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Acute mountain sickness

I crashed into a chair feeling exhausted and started to get sleepy. After a while I also started to get a headache. I checked into my room (a dorm I shared with 5 others) and now was feeling more and more miserable, also getting nauseous. I tried eating some chocolate and drinking water, but it didn’t help, so I just rested. In the evening the nauseousness won, and I had to throw up. Ahhh, that was a relief… felt better but not stronger. I had lost my appetite and hadn’t eaten much and was still very tired. The climb was scheduled to start at 3am, but I was now sure that I wasn’t going to make that. All my symptoms were clear signs of altitude sickness, and going up another 700m is the last thing you should do. But I got out of bed at 2.30am anyway, still feeling nauseous, and wished my roommates good luck with the climb. I threw up once more and went back to sleep…
How to climb Mt. Kinabalu…. and NOT make it to the summit!

The climb for the summit (another 2.7km up from the base camp) was set to begin at 2:30am. However, because of our speedy hiking abilities, our guide set a special start time for Matt and I-4am (another 1.5hours of sleep!) Actually, we didn’t sleep at all the entire night, partly due to the excitment and partly due to the pounding altitude-induced headache we both had. When 2:30am rolled around, we watched as our fellow climbers set off into the dark to begin their climb. Matt and I began downing a few liters of water (which quickly eased the headache and we realized stupidly we should have been drinking such large quantities hours before then) and began preparing ourselves for the hike.
Stairway to Heaven…Mt. Kinabalu

Acute mountain sickness … or AMS.

I haven’t found any definitive figures, but it seems that the primary reason for climbers failing to reach the summit of Mt Kinabalu are exhaustion and/or AMS. The primary symptoms of mountain sickness are headaches and nausea. For many climbers these symptoms can become severe enough to prevent them from continuing.

Who is most susceptible to suffering altitude sickness? Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way of predicting this. Regardless of age, fitness, weight, gender or race, some people get it severely at certain altitudes and some people don’t. We do know that at some stage altitude sickness affects everybody.

Still, there are ways to delay the onset or reduce how mountain sickness affects you.

  • Most important is your rate of ascent. You need to give your body time to acclimatise to higher elevations, and the best way is to climb slowly with frequent rests.
  • Exhaustion can also make the effects of altitude sickness worse. Overexertion is one of the main triggers for AMS. The more tired you are the more likely you are to be overcome by AMS. Again, climbing slowly (and rest-stepping) reduces your chances of feeling ill. Maintaining a steady pace without any large increases in physical effort helps.
  • Take regular rest intervals. Try to rest for at least ten minutes every hour. Continue deep breathing as you rest.
  • Try to keep your body oxygenated. Deep breathing as you take each step helps. Keep an eye on your heart rate and breathing. If you start panting or your heart starts pounding, take a break, and when you resume slow down.
  • Eat a high-carb diet. Snack at every rest break and eat something more substantial every two or three hours. Climbing uses a huge amount of energy and it’s easy to run out of fuel.
  • It’s important to keep your body well hydrated. Try to drink a litre of water every hour as you climb (see the quote above).
  • Taking Diamox (generic name: acetazolamide) or similar before climbing can help, as well as headache remedies like aspirin or paracetamol. Note that Diamox is not a cure for AMS: it just helps you acclimatise faster.
  • If mountain sickness hits you hard enough so that you can’t continue, if possible descend to a lower altitude.

Check with your physician before taking high altitude medications like Diamox. People with certain physical conditions shouldn’t take it. In addition, possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and diarrhoea. The last one particularly concerns me. That’s not how I want to keep my legs warm when I’m hanging off a rope on a cliff face at night above Sayat Sayat.


(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.

Trekking Poles 102

Once climbers check in, it’s advisable to have a shower as soon as you can in the communal bathrooms. With more than 100 people staying at Laban Rata and its surrounding huts, you can imagine the showers get quite wet and soiled from weary, dirty trekkers.
Climbing Mt Kinabalu – Day 1

I took a regular hike this morning and went up one of the other local hills for a change. For the past two months I’ve been exclusively climbing around Xuan Van Hill (what I’ve been calling Gheng Rang until just discovering the real name). Today’s hike was just 6.4 kms of hiking over 3 hours, but there were lots of up-and-down stretches. The great thing about the hike is that it gave me a chance to try the poles out over new terrain.

The thing is with trekking poles is that there is no single technique that you use. Rather, there are a variety of ways to use them depending on terrain and slope. Here, then, is a brief summary of the ways we can use them.

