mt. kinabalu (leg 3): braving the fear of mortality

OK, now that the biggest Philippine soap is over (READ: Elections), We’re back to our regular programming:

… We sat in silence as we drowned ourselves with fresh mountain air. We rested our bodies and stretched our limbs and savored every moment of being on top of Mt. Kinabalu. As much as we wanted to spread our arms and scream on the top of our lungs–“I’m the king of the world!” it’s too cliché, not gonna happen, we were also just too tired and the air is too cold it felt like it will freeze our brain if we open out mouth.

kinabalu1Monette’s obligatory victory smoke…


Antonio, my camera, seemed to be so affected by the temperature, the flash stopped working. I had to put it inside my jacket close to my body for several minutes for it to work. Good thing it did. I grew up in a tropical island and I am not accustomed to low temperature environment. Gripping a lens and fine tuning a focus rim in this unforgiving weather condition is a skill I have yet to hone.



The weak sunlight barely helped thawing our frozen ears, butts and fingertips. After an hour of sitting on a cold stone, and as much as we wanted to feel and enjoy the laurels of our climb, our knees were trembling vigorously, and so, we both agreed on starting our descend.

Finally, after a day and a half of uphill battle, the gravity will be working on our side, and it will be easier from that point forward… or so we thought. 


Monette decided to walk ahead of me. I started moving and the first few meters felt like heaven as the shift of tension on my body mechanics gave relief to my worn tortured muscles. But that was short-lived. 


After the first few hours, I started feeling a different kind of pain on my knees and distal limbs. My legs felt like that of a marionette’s. Having a strong background in orthopedic medicine I can visualize a physiology of my joints everytime I closed my eyes. Labral tear, patellar fracture, cruciate ligament injury and the list goes on. But that’s nothing as compared to the fear that we felt upon passing the plateau to a more dangerous part of the assault—the cliff.



It dawned on us that the wall we were climbing few hours ago was a part of a dangerous cliff. A sudden rush of cold air chilled my spine when I saw that we were walking on 85 degree wall of rock with embedded rope as our only life line. It was dark when we climbed so we didn’t see that dangerous drop. At that point, fear was amplified as we literally sat down and crawled slowly to advance down the cliff. One wrong move will lead to painful mortality. I was hyperventilating and NO I’m not yet ready to die, not excited to see H-E-Double hockey sticks, not yet.


There has been reported cases of climbers who fell in this cliff and never been found. Even if you survive the fall, no one can rescue you as the thick vast forest plays labyrinth to lost climbers. And even if you scream your soul out, the altitude, rock formations and trees may distort sound waves, making it impossible to identify your actual location.

Fear of gruesome death, cold temperature and body weakened by pain is not the best combination when you’re conquering a feat and you’re alone on a very dangerous situation. The safe landing flat form is still nowhere to be seen, all you can do is start moving and stop scaring yourself.

But one wrong balancing act may lead to death. With that in mind, I gripped hard on the rope while praying. This ordeal lasted for almost two hours. I got a safe spot on a protruded rock on my way down, and I sat there for almost 40 minutes for it could be my last rest. I closed my eyes and my mind went flat line.