How not to train for Mt Kinabalu
By the way, Timpohon Gate is really a gate. You have to have a plastic ID badge to get passed. All climbers passing the gate must wear a badge. It’s got a nice photo of the mountain on the front with the text,”Welcome to Mt. Kinabalu, Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints”. You get to keep it too. It’s a nice keepsake from your trip. It looks great next to my certificate! After the hike I looked back at the “Welcome to Mt. Kinabalu” part and had the ironic thought that it was a lot like the “Welcome to Canada” sign painted on the cement wall at the exit of the fastest chicane at the Canadian F1 Grand Prix where everyone crashes spectacularly.
Climbing Kinabalu.. or The Sandarkan Death March Part II
Let’s talk about training for the Mt Kinabalu climb. I’m quite lucky in Quy Nhon because it’s quite hilly along the coast here. In particular, there’s Gheng Rang Hill. This is a 230m high hill at the south end of the city with a path going to the top. The path consists of about 650m of steps and 150m of uphill path and the total altitude change is about 200m. This works out to a slope of 25%, slightly less than Mount Kinabalu’s 26% (8.7 km hike, 2,300m climb). I think it will provide pretty good training for Mt Kinabalu.
There are, of course, some differences. On Mount Kinabalu it’s a continuous climb without any downhill stretches whereas on Gheng Rang Hill I get get regular rests by going back to the bottom. This makes a huge difference – I’m breathing deeply on the way up but breathing normally on the way down. I’m also coping with heat here, which isn’t a real problem on Kinabalu. And it doesn’t prep me for the altitude. Not much I can do about that, unless I tape my mouth shut and plug one nostril… The truth is that the only thing that preps you for climbing Mount Kinabalu is climbing Mount Kinabalu.
Over the past month, I’ve been steadily increasing the intensity of my training. Two weeks ago, I scaled the hill four times and did it fairly easily – 800m of climbing and 6.4 kms distance in a bit over three hours. Although my legs felt a bit tired, there was no soreness or stiffness afterwards.
Last week, I upped it to 5 laps and really struggled on the fifth climb. I mean, really struggled – I was starting to feel nauseous and overheated by the end of the fourth lap. I considered stopping for the day. However, I felt that if I couldn’t do one more puny little climb then I’d better not attempt Kinabalu. So, onwards and upwards.
By the time I got home I was exhausted. It wasn’t at all like the previous week. I drank a litre of water, showered and crashed out for a nap. However, I woke thirty minutes later with excruciating cramping in my calves. Lack of salt, of course. I drank one of those performance drinks that was left in the fridge and I was fine shortly after. I sat down and thought about what I had done wrong. How did I screw up? Let me count the ways.
- The previous night I went out for a couple (well, three) beers after knocking off work in the evening. I got home at about ten and knowing that I had an early start for the hike the next morning went straight to bed. Without eating. I overslept slightly the next morning and got up at 5:00 instead of my planned 4 AM start, so I quickly packed my backpack with water and all my equipment and headed out the door. Without eating. That’s right, a 1,000 metre climb and 8 kilometre hike when I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. Stupid.
- Although we’re well into autumn here, it was a warmer than usual day. Quite warm, in fact, so the heat started getting to me. My late start didn’t help at all either. Even though I was feeling the heat – and the onset of mild heat stroke – by the end of the fourth lap, pride wouldn’t let me stop when I should have. Stupid.
- I brought along plenty of water (4 litres), but it wasn’t enough. This was mainly because most of the water bottles were frozen and I was drinking faster that it was melting. Stupid.
- I used plenty of sunscreen on my upper body and face, none on my legs. Stupid.
- And, of course, not replacing the salt I lost through perspiration. To be honest, though, this is the first time in my life I’ve had problems with cramping for this reason. Still, I think it qualifies as stupid.
On the plus side, I was fine later in the day. No soreness, not particularly tired and in general I shaped up pretty well. For the record, I climbed (and descended) 1,000m and hiked 8 kms in four hours. That’s two-thirds of the way from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. And down again.
So, earlier this week I acquired a brand new head-lamp. I got up at three AM yesterday morning, had a coffee and breakfast (a fruit shake with bananas, a mango, soy milk and yoghurt – yum!), started at 4:00 am, carried 5 litres of water (three litres unfrozen)and a couple of bottles of Revive, and lubricated myself all over with sunscreen. And promised myself I would bail out if I started having problems.
It worked a treat, too. Six ascents, 1,200m of climbing/descending, over ten kms distance covered in five and a half hours. Things I learned:
- The head lamp worked well, a good clear light and comfortable to wear. However, I was climbing and descending much more slowly and carefully in the dark. The torch is no substitute for daylight.
- The trekking poles are a necessity. They make the ascent noticeably easier, and are worth their weight in gold going down the steps.
- I’ve discovered the limits of my fitness. My legs were stiff and sore last night and I’m not feeling too spry this morning either.
Next week: seven ascents. This amounts to 1,400m of climbing, the same as Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. At this rate, if anything stops me from completing the Kinabalu climb, it won’t be lack of fitness.
[Update: I’ve added the Google Earth screen shot above to show my training trail (in red). Quy Nhon City is on the right. Note the taller hill in the background. The highest point is 560m, and there’s a network of criss-crossing forestry trails zigzagging all over the hill. Fun :)]