I’ve been an avid hiker for years, but I’ve never climbed anything as high as Mount Kinabalu in East Malaysia. Calling it “difficult” would be an understatement. If hell were a mountain, I think it would look a bit like Mount Kinabalu.
Nearly a month after the trek, I still couldn’t squat, cross my legs or do lunges without wincing in pain. It hurt to wear heels, and I still had moments where I couldn’t feel my toes.
I don’t know what possessed me to do the hike. It was the New Year; I happened to be in region at the time and thought, what better way to kick off 2015 than to climb a famous mountain? Mount Kinabalu is the highest point in Malaysia at 4,095 metres and also a Unesco World Heritage Site.
In the weeks leading up to the climb, I stepped up my workout routine and checked out other climbers’ experiences online. From what I read it didn’t sound too bad, so I didn’t think I had anything to be worried about.
Besides, according to all the marketing material I’d read, Mount Kinabalu was ideal for anybody of reasonable fitness – for novice hikers, in fact. So really, how tough could the climb be?
My ride to the mountain began at 6am. It took us a couple of hours to get to the Kinabalu Park headquarters, where we received our identification tags and met our mountain guide. Because I was a solo traveller, I was assigned my own guide, a local Kadazan-Dusun tribesman called Safrey. From here, it was a short drive to Timpohon Gate (at 1,866 metres elevation), the starting point of the trail.
I’d signed up for the two-day/one-night climb. My plan was to arrive at the Laban Rata Resthouse (at 3,272 metres) by 4pm on the first day, so that I could go to bed early and wake up at 1.30am on Day Two to begin the summit climb.
Entering Timpohon Gate at about 9am, I thought, “this should be a piece of cake”. After all, it was only a 6km hike to the rest house. But not even 500 metres into the climb, I wanted to turn back.
My legs were fine; I just hadn’t anticipated any breathing difficulties. At that altitude – we were about 1,900 metres above sea level – my lungs were struggling to function. I thought the tight feeling in my chest would go away as the hike went on, but it didn’t, so I had no choice but to stop every 10 minutes to catch my breath.
The trail was merciless, to say the least. It’s insanely steep, and rocky and slippery to boot. I knew that my frequent stops would slow me down but I didn’t care. I was more concerned about bursting a lung.
Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: ‘If hell were a mountain, it would look like Mount Kinabalu': a Hong Kong hiker’s Borneo blues.