Climbing Mt Kinabalu: Part 3 – To Laban Rata
[I’m sorry about the delay in continuing the story. Since returning from Malaysia I’ve been swamped with work, travel and visiting relatives. I got back on Monday, seven days ago, and managed a couple of instalments. My young niece and nephew arrived from Australia on Wednesday and they’re pretty demanding on my time. My employer sent me to Tuy Hoa for three days on Friday and I just got back yesterday. I have to take the kids hill climbing this morning when they get up. So, here I sit with my coffee at dawn in front of the PC.]
The first stage of the climb was from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata Resthouse. Laban Rata is six kilometres of hiking away with 1,400 metres of climbing to be done. Typical times for this leg are in the five-to-six hour range, with one-day-hikers often doing it in two and a half hours and some people taking eight (or more) hours.
The first couple of hundred metres from Timpohon Gate are downhill. As any seasoned hiker will tell you, when you’re ascending a mountain every step taken downhill adds another step you have to climb uphill. At the lowest point we reached Carson Falls, normally a lovely waterfall but rather disappointing on the day as there was only a trickle of water coming down.
From Carson Falls it was uphill every inch of the way. Carlance led the way, rather slowly the rest of the party thought. He explained that it was important to climb slowly to help you acclimatise to the altitude. As for me, I was satisfied to bring up the rear. I knew my optimum hiking speed on hills from experience. I thought I could have gone a bit quicker but I was mindful of the altitude. There was a lot of variation in slope – steep stretches climbing up stairs with tall steps followed by a section of track with a relatively gentle slope. The steps were the most challenging part. I was definitely giving my upper body a good workout with the aid of the trekking poles. And, not for the first time, thanking my decision to buy them.
There were shelters every kilometre or so, a hut where you could sit, rest your legs and restock on water. These, as well as the regular distance markers, helped us keep track of our progress. The water in the tanks is mountain water and advertised as potable. Quite a few people who wrote about their experience were dubious about drinking it without water purification tablets. However, in all the reports that I’ve read about climbing the mountain nobody reported any after effects from it. On the basis of over two decades spent in South East Asia, I decided to take a punt on trusting it. It was clear, cold and tasted great.
We lucked in on the weather. While generally overcast the temperature was on the cool side of balmy, shirt sleeve weather. The rainforest on either side of the trail was fascinating and made up for the lack of a view. I didn’t see a whole lot of animal life aside from the local squirrels and a lot of insect life. Fortunately there was no sign of the promised mosquitoes so my insect repellent stayed packed away.
It took us just over three hours to reach Layang Layang Shelter at around the four kilometre sign. By mutual agreement, this is where we stopped for lunch. Quite a few people had arrived before us, and some were already making preparations to leave. The packed lunch that was supplied to us was much better than I expected: a thick sandwich, an apple, a piece of fried chicken and a packaged cookie. I really can’t remember what was in the sandwich, but it went down damned well. I was feeling pretty peckish at this point.
After lunch, we resumed climbing. We had left the rain forest area by this time and were well into the alpine scrub – short, stunted, scrawny-looking trees. We were finally above the clouds and hiking under clear blue skies. For the first time we could look back and get a view. Mostly clouds, but still a view of sorts. The temperature and humidity had dropped too, making for perfect hiking weather.
The last stop before Laban Rata was Paka Shelter. There was an abrupt change of scenery and trail here – taller, shadier trees with much of the hiking involving stepping from boulder to boulder. We had been on the trail for nearly five hours by this time. Surprisingly I still felt quite chipper and was hanging out for a well-earned beer, so I decided to forge on ahead. The last half kilometre or so was fairly steep and very rocky so the going was tricky.
Suddenly, I came around the bend and there it was – Laban Rata! Looking just as I had seen it in scores of pictures, it was almost a deja vu feeling. From there, it was a quick stroll across the helipad, around the side to the main entrance and into the dining room. Finding an empty table, I dumped my gear, grabbed a 27 ringitt (roughly eight dollars) beer and settled down to wait for the rest of the gang.
2Stroke, Nutty and Karaoke weren’t too far behind. We had made it in reasonably good time, in under five and a half hours. We had a few hours to kill until dinner was ready but none of us were feeling particularly energetic. Funny that. We checked in, sharing a tiny room with three bunk beds with two other fellows. Being the latecomers, we scored the three top bunks and one bottom. I had hoped to manage a hot shower but no luck – I got little better than a trickle of chilly water. Still, it was enough to rinse the trail grime off. Much refreshed and in clean clothes we sat down to await dinner.
Laban Rata offers only buffet style dining. The fare wasn’t particularly exciting but I was hungry enough not to be very choosy. Curry, fried rice and noodles and several meat and veggie dishes were available. I had a bit of everything and managed to put away two plates.
6:30 PM, and bed time. The beds were clean and comfortable with plenty of bedding. Expecting a cold night (and remember, I’ve spent much of my adult life in the tropics), I decided to sleep in tomorrow’s hiking gear. This was a mistake. I crashed out as soon as my head hit the pillow only to wake up a short time later sweating. I ended up sleeping with only a sheet over me.
I was surprised with how few people were on the climb on the day. My guesstimate of around thirty people at Timpohon Gate at the start was very close to the mark. I was expecting over a hundred. Whether it was the off season, or mid-week (we climbed on Wednesday/Thursday), or the recent reopening after the quake last June, or a combination or all three, we saw relatively few people on the trail. We must have been among the very last to arrive at Laban Rata. It worked out well, though. There was no trouble finding a table in the dining room and little queueing for food or showers.
I wasn’t particularly surprised at being outnumbered by younger people. Aside from our group (me at sixty with 2Stroke due to reach that magic number at midnight and Karaoke and Nutty being in their fifties), there were only two other climbers of our generation: an older Chinese man due to hit sixty in February who was on his fifth climb (accompanied by his son-in-law on his first) and an Englishman in his mid-fifties. I can claim seniority by six months over 2Stroke. Of particular satisfaction was that we held our own against the youngsters (you know, people in their thirties and forties). We weren’t that far behind the main cluster of climbers that arrived. However, we were all quite fit for people our age, being runners (well, Hashers, in fact) as well as regular hikers.