Mount Kinabalu

It was an early start. Up at 5:20 for the transfer to the base of the mountain to start the ascent. I was joined by a guide and two Australian girls (who were a lot of fun and the best hiking companions). We climbed innumerable steps up and up and up the mountain in a perpetual fog. A light rain that was essentially just droplets of moisture kept us cool. Barred from the view of what was below and beyond us, our vision was confined to our direct surroundings, which changed gradually every few kilometres. First, luscious green rainforest, then more sparse bush-like vegetation with fewer leaves but with pretty pink flowers on the trees, and finally alpine territory before the craggy rocks of the summit.

As we climbed, porters rushed past us, their breathing heavy as they lugged various food or construction items up to the rest huts before the summit. Their fitness was impressive, as they were extremely speedy despite carrying such heavy loads. They bore the weight on their back with straps around their shoulders and across their forehead. An interesting, but evidently efficient method.

After an evening in the rest hut, we woke at 2am for the summit. Our aim was to reach the peak and experience the sunrise from there. We set off wrapped in many layers, as the temperature had dropped from the altitude and the early hour. Our head torches lit the way. For the first time we had clear skies and could see both the brilliant stars and galaxies above us and the lights of the various villages of Sabah sprawling below us. The clarity was stunning.

Around half way, temperatures were dropping further and rain had started to fall. At first it was light and unnoticeable. We had reached the sheer rock of the final stretches, and pulled ourselves up the rock with a rope. It was tough going on the the upper body, but we were making steady progress and were on target to reach the summit early enough to have a break before sunrise.

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Me at the summit

But then the skies opened and torrential rain poured down on us. Before long, we were drenched through despite our water proofs, and freezing cold. The elation from the sublimity of the mountains of mere moments before was replaced by a feeling of misery at the cold, wet, and darkness. We reached the summit at 5:20am, an hour before sunrise. Our guides told us it was unsafe and that we must turn around straight away before the rain got any worse. We would miss the sunrise. I had seen spectacular pictures of the view from the summit, and was crestfallen that my own view, despite actually reaching the summit myself, was merely a sign in the absolute darkness.

Disappointed, freeing cold, and soaked through, I now had to descend the whole mountain. The prospect was difficult enough, but the actual descent proved nightmarish. The rock beneath my feet had turned to a waterfall of rainwater rushing off the mountain. The way down had suddenly become a steep and treacherous slide. And it was still pitch black. As the mass of water running off the mountain roared around me, I made my way slowly and tentatively down the mountain. I was suddenly alone, as faced with the danger ahead, every one had taken it on themselves to get down as fast as they could. The white rope was my only hope; both as a sign of the path down and as a grip against the slippery rocks.

I lost my footing and slipped at least ten times. My muscles tensed and my heart raced with fear for my life. Adrenaline flowed through me, and I thought of nothing except the desire to get back to the rest hut to get dry, warm up, and be off this godforsaken rock face.

As the sun rose, the rain slackened off a bit, and the hellish landscape around me was revealed. Above, imposing craggy peaks rose into the masses of grey clouds. Around me stretched sleek black rock covered in white foaming waterfalls of water. Below, I had a glimpse of some trees, and finally the rest house in the distance. Around 6:30, the sky finally cleared, and I had a glimpse of heaven.

IMG_6942Golden light beamed through the clouds, and shone on the hellish rocks and the green foothills below. It was an incredible sight to behold. I stopped for the first time and gazed on, soaking up this well-deserved view, before I realised my legs were shaking uncontrollably from the cold, adrenaline, and tension of the descent. I rushed down the final few hundred metres to the hut, unfortunately unheated, but dry nevertheless.

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After a few hours break, including a large breakfast and well-earned rest, we set off for the rest of the descent. The sky was much clearer now, but our legs remained stiff and shaky from the travails of the descent. We stumbled down the mountain, feeling unbearably aged, and knowing our muscles would not recover for days.

We had successfully climbed to the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Many others had not made it to the top that day, so we were extremely lucky to have achieved what we did. We may not have been graced by the impressive views from the summit which we expected, but the hike was a challenging experience that was fun nevertheless. I met two lovely girls, and the hike was a true bonding experience. No regrets, even if I could not walk for four days afterwards.

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