Saturday, 26 July 2014

Mount Kinabalu

Saturday 26/07 - Tuesday 29/07

When we first arrived in Borneo Malaysia we decided that we wanted to climb Mount Kinabalu. This is the highest mountain in Malaysia so we were determined to 'rise' to the occasion. We could only get a booking three weeks in advance and therefore did the remainder of Sabah area before returning to Kota Kinabalu to summit the nearby mountain. We were suppose to have been doing religious training in preparation for overcoming this feat...however this aspiration did not come to pass! Nevertheless, despite Rox having yet another cold, not being in shape along with the fact that we never thought to bring heavy duty climbing gear to Southeast Asia, we had already paid so there was no backing out!

Mount Kinabalu Climb - Day 1

After taking an early morning bus from KK to Kinabalu National Park, we checked in at the reception, scouted a group with which to combine and split the guide fee and filled in many forms before being certified to start the climb. 

  Rox with her certification tag. 

We caught a mini bus to the entrance of the Summit Trail

Team Potpourri: Nor Azlee (local guide), Rox, Pierrik (Switzerland), Livia (Italy), Joy and Alex (French Canada)
We chose this name as Potpourri which translates to a diverse mix of items - which as you can see from our variety of cultures, fitted our team perfectly.

All smiles at the beginning of the trail!

As there is a campsite at the 6km mark and only one way to get up, all the supplies have to be carried up by these human pack horses who make climbing the trail look like a piece of cake!

Beautiful scenery along the trail

At the 1km mark we were still looking fairly strong, just Rox had to constantly blow her nose. This was the first kilometre of the 6 to be climbed on the first day.

Climbing with the target in sight!

The first 4km went quite quickly with Alex setting a solid pace from the front and we ended up passing quite a few of the slower groups along the way. We also enjoyed frequent breaks at the rest stops along the way. The promise of water, sweets and our other picnic treats is what motivated us from one stop to the next.

We managed to smash out the first 4km in under 2 hours but we had been fore-warned that the last 2km for the day would be the most gruelling...
...especially since they involved steep, rocky, high and uneven stairs. Our legs were also starting the effects of fatigue. The higher we climbed the harder it was getting for Rox to breathe with her blocked nose and tight chest and thus the fitter foreigners powered ahead while the guide stayed with the Southern Hemisphere slackers who seemed to just blow noses and needed to be lured up with sweeties!

One benefit to taking a slower approach to the ascend was that Nor felt he could deviate from the main trail and take us to see some infamous Pitcher plants.

These plants are designed to trap insects inside them and use digestive juices to drown and absorb the nutrients from their prey

Fooling around the 5 km mark - altitude sickness clearly making us silly!

Fellow climbers along the way - Malaysian Australian pulling some classic poses

Rox and Nor, one of them pretending to still be strong with one kilometre to go before the overnight rest stop. We were super impressed with Nor as even thought it was Ramadan and he was not allowed to drink or eat anything during the daytime, he still managed to make the ascend look like child's play.

As we ascended the mist made us feel like we were walking in the clouds - Reminded Joy of the a childhood novel she read by Enid Blyton : "The Magic Faraway Tree"

Almost there... 500m to go!

Roxy later found her own version - "The Desolate Faraway Tree"

It may look like Rox is doing a casual lean pose against the sign, but in actual fact she is leaning against the sign for support as her legs were about to give out!

Our pit stop for the night - No hot water. Joy braved the icy shower and got brain freeze which accordingly without question deterred Rox from even attempting one. After being in Malaysia during Summer, this was the first time in a month that our hoodies had gotten a proper wear, even though it looks sunny in this picture, the high altitude and wind chill factor would make anyone want to layer up.

View from the dining hall balcony

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset as we indulged in the buffet dinner. The food was surprisingly delicious and we had a few helpings - we needed to gain our strength for the final ascend the next morning!

