough to get me excited and nervous at the same time.  I do jungle trekking sometimes, but mostly by invitation.  However, it is one of my favourite activities, to be honest.  It is not always fun, but I like the thrill and the pain of getting to a destination.

Jungle trekking, of course, is not the same as mountain climbing. On March 2, my three friends; Con, Kai and Flo and I went to an expedition to climb the highest mountain in Malaysia.  Mount Kinabalu, Sabah; the highest peak of Borneo.  The pride of us Malaysians.  Especially those from Borneo; including myself.  Although I am from Sarawak, still, I am proud of having this mountain on the island of Borneo. 

Anyways, all of us were new to mountain climbing.  If we made it to the peak at 4,095.2 metres above sea level, we would feel like we were on top of the world.  We planned and made arrangements for more than six months ahead. First, we must wait for a confirmed slot.

The registration for the slot itself…well… took us a few months.  In the meantime, I’ve already started my training.  Running every morning.  To be honest, I started running to lose some weight, but when the idea of climbing the highest mountain in Malaysia came, it turned into training.  I began to join marathons (10km at the most) with my friends.  I would walk as much as I could, if I could not run in the morning, as part of the training. Reaching daily goals.

As I mentioned, we were all beginners, and we are not hikers as well.  Well, at least not occasional hikers.  We did a lot of research about Mount Kinabalu; what to expect, how hard would it be, what to wear, what to bring, what to buy, etc. 

From one of the researches, we understood that there would be a possibility that we might get Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) during or after the climb. One of the suggestions was to take medication for AMS two days before the actual climb.  Since our climb was on March 2, we had to take the pill (one pill every 12 hours) on Saturday.  I wasn’t keen on taking medicine, but precaution is much better. 

The effect of the medication was terrible.  I didn’t recognise the impact at first until my friends pointed it out.  I felt so drowsy the whole afternoon and there were tingling sensations on my fingers and toes.  The entire experience was just weird.  I was supposed to take another pill at night, but at that time, I thought one time was enough.  I didn’t take medicine until I was at the airport the next morning, March 1.  I took it after being reminded by my friends.  We boarded the plane to Kota Kinabalu at 7.30am, and we arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport at 9am.  I was feeling the effect of medication already at that point.  We took a bus to Padang Merdeka. It was a short trip.  We grab something to eat while waiting for the van to take us to Ranau.  That was the time I started to feel light-headed.  I presumed that was the effect of the medication, and I was right.  It wasn’t as bad as the day before, but it was definitely uncomfortable.  It didn’t affect my appetite or anything, just weird.  I had bihun soup, and it was not bad.

We got in the van, on my right was a young woman from New Zealand.  It was her second time in Sabah.  She told me that she loved Sabah and made a promise to come back after her first trip. She made crochet on our way to Ranau.

I asked her she was making.  She did not know it yet, probably a scarf she said.

I told her that my mother taught me how to it when I was little, but I just didn’t have enough patience to complete anything.  We laughed, and she told me that her grandmother, a German descent, taught her how to do it.  I told her that I was going up to Mount Kinabalu.  We chatted for a while, and I fell asleep. 

We arrived at our residence at almost 2pm.  When I said goodbye to the New Zealander, she looked up and wished me good luck on our expedition.  That was the time I told my friends ‘I am not going to take that medication anymore’.

They asked me whether I was sure about this.  I said I was sure, I think I was going to be okay.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be okay, but I figured that it should be better than that medication. 

That’s what I did.  The next day, on March 2, my friends took the medication, and I didn’t. Again, they asked me ‘Are you sure?’ Oh yeah, definitely.  We pre-ordered our breakfast and lunch the night before.  For breakfast, I ordered French Toasts, and I decided to go for Egg Sandwiches and slice fruits for lunch.  Not a fan of rice for a journey like this.  So, around 8am, we picked up our food and at about 8.30am, we met our mountain guide, Peter Subin.  A Kadazan; a man of small stature, dark skin.  His voice and friendly manner put everyone at ease.  We liked him immediately.  We got to know him a little bit while inside the van on our way to Timpohon Gate.  I understood that he had been to Sarawak and worked in Sarawak before.  He understood some Iban words.  I had my French toasts inside the van because I was already hungry. By the time we arrived at Timpohon Gate, I’ve finished the French Toast.

