We arrived in Kota Kinabalu the day before our climb was due to begin and had a quick wander around the streets, and got some dinner before heading back to the hostel for an early night. The next morning we had a quick breakfast at the hostel and headed downstairs to catch the van to Kinabalu National Park. The rest of the people in our climbing group had already been picked up and we headed out of town towards the mountains. Along the way we met our fellow climbers, Damian & Julia, Catherine & Emilie who were all from the UK. On the way up we traded horror stories we had read from various blogs about the climb and what we were about to experience. Within two hours we were at the National Park and we met our guide Freddy a small Malaysian man in his cold weather jacket and pants – it must have been around 20-25 degrees and the humidity was much more manageable much to our relief. We were handed our park passes and packed lunches and wandered over to Timphon gate (altitude 1800m) and we had our obligatory group shot.
The climb started at a good pace. The forest around us and the sound of waterfalls reminded me of walking in the bush at home, along the way we saw people coming down path looking surprisingly refreshed. Our target for the day was Laban Rata; the rest houses situated at an altitude of 3200m and 6km in distance from the entry gate. As the day drew on we started to separate as a group as Emilie and Catherine shot ahead while the rest of us tried to keep to our steady pace but the effects the altitude and our weary legs meant we took advantage of the huts at along the way and slowed near the end. Along the way we had met a chap that had made it to Laban Rata but the effects of altitude were too much for him with a pounding headache that he tried to sleep off but couldn’t shake and had no choice but to turn back. By around 3pm we had finally made it to Laban Rata where the girls had already found themselves a table and were recovering as they had gotten there before us they had managed to get a room with the main building while Freddy our guide pointed maybe a few hundred metres up the hill and said “yours is up there, rest and eat here, sleep there.” Oh great more climbing to get to bed we thought; we retreated into the main building and got a hot cuppa as at 3200m it was very cold, but much to our surprise a cup of tea was 12 ringit ($5 NZD). Now in NZ this might be alright, but in the rest of Malaysia we were used to paying around 40 cents NZ for a tea. Of course the inflated prices are due to the fact the dozens of porters have to make the 6km hike up the hill every day to bring up the supplies (an impressive sight). As part of our tour package dinner was included and by 4.30 pm we were lining up for the buffet; the food was very good, but then again after that climb anything would be good, so we filled our plates knowing we needed the energy to recover for the next day, and cups of tea was free with dinner! So if you ever think of doing the climb and want to save some money, wait until dinner for a hot drink. After a filling dinner we had a bit of desert to treat ourselves, fresh fruit, banana cake rolled up into balls and deep fried and some sago with coconut. By this time the sun was going down (and what a sunset it was with everyone out on the deck taking shots), we noticed the staff down on flat clearing playing football! After the climb today and the thin air they were zipping around kicking a soccer ball; I would hate to think what would happen if you lobbed it over the edge.
The sun had set and we all headed for bed; it was around 7pm and we had to meet Freddy for supper at 2am to start the summit climb by 2.30am so we set the alarm for 1.30am climbed into bed hoping to catch as much sleep as we could. Unfortunately this didn’t happen; between the wooden floor boards and the super thin walls I don’t think any of us got more than an hours sleep, in hindsight the numerous cups of tea probably was a bad idea. 1.30am. Great…We get dressed and wander down the hill towards the canteen and have some supper; we look around and everyone looks as jaded as we feel. I don’t think anyone got a good night sleep, of course except for the monstrous snorers which kept everyone else up. Everyone was rugged up with polyprops, jackets, and beanies, and so they should, it was freezing. The climb to the top was around another 800m up and was done over around 2km, well compared to yesterday’s climb this should be fine we have around 4 hours to do it in, simple, right? Wrong. The track soon ended and the rocks began. Mount Kinabalu used to be a volcano and after it blew its top hundreds of years ago all that was left was hard rock to climb. Much of the trail had ropes anchored into the rocks to pull yourself up with. It was easy to see why they didn’t do this part of the climb in the event of rain. By this point the air was very thin and it seemed like you had to stop every 20-30 paces just to catch your breath. I really struggled the last half of the morning climb as we got higher up. Keeping my shortness of breath and the nausea away meant frequent stops but just as the edge of the sky started to show some light we had made it to the summit. We had made it, the sense of achievement was overwhelming. I can say this is the most challenging thing I’ve done and we made it! The view behind us was amazing – the lights of the villages and the glow of the city in the distance, along with a train of torch lights below us of people still making their way up.
Our entire group had made it to the top. We gathered around the summit sign for our picture as proof. And we enjoyed the sunrise, while freezing; the temperature must have been between 0 and 5 degrees and after the 30-35 degrees we have been enjoying this trip it was an unpleasant change. Once the sun was up we started our descent back to Laban Rata to warm up but the sun had come out and we were warming up already. Along the way back down there were still a few people making their way up, looking disappointed they had missed the sunrise; I assured them the view was still amazing that they didn’t have to far to go.
It turned out the climb down was just as hard as the climb up, going down the ropes and navigating the rocks was taking its toll on our quads but at least we could see now. By the time we got back to Laban Rata for breakfast our legs were jelly and we had been climbing/descending for around 6 hours. After breakfast and a break we started the climb down to the entrance gate. Freddy our guide told us we should aim for within 5 hours, Freddy who does this entire climb 2-3 times a week, part- man, part-mountain goat. I don’t think I saw him out of breath the entire trip. The climb the day before which took us 4-5 hours, Freddy boasted that it took him around 45 minutes.
The last part of the trip, the climb back down from Laban Rata, proved to be just has difficult as the rest, the last 3km our legs had turned into jelly, our knees were bouncing around as we went down the giant steps and we resorted to going down them sideways, backwards whatever kept our legs from giving in. We encountered many climbers coming up the hill and shared our tips without scaring them too much. We finally got to the bottom and were taken to lunch near the gate. I think most of us were too exhausted to eat much so we made our way back to the van and headed back to town. After two days of climbing with about a hours sleep the van ride back down was very quiet compared to the ride up. We exchanged email addresses and facebook details and went our separate ways, myself and Hannah had 4 nights left in Kota Kinabalu, most of which we did barely anything as we found it difficult to walk for days afterwards – a shame because KK boasts many islands with white sandy beaches but for us it was hard enough stepping down curbs and stairs so we relaxed in our hostel, ventured out for some great food and did some less adventurous sights.