South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Mount Kinabalu (Part I)
Date: March 31, 1995 23:52

13:46 Mount Kinabalu National Park, Sabah-Malaysia :: 29 MAR 95

Mount Kinabalu is, at 4,101 meters and rising (at a rate of 5mm annually), the highest peak in SE Asia (Thailand to Guam). As a matter of fact, it's taller than Mt. Garibaldi, the highest peak in the vicinity of Whistler. But Kinabalu has no glacier -- ice forms infrequently even at the peak, the brochures don't say anything about snow -- and you can hike up it in running shoes and a warm jacket at any time of year.

The hike requires two days, though there are cabins, huts and restaurants-and electricity!-within an a couple hours of the peak. It takes approximately 6 hours to reach the cabins from the ranger station. You spend the night in the cabins and then wake up early for a pre-dawn 'assault' on the peak in order to catch the sunrise. The view is supposed to include all of Sabah and extend to Kalimantan (Indonesia) and the Philippines. The clouds start rolling in by 10AM daily, so the stay at the top isn't too long.

We arrived here at 10:00 this morning with the intention of climbing the first stage. As I sit here on the base hostel's verandah, watching the mist rising out of the rain pummeled forest, I'm thinking I'm quite glad not to be half way up the mountain. With luck, and a 7:30 AM start tomorrow, we may acquire the high camps before the seemingly inevitable afternoon rain. (It's rained pretty much every afternoon for the past week.) This is important since neither of us deemed it necessary to pack appropriate rain gear.

I think I'll bring the Toshiba up (wrapped in plastic, mind you) just so I can whip it out at the peak. Speaking of the Toshiba, there's an advert in last week's Newsweek for the T1200CT. This may be my next notebook computer: 16-bit sound, double-speed CD-ROM, stacked PCMCIA type II and III slots (insert up to 2 type II or 1 type III card). Apparently there are video capture PCMCIA cards on the market. Last July several people wondered whether I'd be transmitting 'electronic postcards'. Well, the technology to do so is finally here, but I don't even want to know what the price is. Still, I will have a look around for that video capture PCMCIA card.

21:37 New Hostel; Mount Kinabalu National Park, Sabah-Malaysia :: 29 MAR 95

There are two hostels at the base of Kinabalu, with perhaps 150 beds between them. In the old hostel there is one guest, in a room all to himself though last night that room was full to capacity with 8 inhabitants. None of the other rooms were occupied. Tonight we are billeted in the same way, with 6 other guests in an otherwise empty hostel. I don't have a problem with this, except for the inevitable snoring person in the bunk next to mine. <sigh>

Tomorrow should prove to be an interesting day. At 7:00AM we'll meet with our climbing companions for breakfast. (You must hire a local guide to climb Kinabalu-park regulations-and sharing a guide with others is more cost effective.) Bart is a half-Chinese Dutchman and the two English debutantes are Anne & Marie. Bart's been traveling these past eight months all over Asia. Anne's parents live in Brunei and Marie's just out for a visit. They flew into Kota Kinabalu and spent the last couple nights at the Hilton partying with the flight crew. One of Anne's questions this evening: "Have either of you ever climbed a mountain?" Neither of them has but they've already written friends with the news that they would "attempt" to climb Kinabalu. They've elected to do it in real 'mountaineering' fashion. That is, they've hired a porter to carry their gear. Should be very interesting.

17:21 Gunting Lagadan Hut (3,352.7 m); Mount Kinabalu, Sabah-Malaysia :: 30 MAR 95

Departure from the Power Station (1,829 m): 8:20 AM
Arrival Gunting Lagadan (3,353 m): 1:45 PM
Elapsed Time: 5.5 hrs
Distance traveled: 6km. Rate: 1.091 km/hr
Vertical rise: 1524 m. Rate: 277.091 m/hr
Pack weight: Too damn heavy!
Condition upon arrival: totally expended.

If I remembered any of my trig, I'd tell you what the average degree slope was. It's about 1 unit rise to 4 units run making it approximately, ummmm, 11 degrees? It felt MUCH steeper, and in sections certainly was.

Thankfully, a restaurant awaited us with hot Milo (chocolate malt drink) and hot food.

Oh, how did the debutantes fair? They wisely packed very lightly, one pack between the two of them definitely under 10 kilos, probably under 5. By the end we all seemed equally expended, possibly except for Bart who recently spent 8 weeks trekking the Himalayas, he was only fairly well exhausted. On the other hand, Bart had been experiencing some dizzy spells as we neared the huts, probably brought on by minor oxygen deprivation due to the mixture of exertion and altitude.

The morning began at 6AM, cool, bright and sunny with a fantastic view of the peak from our Hostel. By 6:45 we were breakfasting, waiting for the others to arrive. By 7:30 we were going through the scads of paperwork required to make the climb: park entrance fee; accommodation arrangements for the hut; disability/accident insurance for climbers; RM11.70 apiece for the guide; list of gear stored at base. As is normal for this country, each item listed represents paperwork in triplicate. This process was not completed until 8:15 when we boarded the van that would take the five of us and our guide 4 kilometers up the road to the Power Station.

