The main reason we had come to this part of Malaysia stands 4,095m above sea level. We were going to climb one of (in spite of my claims on the video) the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia – Mount Kinabalu.
The 8km trek up to the top is a two-day job, so we set off early in the morning in a taxi, the driver of which played incessant house music for the two hour journey. We were greeted with...rain. I think it has rained every day so far. Our guide, who I mistakenly called Sajid for the duration of the expedition even though his name was more like Asheed, met us and we were soon heading up. And up.
The reason it is a two-day trek is because Mount Kinabalu is supposed to be at its most spectacular when the sun rises. Consequently, you sleep after 6km of the hike and wake up early to scale the remainder in time for the sun to break out from under the horizon. The first 3.5km were a doddle. After we had our lunch – much of which we spent trying to feed a squirrel – things began to become tricky.
The reasons are twofold. In addition to the lactic acid steadily building in our legs from ascending, the air was becoming thinner with every step. This does affect your climb – we were becoming breathless at an alarming speed. Even so, the vegetation and flora was still beautiful.
This stopped as we passed the 3,000m mark, to be replaced with something out of the Lion King. Everything changed to black and white. The tree trunks were a light grey, the rocks a threatening black. We got up to our resting point, had a freezing shower due to the lack of hot water, ate and then went to bed. At 8.30pm. The rest of our room was filled with eager Japanese tourists who went to bed at this time, and we were obliged to follow suit. Especially as we were waking up at 2am...
Or so I thought. No. The Japanese were even more eager than I thought. 1.37am was when our light was switched on. Knackered. Coffee to go with another big, high-carb meal. Head torch on, and at 2.45am we’re off.
Bit harder this time. To be expected – the higher you go, the tougher the level of difficulty. Ropes were required to pull ourselves up various faces of the mountain. Fun, but challenging in the pitch black. Soon enough, we were scrambling up the final craggy rocks. 4,095m. Conquered.
So now to shiver in the cold whilst waiting for the sun to rise. Except...it kinda didn’t. There was a lot of cloud cover. So what happened was the other tips of the mountain suddenly became clearer in our vision. This was still a spectacular sight. We may not have seen the perfect view, but we still saw the top of the mountain in its magnificent splendour.
Of course, what comes up must come down. So we had an 8km descent ahead of us. Using that rope. My knees aren’t great anyway, so this quickly became a test of wills. We tried rolling down but it didn’t really work. Our guide would have stopped such tomfoolery, but he had disappeared. He was there for the most difficult part – sidestepping along an edge holding only a rope – but that was the last we saw of him.
It could be argued that the latter part of the hike was the hardest. In addition to the pains in our knees and calf muscles, it began to rain. Hard. I fell over twice, Jason once. Trees had fallen into our path between our ascent and descent. We made it down the final 6k in three hours. On the way, a different tour guide stopped us and asked if we were twins (maybe I do look Asian after all), and we chanted Dae-han-min-guk at a group of Koreans. They loved that.
And it’s fair to say that we loved the hike. The people we met were fun, the mountain was beautiful, and it was very nice to get in some physical exertion amongst all of the food we have been eating. It’s the highest place I have ever stood on our planet’s surface, and is one of the prettiest.
Love you all