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Mount Kinabalu

By marksams, 08/05/2010 - 05:00

Thousands of people of all ages climb Mount Kinabalu every year, and after our recent visit to the Cameron Highlands, we knew we could walk for hours on two scones with jam. The first part of the summit trail, 6KM up to the accommodation at Laban Rata, was completed in fair conditions within 4h 20min under the "slow & steady" instruction of our mountain guide, Bunin. We checked in, were assigned a 'dorm' at Panar Laban and went straight to bed! It was an enjoyable afternoon walk but I was still knackered, and knew that opportunities for sleep were diminishing by the hour...

We awoke and headed back to the restaurant in plenty of time for our 5pm dinner...and then went back to bed again at 7pm! We were preparing for our 2am wake-up call to climb to the summit of Mount Kinabalu in darkness, and watch the sunrise from our 4095m vantage point at Low's Peak.

Our preparations went mostly to plan, with the exception of the emergency lighting coming on during a thunderstorm and having a rat in our room, who raided our bin with such apparent knowledge and cheekiness that it seemed he must follow this routine every night. I helped him leave via the door and put the bin out on our doorstep. Later, we heard him return and in the morning we discovered the 'presents' he had left for us.

The alarm went off at 2am. Perhaps I had more sleep than Julie, who had spent some time lying awake listening to the rat noises and worrying how the passing thunderstorm and continued rain might affect our charge to the summit. Luckily it had stopped by now, and we grabbed our first breakfast for what was going to be a very long day, then met with Bunin at 2.45am. The climb was a procession of torches, scrambling over stones, up wooden steps and clinging to the mountainside via a rope. We passed many people on the way up, adjusting their equipment, waiting for friends or throwing up.

Bunin was the perfect guide for us, skillfully sidestepping many other hikers and choosing what we considered the best path, slightly more windy but less aggressive and much easier on the legs with our "slow and steady" pace. The final section of the trail up to the summit was 2KM of rough and steep terrain, and we arrived approx 5.10am. Bunin took our photo at the top and directed us to the best vantage point on Low's Peak. By now the heat of the trek was behind us and we started wrapping up with every item of clothing that we had with us. Sitting still at 4095m was not warm, not at that time of day!

Trying to ignore the young Dutch chaps shouting about how they had conquered the mountain on one side of us, and the cacophony of Chinese women on the other, we took some photos of the sunrise from the crowded summit. The descent to Laban Rata was more pleasant than sitting on the summit, not just because we escaped the noise, but the sun was rising and the temperature increasing, bringing colour to our surroundings . Navigating the ropes and steps downwards wasn't as bad as expected either.

We arrived back into Laban Rata for our second breakfast and checked out of our accommodation. We felt invigorated, with tiredness masked by excitement and our achievement. Soon after, we began the 6KM descent from Laban Rata to Timpohon Gate, thinking we could take it in our stride. This was mostly true, until about 2KM from the end, approx midday. We'd basically been walking since 3am with only a few breaks and the legs and knees were now bowing to the pressure of so many steps and steep terrain. Perhaps our excursions to the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands for tea & scones wasn't such good preparation after all! We made it down, just walking very slowly by now, and with each leg threatening to give way on every step. At the end, we were rewarded with a nice buffet lunch and then transferred back to our hotel near to the mountain for recovery.