To Conquer Mount Kinabalu

I have wanted to climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. Finally the opportunity arose and I boarded a flight to Kota Kinabalu with my other friends and an equal measure of excitement and trepidation. As ever, the flight was comfortable and timely, delivering us to Kota Kinabalu early in the afternoon with plenty of time to make the two-hour drive up to the Kinabalu Park headquarters. As we approached, in heavy rain, to Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, I got my first glimpse of the great mountain, with the grey rocks of the summit rising majestically from the lush green forest below, teasing us from behind the clouds. We spent the night in the park and awoke the next morning to a brilliant blue sky filled with sunshine. Weather like that never fails to lighten my step, no matter how many I needed to take.

My group set off from Timpohon Gate at 8.00 a.m. The fresh air and cool temperature were a joy. I found the trail well maintained, and the combination of markers at every 500 metres and regularly spaced rest huts meant that I always knew how much progress I was making. It was a six kilometre trek to the Laban Rata resthouse, where we spent half the night before making the final push for the summit. The last leg – about 1.4 km – didn’t sound far but was, in fact, quite a challenge! Whilst there was plenty to look at – the occasional, breathtaking views across the lowlands, the forest, fellow climbers and, porters passing with gas canisters, cases of canned drinks and trays of eggs strapped to their backs – the trail did become a slog and the air got noticeably thinner.

Just short of five hours after setting off, we reached Laban Rata and what a treat that was – sitting out on the terrace, above the clouds in the blinding sunshine, boots off, aching legs but with all-round exhilaration! Aside from adjusting to the altitude and soaking in the view, which got even better at sunset. There wasn’t much to do up there. But the time passed quickly, and at around 3.00 a.m., it was time to depart the resthouse.

Setting out in the dark was the part I had been most nervous about but it was fine. The sky was clear and the stars were spectacular; it made me realise how much artificial light pollutes the cityscape. Once we were up on the plateau, walking became easier; the enormous slabs of granite provided good grip. As the sky began to lighten and the different peaks emerged from the darkness, I reached the last 200 metres of the ascent to Low’s Peak. It could not have been timed better. The orange rays of the rising sun filled the sky as we queued for photographs on the summit of Malaysia’s highest peak at 4,095m. The area is remarkably small, and with 147 climbers reaching the top in close succession, all eager to get their photograph, there was a great need to keep ones’ patience!

Descending to Laban Rata was fabulous as we could see all that had been hidden in the darkness on the way up. We were presented with endless views of Kota Kinabalu and out to sea, the rocky outcrops of the plateau and the beautiful alpine vegetation below. Enroute, we stopped at Laban Rata for a second breakfast and to pick up the gear we temporarily discarded from our packs for the final climb.

There was no getting away from it but the long walk back to the gate was the hardest. It felt like the best part was now behind me. The exhilaration I felt on the summit lasted only a while and, as my knees started to ache with the force of walking down the steps, it became a mental challenge to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Almost four hours later, we finally arrived at the gate. We collected our certificates from the park headquarters and left the place exhausted but ecstatic over our achievement.

Back home looking at the photographs, the trip is almost dream-like. It far exceeded my expectations – the weather, the organisation, the camaraderie of a big group and the feeling of achievement. The experience will live with me forever! Would I do it again? Definitely! Should you do it? Absolutely! One of life’s great experience is at your doorstep, what are you waiting for?