Category Archives: training

One month to go!

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.

Climb EVERY mountain? One is enough for me…

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.




The training continues

We finally got started at 11am, just as the heavens opened. And did they open! Imagine the heaviest rainstorm in England and times by ten! The rocky paths were running like rivers in no time at all. The climb starts at 1800 metres and we would finish day one at Laban Rata at 3,300 metres. The first days climb would have us cover 6 kilometres and 1500 metres vertical. I didn’t think that sounded too bad, but Stuart reminded me that it would be like a 1:3 hill all the way! The climb was relentless. The beginning took us up a mixture of natural rocky steps and some man made steps but at about half way the route started to get considerably harder. Now all natural rocks to climb, it was relentless and we were stopping regularly to recover our breath. Let’s say it was the longest 5 hours of my life – well perhaps with the exception of having a baby!

Climbing Mount Kinabalu


I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks, partly because I finally caught up on my backlog of writings but also because I ran out of things to talk about.

I didn’t do much training the week before last. I had major ambitions but when it came to actually standing at the base of the hill with gear and backpack, I just couldn’t find the energy. After three laps I pulled the pin and called it a day. I gradually came to the realisation that I’m trying to do too much in too little time. Let’s face it, I’m not exactly a spring chicken now.

Still, there were a few positives to the break. I continued my regular laps of my training hill, but only a couple of laps at a time. That still amounted to climbing it nine times during the week (um, 1,800 metres and about 9 hours of hiking).

Last week I felt more ambitious. I planned a big session for Wednesday and took off at four AM. Unfortunately it turned out to be a beautiful day and quickly got too warm. After four laps I decided to finish up and wait for a cooler day. I took Friday off work and decided a change was in order. Instead doing the training hill I thought I’d do the ridge road instead. This involves hiking up the big hill from Quy Hoa valley, hitting the ridge road and following that for about five kilometres until I get to the radar station overlooking the city and following the sealed road down from there.

I started at first light, five AM, and started hiking up the hill in the early morning gloom. The first 500 metres or so are quite steep, more than a 30% slope, and got my blood circulating in short order. It’s been about eight months since I last came up this way and with all the rain we’ve had recently large parts of the trail were overgrown. Still, I forced my way through the foliage and eventually emerged onto clear trails. From there, it didn’t take long to reach the ridge. At this point I’d hiked three kilometres and reached 500 metres altitude, after starting at sea level. The weather was perfect, regular light showers to cool me down and a steady breeze.


Looking down at Quy Hoa Valley. The smaller hill next to the beach is my regular training hill.

I stopped for a brunch break when I hit the ridge road, sitting on a rock that marks the high point of the ridge, about 560 metres above sea level. By this time the weather started clearing but but the breeze strengthened – perfect hiking weather.

The ridge road was a new experience for me. I’ve hiked along here before but this was the first time I’d done it with trekking poles. It’s an undulating dirt road following the ridge line for about five kilometres before joining the sealed road leading down into Quy Nhon City. This is the first time that


The ridge road

I’ve done an extended stretch of open hiking trail with the poles and it made a huge difference. Not only was walking up inclines faster and easier but there was a fairly long downhill stretch on a slippery red clay surface where my boots just weren’t gripping. The sticks made it so much easier to keep my footing. There have been a lot of changes since my last hike along here. The trees have been cleared  so it’s a lot more barren that before. I passed a dozen or so forestry workers busy planting seedlings so in another year or two it should be much improved.

Four more kilometres of reasonably brisk hiking brought me to the end of the ridge road and the peak of the hill overlooking Quy Nhon. A great spot for lunch, I thought to myself, so I stretched out on the grass under a tree, removed my boots, had my lunch and relaxed for a bit. Bliss. It was time to make a move when I caught myself dozing off. MIMG_20151120_094931y legs had started to stiffen up. The trekking poles made it much easier to get to my feet (Chalk up yet another use for these handy items). From here it was downhill for about three kilometres along a concrete road. This road, by the way, dates from the days of the Vietnam War when Quy Nhon was a strategic supply base for the American military. If you check out the images on Google Earth, you’ll see that somebody has posted images of the outpost that used to be situated at the top of the hill.


The West Face

By the time I got to the bottom I was feeling pretty good. I had covered about eleven kms but I wasn’t quite ready to head back to my motorbike at the start. Directly in front of me was the west face of my much smaller training hill, so I figured, why the hell not. I set off along the road until I reached a path heading upwards – a new one I’d never been on before. This trail, was narrow, winding and led up the steepest side of the hill. Once again, the trekking poles carried the day for me. Between the slippery, muddy trail and the steep slope it would have been a struggle without them. By the time I reached the top the climb had taken its toll on me. It was time to head back. I had another three kilometres to get back to the bike but at least it was downhill and on the level.