Glad I did that because I could not go with an empty stomach.  Climbing in empty stomach scared me by the way. 

At Timpohon Gate, he explained to us on the route; how many stop stations.  We needed to hike 6km to Panalaban base camp.  We would only take our meal at Layang Layang station, he said.  It was a 4km hike.  That should not be a problem.  How hard could it be?  He gave each of us an ID.  We were his responsibility, he told us.  The rest of them had a quick breakfast before we began our journey.  We started strong, but I think it was 30 minutes later, some of us got really tired. 

Remember that medication I told you about?  Three of them took it, it made the hike even harder.  On top of that, we had to cope with higher altitude.  I made the right decision not to take the medication.  I was tired, but I was still okay.  

Mount Kinabalu is 4,095.2 metres above sea level and is the 20th most prominent mountain.  I’ve never been to mountain climbing before but been to jungle trekking a few times.  Based on the research before the climb, I found out that it would be both jungle trekking and mountain climbing.  Compared to the jungle trekking I did in the past, this is relatively easy for me because there were just path and stairs.  The jungle trekking I did was really jungle terrain.  So, journeying through Mount Kinabalu was easy.  However, the thinning air made it hard.  The entire atmosphere was different.  It was nothing I’ve experienced before, and that was quite a challenge. 

Con was the first to hand over her bag pack to Peter.  As we were first-timers and his first time guiding first-timers, he wanted to make sure that we could reach the peak.  Con handed over her bag to Peter and Peter handed over his to Con.  Peter’s bag pack was light, or rather, Con’s bag was heavier.  Probably about 30 minutes later, Flo handed over her bag to Peter. Her bag was heavy.  Now, Peter was carrying two bags.  My bag was heavy, Peter tried the weight of my bag, he believed it was about 8kg.  I said, no… probably lighter… 5kg maybe… I told him I was fine and did not need any help.  I could carry my bag to Panalaban Base Camp.  That day, I took the weight straight to the Base Camp.

Anyways, Kai needed to stop every now and then.  He did not train before this trip, now, he is feeling the struggle.  I believed it was about 3km, where we decided that we do not wait for one another.

Con and I went ahead first because we could get faster.  I was the first to arrive at Layang-Layang station.  It was lunchtime, and it was time to refuel.  I was surprised that the exhaustion did not ruin my appetite.  Probably I wasn’t exhausted at all.  Again, I have to mention this; the road, to be honest, was relatively easy.  It was the altitude, the thinning air made it difficult.  It felt like we were walking along a never-ending road to nowhere.  Along the way, there were porters.  I learned to conserve energy by observing the porters as they carried items sometimes up to 80kg on their backs. It would get heavier the higher they go because the air was getting thinner.  I understood at that point that they had a technique to make sure they reach the base camp without running out of energy.

Anyways, for lunch, I ate my Egg Sandwiches and some sliced fruits.  I particularly requested to have no pineapple.

I do not like pineapple unless it is rojak.  So, there was no pineapple.  Two sandwiches and a handful of cocoa crunch and a few slices of fruits later, I was already full.  I gave some fruits to Con who joined me, 15 minutes later.  I gave some to Flo.  She probably arrived about 10 minutes after Con.  Con had her lunch.  It was rice and vegetables.  It was already cold, but she had to eat it anyway.  That was the reason I did not want to take rice.    Sandwiches were fine.  I think it was almost 2pm when Con and I decided to continue with our journey.  We did not want to linger long because the longer we waited there, the colder it got.  I had to put on my sweater because it was getting cold.  Initially, we planned to wait for Kai, but apparently, he was so far behind.  So, we decided to continue with our journey.  Flo, on the other hand, wanted to wait for Peter and Kai.  Her lunch was in her bag pack.  Her bag pack was with Peter.  She did not know how long she was going to wait, but she had to.  

Anyways, Con and I continued with the trip.  Somewhere along the way, we got separated again.  I went up ahead first, and we met again at Pondok Villosa.  That was at 7km mark.  One more kilometer and we would arrive at Panalaban Base Camp.  I had my energy drink, had a piece of chips more and then, we continued our journey.

I arrived at Panalaban Base Camp a few minutes before 5pm. A relief for my sore legs.  I was still in good spirit, and my morale was high, but I was already desperate to see our destination.

Click Here for Part 2

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