Kinabalu Park is Malaysia's first World Heritage site designated by UNESCO in 2000. It covers a staggering area of 300 square miles, bigger than the entire nation of Singapore. The park is dominated by Mt. Kinabalu which stands at 4,095 meters or 14,435 feet, a botanical paradise blessed with an astonishing variety of flora and fauna.
Only four of the eight in our group were going to the park, so we asked the concierge to book us a car and driver for the two-hour trip. We had no delusions of grandeur trekking up to the summit, normally takes two to three days for climbers to acclimatize. We wanted to see this majestic mountain and do the canopy walk we read about in the brochure. After a heavy buffet breakfast, off we went.
As we gained altitude, the temperature dropped, until we were engulfed in a chilly blanket of fog. Our wise and thoughtful driver suggested we visit Poring Hot Springs first, do the canopy walk and hope that by the time we got back to park headquarters, the fog would have cleared allowing us a good view of the mountain's peak.
We paid a minimal conservation fee of 15 rm to enter the park at the Poring Hot Springs where the path to the canopy walk begins. We followed the signs over a running stream, past pools of hot springs to the start of the course. I had no idea what the trail was like. The brochure mentioned nothing about having to climb a steep mountainside (didn't we decide there were no mountain climbing expeditions for us?), to reach the suspension bridges that connected the treetops 200 feet above the forest floor.
Twenty minutes into the trail, I was still clueless as to what I was getting myself into. I'm not fit for climbing. I can walk for hours on end, I am notorious for taking my London visitors on personalized walking tours of the city that last eight hours with an hour or so for lunch.
On the Trail
There I was, huffing and puffing, telling myself we were almost there, when my friend saw a sign indicating we were only halfway up. Only halfway? But we've been at this for 30 minutes! I felt deflated, almost gave up. I seriously contemplated turning back.
I thought about the canopy walk that awaited us, how great it would be among the treetops, something I had wanted to do in Cagayan for so long. I imagined how I would regret turning back and hate myself for it, reminded myself how much sweeter the victory is when you push yourself to the limit.
In a sudden burst of self-motivation, I looked at the glass half-full and told myself, "Self, we're already halfway up! You can do it!". With that and the rest of my "Team Sabah" encouraging me, I pushed myself, one step at a time. I made it. I felt as though I could conquer the world! In retrospect, I think it was due to the combination of vertigo and fatigue.
When I saw the first bridge, I forgot the pain of the climb. In its place was a thrill, a rush, the feeling one gets when you're about to do something so wild and crazy that it involves the possibility of putting your life at risk. I couldn't wait to get on it. I let everyone go ahead so I could take their photos.
There are three bridges that run a total length of 158 meters. It's a wooden plank less than a foot across supported by a steel ladder, suspended by sturdy ropes. Netting is woven into the ropes on each side, creating a safety net in case you slip from the plank. (It failed to give me any peace of mind, though). Each bridge is connected by a circular observation deck where you can stop and smell the tree tops. Looking down, all you can see are more trees, the forest floor is nowhere in sight.
Every so often we would catch a glimpse of some spectacular scenery through the branches and the mist. I loved being here, surrounded by nature, an exhilarating experience. Being high up in the forest is one thing, walking from tree top to tree top is totally different.
The trek down was easier, took us about half an hour. The unpaved trail was muddy, we had to go slowly. By the time we reached the base, the heavens opened, it started to pour, as if to cleanse us of the sweat and grime we had accumulated during our adventure. We stopped at the restaurant lodge for a quick drink before we hopped back in the car and made our way to the Kinabalu Park headquarters. By the time we got there, it was 3:00 p.m. We were starving. The fog was still thick, we couldn't see Mt. Kinabalu in the background. We freshened up and ate tom yam soup, satay, roti and teh tarik. The food couldn't have tasted better. It was the perfect reward for tired folks!
Peekaboo with the Fog
We needed to be in the city by 6:00, so we started heading home. Mt. Kinabalu seemed to be eluding us, we kept an eye out, anyway, in case it came out of hiding. The fog was playing peekaboo with us. Each time we saw through it, we screamed at the driver (who was only too willing to try out his Evil Knievel moves) to stop so we could take pictures. It was definitely a spectacular sight. I wish the rest of the gang could have been there to see it too.
Read more of Christine's journey at her blog.