Thursday, November 15, 2012

Climbing Mt Kinabalu, Borneo

I had done quite a bit of research about climbing the highest mountain in South East Asia before going to Borneo in late August, and the consensus was that climbing Mt Kinabalu is challenging, but within the reach of anyone with a moderate level of fitness.

To that, I would have to respond that my definition of moderate must be different to other people, as I found it much harder than expected. Eight weeks before, I had hiked 50 miles up and down Cornwall’s rocky coastline on the South West Coast Path. I was a regular badminton player, and swimmer, and started running six weeks before climbing the mountain AND gave up alcohol (that’s a new tag I’m adding to this post!) for forty eight long and arduous days, and still I have to say I found it gruelling, and occasionally questioned (when I wasn’t concentrating on important life skills such as breathing) why I had spent a considerable amount of money to hike up it.

Here’s the route map showing the two routes you can take to get to the summit –  Timpohon Gate and Mesilau Gate.

I took the Timpohon Gate route. Incidentally, the notice is red is a warning to people suffering from list of physical conditions not to climb.

It’s not a technically difficult climb to the ‘base camp’ at Laban Rata (at 3,270 metres) but it is between three and six hours of hiking six kilometres up steep steps cut into the path and rocky tracks. There are shelters (complete with flushing toilets and litter bins) at strategic points along the route, where these friendly little mountain squirrels come to see whether you’ve got anything tasty for them. They have become very tame (and very fat) with all the treats and will quite happily bounce over your lap.

The mountains squirrels were not the only things to look at on the way up. The scenery was amazing the higher I climbed, with mists sweeping in suddenly from the forests. The habitat changes with fig trees and the insect-eating pitcher plants at the base,  giving way to higher altitude trees such as conifers,  and mosses, lichens and ferns.

And, it was a good job too that there was so much to look at, because I had to stop every twenty yards or so to catch my breath. It was humid, and the air was thin. And whatever you were wearing, you weren’t the right temperature. Gloves on, gloves off, sweatshirt off, rain, poncho on, sun breaks though the mist, poncho off, and so on…

Some people suffer from altitude sickness climbing Kinabalu, as I discovered later. Also, very disconcertingly were the white faced, hollow-eyed hikers returning from summiting that morning on their way down. The look in their eyes was a mixture of relief and trauma, and ominously they all greeted me with a hoarse “Good luck…”

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