Mount Kinabalu – Conquering the most challenging experience in my life

And so we embarked on our long-talked about trip to Mount Kinabalu, thanks to yt who organized everything for us. The AirAsia flight was quite horrible as I experienced the worst turbulence ever, like a roller coaster ride. When we reached the city, we took cabs to Masada Backpackers hostel in Kota Kinabalu city. After checking in, we walked around for dinner. Jr was pushing for KFC (again!) of all things, and I don’t want to eat KFC when you can eat it in Singapore and also in USA, and I don’t want fast food. Fortunately, there was a Malay coffee shop which looked quite decent and enticing. Each of us ordered different varieties of Nasi Ayam and Nasi Goreng. Pretty decent, and my wish of eating as much Asian food as possible is fulfilled.

We slept earlier as we had to wake up at 5am to take the 6am coach to the foot of Mt Kinabalu. However, for some reason, I was too excited and didn’t sleep much as the bed felt warm. The tour bus had to go a huge detour to a ulu resort faraway to fetch two other tourists. Hence we only reached the Park HQ at like close to 9am. We met our 2 guides, Joe and Ronnie, as we were a group of 7. After collecting our permit passes for climbing, and renting hiking poles (10 RM each which were good professional ones) we set off in a mini bus to Mesilau Gate, which was a bumpy 30 min ride. We chose to take the Mesilau trail which is longer and more adventurous, but slightly different terrain with some down slopes in between instead of upwards all the way.

Sadly, upon reaching the gate, it started raining. We had to put on our ponchos and rain covers, and it was quite demoralizing. Fortunately, it stopped raining soon after. Thank God. We could took out our ponchos at our first shelter as it was very stuffy and inconvenient to move in one. Finally now we can enjoy the fresh air and breeze.

For the first part, the terrain was mostly similar to Singapore rain forests: trees, warm, soil, muddy and many steps. However as we progressed in elevation, the air became cooler and fresher, and there was a lot of different algae and moss growing on the ground, making it look like a “coral reef”. We also spotted some interesting flora, such as the Kinabalu Blossom, and some clusters of pitcher plants.

After conquering many different kinds of steps, from rocky to wooden ones, we reached a shelter with a nice view in the clearing. In the distance we could see the rocky cliffs we will be climbing to the summit. But Low’s peak is not viewable from this angle. We also had lunch at another shelter, which includes a ham cheese sandwich, 2 hard boiled eggs, an apple and 2 bananas. It isn’t a really enticing lunch, although I heard if we chose the Via Ferrata package we would get a chicken wing. Lol. At every shelter there is a toilet with a cistern, and pipes with rain water, which the guides drink but we are advised not to. We also spotted a random squirrel near us. However, my right shoe’s sole started to come off, and I had to use gutters and black tape to secure them. The left sole also had to be secured too. Wonder if it’s because I used the shoe alot last time, or because I stored it in the cupboard for too long.

As we continued, the terrain and flora changes to a dryer ground with many cypress trees. It was very beautiful and peaceful as you could see clouds below as well. KC said it’s like a beautiful garden, and I would say it’s probably close to Eden.

Later on, at the 6km mark, the trail merges with Timphoon, the main trail, and we have another 2km of horizontal distance to go before reaching Laban Rata, our “base camp”.

The initial part of the Timphoon trail was mostly normal rocky stones, from orange ones to grey ones. As we got higher, the last part we could feel the air starting to get thinner and colder, with some chilly winds blowing at about 10 degrees Celsius, and Vic had difficulty as he was getting a slight headache. I had to wear my gloves as my hands were getting numb. We slowed down our pace slightly, and the view was also amazing as we were above the clouds. We could also see the sunset in the horizons, with the open heaven rays effect! The steps seemed never ending, I was singing to myself randomly some worship songs, mediating some verses such as I can do all things through Christ and Psalm 91. Phil had some muscle cramps and they were lagging behind us pretty far away. At last, at about 6.15pm, we reached Laban Rata. Joe joked with us that we can play volleyball to stay warm, and indeed there’s a volleyball court. Lol.

We rushed into the dining area, where we finally we sit down properly and have a nice buffet dinner. Originally our dorms were supposed to be separate hut some steps and distance away, but Joe helped us to rearrange another dorm that could fit all of us!

After our dinner, Phil and yt finally arrived under the moonlight. Temperature was probably around 5-10 deg, reminds me of California and Santa Cruz. It was a full moon with some stars, quite nice. There was no hot water hence some of us couldn’t bathe. I tried to splash the freezing cold water on my body and managed to wash my hair. After that my fingers became cold and numb. At about 8pm, all of us settled into our heated but cold beds and went to rest. This time, I managed to sleep a few hours although the pillow was hard, and shoulders aching from the weight of my backpack (but I like the fact that my Deuter backpack pushes the weight on the hip straps so that it is less straining on the shoulders. Maybe it was because I strapped my camera bag to my front chest belt for easy access).

