An 8km Staircase
21.05.2013 - 22.05.2013 30 °C
The task of climbing Mount Kinabalu, the 4100m high peak that towers over much of north Borneo, started with an early rise to get to a bus station, to catch a bus that didn't exist. Arriving at 6:45, we were to that there was no 7am bus and that we'd have to wait until 8:30 for the next one. This would mean a swealtering climb in the mid-day heat, or arriving so late as to not be allowed to climb at all. As it happened we weren't the only ones who had turned up for the mythical 7am bus; a German called Nils was also hanging around, looking just as confused. We decided to wait it out for the 8:30 bus to leave but luckily it filled up quite quickly and actually set off before 8:00.
After a two hour bus ride that seemed to cover most of the ascent, we arrived at the park HQ and hired a guide between me, Helen and Nils. The climb started at 1870m, at which height the temperature was already noticeably cooler than at sea-level but still made for a sweaty initial hike. That the bus ride had taken us seemingly most of the way up the mountain already was no great disappointment, the walk over the following two days was only 8km to the summit but gaining 2230m in that distance, meant that the hike would be described more accurately as an 8km staircase.
By 15:00 the fauna had changed from initially tropical in nature to something that more resembled an English fell. Dandelions, long grass and hardy bushes livened up the granite mountain-side. Within these apparently familiar yet entirely unknown surroundings was situated the Laban Rata Resthouse where we'd spend the night before getting up at the absurd time of 2:30am to reach the summit for sunrise. The resthouse was entirely supplied by a stream of Malaysian sherpas that we kept passing as we climbed. Carrying 30kg each, up 1400m of mountain for $20 seemed a pretty grueling job. However, the resthouse was comfortable and the food served to us that night was nothing short of a banquet after the pathetic excuse for a sandwich they'd provided us with on the way up.
At 10pm, as everyone was going off to bed, Helen realised that her shoes were missing. This was something of a problem as without them she'd have to complete the summit climb and subsequent descent barefoot. Despite questioning everyone available and leaving notes all over the resthouse, by 3am the next morning nothing had turned up. Our guide found Helen some rubber shoes that all the guides and sherpas rocked which, while apparently very 'grippy', were a couple of sizes too small so also quite painful.
The final 830m ascent was done under complete darkness, predominantly across bare granite rock and with nothing but the moon, and head-torches to light the way. A rope fastened into the mountain-side provided an occasionally necessary method of hauling yourself up the rock, while at other times provided a significant trip hazard. At around 5:30 we hit the summit as the firey red glow of sunrise began to spill over the mountains to the east of us. Slowly the Sun rose, changing the appearance of everything around us. The bare mountain was bathed in a faint lilac light. The most impressive sight though was the shadow that the mountain cast over the land to the west and out into the sea; probably 50 miles in total.
We descended back to the resthouse for breakfast where, miraculously, Helen's shoes had turned up. I imagine this made the descent much more manageable, though this part of the trek took the greatest toll on my legs which were like jelly by the end. As Nils got a bus East, me and Helen took a cab back to Kota Kinabalu with a Chinese taxi driver who ,it turned out, loved Lady Gaga. And then we slept.