[Note: I visited Mt Kinabalu in April 2015. There was a magnitude of 6.0 earthquake at the mountain in June 2015 which tragically involved some casualties some of whom are school children. I would like to pay tribute to these lost souls who died while stretching their limits and going for greater heights. My deep condolences to the families and friends. The park is now closed as parts of the mountain were damaged.]
People say hiking can be addictive. They are damn right. I could not resist going for another hiking trip after my first one in October last year to Mt Bromo and Ijen Crater. In April this year, I set off to Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. I had a great team of travel buddies who were all hyped about the trip too.
Being a dry season, April is during the peak season for avid hikers and we almost did not get slots as the Park Regulators issue fixed number of hiking passes a day. It is important you register your name, particulars and hiking dates via a travel agency a couple of months before.
There are two choices: a normal route and via ferrata. The latter is an en-route mountaineering activity during the descent and there are two more options under via ferrata itself: Walk the Torq or Low’s Peak Circuit. The former is an easier version at a lower altitude taking about additional 1.5-2hours of descending while the latter one is more challenging with additional 4-5 hours. Our group of 5 signed up for the via ferrata pass which is more expensive. The agency provided a private mountain guide, transport to and fro our accommodation and Mt Kinabalu Headquarters, one night accommodation in the mountain, food and hiking passes.
The trip lasted for four days including two days of hiking. We left Singapore one day before the first hiking day and landed at Kota Kinabalu around 8pm. Since it was just to spend the night, we stayed at a private apartment. Surprisingly, it was a nice stay with some facilities like warm shower, towel, water kettle, TV and WiFi.
We got up early for the next day and waited for our tour driver to pick us up at our apartment. To our dismay, he did not show up even after we waited for more than an hour. So we got ourselves a cab and made our way to the headquarters which is about a 2-hour drive. Along the trip, we got back in touch with the tour agency and upon our arrival to the HQ, someone waited for us to give us the hiking passes and intro to the mountain guide. The mountain guide was also our porter. According to him, he could carry up to 30kg for both ascent and descent. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that’s a tough job! We gave him 20kg for our combined weight at about S$50. It was worth it.
The first one kilometer of the hike was the toughest for me. I could hear my heart pounding, my breath being held up and my legs shaking as I moved up each stair. I guess that’s because my body was trying to get used to the activity and the climate. Every stair seemed daunting and that’s when I began to question why I was even there in the first place! Fortunately, I got used to it after awhile. The trail is very well-maintained and the whole nature park is well-reserved by the park authorities. There are resting points with a roof, benches and a toilet.
The environment was largely rain forest for the first 3km and it changed drastically for the second half – with a unique landscape of flora and fauna that I’ve never seen before. Even small little leaves and flowers suddenly looked more intriguing.
The weather was quite forgiving. For the first half, even though it was hot, there were lots of tree shades. At some points, we found ourselves walking in the midst of clouds! Can you imagine that? I’ve been to places higher than clouds but never been in the middle of it before.
For the second half of the 6km journey, even though it was mostly bare land, the temperature cooled down and by the time we reached the altitude of 3000 m where our accommodation was, I even started to feel a bit cold. It drizzled a few times here and there though. Fortunately, we got our ponchos from the HQ and we just slipped ourselves into it whenever there’s rain.
By the time we reached to our pendant hut, we were all pretty drained. We got a room mixed with other hikers. We quickly chose our beds, put down the stuff and prepared for the compulsory via ferrata training. Shower was not available at the hostel due to dry weather and water shortage. So we made-do with our wet wipes to clean up.
The dinner was a buffet dinner and not sure if that’s because I was hungry, I thought it was quite decent. We caught a brief sunset outside the dining place and took some pictures.
After we got back to our hostel from dinner, it was already about 7.30pm. I quickly packed up my stuff for the final ascent of 3km and went to bed at 8.30pm. All other people in the room settled and lights were off by 9pm. I took a pill of panadol before I slept.
We had to get up at 2 am to begin the hike to the peak. Technically, I did not get to sleep at all because the old folk who was sleeping next to my bed was snoring all the way! Nonetheless, by the time I got up at 2, I was feeling quite alright (no headache, not much body ache and no flu). Even though I was quite worried about high altitude sickness, it did not hit me at all.
It was mostly darkness as you can imagine so all I remember was stairs, stairs, stairs. There was like endless number of stairs for the first hour if I’m not wrong. And then we started going up the bare mountain which is like a rock surface. I had to move slowly bits by bits as I ran out of breath easily. Most other people were the same. At one point, there was a white rope to guide as the way as well as for us to pull through it to go up steeper regions.
Finally we managed to reach the top but there was still a final 200m to reach to the actual highest peak where the signboard was placed. But we took our time and watched the sunrise first before we made our final move.The scenery was breathtaking and heavenly. It was a divine serenity just sitting there watching over the earth. For a moment, I could not believe I made it there; with so much sweat and determination.
Two members of the team got extremely sick during the ascent and we just slowly made our way to go back down to the accommodation. I accompanied two of them so three of us did not go for the via ferrata activity whereas two others hurried for it as there was some cut-off time to begin the activity.
After all of us reached to the hut, we took a short rest, packed up and prepared for our descending trip. I must say that the descent is as challenging as the ascent even though it took shorter. My knees and ankles were killing me everytime I hopped from one stair/stone to another. I even felt extreme boredom at some points having to repeat the exact same route as our ascending. There was no more anticipation and excitement but of course a great sense of accomplishment and gratification.
If a person like me who used to lose breath easily just with a 1km jogging can make it without much difficulty, what stops you from trying this out? You never know what you can achieve if you don’t try.