Category Archives: equipment

Climbing Mt Kinabalu: Part 1 – Kota Kinabalu

We saw some pretty funny things on the way up, a sixty five year old man over take us, Malaysian people with 80kg bags pass us twice to drop things off at the guest house, some pretty bright man-leggings, a man dressed in pointy shoes, tight jeans and a polo shirt with no bag hiking up, looking like he was on his way out to a club. It was beautiful scenery though, the valleys, clouds, waterfalls, the people and the jungle. But this was all very hard to appreciate when you are buggered and can’t speak or smile as even a smile would probably take more energy away from you which you need to save to make it up. The whole way we could not see how far we had climbed or views as we were above the clouds and it was to misty. But as we came up a flight of stairs (rocks) the clouds parted and we saw how high we were in the sky and the tip of Mt Kinabalu, it was incredible. The view gave me more willpower to keep climbing as it showed us how far we had already climbed.

Mt Kinabalu.. more like Mt F**kin Hard!

The trip to Kota Kinabalu was both busy and enjoyable. My young niece and nephew (eleven years old and eight years old respectively) happened to be in Saigon with their mother visiting family, so I took them out for a pizza for lunch on Friday, New Year’s Day. I worked in Saigon for over a decade and still know a lot of people there, so Friday night was spent catching up with old friends.

I caught a taxi early on Saturday morning to Tân Sơn Nhất Airport in an effort to beat the rush hour traffic. The flight to Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur was uneventful, although I arrived at KL International Airport just as my climbing mate Karaoke and his partner Nutty were boarding their flight to KK. I had to wait a couple of hours for my own flight, so I went and picked up a Malaysian SIM card for my phone. The biggest drama for the week happened on my arrival at Kota Kinabalu International Airport. I waited in vain for half an hour at the luggage carousel for my suitcase. Eventually, there was just one lonely-looking bucket wrapped in plastic left, forlornly making its way around the carousel.

To cut a long story short, I…

  • reported my missing suitcase at the “help-I’ve-lost-my bags” office
  • caught a bus into the city
  • checked into my hotel
  • got in touch with Karaoke and arranged to meet for dinner
  • took a nice long hot shower and dressed in my less-than-fragrant travel clothes
  • managed to locate Karaoke and his better half, Nutty (yes, another Hash name),  at the outdoor Chinese restaurant that they had selected
  • got my suitcase delivered to my hotel after it turned up on the next flight from KL
  • found a waterfront place that sold cold beer at reasonable prices
  • hooked up with 2Stroke, 4Stroke and Jules when they arrived quite late

The rest of the evening, not surprisingly was a bit of a blur.

 

So went Saturday night. We weren’t due to start the climb until Wednesday, which left us three days to do any necessary shopping and play tourist. In keeping with my general trend of keeping the long story short:

  • 2Stroke’s baby sister Sprog arrived (not a Hash name)
  • Johnsie, another of 2Stroke’s old mates, also made an appearance
  • I went shopping in  the local hiking shops in search of jacket, hiking pants and other necessities
  • 2Stroke delivered my order of trekking poles
  • The four Hashers among us—2Stroke, Nutty, Karaoke and me—joined the Jesselton Hash House Harriers for a very hilly jungle run
  • We went snorkelling off the beach at Manukan Island, followed by lunch and rather too many beers

After all this, I reckon we needed to climb the mountain just to rest up.

The journey begins

This will likely be my last post for a while. I’m flying down to Saigon today (New Year’s Day), spending the night there and then flying to Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. I may be able to post some smaller updates, but I’ll have to use my tablet and that’s a royal pain in the arse for writing on. Anyway, I’m pretty much prepared for the climb. Training this month was interrupted by bad weather last week, a heavy pre-Christmas workload and a scare with my knee.

That last item was the big worry. I injured my right knee in a motorbike accident about fifteen years ago and it’s never been dependable since. I’ve been able to take up running again but every two or three years it goes sproing!!! and that’s the end of running for another year or so. So, there I was a couple of weeks ago on lap six of a planned nine-or-ten-lap session, coming down the hill. I stepped down rather heavily off a tallish step and felt that familiar lancing pain in my dodgy knee. I froze, saying to myself, “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck…”

After a couple of seconds I gingerly took another step, putting the bulk of my weight on my trekking poles. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. I continued down, stepping carefully and keeping as much weight as possible off my right leg.

By the time I got to the bottom, my knee felt normal again. I was strongly tempted to continue, but I’ve learned through bitter experience that when my knee says, “Stop!”, it’s best to pay attention. So, I took a week off from training. I did a short two hour hike around the back trails of my training hill on Sunday. I felt no twinges and everything shaped up well.

I did another short hike yesterday and then cleaned my  hiking boots and assorted gear in preparation for packing. My To Do list is assembled (albeit incomplete still – I keep adding to it) and everything is ticked off. Several things have to wait till I get to Saigon, chief among them is changing Vietnamese dong to Malaysian ringitt. I’ll take about 15 million with me (the dong is a peculiar currency with lots of zeroes and a most unfortunate name). This is about USD700 plus another $200 in mixed currencies. Most of my tour is paid for, so I just have to cover beer, hotel, beer, food, beer, shopping, beer and sundry expenses. Hmm, that’s a lot of beer. Better bring extra money. I’ve got my credit card for backup but I’d rather avoid using that.