We woke up just few hours later at 1.30am, ate some fried bee hoon and eggs for breakfast, before setting off for the summit at 2.30am. We used our headlights and climbed the initial part which was mostly steps, again. After about 800m, the ropes portion began. The first part of the rope portion was quite shocking and scary to me as the rocks were about 70 degrees steep and I had to pull myself up with two hands on the rope together with my hiking pole in my hand. After a while, our guide kindly took the poles for us so that we could concentrate our both hands on the ropes. Some parts I have to use certain rocks to pull myself up too. It was quite scary as one lost grip and you could stumble down. I kept mediating Psalm 91 to myself along the way, the angels shall bear me up lest I strike my foot against a stone. Further up, the gradient became gentler. Although the rocks were still about 50 degrees steep, we could still walk normally without using the robe and just our hiking sticks. It became harder and harder to breathe, as the air became thinner. We were advised not to rush in case we cannot catch our breath and get climate sickness. I had to stop to pant every 20 steps or so, as one gets out of breath very easily. It was also cold with the winds blowing at 0 degrees or so. A hoodie or beanie is very useful now. Slow and steady, the last shall be first. Zhan was surprisingly fast at the front and didn’t seem to have any breathing problems. I was like, I can so all things through Christ, and when I am weak, then I am strong. Keeping hydrated is also important even though one doesn’t feel thirsty, as it helps in acclimatization. It seems like we never reach the edge of the ridge, as we pass one ridge, there’s like 2 more above it with lights indicative of people in front.

Halfway through we reached the checkpoint, where we had to show our passes, and also where the last toilet is located. They checked our names and we continued. It was slightly flatter and easier as we were less than 1km from the summit. Finally we could see a peak where a cluster of lights gathered, and we knew we were pretty close! However, for some reason, we also saw many people coming down, for the fear of rain. At the very last rocky climb to the summit, it started to drizzle. No reason to give up now. So we quickly made our way up, and soon after 100m, we reached! Praise the Lord. At this time at about 6.30am, the sun is rising but it was too cloudy to see anything. We took some photos with the summit sign and sat around to admire the view. It was a small piece of rock and a lot of people crowding around. But the view is magnificent with all the clouds below you, the mist around, and the “desolate wasteland” of the different rocky peaks of the mountain.

We could not stay for too long as the drizzle threatened to pour. Yt and Phil managed to catch up with us in the end. We were one of the last few groups to walk down the mountain. By the time we reached the checkpoint, it became a downpour. We had to slide down some of the rocks, or walk backwards like abseiling. It is quite amazing as the terrain looks slightly different in daytime and you wonder how did you manage to climb those rocks which you are going down. The rain made matters worse by causing the rocks to be slippery and the paths to become streams and rivers. The cliffs become more dangerous, and my waterproof ski gloves from wintertime were apparently not waterproof. I could squeeze water out of them!

It was a long way down as each step became painful for us due to exhaustion, and the rain did not help. We reached the base camp at 9.30am, finally have some hot drinks and breakfast, packed up and began our descent. Thank God the rain stopped, and it was a nice leisurely walk. The first part was quite nice, with the water flowing through the stones like a Chinese garden waterfall. However as we continued, each step became more and more painful, as our thigh, calf and ankle muscles get stretched and have to withstand our body weight and our backpack. The hiking pole helped a bit, but soon I struggled through every step, and it seems like forever to reach the next resting hut.

Halfway down we were walking through the mist along the timphoon trail. Visibility was low, like <100m but it was a nice cooling weather. We saw many spider webs spun very nicely, like a colony of spiders. There were also some random birds, earthworm, squirrel, and houseflies? The mist is like we are walking through the clouds. When we reached closer to the bottom, it sounded as if the lower elevation areas were raining or showering, but we are still in the mist. Fortunately, we didn’t meet the rain at all.¬†Each kilometre seems to take forever. It doesn’t help that my shoes and socks are wet, and my soles are not very secure. Some portions have 50cm high steep steps, and soon I joined the slower ones to form a trio with yt and Phil. Haha.

Finally, we reached the last 1.5 km or so, in which we persevered till the end without any rest. We saw a waterfall, and the last 100m was another long flight of steps, this time upwards. It feels weird to climb upwards after going down so many thousand steps! Every step is a chore, but we finally made it to the end of Timphoon Gate! YAY!!!

I received a few revelations during the trip. Because every step was painful, I kept mediating on the Word of God and singing songs to myself. Psalm 91 literally came alive at the rock face, as the angels will lift me up, lest I dash my foot against a stone. I was quite afraid of losing my grip. Also, I was thinking, since we have dominion over all the earth, we will have dominion over the mountain! No climate sickness or pain show reign over me because I will reign in life. I was also reminded of “Walk As If”, and that I shall walk as if I am healed, without any pain or blisters.