  1. Over relatively flat, well-defined trails have the poles set for medium length and use them to assist your hiking. Alternate the poles and your legs when walking: it feels more natural and it’s the easiest way to get into a rhythm.
  2. Shorten the poles when going uphill, lengthen… blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.
  3. I’ve found that for moderate uphill stretches planting the pole next to the foot takes a lot of pressure of legs and hips.
  4. For higher steps, rocks, logs and so on, double planting the poles and using them to haul you up works well.
  5. On uneven, rocky terrain, I don’t even worry about technique. I just plant the poles in suitable places as I go along, not worrying about rhythm.
  6. Keep your elbows close to your sides. This gives you better leverage as well as improving your pole placement accuracy.
  7. If your hands start to feel fatigued, it’s a sure sign that you are gripping the handles incorrectly. Hold the grips loosely, with just enough pressure to maintain control. Put your weight on the wrist straps, not the poles.
  8. One web site recommended resting your palms atop the grips when going downhill. I tried it several days ago on the steps and didn’t like it – I felt it was too hard to be precise when planting the poles. I tried again today and learned how to do it properly. The first time was a fairly steep downhill section, hard clay covered with tiny pea gravel. My traction was, to say the least, almost non-existent. I carefully planted the poles some distance in front of me, transferred my weight to the poles, then moved and planted my feet. It was slow but very effective – and safer.
  9. I used the same technique when I started following a rocky stream bed uphill. I ended up having to backtrack because it went the wrong way, but I learned that not only are poles useful when clambering up big rocks, they’re even better when making your way down. Again, the trick is move slowly and carefully.
  10. Without poles I normally lean back when going downhill; with poles, I lean forward with a significant amount of weight on my arms – and off my feet!
  11. Sometimes trekking poles just get in your way. Dense, overgrown tracks are one of these times. Carry or stow your poles until the trail opens up again.
  12. Rubber tips: there are times to use them and times to take them off. I use them on solid rock and concrete (for example, on my training steps) because they’re quieter, absorb shock and offer better grip when planting the pole. I take them off when I go off road and hit the dirt.

I’m still on the learning curve, but they’re starting to become second nature. Like any skill, it takes practice. Becoming competent with poles before attempting Mt Kinabalu is a good move.

How not to train for Mt Kinabalu

By the way, Timpohon Gate is really a gate. You have to have a plastic ID badge to get passed. All climbers passing the gate must wear a badge. It’s got a nice photo of the mountain on the front with the text,”Welcome to Mt. Kinabalu, Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints”. You get to keep it too. It’s a nice keepsake from your trip. It looks great next to my certificate! After the hike I looked back at the “Welcome to Mt. Kinabalu” part and had the ironic thought that it was a lot like the “Welcome to Canada” sign painted on the cement wall at the exit of the fastest chicane at the Canadian F1 Grand Prix where everyone crashes spectacularly.
Climbing Kinabalu.. or The Sandarkan Death March Part II

MK-Training2Let’s talk about training for the Mt Kinabalu climb. I’m quite lucky in Quy Nhon because it’s quite hilly along the coast here. In particular, there’s Gheng Rang Hill. This is a 230m high hill at the south end of the city with a path going to the top. The path consists of about 650m of steps and 150m of uphill path and the total altitude change is about 200m. This works out to a slope of 25%, slightly less than Mount Kinabalu’s 26% (8.7 km hike, 2,300m climb). I think it will provide pretty good training for Mt Kinabalu.

There are, of course, some differences. On Mount Kinabalu it’s a continuous climb without any downhill stretches whereas on Gheng Rang Hill I get get regular rests by going back to the bottom. This makes a huge difference – I’m breathing deeply on the way up but breathing normally on the way down. I’m also coping with heat here, which isn’t a real problem on Kinabalu. And it doesn’t prep me for the altitude. Not much I can do about that, unless I tape my mouth shut and plug one nostril…  The truth is that the only thing that preps you for climbing Mount Kinabalu is climbing Mount Kinabalu.

IMG_20150916_055919Over the past month, I’ve been steadily increasing the intensity of my training. Two weeks ago, I scaled the hill four times and did it fairly easily – 800m of climbing and 6.4 kms distance in a bit over three hours. Although my legs felt a bit tired, there was no soreness or stiffness afterwards.

Last week, I upped it to 5 laps and really struggled on the fifth climb. I mean, really struggled – I was starting to feel nauseous and overheated by the end of the fourth lap. I considered stopping for the day. However, I felt that if I couldn’t do one more puny little climb then I’d better not attempt Kinabalu. So, onwards and upwards.

