Borneo: Mt. Kinabalu

Borneo was one of the destinations I visited during my 16-month career break.  Following is an excerpt from my blog.

[singlepic=958,200,,,right]When my friend Russ and I decided to go to Borneo, we had a single goal – to climb Mt. Kinabalu, the highest peak in SE Asia. Ever since the sad day that I was banished from Kilimanjaro due to altitude sickness, Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo had been in my sites. I thought that even though I couldn’t make it up to 19,000 ft. (Kilimanjaro), I should be able to make it to 13,000 ft. (Kinabalu). I had determination – an intense determination that had been building since Africa.

The literature about the climb said that a reasonably fit person could summit. It takes two days to make the 8.5km climb – the first is spent going up, up, up from 5000 ft. to about 10,000 ft. where you hunker down in a lodge/hut.
The hut is basically an unheated wooden structure that pretty much resembled most of the hostels I have been staying in. Bunk beds, shared bathroom, luke warm water at best. On day 2 you are to get up at 3AM and start on the summit route in the dark. You make it to the summit (13,435 ft.) by sunrise. The temperatures around the summit are normally right around freezing – 32 degrees – and the wind is brutal.

[singlepic=960,200,,,left]I struggled through the first day, sweating like a piece of lard, huffing and puffing as if I smoked 2 packs a day, but I did make it. Russ took off in front of the pack early. The last time I saw him was at 2.5 km at a little rest hut. As he came into my view, he was sitting on the bench talking on his blackberry. After that he was on a mission to get to the lodge.

I made it to the Laban Rata Hut in the early afternoon in the drizzling rain (10,800 ft). I met up with Russ who had been there for about 40 minutes before me. We had a chance to set down our packs and relax for a bit, after which we made our way up to our dorm room and got settled in.

[singlepic=961,200,,,right]We were in the center of a cloud, therefore when we arrived you really couldn’t see a thing. All of a sudden at 4PM the skies cleared and we could witness what surrounded us – granite. The hut was situated right at the tree line, and when you looked up, all you could see was naked granite rock. Our task would be daunting the next morning. We had a good carb dinner at the lodge and were treated to an amazing sunset above the clouds which was stunning.

Our guide suggested that we get started the next morning at 3AM. So we tried to go to sleep early to prepare for the next day’s climb. It was going to be cold and windy – so we laid out all of our winter gear and laid down for some zzzz’s. Unfortunately, I was quickly reminded that in altitude, you don’t really get good sleep. Sure, you lie down, you sort of doze off – but it’s not a fitful sleep. I lay there sleeping on and off for a few hours – my mind racing with thoughts of the summit and anything else that I could worry about. Needless to say when our alarm went off at 2:40am I wasn’t feeling very well rested. We donned our layers of gear, mittens, hats and headlamps and took off.

[singlepic=957,200,,,left]The climbing was a bit more technical, steep steps, big rocks to negotiate and steep granite rock that you needed a rope to get up the incline. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that we were doing it in the dark. When you can look around and see your surroundings, there’s a certain comfort in that. However, with a headlamp you feel like you are in a tunnel for 3 hours – you can’t see more than 4 ft. in front of you. Russ took off pretty quickly and I didn’t see him again until the summit. That left me with our guide – slowly climbing to the top in silence.

As we got higher, I started feeling nauseas, and was dizzy and disoriented from the altitude. Since I had experienced similar feelings before on Kilimanjaro, I at least knew what it was and decided that I would keep pushing forward. I certainly couldn’t walk a straight line so I just tried to follow our guide up the rock face. There was a rope the whole way up the rock so that you could use it in the steeper parts and you could simply follow it as your trail marker at other times. In the dark all I could see was that rope and the rock face. It felt as if you were on the side of a steep cliff and one wrong move and you would fall off the side of the mountain. Therefore not only was I battling the lack of oxygen, but also the fear of falling to my death! I would stop quite frequently to catch my breath.

[singlepic=963,300,,,right]The wind was whipping as we continued to go up – there was really no protection from it. Sometimes it would gust so strongly that it would blow you off your course and you would lose your footing. Now I also had to worry about being blown off the mountain…great. I looked to my right and started to see a light in the sky – I was determined to make it to the top for sunrise. As we approached the top, our guide perched me down on a rock and I sat in the blistering wind trying to get out my camera. At this point I had no feeling in my fingers (I only had on light running gloves), so I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to take a picture! I tried to hunker down and about 4 minutes later…up popped the sun!

I looked around at my surroundings for the first time and was amazed at the beauty. We were on a rock above the clouds. It was stunning. Finally – I was able to summit a mountain. I was relieved and excited…and still a bit nauseas! I found Russ who had been at the summit in the cold for the last hour (he was the first person to arrive on the mountain). We were happy to find each other still in tact!

The descent was long, hard, wet, and agonizing for the knees. It took about 7 hours total to get down to the beginning of the trail (descent from 13,000ft. to 5000ft.). With every step down I could breathe easier, and felt more euphoric. This climb brought a bit of closure for me…the chapter that had been started on Kilimanjaro, was more complete now. Or was it? I still have thoughts of trying Kili again – yet I don’t know if I’m cut out for the amount of work that it would take again. It is a constant nagging in my head. But for now, it’s tamed a little, and Russ and I can enjoy our accomplishment. Who knows what the future holds for me and climbing – I love it, I hate it – but more than anything it teaches you about yourself, your body, and what you are capable of. It awakens my inner spirit – good and bad.

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