Monthly Archives: December 2015
We awoke at 2.30am and got ourselves ready. A group had gathered in the dining room but it was considerably smaller than the one that had been there earlier, obviously there had been some drop outs. We were told that the weather would very likely make the final ascent impossible and, although it was a little better than earlier, that we should only attempt the remaining 2kms if we were really confident in our mountain climbing abilities! Not confident at all, I decided that I hadn’t come this far to quit and that I would head out and crawl up if I had to. As it turned out, the park ranger appeared at 3am to say that the summit was closed and sent us back to our beds. Apparently a small river had burst it’s banks near the summit and the flood had frozen into a thick layer of ice that would make the climb too dangerous without specialist equipment.
When I talked about equipment earlier, I had overlooked my hiking boots. About three years or so ago, I was on a trip down to Saigon and went shopping for some new hashing shoes – in other words, trail running shoes. I stopped in at one of the department stores and found a neat pair of Merrell cross-country running shoes that fit perfectly. I also spotted a pair of hiking boots in my size, and thought to myself, “Why not?”. I left the store 3.5 million dong (roughly US$170) lighter in pocket but satisfied with my purchases.
Fast forward three years. My Merrells are still in use although their days are numbered. The soles have been reattached twice now, but the cushioning is gone and the tread is reaching the end of its life. I no longer run in them but they’re fine for walking. I bought a new pair on my last trip to Australia a year ago that I use for running.
Alas, I was disappointed in the hiking boots. The brand name is Caravan, which I believe is made in Japan. They felt OK when I tried them on in the store, so I decided to wear them back to my hotel, a two kilometre walk away. By the time I got to my room, my feet were sore. Nevertheless, I persevered with them and took them for a couple of short one hour hikes after I got home. I liked the grip that they provided – the soles had a nice chunky soft rubber tread – but they seemed a bit too heavy. More importantly, they put a lot of pressure on the top of my feet and I was limping slightly by the end of the walk. The other big problem was that they collected water. The last time I took them out was after a heavy shower and rain drops from the foliage soaked in through the fabric. I finished the hike with water sloshing around inside the boots. Reluctantly, I put them away and chalked it up to experience.
Fast forward to the present: I’ve been doing a lot of research on the subjects of Mt Kinabalu and hiking in general since 4Stroke first floated the Mt Kinabalu plan. Among the little nuggets of knowledge gleaned from various hiking web sites was the concept of breaking in your hiking boots.
Ah. My ill-fitting hiking boots are not actually ill-fitting. I just haven’t broken them in yet. Well, I have mentioned before that I’m new to serious hiking. I pulled them out of storage, dusted them off, pulled them on and went for a short hike. Amazingly, they were more comfortable than before. Two or three hikes later and they felt damned good. The final test was a fifteen kilometre hike lasting eight hours and climbing two steepish hills. The only soreness I felt was on the soles of my feet due to spending so much time walking, not anything wrong with the boots. I’ve been using the boots for two months now and they’ll be fine for Kinabalu. The glue on one of the soles failed, so I had them reglued and stitched up as well.
There’s still the minor matter of waterproofing. Luckily, another tip I found was the notion of wearing plastic bags between two pairs of socks. I tried ordinary plastic supermarket bags but they weren’t strong enough – both bags had large holes in the heels after a few hours. For the second experiment I tried the plastic bags that you find in the supermarket produce section. These worked better but they slid down and scrunched up around my toes. Then, I tried taping the bags to the inner socks with ordinary cellophane tape and then pulling on the outer socks. Worked a treat – I went for a five hour hike on a rainy day and my feet stayed toasty warm and, well, nearly dry. The only problem with the plastic bag idea is that your feet perspire and the moisture has no place to go.
My other hiking equipment acquisition was a heavy duty belt bag with twin holsters for water bottles. The main pouch is large enough to hold a bag of trail mix, disposable raincoat and a few other items, plus there are other pouches to hold my camera and GPS. I bought that over the Internet from China. I was a bit reluctant given the dodgy reputation of many Chinese businesses. However, the same company sells through Amazon and payment was made via PayPal so I thought it was worth taking a chance. It took four weeks to arrive but I’m happy with the choice.
2Stroke has purchased a pair of Leki trekking poles for me to replace my Colemans. I don’t regret buying the Coleman poles but they aren’t really designed for the kind of treatment I’m giving them. One pole is slightly bent so it won’t fully retract and they’re starting to look somewhat decrepit. I still need to get a decent backpack, but I’ll wait till I get to Kota Kinabalu for that.