Mount Kinabalu Climb - Day 2 

1:45am - This was the time we had to wake up and layer up for our sunrise ascent. As we didn't bring many warm clothes to tropical Asia, we didn't have much to work with but made the most of what we had ie. Used our towels as scarves, double socks and t-shirts and used our packet ponchos as windbreakers. Needless to say that we looked completely ridiculous and under prepared compared to the other climbers with their hiking poles, light-weight heavy duty snow jackets, head torches and climbing gloves...none of which we possessed! 
Watch out Fashion TV - we are starting new fashion trends within the climbing community!

2:15am - "First Breakfast" time.

3am - Started out on the last 2kms of the climb.  There were approximately 200 other climbers who intended to summit the Mount that morning.  We didn't want to reach the top too early and have to wait around in the extreme cold to view the sunrise, so we allowed the masses to leave ahead of ourselves, while we enjoyed a final cup of hot coffee. The only disadvantage with this plan is that we had to be at the back of a very slow single-file line to the top- it literally took us an hour to climb the first kilometre.

4am -  By this time the line had sifted out the stragglers and was moving more steadily.  We also passed the summit check-in point, which kept track of all the climbers on this treacherous part of the trail.

5am - After the check-in point the trail changed from steep, death stairs to steep death ropes and slopes (what an improvement!!!).  By this time, our legs were aching, our bodies were frozen from the bone-chilling wind, our chests were tight and each step up was slow and a gruelling effort! Luckily for us, fellow climbers took pity on us and lent us their jackets and gloves - before our fingers fell off from frost bite.  Also, since we didn't have head torches, Rox had to place her tazer torch in her mouth while using the ropes to climb and Joy (who had given up on her little token torch) was just bumming off light from the other climbers and hoping for the best...

5.30am - This is the time when first light broke upon the Mount.  We were about 150 metres from the top and could see the snake of people gravitating towards Low's Peak.

First Light 

One last stand in solidarity before the final stretch.  You may think this is a poor shot - but the flash was strategically turned off on purpose to hide the pained and tearful expressions on our frozen faces.  We had also lost all feeling in our toes/fingers/ noses/faces /limbs and lips - so we actually couldn't alter our frozen expressions in order to fake smiles for the camera.

It was incredible to see how quickly the skies lit up and it gave us the extra drive to urgently reach the top and not miss the sunrise. 
6am - We finally reached the summit just as day was breaking - perfect timing!!

Standing in the line to take pics at the peak's sign post.  This is a pic of the guy who kindly took all our group pics for us along the entire trail (always there just at the right time) and also lent Rox his extra pair of gloves.

Sunrise silhouettes at the Summit   

What an incredible view!! We were so blessed to be able to witness this beauty with clear skies and at the right time when the colours of the sunrise danced across the outline of the mountain range.  Completely worth the intense struggle!

Rox with her swollen face and Joy sporting her fat, swollen and now gloved fingers - our bodies clearly tried to retain water in an effort to insult us against the cold.

St John's Peak across from Low's Peak  


Alex enjoying the view

Once again our Photographer friend took our pics for us - unfortunately probably due to frozen fingers he cut out half the summit sign and even though the next pic captured the height of the climb - it was blurry (they are the only ones we have so here they are coz we are not going up there again any time soon!)

Photies at the top...
We found some shelter at the top to soak up the hard-earned view and sip on our victory vodka that had also made the Great trek up with us =)

Sharing body heat 

We felt Alex had to have a swig to warm up and in thanks for giving us his only two jackets and left him summiting the icy peak in just light flannel shirt - oh so smart (also setting new trends in the climbing community), but we must bear in mind he is tough and from the coldest place ever (Canada) and so this was nothing for him.

And now for the long trek back down the mountain...

Rox asserting her dominance over the mountain
The unfit, Southern Hemisphere slackers made it!! 

As we descended there was still a stream of hopeful climbers trying to make it to the summit

Only 8 kilometres downhill to go (with millions of stairs paving the way - this should be easy - NOT!!)

Posing with the Mountain - Nor was being the ever helpful guide taking pics for us

Finally in the light of day, our pictures can accurately reflect the actual magnitude of the climb


Roping our way down the unforgiving rock face - how did we ever do this in the dark? 