I got back to the bike about 45 minutes later, tired but satisfied. This would have to be one of the longest hikes I’ve ever done, certainly one with the greatest change in elevation. The Wikiloc figure tells the story. I think I’ll do a lot more of my training on the bigger mountain. It’s a lot more fun. First, however, I’ll need to spend a morning with my trusty jungle knife clearing a kilometre or so of trail.

(First) Target achieved

I traversed the Mesilau trail in September this year. We were ill prepared. And did not have enough food for the trip. I am an experienced tramper and easily cover 11km in 4-5 hours. We were not advised about extra food. I took plenty of water 2 litre bladder as well as two 650mls bottles. We all suffered from lack of fuel because we were not advised of the severity of the landscape. I am 71 years old and have been outdoors most of my adult life in all sorts of weather including snow and ice. Having said that I have good memories of the trip. I took wet weather gear, boots, not sneakers and a hiking pole as well as my normal hiking clothing. Wearing shorts and snow putties as well also helped.
Kinabalu Blog

I have a list of training targets that I want to achieve before we attempt Mt Kinabalu. The first of these is to do seven laps of my training steps. Seven laps is the equivalent of 1,400m of climbing as well as descending. This, not coincidentally, is about the same as we’ll climb from the start at Timpohon Gate to the Laban Rata Rest House.

My seven laps is similar to hiking up to Laban Rata and back down to Timpohon Gate. There are three key differences, though. Firstly, this leg of Mt Kinabalu is a non-stop climb, as opposed to the up-and-down laps that I’m doing. Also, I don’t have to cope with the altitude here. Finally, it’s much warmer in Quy Nhon – I’m doing all my hiking in t-shirts and shorts.

After I aborted Monday’s attempt at doing seven ascents of Xuan Van Hill, I tried again on Wednesday morning (Today is Friday). I followed Monday’s checklist again, but with the addition of a packed lunch: a banana, trail mix, crackers, a smallish bar of dark chocolate and a sandwich (quality bakery bread with mystery meat and plastic cheese, made palatable by generous dollops of Tabasco Habanero sauce).

Everything finally came together. I managed the seven climbs without difficulty, took a lunch break during the fourth climb, munched on trail mix and chocolate during my breaks and finished about seven hours after starting. There were a few other positives to come out of today’s hike.

  1. I was far from exhausted. I felt that I had at least two more laps left in me, but I had run out of time and food.
  2. My trekking pole skills are likewise coming along well. I’m planting the poles pretty much unconsciously. I’m not even looking at the poles when I’m planting it, instead looking for the best spot for the next plant.
  3. I’m starting to vary my rest steps depending on how my legs feel. When they start to tire, I slow down by making my rest steps last longer.

Lessons learned from the session:

  • As you’ll see from the quote above, bringing food along is important. We’ll be supplied with a packed lunch when we leave Timpohon Gate, but I’m sure it won’t be enough.
  • When I first started thinking about the Kinabalu climb, I thought it might be a good idea to push a bit harder during the first leg so we would have longer to recuperate at Laban Rata. Bad move, that. Going slowly and taking frequent rest stops is vital for finishing each leg without feeling exhausted.

My next target is to check my limits. My next off-day is next week, so I’ll pack extra food and water and just keep going until my legs call it quits. Common sense has to prevail here – I’m not going to kill myself. I’ll know when it’s time to stop.

I mentioned my targets at the top of the post. Having reached Laban Rata (figuratively speaking), my next target is to do eleven laps. This is similar to doing Timpohon Gate to Low’s Peak and back down again: 2,200 m of climbing/descending and a total distance of 17.6 kms in twelve hours plus rest breaks. I want to be able to achieve this without being totally knackered. With luck, I’ll manage this next week.

Once I’m getting the distance and altitude easily, I’ll need to up the ante by doing the same routine carrying a full backpack, ten-twelve kilos. I think I’ll do a few all-day hikes in between the training sessions, just for a break in routine as well as maintaining my overall fitness.

How not to train for Mt Kinabalu Part II

One thing I really loved about this trail were the signs every 1-1.5Km with a map and a dot exclaiming,”You are here”. It gave me a great sense that I wasn’t lost and it validated my feeling that I was moving much slower than usual. I’m a comfortable 1.5-2.0 mph hiker and I was averaging about 1 kmh! I figured the heat and humidity would slow me down, but Wow! The second thing I loved about this trail is that they didn’t waste resource and time cutting switchbacks into the trail. It seems they have a great love of this ecosystem and wanted to cut down as few trees and shrubs as possible. The trail goes straight up. Another item worthy of mentioning is the design of the steps cut into the hillside. Steps are 10 – 20 inches tall! I can only guess that the trail builders saw themselves as giants among men because the locals weren’t that tall, but the steps were huge. My old trick of taking small steps to save my poor thigh muscles just wasn’t working.
Climbing Kinabalu.. or The Sandarkan Death March Part II

If you hit me over the head enough times with a clue bat, eventually something begins to percolate through. I got up early yesterday, planning to achieve seven ascents of Xuan Van Hill, my main training course. Having learned from experience, I had my check list ready.