The next morning we awoke at the unfriendly hour of 2am for breakfast after being told that we should be leaving for the summit at 2:30am. However, this was not the case as 2:30am is the time that the slower individuals should leave. The both of us, along with a German guy called Matthius were the last to depart the facility at 3:45am, and along with our guide we began the windy stretch to the peak. Head torches were needed as it was pitch black and the terrain was difficult to navigate, but this was one of the highlights of our walk as it felt rather adventurous clambering over rocks in the darkness with the wind howling past! At parts a rope was needed to haul ourselves up the steeper sections which was actually a welcomed break from all the stairs! We reached the summit (4095) in 2 hours, overtaking many people on their hands and knees crawling up the rocks! The view from the peak was incredible but we couldn’t stay long as it was freezing up there, we were so glad we’d brought gloves with us! It was pretty amazing slowly seeing where we were as the sun started to rise – up until then we had no clue as to what our surroundings looked like!
Mt Kinabalu was closed for nearly six months after the tragic Earthquake last June. It re-opened on December 1st with the first group of climbers, mountain guides and journalists reaching the summit the following morning.
The main change is the new route along the summit trail. Major parts of the summit trail above Laban Rata were damaged during the earthquake with much of the trail covered with rocks and rubble. After surveying the section it was decided that it wasn’t feasible to repair that section because the rocks were unstable and still shifting. The park authorities decided to to construct two new trails skirting around the old trail, one to the west and another to the east. The two trails will leave from Laban Rata and meet at the Sayat-Sayat checkpoint.
The first of the new trails, Ranau Trail, is now open. It’s more scenic (yay!), more challenging (um…) and several hundred metres longer (boo!) than the previous trail. Amazing Borneo has posted the video below onto YouTube:
As you can see, the major changes are the construction of steps up the rock face and the boulder-strewn trail. The last part is the main concern. That’s not going to be easy at night. I reckon that head lamps have been promoted from “highly recommended” to “absolutely essential”. You can also see some of the aftermath of the earthquake: loose rocks on the plateau, broken signs and so on.
The other trail, Kota Belud Trail, is still under construction but the completion date hasn’t been announced yet.
Everyone I’d spoken to who climbed Mount Kinabalu told me what an amazing experience it was…what they failed to tell me is that the experience is amazing at the summit…and at the bottom…everything in between is a mixture of exhaustion, denial, regret, a lot of sweat and occasional bouts of swearing.
I’ll fly to Saigon on New Year’s Day, and on to Kota Kinabalu via Kula Lumpur the next day. I know from experience that AirAsia seats don’t fit six-footers too well (during my last flight to KL, my knees were hard up against the seat in front of me) so I ponied up the extra to get a seat next to the emergency exit.
I haven’t booked a hotel in KK yet. After looking at all the booking options I thought it would be easier just to roll up on the day and check out the budget hotels in the central market area. I arrive at KK airport around five in the afternoon, so that gives me plenty of time to find digs before catching up with 2Stroke and the gang. They’ll arrive later the same evening.
So, where do I stand with my training now? Pretty damned well, I reckon. I’ve been logging my climbs and worked out that in the month of November I climbed just over 10,000 metres (6.2 miles) and hiked somewhere around 120 kilometres. I think I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been before.
My aim is not just to be able to reach Lowe’s Peak. I want to get there and down again without being absolutely shagged at the end. With that in mind, I still want to do ten laps of my training hill in one day: 2,000 metres of steps up and down and 16 kms of hiking. I reckon I can do it, since I’ve already managed seven laps in a day without too much difficulty.
I’ve learned a lot along the way. Rabbits might be able to beat tortoises, but the tortoise usually wins in the end. If I really push it I can do a lap of my training hill in about 30 minutes, but it’s exhausting. When I crawl up slowly and steadily, taking baby steps and a five-to-ten minute break each lap it takes a hour, but I can go all day.
I went to Nha Trang last weekend for their Christmas Run and 150th Run celebration. They generally do flat runs but this time threw in a 110 metre hill for something different. I haven’t done any running for the last ten weeks, but surprised myself with my endurance. I was about the tenth person in, but that was because I took the wrong trail when I was in the lead and ran an extra kilometre or two.
I also used the Nha Trang run to compare a few GPS apps on my phone. I’ll have a report on these up soon.