Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Climb Mt Kinabalu: checked

Obviously, I can’t talk about my trip to KK without at least saying how the hike was.

Some brief facts. The highest peak, ironically called Low’s Peak (named after Sir Hugh Low who first scaled the mountain) is 4095.2 m.

Climbers usually spend a night at the resthouse at Laban Rata, located 3,273m above sea level. They continue the climb at two or three in the morning to catch the sun rise before six.

By the way, the trail is six kilometers to Laban Rata. From there, the summit is another 2.7 km away.

We were lucky as the weather was good and sunny when we started from the Timpohon Gate (the other trail is called Mesilau, which is more difficult and longer). There was a cool breeze and everything seemed to be going fine.

As it is to be expected, the trail is mostly sloping upwards and staircase-like. Surrounded on both sides by lush greenery and trees, the sight was truly beautiful.

[I have uploaded less than five pictures. Will post the link once I am done.]

When I showed the pictures I took to my colleagues, some of them were even tempted to go. It goes without saying that I do take great photos. *head swells*

I reached Laban Rata a little after three. It rained about half an hour later. Indeed, we were lucky to have just missed the rain.

But then, the rain kept falling without any signs of letting up. It rained into the night right till midnight, when we got up to get ready for the night hike.

Predictably, we were worried that we might not even be able to do so, as the guides may deem the trail as too dangerous for climbing in this weather.

Fortunately, lady luck was on our side as the guides gave the go-ahead and we left Laban Rata at 2.30am. Even though the clouds have yet to clear up and it was still drizzling.

Thus, began the climb to the top. It was dark and almost everyone had a torch light. When I looked back at the people behind me, I could see a long trail of tiny moving lights.

There is one more checkpoint before the summit, Sayat-Sayat, which is 3,680m above sea level. Simple calculation shows that the summit is 400m higher, but the remaining trail is another 1.5km. By the way, we have to show our permit before we could continue.

Technically, you could then turn back here and still get the certificate, as there is no one sitting atop the summit to verify that you have actually climbed to the top. I didn’t even thought of that till YF pointed it out to me.

The whole point of hiking up in the wee hours of the morning is to catch the sunrise. Which I did, but not at the top. Sadly, I mistimed how long it would take to reach the summit.

When I was at Sayat-Sayat, it was 4.15am. I thought I would average a kilometer per hour and would still be able to make it in time to the peak (sunrise is at six).

I ended up about 300m away from the summit when the sun rose and I managed to snap a few shots from there.

The temperature was actually quite bearable, as climbing itself generates body heat. The guide told us earlier that it could reach zero degree. Though I think it was higher that day, perhaps five or six degrees.

It was the chilling wind that made my hands freezing cold and numb. And it was just my luck that YF happened to turn up at that moment, when I finished taking the picturesque view around me and putting the camera back into the case and putting on my gloves.

YF has an uncanny ability of mistiming. I still remember this incident which happened last month. He hasn’t called in a long time and when he called, I was (you wouldn’t have guessed in a thousand years) right in the middle of my professional exam. Twice.

But I digress. So I had to expose my poor freezing hands to the elements longer and take the camera out again. Worse was to come, as I the first few shots didn’t turn out right and I had to adjust the settings. All in all, I took about seven pictures of him, of which two turned out OK.

The consolation was, he took one measly photo of me.

Anyway, back to the climb. People were coming down from the peak. Six of my group members had already taken enough photos from the summit and now descending, as I made the final 200m distance to the top.

To say the least, Low’s Peak is kinda disappointing. There is not much space for standing and at any one time, maybe just ten person could fit comfortably. But the view around me was truly astoundingly breathtaking. I couldn’t put it in words here, they wouldn’t do justice; you have to be there to see it for yourself.

There are actually other peaks around Low’s Peak, such as Ugly Sister, Donkey Ears, Victoria, etc. They have such charming names, haven’t they? And Victoria Peak kind of looks like a monkey face.

After taking enough photos, I began my descent. Why, who should I meet again but YF? I was about 10m from the summit when he saw me and asked me to take pictures of him at the top.

Generally, I am a nice person. But I definitely would not climb up there again.

As such, we had a compromise. I stayed where I was and he climbed to the peak. From my position, I used my Panasonic FZ5 with 12x optical zoom to capture a shot of him. And about five other people too.

So I had to take another shot, after he asked the others to stand further from him and the sign which says ‘Low’s Peak (4095.2m)’.

Finally, I clambered down from the peak. Probably of my bad karma or something, but I could feel a headache coming. Which turned into a terrible, throbbing, please-make-it-stop-I-can-barely-walk-straight-anymore and I-promise-I-will-be-nice-and-do-anything one.

The last bit was exaggerated, but the truth is, it was painful and I felt like lying down right there and then and wait till it goes away. But of course I couldn’t and had to continue downhill.

The descent was actually more difficult than going up. I mean, going up a 70-degree slope is definitely easier than going down. I just have to bend and lower my body a bit as I climb, whereas it is easier to slip for going downhill. Furthermore, my toes were hurting like crazy. I had to walk sideways or repel.

In addition, when it was dark, I had no idea how steep some of the slopes were. In bright daylight, looking at the same slope, I was wondering how on earth did I manage to get up there?

Definitely more difficult and scarier going down. Perhaps this is another reason why we had to hike before dawn: not to freak everyone out.

I took less three hours to reach Laban Rata, almost the same time as going up, no thanks to the headache. Though I was thankful that I met YF again and he helped carried my bag for the final 500m.

From Laban Rata back to Timpohan Gate, my thighs and hamstrings were hurting. I took four hours to reach Timpohon and came out (finally) at 3.15pm.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Unlike YF who said that ‘If I ever have the crazy idea of going hiking again, you have the liberty to give me two slaps. Wait, make it ten.’

I actually enjoyed the lovely scenery and the superb view along the way more than reaching the summit itself. The journey was more worthwhile to me than the destination.

Which is strange, really. Before this, I expected to feel truly elated after conquering Mount Kinabalu. Somehow, the feeling is more subdued, a quiet sense of achievement.

Climb Mount Kinabalu: checked. Next: Bungee jumping.

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