mt. kinabalu (leg 2): overcoming the darkness
I said to my soul, be still and wait… So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing… ~T.S. Eliot
I never realized I’d be able to survive the 7-hour climb to Laban Rata. Unlike Ron, I never vowed to quit smoking but decided to swear off mountain climbing for the rest of my life. The agony was unspeakable as I approached Waras Hut, the first sign of a good night sleep. I moved closer to the hotel and went straight to the dining hall to gorge on food. The late comers started trickling in and Ron finally was able to drag himself to the chair beside me. He was close to dying.
We got our fill and drowned ourselves in coffee. The sun started to set as everyone stared in awe at the magnificence that was around us. The air was cold and heavy as we pulled our coats closer to us. At this point, we were not talking anymore of the pain we felt while climbing but the overwhelming feeling of being able to reach our first pit stop. My heart was swelling with pride.
After several cups of coffee and a couple of cigarettes, we decided to settle in our cottage, Panar Laban. Our group will meet Julius at 2am for dinner before heading to the summit. We had to walk a few hundred meters more before we arrived at our cottage where we found a Holland based couple who were celebrating their nth year together and decided to climb Mt. Kinabalu. The room was not heated much to our dismay. I had to put on all my clothes (three long-sleeved shirts, my jacket, a leg warmer, and pants) and hide myself under a cotton blanket plus two wool comforters. Ron did the same. We felt like we weren’t able to sleep properly because of the cold. Ron was even telling me I was talking in my sleep.
Our greatest fear was to not be able to move when we wake up, but our alarms rang and we automatically jumped out of bed and started preparing for the most difficult assault. We headed back to the dining hall and filled ourselves to the brim and dragged ourselves out of the hotel to assemble with the group and started walking.
Then the darkness enveloped us… The million stars did not help at all. We relied on our headlamps and the trail of people walking to the same destination. The cold was unbearable and the altitude made it more difficult for us to breathe. The frosted stones and wooden planks made it harder for us to climb all the more. The German couple we were with when we started climbing were long gone and our guide was nowhere in sight. Suddenly, we felt the terrain change. There were no more trees, only mammoth slabs of granite rock in front of us. And the rope that was to serve as our guide and support to the summit materialized. I was scared for my life.
The pain slowly started to make my body weak, so did the darkness to my heart. Ron whom I was encouraging earlier in the climb was now the one who was pushing me to go forward. Our headlamps mysteriously died off, we were leaning against a cold wall of rock and walking on what felt like a ledge not more than 6 inches wide. It was so dark that we could not see what was there below. Ron, due to freezing wind and fear, was trembling and repeatedly telling me “don’t lose the grip! don’t lose the grip!” I grabbed the rope and started walking while crying and cursing like I’ve never cried and cursed in my life. At some point, we thought we were the last people at the end of the line, we just wanted to sit and wait for the light of day. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of staring at god on the face. It was a chance I would never want to pass on.
Steadily, the dawn began to break and the rock we were trying to overcome became visible in front of us. We did not dare to look back lest our spirits lose courage.
Three hours, a little after passing Ugly Sister’s peak, we finally stopped. We have reached the plateu that goes up toLow’s Peak, the summit. Our legs refused to carry us any longer and we sat in silence.
I had great many challenges in my life. I guess the mountain is the manifestation of all things I need to overcome to be a better person. It makes me proud that Ron and I have done that.
Now I know why mountain climbers have to do what they do. To stand on top of the world and to realize how tiny we are and how insignificant we are in this immense universe is the most humbling feeling. And to be a part, to be a speck, to be a stardust in this infite space gives us a sense of belongingness. After drowning in darkness, I was able to emerge. I do have a brave heart after all.
Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be… a prudent insurance policy. ~Elizabeth Gilbert