Today’s plans include:

  • nipping into work early and printing more air tickets – my wife will join me in Saigon when I return from Malaysia
  • travelling to Saigon and checking into a hotel
  • picking up my nephew and niece en route from the airport to my hotel. They’re visiting from Australia so I’ll take them out for lunch and some shopping/sightseeing in Saigon’s central business district
  • meeting some old friends and hoisting a few beers with them this evening

Tomorrow morning I have to brave the Saigon morning rush hour, departing early to make sure I’ll get to the airport in time for my mid-morning flight. It’s a two-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, with a three-hour layover followed by another two hours to Kota Kinabalu. If all goes well, I’ll be in KK by 5:00 PM tomorrow. Most of the rest of the party will arrive tomorrow evening from Australia, with a few stragglers coming in on Sunday and Monday. We’ve got eight of us meeting there, but only three of us (2Stroke, Karaoke and myself) actually doing the mountain. 4Stroke is very disappointed, having to pull out of the climb because of a stress fracture in her ankle.

My plans for Kota Kinabalu mainly involve final shopping, sampling the local cuisine, copious quantities of beer and if possible a Hash run with one of the local Hash chapters.

 

 

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.

South East Asia’s Highest Peak

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.

 

Shopping…

From the start at Timpohon Gate, the guide led and walked in a slow even pace. It was too slow for me, so I overtook him – which was a hint to him that I was capable of walking much faster. It didn’t last long though. The path was like a staircase, every single step was going upwards. Soon, I was tired, soaking wet in sweat, and decided it was better for him to lead and walk in a slow pace. You can see I was new to climbing mountains and committed the cardinal sin … never overtake a mountain guide.
Mountains: Kinabalu, Malaysia

There are two main things that I have to think about prior to heading off to Kota Kinabalu: equipment and fitness. Although I’ve been doing a lot of hiking in the Quy Nhon area over the last couple of years, they’ve generally been over relatively short distances. The longest hikes were around 9-10 kilometres, although to be fair there was a 560m peak in the middle. Still, the only things I had to carry were water and a packed lunch and the only hiking equipment I had – or needed – was my trusty pair of Merrell off-road running shoes. I’ll need more than this for Mount Kinabalu.

Unlike Malaysians, Vietnamese people aren’t very keen on hiking. The only hiking/outdoor shops that I can find in Vietnam are in Hanoi and Sapa. According to the reports I read they mainly sell cheap knock-offs of brand-name products, stuff that falls apart almost immediately. I’m not keen on travelling the 700 kms to Saigon or the 1,100 kms to Hanoi on what will likely be a fruitless search for hiking equipment.

My options locally are virtually nil. My new (lightweight) backpack that I picked up a couple of weeks ago has failed. The zipper keeps separating and one of the plastic clips holding the shoulder straps broke. This is after perhaps half-a-dozen hikes with only 5-6 kilos aboard. It’s a pity because the material and stitching seem to be good quality, and it was quite comfortable. What would have been a solid budget backpack is spoiled by substandard fittings. I hope I can replace the existing plastic adjustors with metal D-rings. The brand name, by the way, is ‘Camel Mountain’ – Chinese made but widely available.

Online shopping has its own pitfalls. I won’t buy footwear or clothing if I can’t try it on. Amazon won’t ship to Quy Nhon, and in any case the shipping costs from anywhere outside of Asia are horrendous. There’s a Chinese online shopping company called AliExpress that looks dodgy as hell. I’m suspicious about companies that offer an 80% discount on “genuine” Leki trekking poles. Further research into AliExpress showed that customer comments are overwhelmingly negative. No thanks.

Several weeks ago I looked into a Vietnamese online shopping web site, Lazada.vn. They seem relatively reliable and I know people who have ordered through them with no real issues, so I took a punt. I ordered a pair of Coleman trekking poles from them. This, by the way, is the ONLY hiking equipment they carry. The poles arrived three days later and were exactly as represented, so no complaints there. Since then I’ve also purchased a head lamp from them, which I’m also happy with.

2Stroke and 4Stroke have kindly offered to buy what I need from Darwin and bring it up to Borneo for me, but my comments about clothes and shoes still apply. And I still like to fondle the merchandise before I buy.

Which brings me to my last option: waiting until I get to Kota Kinabalu and going shopping there. A little more research led me to this page: Hiking/outdoor shops in KK. It looks like I’ll be able to get just about everything I need there.

Welcome.

Call me PD*.

2Stroke is an old friend of mine. Very old, in fact. His daughter, 4Stroke (because she’s quieter and less polluting),  got in touch with me earlier this year and said that her dad wanted to commune with his hairy, wild cousins who live in the  jungles of Borneo on his 60th birthday, and was I interested in joining the party?

I confess I wasn’t aware of 2Stroke’s close relationship to orang-utans (although it explains a few things I had wondered about over the years, such as his generally hirsute appearance and his extreme fondness for bananas). Anyway, it sounded good to me, especially as I’m already in the neighbourhood. In fact, if I head down to the beach and swim south-east for a thousand kilometres or so I’ll be there.

So, after a number of emails between 2Stroke, his less hairy relatives and friends and myself, the trip quickly gelled. We’re going to Sabah in January, to the tropical city of Kota Kinabalu. While the more sensible members of the group lie around in hammocks under palm trees sipping on piña coladas, four of us – 2Stroke, 4Stroke, Karaoke and me – will attempt to hike up Mount Kinabalu.

Hence this blog.

In the following entries I’ll cover planning and preparation for the trip plus other items of interest regarding Mt Kinabalu and surrounds. And, of course, the climb itself.

* It’s a Hash** name, and as such it’s rude and insulting. Please don’t ask what PD stands for. I’d have to tell you and post a picture and then we’d both be embarrassed. In fact, all the principal characters here are Hashers, which explains the use of strange nicknames.

** Hash House Harriers. 2Stroke and I coincidentally discovered Hashing independently of each other.