Loading Map...

The Island of Borneo: Mt. Kinabalu

Written on: Sunday October 26th, 2008

Mount Kinabalu:

After a couple nights of down time we were ready to get active, and no better challenge on this island exists than Mt. Kinabalu.  Although its height is only 4095m (13,435'), it is the highest mountain in Malaysia and on the island of Borneo, and is considered to be the premier mountain to scale in SE Asia.  It is advertised as a two day/one night trek, so we set off at 7:00am to begin our journey.  Arriving at the base lodge, we met up with two other travelers and agreed to hike together to save on (the mandatory) guide fees.  The start of our trek brought cloudy, misty skies, with ridiculous tropical humidity.  It wasn't long before I was drenched with perspiration, and although this certainly had to do with the weather conditions, it also was a reflection of our ascent rate.  The standard ascent time to the overnight camp is estimated at six hours; by the time I arrived at camp it had taken only three hours (I write "I" because my three mates cruised ahead of me and made it to the hut an additional fifteen minutes prior to my arrival).  We were cold and wet, but happy to have a hut in which to sleep, rather than a tent as we had originally planned.  Throughout the evening the time was passed by, what else...playing cards.

The restless evening came and went, providing me a total of 1.25 hours of sleep before our 2:30am awakening.  Urgh...I really wasn't looking forward to a summit attempt on an empty tank.  But fortunately, my legs felt surprisingly good, and the weather was even better.  We journeyed in the dark ever higher, until eventually we surpassed the tree line.  The upper portion of the mountain is entirely granite, which, when wet, creates obvious concerns.  To counter this ever-present potential disaster, permanent rope lines have been installed over the granite.  Our luck was such that slippage was a minimal concern, and the ropes were used only twice (at least by me).  We drudged ahead, realizing that, again, we were climbing faster than anticipated, and that we would reach the summit about 1.5 hours before sunrise.  So we slowed it down, took a few breaks, watched the other climbers scampering up the rock, and arrived only one hour before sunrise.  As we sat we got cold.  But we were extremely fortunate: yesterday it was not possible to view the sunrise from the summit; in fact, it was rainy with winds of 20 knots and visibility of less than 50m.  Our morning provided clear skies boasting millions of stars that we could examine as we waited for the sun to peak above the horizon.  There was absolutely zero wind, and the temperature was a 'balmy' 11C.  We perched on the edge of the summit and viewed the glory of the land as the sun made its appearance.  With the light, we were able to see the mountain in general, and gaze in awe at the natural beauty that surrounded us.  This truly is a spectacular setting.  Eventually we had enough and set a quick pace for the 8.5k back to the base lodge.  We made it down from the summit in just over three hours and caught a fortunate ride back to KK.  Here we showered and grabbed a lunch (complete with celebratory beer, or course), before hitting the sack for a well-needed nap. 

Later that night John and I found our second wind.  We played pool and had a few drinks, struggling more every hour as our legs began to transition from fatigued to unbelievably sore and stiff.   The next night was our last in KK, so we all went out on the town, beginning with another visit to the seafood market for dinner.  Afterward we meandered over to the waterfront district where a collection of bars and restaurants exists.  At one restaurant, we stumbled across a bartender who was something of a card wizard.  He dazzled us with tricks and we tried to figure out the secrets behind them. Pretty soon we found a place with a pool table and set up camp for the remainder of the evening, rehashing the climb and enjoying our latest adventure.