mt. kinabalu (leg 1): testing endurance
At 5am, We woke up to the smell of challenge. We carefully packed our day packs to bring only the essentials as the hike to Mt. Kinabalu dawned us. After downing our cups of coffee plus two sliced bread smothered with peanut butter and jelly, we headed out the door and walked two blocks to get to the bus station. We made ourselves ready by buying 1 liter of water each and decided to buy energy bars on the way.
Like in the Philippines, the mini bus waited itself to get filled. Together with a Hong Kong couple, we worried ourselves sick as we pestered the driver to get moving, lest we arrive late at the Thimpon Gate. After almost an hour of waiting, several French nationals arrived and a bunch of nice ladies from Korea filled the butts on the seats and we were on our way. A stopover at a gas station was quick enough for us to stack on chocolates and stretch in the middle of the 2-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu to the park gate.
DISCLAIMER: We never tried climbing before, we don’t even have a formal training on climbing whatsoever. No stretching, no practice, we never even tried walking up our building’s stair cases.
We’ve foreseen the agony of carrying kilos of baggage, so we decided to just leave our 60L bags in the hostel and packed as light as we could. Cameras and accessories, warm clothing, extra shirt, toiletries, 1L of bottled water and energy bars. That was it, that was all we needed.
Looking back, we can both say that we were too adventurous to give the highest mountain of South East Asia a shot for our first ever attempt. Ambitious, (with a capital A) that was what’s written on our faces when we booked this trip! Mount Kinabalu may not require a high level expertise of mountaineering skills, but it’s definitely not an easy-breezy-beautiful walk in a park kind of thing. The assaults and continuous inclined trek requires endurance, stamina, some iron hamstrings and gastrocnemeus, good lung capacity and stretched cardiac muscles.
To start the climb, we had a short debriefing with our (useless) guide Julius at the Timpohon gate. We joined a group of four other climbers so we can save on guide fee (MYR 100). An Australian pre-school teacher with his buddy who is a pediatrician approached us and asked if we wanted to share a guide, we instantly said yes and even tagged along a pseudo honeymoon-ing couple from Hong Kong.
And so we left Timpohon with nothing but our bags and pure juvenile excitement. We hit the trail towards an underestimated adventure.
First two hours – We started off on a perky mood as we chit-chatted non-stop. That was our “getting to know you” phase, which was the fun part of the trek. Our energies were still at its optimal level and we kept on walking that we didn’t realized we already covered a good stretch of the 7 kms that we had to brave until a marker appeared that popped our effort bubbles. After feeling the first signs of exhaustion, that’s when we realized that we still had 6 kilometers more. The lunch box given at the gate consisted of ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, two hard boiled eggs, a piece of fried chicken and a 500ml bottled water. I consumed half of my lunch even before we actually hit the 2,000 meter marker.
3rd hour – At 1800 meters above some of the presidential candidates IQ level (sea level), we were still enjoying the rain forest scenery as the temperature slowly became cooler and cooler as we went up. Energy was still good and there was still a level of maintained momentum enough to take photos every 10 minutes. I slipped my camera back to my bag when it started raining. Good thing I brought with me some disposable rain ponchos I got from a convenient store a day before we flew. Sometimes it pays to be a boy scout.
4th hour – iPods ran out of batteries. We started coming up with fun things to do like humming campaign jingles and creating different ways of wearing our shirts. Imaginations were at its peak, I personally felt like I was an adventurer from a different galaxy searching the elemental stone hidden in a deep forest filled with—OK STOP! This was also the time when we had short encounters with climbers going down from the peak. It appeared to be a norm to say hi, hello and have short pep talks as they motivate us to keep on going.
5th hour – 2,400 meters above sea level. We were all wet due to the combination of sweat, rain and heavy moisture in the air. We started feeling tired and exhausted. We were running out of energy bars and packed food. We also noticed that our quick stop was becoming more frequent, from 30 minute intervals to every other 50 meters. Temperature started getting cold and the fog was thicker at cloud level. We also noticed that there was a sudden change of flora and fauna due to the altitude, but we didn’t have the luxury of time to enjoy the sights as our guide Julius sporadically appeared every now and then out of nowhere to constantly push us to keep on moving, kind of bordering to slave driving at times.
6th hour – Our energies started dwindling, the terrain became more difficult to cover and the incline was noticeably steeper. I decided to leave my water behind as it added up to weight load. My legs were throbbing like it would explode at any given moment. I was panting like a 70 year old emphysema patient having an asthma attack. At this point, I swore to quit smoking.
Final hour – I told Monette to go ahead and leave me behind. My biggest regret at that point was not preparing for the climb. I should have done some serious cardio to compensate for my sedentary lifestyle. It wasn’t raining anymore and at 6PM, I can feel the darkness looming around the corner as I crawled and dragged myself up. I was stopping to take a breather more often than ever. I felt like giving-up but there was no turning back. I was literally lying flat on my face and praying for a divine intervention and an idiopathic surge of energy. It was eerily quiet, no more birds chirping and the acoustics were muffled. My mental shape was in stupor. I was trying to talk to myself but the air is like vacuum, like someone a meter away wouldn’t hear what I was saying.
It was the worst physical stress I had in my entire life, even worse than that of the post crying hours of my first relationship break up. The six hours of walking up the trail definitely got some symptomatic impact to human physiology. There’s like a tight bandage squeezing my chest, my back was so weak it was giving up the load that I was carrying, my hip joints were like in the verge of dislocation and my leg muscles were so hard it was already numb.
At this point I was alone. I literally dragged myself for another hundred meters until my legs gave up and I fell on my knees. From afar, I saw what seemed to be like a cottage—the Waras hut! That meant I’m already at 3,244 meters above sea level and less than 200 meters away from Laban Rata, the first pit stop where we will be spending the night. “Finally I’m almost there!” I did not push myself further and claimed my much needed rest. It was a perfect time on the perfect spot–A patch of soft grass cushion few meters away from me is screaming with invitation. Without hesitation, I walked towards it, lolled down out of distress and closed my eyes. The heavy thuds of my carotid artery and trembling muscles slowly wafted me into oblivion.