By the time I got home I was exhausted. It wasn’t at all like the previous week. I drank a litre of water, showered and crashed out for a nap. However, I woke thirty minutes later with excruciating cramping in my calves. Lack of salt, of course. I drank one of those performance drinks that was left in the fridge and I was fine shortly after. I sat down and thought about what I had done wrong. How did I screw up? Let me count the ways.

  1. The previous night I went out for a couple (well, three) beers after knocking off work in the evening. I got home at about ten and knowing that I had an early start for the hike the next morning went straight to bed. Without eating. I overslept slightly the next morning and got up at 5:00 instead of my planned 4 AM start, so I quickly packed my backpack with water and all my equipment and headed out the door. Without eating. That’s right, a 1,000 metre climb and 8 kilometre hike when I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. Stupid.
  2. Although we’re well into autumn here, it was a warmer than usual day. Quite warm, in fact, so the heat started getting to me. My late start didn’t help at all either. Even though I was feeling the heat – and the onset of mild heat stroke – by the end of the fourth lap, pride wouldn’t let me stop when I should have. Stupid.
  3. I brought along plenty of water (4 litres), but it wasn’t enough. This was mainly because most of the water bottles were frozen and I was drinking faster that it was melting. Stupid.
  4. I used plenty of sunscreen on my upper body and face, none on my legs. Stupid.
  5. And, of course, not replacing the salt I lost through perspiration. To be honest, though, this is the first time in my life I’ve had problems with cramping for this reason. Still, I think it qualifies as stupid.

On the plus side, I was fine later in the day. No soreness, not particularly tired and in general I shaped up pretty well. For the record, I climbed (and descended) 1,000m and hiked 8 kms in four hours. That’s two-thirds of the way from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. And down again.

So, earlier this week I acquired a brand new head-lamp. I got up at three AM yesterday morning, had a coffee and breakfast (a fruit shake with bananas, a mango, soy milk and yoghurt – yum!), started at 4:00 am, carried 5 litres of water (three litres unfrozen)and a couple of bottles of Revive, and lubricated myself all over with sunscreen. And promised myself I would bail out if I started having problems.

It worked a treat, too. Six ascents, 1,200m of climbing/descending, over ten kms distance covered in five and a half hours. Things I learned:

  • The head lamp worked well, a good clear light and comfortable to wear. However, I was climbing and descending much more slowly and carefully in the dark. The torch is no substitute for daylight.
  • The trekking poles are a necessity. They make the ascent noticeably easier, and are worth their weight in gold going down the steps.
  • I’ve discovered the limits of my fitness. My legs were stiff and sore last night and I’m not feeling too spry this morning either.

Next week: seven ascents. This amounts to 1,400m of climbing, the same as Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata. At this rate, if anything stops me from completing the Kinabalu climb, it won’t be lack of fitness.

[Update: I’ve added the Google Earth screen shot above to show my training trail (in red). Quy Nhon City is on the right. Note the taller hill in the background. The highest point is 560m, and there’s a network of criss-crossing forestry trails zigzagging all over the hill. Fun :)]

“Do I really need to bring that?”

There’s a ton of articles floating around the Internet that detail what you need to bring for the Mt Kinabalu climb. Remarkably, they pretty much agree on almost everything. Except for the bloke who suggests bringing a hair drier. Here is my list, compiled from the collective wisdom of those who went before me.

General Notes on Clothing
All too many people are unprepared for the conditions. It’s not just the 0-10 degree temperatures you experience at the top, but also 20-40 km/h (or higher) winds. Many people under-dress. They might be fine as long as they keep moving but as soon as they stop they start to freeze. People have reached the summit before sunrise but have been unable to stick around for another 20 minutes because they get too cold. Some have over-dressed, and ended up overheating as they climbed despite low temperatures. Plus, of course, the weight penalty that wearing heavy clothes involves.

Layering is another subject worth checking into. The concept – adding or removing layers of clothing as needed – is simple but there’s more to it than that. has an excellent primer on the subject at Layering Basics

For the conditions on MK, we’ll need three layers: a base layer of some kind of wicking fabric that will manage moisture/perspiration, an insulating layer (fleece or similar) and an outer layer to protect against wind and rain. has a more in-depth discussion at Introduction to Layered Clothing Systems

Aside from the range of climates and temperatures that we’ll encounter as we climb, we’re very likely to get rained on at some point. Keeping dry is as important as keeping warm. You need to keep your torso dry at the very least but keeping your hands and feet dry is important too. Cold, wet hands make it hard to use the ropes even with gloves.