The hike began, easily enough, on a downslope for the first few hundred meters. We all knew this situation wouldn't last but I'm not sure any of us were prepared for just how steep the climb would be. Cool as it was, even at this lower elevation, I was sweating buckets within minutes. And I sweated profusely all the way to the hut even as temperatures grew cooler and cooler.

Still, it was a great climb with some fantastic views, until the clouds started rolling in at about 10AM. Soon, we were shrouded in mist as we ascended through changing patterns of flora. From rainforest, to conifer and oak, to stands of thin, spindly bamboo, then to increasingly diminutive, scraggly, warped high elevation trees until reaching Gunting Lagadan, at the edge of the treeline.

Early on in the trip, Bart asked our guide to point out pitcher plants along the way and he gladly showed us about a dozen or so, some with bowls the size of George Foreman's fist, others delicate and smaller than his thumb. A pitcher plant grows specialized leaves that form vessels with flip up lids. The bowls fill with moisture and the plant adds something sweet to convince insects it's a cool place to be. It's deadly and the pitcher plant leeches nutrients from the insects that inevitably become trapped in the bowl.

20:12 Gunting Lagadan Hut (3,352.7 m); Mount Kinabalu, Sabah - Malaysia :: 30 MAR 95

Tomorrow we meet at 2:30, that's AM, drink some coffee and shake the cobwebs out. Then at 3AM, in the pitch blackness of the night, we and our torches begin the 'assault' on the final 850 m or so remaining to the summit. Madness? Surely. But it's the only way to be there for sunrise between 5:30 and 6 AM. If this evening's spectacular sunset is any indication of the sunrise, it'll be well worth the stumbling in the dark.

How do you describe a sunset? Everyone is familiar with the vivid oranges, maroons, reds and violets, these offset by the charcoal grey of the clouds and the washed-out-sky hue that trails up into neon blues. But how many have seen a sunset from 3000 meters? The sky falls away from you so the colours begin from below and reach up above. The ocean, a two hour drive away, reflects the sky colour so that shoreline and cloud become indistinguishable. Kinabalu is by far the tallest peak in the region and what once seemed mountains from below are now diminutive hills channeling the streamers of thick white mist that run between them. It is the thunderheads that loom high while below the rain falls as a white veil backlit in orange that colours hills, shore and low cloud that lie behind. The shoulder of Kinabalu lies in the foreground, silhouetted against the sunset sky. Along this crest sprouts a line of stunted, scraggly trees that thin to barren rock in the altitude. It is a sunset like none I've ever seen.

It's on tape, but video is inadequate to the task.

9:27 Laban Rata (3,300 m); Mount Kinabalu, Sabah-Malaysia :: 31 MAR 95

Departure from the Laban Rata (3,300 m): 3:00 AM
Arrival Low's Peak (4,101 m): 5:45 AM
Elapsed Time: 2.75 hrs
Distance traveled: 2.8 km. Rate: 1.018 km/hr
Vertical rise: 801 m. Rate: 291.273 m/hr
Pack weight: Much better - just the camcorder and camera gear.
Condition upon arrival: expended and Frigid.

Time at the peak: 35 minutes.

Departure from the Low's Peak (4,101 m): 6:20 AM
Arrival Gunting Labadan (3,352.7 m): 8:00 AM
Elapsed Time: 1.66 hrs
Distance traveled: 2.7 km. Rate: 1.627 km/hr
Vertical descent: 748.3 m. Rate: 450.783 m/hr
Pack weight: As above.
Condition upon arrival: Tired and wobbly legged.

23:20 Holidays Hotel; Kota Kinabalu, Sabah-Malaysia :: 31 MAR 95

Departure from the Laban Rata (3,300 m): 10:05 AM
Arrival at the Power Station (1,829 m): 1:25 AM
Elapsed Time: 3.5 hrs
Distance traveled: 5.9 km. Rate: 1.686 km/hr
Vertical descent: 1471 m. Rate: 420.286 m/hr
Pack weight: Loaded up with Toshiba and power supplies, first-aid kit, etc. etc. etc.
Condition upon arrival: Completely spent.

The short of it is, we all made it to the peak, commented on how satisfying it was to do so (proving to ourselves the worthiness of the hardship), scrambled, plodded and stumbled our way to the bottom wondering if ever we'd reach it.

I'll fill this out a bit later, but right now there's this IDD phone line in the room just waiting to transmit whatever I've got.

Continued in Part II

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

If you compare the City with the Forest, you may begin to wonder why it's man who goes around classifying himself as The Superior Animal.
  graphical element Benjamin Hoff
The Tao of Pooh