Climbing Mt Kinabalu: Part 2 – The Start
The trail was a bit tough right from the beginning – before long we’d nicknamed it the “Never Ending Stairway” and Debbie started feeling pretty dizzy. The rain (which had cleared up earlier) also came back with a vengeance and didn’t go away completely for the rest of the day. The rain made things a lot trickier – we all had to wear big ponchos that got in the way, all our clothes soaked through, and you really had to watch your step. Some of the trail was more like walking up a rocky mountain stream than a hiking trail.
In fact it was so wet that the guide warned us not to go further than Laban Rata if it was raining with the same gusto the next day … and once we got a good look at the top of the mountain we could see why. There were streams/rivers of white water flowing all over the rock faces!
The trek got harder and harder, as the well formed stairs gave way to rocks, the track got steeper, and the altitude affected us more (dizziness, struggling for breath, increased heart rate).
At about five 5km in (the trail was 6km to Laban Rata, and another 2.7km to the summit), we were rewarded with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside, as the clouds surrounding us parted. But from there it got really difficult and the last 1km seemed to take forever. Debbie had a really bad cramp in her leg and had to take one step at a time very slowly. Plus we were all getting damn cold … our clothes were soaked through (turns out there’s not really any such thing as waterproof), and we hadn’t dressed that warmly (we’d been told that it wouldn’t be cold until after Laban Rata – how did we know it would only be 8.8 degrees C!).
Amazing Borneo, the people we booked our climb with, sent a bus around to collect us at our respective accommodations at the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM. We had a hour and a half journey to get to the mountain, a road distance of about 80 kilometres. Our first glimpse of Mt Kinabalu came when we were still 15 kilometres away. A few minutes later, I was able to get a reasonably clear shot from my phone camera.
I can’t tell you how many pictures of Mt Kinabalu I’ve looked at since we started planning the climb. Pictures don’t begin to give you a sense of how massive it is. It was at this point I started to think to myself, “Uh oh. What have I gotten myself into here?”
The bus took us to the Kinabalu Park Headquarters, where we were greeted by the Amazing Borneo reps. We were introduced to Carlance, our mountain guide. We had some waiting to do as they got us all organised and delivered our ID cards. [All climbers are issued with an ID card on a lanyard to wear around the neck. This must be worn at all times and presented at each check point as well as when checking into Laban Rata. No card, no mountain.] After the formalities were out of the way, the bus took us up to Timpohon Gate, the first check point. Here, Carlance gave us the pre-climb briefing. There was nothing new for us really, although he stressed the importance of taking your time on the ascent to help you to acclimatise to the higher altitudes.
Carlance, by the way, has been a Mt Kinabalu mountain guide for about fifteen years. At two or three ascents a week, well… I’ll let you do the math. Anyway, with that we took our first steps climbing Mt Kinabalu.