General Notes on Equipment
I do a lot of hiking here in Quy Nhon, but it’s generally lovely, balmy weather here and I rarely do hikes longer than 4 hours or so. I use my hashing gear for hiking. Kinabalu is a different game, though. I’ve got some serious shopping to do before the climb. I’ll need new shoes, decent trousers, a backpack and trekking poles for starters.

The advantage of the 2D1N package that we’ve signed up for is that we only need clothes for two days, not three. We’re looking at three legs to plan for when we climb Mount Kinabalu (note the cunning way I’m recycling my text).

  • Leg 1 – Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata starts off quite humid, but the temperature drops a lot as we climb.
    Start out with shorts or hiking pants (perhaps the ones with detachable legs) and t-shirt or long sleeve shirt (lightweight jumper). As the temperature drops, add layers as needed.
  • Leg 2 – Laban Rata to Low’s Peak and back will be cold (especially for us tropical types).
    We can shower and change at Laban Rata. We’ll change into the gear that we’ll wear to the top. When we start the climb in the morning, layers again: shirt, jumper (or two), jacket plus gloves, beanie or scarf. It can get bitterly cold as you approach the summit so you need to protect nose and ears.
  • Leg 3 – Laban Rata to Timpohon Gate will be cool, becoming warmer and more humid.
    Pretty much the reverse of coming up. If we’re lucky enough to stay dry on Leg 2 then we can settle for changing shirts at Laban Rata.
    1. Clothing
      • Shoes: for Mt Kinabalu, heavy duty hiking boots aren’t needed. Hiking boots or shoes are fine as long as they’re comfortable, lightweight, rugged and have good tread and grip. Boots provide better ankle support. Personally, I swear by Merrell shoes, been using them for years.
      • Socks: I wear long footie socks for hashing, these are probably a good choice. They’ll provide extra insulation for lower legs. I’d like to work out a good way of keeping my feet dry, however. (plastic bags over your socks, maybe?). Leggings will help a lot, I think.
      • Pants: They should be lightweight and water resistant. It’s a balance, though – the more waterproof they are the heavier. Avoid jeans – they weigh a ton when they’re wet and don’t dry out.
      • Shirts: I’m going to go for this – wicking t-shirt, long-sleeve lightweight cotton shirt, light jumper, heavy jumper, lightweight waterproof jacket (perhaps with hood)
      • Gloves: I’ve got a lovely pair of toasty warm woolen gloves that I’m taking (These were a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, Lady Godiva. Hash names…). I’m not sure how they’ll handle wet weather however. Waterproof over-gloves maybe?
      • Hat: I don’t need to talk to Aussies about hats.
      • Underwear/socks: enough for the trip plus extra for emergencies.
    2. Equipment
      • Lightweight backpack: capable of carrying up to 10 kilos.
      • Small day pack: for Leg 2. You don’t want to carry any more than you have to to the summit: water, snacks, layers, etc. Maybe a maximum of 2-3 kilos.
      • Trekking poles: I’ve never used them but Jim swears by them. They’re highly recommended for MK.
      • Wet weather gear: Rain jacket or poncho. Ponchos cover your backpack. A lot of sites recommend disposable raincoats, they’re lightweight. A water-resistant windbreaker is great for all conditions short of a heavy rain. Plastic bags for keeping stuff in your backpack dry.
      • Head lamp: Critical. You need enough battery power to last 3-4 hours.
      • Belt bag: One with one or two pouches and water bottle holder. I’d prefer one that holds two water bottles.
      • Knee/ankle braces: Optional. I’m going to use them.
      • GPS: absolutely noncritical… but I like to keep tabs on my progress as well as time/distance to destination.
      • Power bank: If you’ve got a digital camera, a GPS and/or a phone, critical. If you travel naked (electronically speaking) don’t bother.
      • Whistle: a loud one in case you get lost or separated from your group.
    3. First Aid Kit
      • Medication: paracetamol, ibuprofen, Diamox (for altitude sickness), imodium (just in case)
      • Bandages: bandages (elastic), bandaids, antiseptic, safety pins, etc
      • Sunscreen: the sun can get pretty fierce up there.

That’s everything I can think of so far, but no doubt I’ll add to it over the coming months.

What are we in for?

4Stroke signed us up for the 2D1N (two days, one night) package. According to the sample itinerary that Amazing Borneo supplies, we’ll be collected from our hotels early in the morning (6:30 AM) on day 1 and taken to Kinabalu Park Headquarters. That’s where we’ll register, get our permits and meet our guide.