  1. early start… check
  2. big breakfast… check
  3. plenty of water… check
  4. equipment – poles, hat, head lamp,etc… check

So I left home dark and early (there’s nothing bright about four AM!), got to the hill and started climbing the steps. Winter (or the Quy Nhon equivalent) has set in. It was overcast, cool and there had been a few showers overnight. It was dark for the first lap but there was a half moon helping illuminate the path as well as the head lamp. By the time I got back to the bottom, dawn had broken so I swapped the head lamp for my trusty hiking hat.

The first laps went easily. I paced myself, rest-stepping but varying the time between steps to learn the optimum stepping time (answer: it depends on how steep the trail is and how you feel at the moment). I also practiced deep breathing to keep my system oxygenated.

Around lap three, it started to warm up until a moderately heavy shower started and cooled things down nicely. There was another shower during lap four, and another during lap five – the timing was perfect for keeping me cool and comfortable.

Lap six was when things started to go astray. Even though my legs didn’t feel particularly tired I started to run out of energy. It was a struggle to get to the top, so I gratefully collapsed under the tree, swigged water and another isotonic drink and thought about life.

This was when the little light bulb lit up above my head. I had run out of fuel. I’d been hiking solidly for five hours and climbed over a thousand metres with only my breakfast to keep me going. Stupid.

I now have a new rule: bring food. Specifically, take along a decent picnic lunch as well as high energy snacks. Stop every four laps for a half-hour break and a meal. Sit down, lie back, relax and give my ageing body a rest.

On the positive side, I felt fine after a shower and lunch. My legs were tired but I felt like I could do it again in the afternoon – if I had the time, which I didn’t. Anyway, I’m free tomorrow morning so I’ll try again. I’m going shopping later today for trail food.

Rest steps!

The first 4km was relatively easy. It was not a particularly cold day, and the hiking kept us mostly warm. I didn’t even need a jacket for this part of our journey. However, my friend … was feeling particularly weak and tired. So by the time we’d reached Layang Layang, she was pretty fatigued. We stayed there for the better part of an hour so that she could rest and recover her energy for the next 2 km up to Laban Rata.

It is very important that climbers take the rest of the trek easy as the next 2km is rockier than the first few kilometers. In addition, when you’re already more than 2,000m above sea level you’re far more likely to suffer from altitude sickness if you climb too fast. In my friend’s case especially, we were extra cautious as she had already begun to experience some effects of altitude sickness – headache and nausea. So for the next couple of hours, we slowed down considerably and took frequent rests. By the 5km mark, even I began experiencing some of the effects and so I took a couple of Panadol tablets (Paracetamol or any analgesic helps with the headache) to offset the headache brewing just around my right eye area.
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu – Fulfilling a Dream

As I wandered around reading different web sites on hiking and related subjects, I ran across a reference to rest steps. After checking out several web pages and videos, I realised that not only is rest-stepping a supremely useful technique for high-altitude hiking, it can also mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful attempt on Mt Kinabalu. Strangely, I couldn’t find any reference to rest stepping on any of the Kinabalu related web sites.

Rest steps are a technique for conserving energy and resting your leg muscles as you climb steep slopes. Simply put, when you straighten each leg as you climb, pause for a moment with your leg locked before taking the next step. When you do this, your bones take the weight of your body and give your leg muscles a momentary rest. This has the effect of both slowing you down (so you burn less energy) and giving your body a brief rest every step. All these short breaks add up. Hikers who rest step not only take fewer breaks but are also less tired at the end of the day.

It helps to synchronise your breathing as you rest step. Breathe out completely as you take a step, then on the rest step inhale deeply. If you feel winded or are feeling the effects of high altitude, slow down and take two breaths with each step. This helps keep your blood oxygenated and reduces the effects of mountain sickness.

Two of the pages that I found most useful on the topic are Next Level: The Rest Step and Rest Step for Uphill Hiking. In addition, has a good technical description of how rest stepping works as well as numerous tips for reducing back strain.

There are a number of short videos on Youtube that demonstrate the technique. The ones here and here are good.

I wrote the above before even trying the rest step technique out. This afternoon I went back to my training trail and gave it a go. I rest-stepped in two different sections: the steepest part of the mountain, a 200 metre rocky stretch with a 30-35% slope and my regular training steps.

The results were amazing. First of all, it was remarkably easy to get into the rhythm – step, rest… step, rest… step,rest. It was particularly easy on the steeper rocky section. While I was in the rest phase, I was replanting my poles for the next step. The best part, however, was on my training steps. I was certainly climbing much more slowly than normal, but my heart rate and breathing were about the same as I would expect on a moderately brisk walk. I reached the top feeling like I’d been for a 2-3 km stroll.

I’ve arranged to have most of my mornings free at work this week. I’ve got some serious hiking and climbing to do and I’ll be able to report on that later in the week.


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.