8 am - We finally made it back to the pit-stop for 'second breakfast' afterwhich we rested until 10.30 am and then continued our descent down the final 6 kilometres. 

This is what a view from above the clouds looks like

The descent may have been less cardio, but it was extremely jarring on our knee joints and we often needed to take a rest from the pain.


We made it down - 'Welcome back - you are successful climbers!'  

Sitting down and taking our final break before conquering our final few stairs to the finish
Winning for days!
We celebrated the victory with a buffet lunch and we then did what all the professionals athletes do after summiting - go to the Pouring Hot Springs to relax the sore muscles!
That evening we had a very chilled one as we were all exhausted. Rox lathered herself with Arnica Deep Heat oil while Joy and Alex played some cards and enjoyed just one beer - and with the altitude, that was all that it took to get into a happy place!

The Next Day

We woke up to stiff muscles and joints and any movement was extremely painful...especially stairs! We said farewell to Team Potpourri and returned to the Park headquarters to make sure we got our certificates that proved our achievement. 

We decided that our muscles needed another day of soaking and thus we headed back to the Pouring Hot Springs and we picked up a friend along the way - Masako from Japan. 

Our taxi driver, Paul, was a man of many talents (mountain guide, tour guide and taxi driver) and was keen to give us guidance to navigate our way around the various activities on offer at the springs.  

While we waited for our hot bath to fill, we went explore the Canopy Walk.

Oh my word...MORE STAIRS AND PAIN! But it was good to keep our muscles moving! 

Big tree

It was the end of Ramadan (Hari Raya), it was school holidays and the first of a three day public holiday and thus the hot springs were extremely over crowded and busy with families.

A line to the canopy walk

We just climbed thousands of millions of steps...I think we gots this!

On the canopy walkway bridge, 40m above the ground!

Views of the tree tops from the walkway

Canopy Bridge Selfie


As we lost possession of our other bath, we opted for a refreshing cold swim while waiting to secure a new one. 

After quite a while of waiting and scouting between the masses of people, we managed to secure a half-filled hot bath! It was perfect as all three of us could fit quite snugly inside.

Joy, who ordinarily hates baths, grinned and bared the experience and tried desperately to ignore the 'floaty bits' around her.
After we were sufficiently wrinkled and sporting some granny fingers, we had a quick market lunch and then operator, Paul, took us to the best place to see the world's largest flower, The Rafflesia.

This one was estimated to be about 86cm in diameter and had been in bloom for about two days. The Rafflesia can grow as big as 1 metre in diameter, takes 6 to nine months to bloom but only stays in bloom for a maximum of 7 days.

The Rafflesia before and after blooming

Posing by the big flower

World's Biggest Flower Selfie

The Rafflesia is known as the 'Corpse Flower' as it is legend to have a pungent rotting meat smell. However, we did not experience any such aroma. Our theory is that the host plant may affect the pungency of the smell emitted. This flower's host was the Liana vine and therefore the flower smells less than its neighbours in Sarawak.

That evening we celebrate Hari Raya with a bunch of Pakistani men who were staying at the same lodge as us. They shared their meal of amazing roast lamb and roti nan bread. In return we gave them the privilege of taking numerous photos with us.

Now..."fun photo" (which some interpreted as 'kiss Roxy on the cheek/ear' photo)

Photo with the local Malaysian tour guides

And of course, the one gentleman's poor young lad was forced to pose with the scary foreigners

Note: If you look carefully, you can see how he is being held in position!

The Next Next Day

We bid our new found friend, Mount Kinabalu (who we once viewed as an enemy), farewell as we caught our mini bus back to our base camp at KK.  

Window pics:
Mount Kinabalu

Floating Mosque

Before catching the shuttle to the airport, we quickly did some last minute sightseeing...
The Atkinson Memorial Clock Tower

In a chance meeting at the airport we met up with all the team members of Team Potpourri before flying out to our next adventure in the caves of Mulu. 

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