Boots! And other gear.
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.