We’ll start off from Timpohon Gate mid-morning (9:30) and if all goes well will arrive at the Laban Rata Resthouse mid-afternoon (3:30). Relax and recover, have an early dinner and hit the sack early evening (6:30). Rise and shine at 2:00 AM the next morning, gear up, have a very early breakfast (they call it ‘supper’) and head off for the summit at 2:30 AM.

If we can maintain a steady pace, we should be able to hit the peak in time to catch the sunrise – on 2Stroke’s sixtieth birthday. A quick toast will be in order, no doubt. 4Stroke suggested bringing a few cans of beer, but I reckon those little spirit bottles would work better. Lighter, for starters, and the truth is that alcohol, altitude and climbing don’t mix.

Nobody wants to hang around the summit too long. It’s cold (around 0 degrees) and windy, and once you stop moving you start to get chilled. Back down to Laban Rata, breakfast and checkout (10:30) and then all the way back down to Timpohon Gate, arriving hopefullly by mid-afternoon. Transport will be available to take us back to Kota Kinabalu, so we should be back at our hotels by early evening.

Here’s what we plan to accomplish:

Leg 1 – Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata

  • 5-6 hours
  • 6 kms
  • about 1,400m climb
  • starts off quite humid, temperature drops a lot as we climb.
  • good chance of rain

Leg 2 – Laban Rata to Low’s Peak and back

  • 6 hours
  • 2.7 kms – each way
  • 800m climb/descent
  • cold!
  • good chance of rain

Leg 3 – Laban Rata to Timpohon Gate

  • 4 hours
  • 6 kms
  • downhill
  • cool, becoming warmer and more humid
  • believe it or not, there’s a good chance of rain

Doesn’t look so difficult when we put it this way…


Within days of 4Stroke making the bookings with Amazing Borneo, we had all paid our deposits as well as purchasing our air tickets – me from Vietnam and the others from the wilds of the Northern Territory. We’ll be meeting up in Kota Kinabalu in January.

There are a few things worth thinking about. This is a major physical undertaking and new to all four of us. I’m (just) into my sixties. 2Stroke will be in his fifties when we climb but will age very rapidly and will make the descent in his sixties. Karaoke is slightly younger, in his fifties, and 4Stroke… well, she’s still a pup.

Not everybody who starts the climb makes it to the top. Weather is a major factor – if it turns nasty the climb gets cancelled for safety reasons. No refund either. Altitude sickness affects almost everybody, but if it gets too severe you have to stop and go back down. Some people just give up because of exhaustion. You don’t need to be superfit to get to the top but it sure doesn’t hurt.

It’s important to be mentally and physically prepared before you start. The right gear, fitness and attitude all play a part. This is what I’ll be working on for the next three months.

The story so far…

At the end of August 4Stroke got back to us. She had checked around and decided to go through Amazing Borneo for the climb. She did a good job choosing Amazing Borneo. They offer one of the more expensive packages but they have fewer complaints and more compliments than any other Mount Kinabalu tour company.

My initial reaction was that at nearly US$400 a person somebody’s making a lot of money out of this deal. After some thought (and research), I decided that the price is actually pretty good value. Visiting climbers are the main source of income for Kinabalu National Park and the cost of keeping it running – staff overheads, trail maintenance, cleaning up, etc – must be rather high. The only way to drop the price is to allow more climbers and that would rather spoil the experience.

The price, by the way, includes meals for the two days, overnight accommodation at Laban Rata Resthouse, fees, charges, permits, mountain guide and transport between Kota Kinabalu City and the Mount Kinabalu Park.


Mt Kinabalu view from Kundasan” Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Anyway, it was about then that I started seriously researching and training for the climb. As I digitally wandered around the Intertubes I collected pictures, links and random quotes as well as checking out hiking gear. I started keeping a few notes of my own, since I can be a bit scatterbrained at times. After a week or two I thought I may as well share my findings with the rest of the Kinabalu group. I started an informal weekly newsletter just to share what I’ve discovered and after newsletter number four I realised that it might be useful to make this available generally.

Once again, hence this blog.

The next few blog entries are mainly from emails I’ve already sent. I’ll be sprinkling it with quotes from other people’s Mount Kinabalu climbing stories as well as pictures if I can get permission to post them.

One more thing. I’m a relative newbie at hiking and trekking, so a lot of what I write about will be obvious to those with experience. I’m likely to get a few things wrong since I’m writing about stuff that I have no experience with.