Friday, March 21, 2008
On Top of the World
That's us at the top of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Malaysia, but it could have been the highest peak in the world as far as we were concerned.
On March 14, 20 of us from PCC decided to do something a little different. Instead of the usual 70km-150km bike ride, we decided to abandon the bikes and shorten the distance to a measly 10.7km. Although the distance was a lot shorter than we were accustomed to, we also had to put up with over 2000m of vertical ascent. That's what it takes to get to the top of Low's Peak, the highest point on Mount Kinabalu. The 20 intrepid adventurers were: Bunny, Cass, Brandon, James, Christina, Ivan, Annie Chee, Demi, William, Jesster, O'Niell, Soh, Selina, Annie Soh, BK, Alice, Alex, Jaime, Senn and me.
But before the serious business of Kinabalu, we had some fun.
On Day One we went white-water rafting. It was my first time doing it and I was really nervous. On the bus to the river, they showed a video of the wild rapids and rafts capsizing, throwing it's occupants like lifeless ragdolls into the water. Scary. So I psyched myself up to get dunked. In fact, I started wishing to get dunked.
When we got to the river, the water level wasn't very high, therefore the rapids weren't as wild. Phew! In fact, it was getting a little boring. We got wet, but it wasn't the soaking I was anticipating. That would change soon, however. While negotiating one of the rapids we went towards the riverbank. We hit a rock and flipped! For a split second, I didn't know which way was up, which way was down. I didn't know how deep I was. I didn't know how much air I had in my lungs. It was a scary moment. But soon, my head broke the surface and I started body rafting downstream. It was quite an experience and one I would gladly do again.
Day Two, we went island hopping. We visited two islands whiche were supposed to be part of a marine park. Unfortunately, it was filthy! There was rubbish strewn about; Senn even saw a used diaper floating in the water. It was rather disappointing.
In the afternoon, we went to the Poring Hot Springs. Having had enough of water, Senn and I decided to skip dipping in the springs and hike up the canopy walkway instead, to sort of prepare od for the assault on Kinabalu the next day. It was a nice hike, especially when we got to the suspended walkways. The highest point was about 90m off the ground.
After the springs, we moved on to the Mesilau Nature Resort. This is where we will be staying for the night and is our starting point for the climb the next day.
The next morning, we woke up, had breakfast and went to the gate for the briefing. This first part of the climb is around 8km long and will take us to base camp at Laban Rata. The guides estimate we would be doing about 1km/h, so our ETA would be about 4pm or so. The reason for taking the longer Mesilau trail, as opposed to the Timpohon trail, was Mesilau was a far more scenic route.
Didn't really matter to me, though, I just wanted to get to the top.
The first part of the climb was ok. At 1.5km, the trail went downhill. Then at 3km, it went upwards again. We were maintaining a steady pace all the way to the 6km mark, where our trail merges with the Timpohon trail. This is where things got a little tricky. The terrain gets rougher here and to make matters worse, we had a torrential downpour. Senn and I had forgotten to buy ponchos, so we had to tough it out. All we had to protect ourselves against the elements was our windbreakers. Since I had nothing to cover my head, Senn asked me to go ahead and not wait for her. So i moved on, and finally reached at 2:40pm, six hours after we started. The last two km must have been the longest two km of my life! It was cold, wet and miserable. And to make things worse, the porter that was hired to carry our bags hadn't arrived yet! So I had to wait in the dining hall, in 9.8 degree weather, in wet clothes. Not fun at all.
Senn arrived about half an hour later, and she was near hypothermia. Her lips were turning blue and she was shivering non-stop. Luckily our friends were there to lend her jackets and socks and gloves. When our porter finally arrived, we had more bad news: one of the mineral water bottles in Senn's bag popped due to pressure and left all her clothes wet! She had no dry clothes at all! Good thing there was a laundromat up there so our guide took her clothes to dry. Meantime, she had to borrow one of my shirts, while I hung around in a sleeveless top! Not a very good idea at 3500m above sea level.
Anyway, we were in bed by 8pm so that we could wake up at 2am to begin the assault to the summit.
We began climbing to the summit at 3am. All was still dark but the sky was full of stars. Millions of them. I've never seen so many stars in my life.
Unfortunately, we left the hostels about the same time everyone else did so there was a traffic jam at the narrower bits of the trail. It was quite frustrating. Some people would take two steps, then stop to catch their breath. All the while, holding us up behind them. Our guide managed to navigate us through the slower climbers and pretty soon, we wer going at a steady pace. However, the higher we got, the thinner the air was and the harder it was to breathe. We were ok up until the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint but after that, the going got tougher. We had to stop every few steps just to catch out breath. We thought we'd never get to the peak in time to catch the sunrise.
When we found out that sunrise was at 6am instead of 4.30am, we had renewed hope. It was only 5:20am and we were about a km away. Surely we could make the last km in under 40 minutes. We laboured on, stopping every few steps to rest and catch our breath. Finally, our guide said we were near and we could see Low's Peak silhouetted against the starry sky. When we got there it was packed with people, so we decided to stop midway up the peak to catch the sunrise.
We hung around there for a bit before enough space cleared up for us to get to the peak.
As the sky brightened up, we took in the majesty of it all. The view sure is different from 4095m above sea level.
We were even treated to the sight of Soh proposing to Selina at 4095m above sea level.
Of course, she said "Yes!"
On the way down, we had a good look at the terrain we climbed and it was amazing how steep some of the sections were. Good thing we climbed in the dark or else most of us would have turned back.
Of course the trip back to Laban Rata did not go without incident. Senn was going down some steps about a km away, when she slipped and slid down the stairs on her butt. She was lucky not to have sprained anything but she now has a bruise the size of a tennis ball on her butt. This slowed down our progress quite a bit.
We made it back to Laban Rata at about 10am, quickly changed, packed our bags, had breakfast and were off to the Timpohon gate. We left at 11:15am, the last ones to go. At 2km, we had taken 2 and a half hours, waaaay slow. I asked Senn to pick up the pace a bit and we managed the last 4km in 2h15m. Yeah, yeah, it's not a race but I didn't want everyone waiting for us. As it was, we weren't last so it was all good.
That night, we stayed at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort. After roughing it out the past few days, the pampering the Shangri-La offered was most welcomed. We slept in luscious beds with fluffy pillows and had nice hot water to shower in.
The next day, we played beach volleyball and relaxed on the beach before flying off to KL.
Kinabalu was certainly a new experience for me. We had a lot of fun but it was tough. I'd sooner do another Ironman or two before I attempt to climb it again.