Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Conquering Mount Kinabalu

A trip to Malaysian Borneo is not complete without visiting Mt. Kinabalu. Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage site, is spread over 750 square kilometers and is home to Mt Kinabalu, which at 4095.2 meters,  does not make it on the highest 100 mountains list. Regardless, it is the 5th highest mountain in South East Asia.

My partner, Jeff, and I, hiked Jebel Toubkal in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains previously. We did it by ourselves, albeit with the guidance of friend of ours, Chris Hardy of Intrepid Travel. So when we were researching Mt. Kinabalu, we were a bit annoyed to read that we would need to employ the guidance of a local guide, on top of all of the other fees that were required. We are not at all opposed to paying our way, but considering hiking the mountain is a one way up, same way down kind of affair, markers every 500m complete with shelters, drinking water and flushing toilets, we were trying to figure out a way around it. So we ended up joining with four other hikers, splitting the cost, gaining the necessary permit, and going off on our own.

Beginning the ascent with a descent. 

The hike up is simple. You actually begin by going down, before going up.  The trail is made easy by the markers every 500 meters.

Markers like these are placed at 500m intervals.

The terrain differs from rocky steps, to muddy trails and stairs formed by tree roots. The weather differs also, from bright sun, to light rain, to misty moments. 

Break areas are frequent, making the hike easy for all. At parts there are also railings to hold for grip, which are much more useful on the haul down, rather than than hike up, especially if you weren't prepared and didn't bring hiking poles...

Jeff tries on the porter's wooden backpack containing supplies for Laban Rata.

We reached Laban Rata about 4 hours after commencing the hike at Timphoon Gate. The views from Pendant Hut, which is operated by Mountain Torq, were amazing. At 3272.7 meters, we were above the clouds. 

Above the clouds at Pendant Hut.

 We rested for the night, and then woke at a sprightly 2:30am for the ascent to the summit, in total darkness. Our headlamps came in handy as we followed the wooden stairs and ropes to the top.

We made it!

Three hours after leaving Laban Rata, we reached the summit! We were in time for the sunrise, which didn't come soon enough to defrost our freezing fingers and toes. The sun cast brilliant pinks and purples over the clouds below us. 

During the daylight descent we were able to look back and see clearly the route we had taken up to the peak. As the peak bathed in the sunlight, we made our way to the seven kilometer mark, where we began our Mountain Torq Via Ferrata Low's Peak Circuit, the highest Via Ferrata in the world, which you can read about here.

The descent was quicker, but more challenging. With lactic acid building in the legs, and a yearning to get down to the bottom as soon as possible, the legs were a tad on the shaky side. The intermittent hand railings helped to take the pain away from the knee joints, and also made it easier to 'fall' down the steps, knowing a barrier was there to hold on to. We passed the next lot of hikers making their way to the top, not envious of the descent they would need to make the next day, but jealous of the brilliant sunrise they would soon experience.

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