It’s 2:00 am, summit day and I am exhausted and exhilarated at the
same time. I am going to climb my first mountain this morning. Mount
Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo. At 4095 meters it is South East Asia’s
Mount Kinabalu is a 2-hour bus ride from Kota Kinabalu, the capital
of Malaysian Borneo’s northern province. My husband Dave and I have
come to this island to experience adventure. We have already spent time
in the Jungle at Uncle Tan’s Safari Lodge watching the proboscis
monkey, monitor lizards, civet cats and many other creatures exist by
the river in their natural habitat. We have witnessed human nature at
its greatest, helping orphaned and injured Orangutans at the Sepilok
Rehabilitation Centre and we have relaxed on the beach by the Sulu Sea.
It is now time to see what we are made of at our final stop in this
As we ride along the winding mountain road, Mount Kinabalu comes
into view and it is an intimidating sight. Its impressive granite peak
juts out of the jungle casting a shadow over the land. My heart races
just a bit faster and a fear creeps into my mind as we are let off at
the parks entrance.
We haul our packs onto our backs and walk towards the headquarters
where a guard meets us and we pay our RM15 ($5 CAD) park entrance fee
and book a room for the night. We are climbing tomorrow and within
minutes, we secure our permit, guide and accommodations on the mountain
for RM300 ($100 CAD) each. Excited and relieved to be able to climb so
quickly, we head to our dorm room where we begin to organize ourselves.
Deciding to pack light for this 2-day expedition, we leave behind our
large rucksacks and fill a day-pack with only the essentials. Chocolate
bars, cookies, cheese and water for energy, layers of warm clothing,
camera,video, journal and hiking shoes is all we need. While buying a
few toiletries at the canteen, we even manage to snag some warm hats
and mittens from other travelers who have just returned from their
climb. By the time we settle in for the evening, we have scaled down
our loads and we feel well prepared for task ahead.
The first day of our climb starts at 7:00 am where we hop into a
mini van for the 5km shuttle to the start of the trail. After signing
in, our guide Japly sets a strong pace and for the next 5-hours it is a
steep and grueling climb. At first the trail has steps and handrails
built into it, but as we gain altitude, it becomes rocky and turns into
a narrow, nearly vertical path. Porters put us to shame walking briskly in their flip flops
carrying large barrels, loads of wood and even piles of steal strapped
to their backs and balanced on their heads.
After struggling for hours and wondering if the pain will ever end,
we finally reach our camp by early afternoon. At 3263 metres, Laban
Rata has our dorm rooms and hot showers. The sun is shining brightly
above the clouds and we lay our sweat soaked clothing on the rock to
dry as we munch on our snacks and bask in the warmth.
Dinner at sunset is breathtaking. A blazing light show fills the sky
with fiery colours, above the pink clouds pillowed below. The
celebration doesn’t last long however, as we must turn in early for our
2:00 am wake-up call.
The night passes slowly and my sleep is fitful. Having to brave the
cold a couple of times for a visit to the toilet, it seems that I will
never rest. I am too nervous with anticipation for our summit push.
2:00 am comes all to quickly though and just as it seems that I am
finally falling asleep, it is time to awake. Quickly dressing in our
layers, we head up to meet Japly, who will guide us through the
The air is thin and it is difficult to catch my breath. The pace
seems fast and I wonder if I will make it. Luckily, we come to a
bottleneck of other climbers and our pace slows and my heart has a
chance to relax. Soon I feel in the zone and keep a steady pace along
with our group. We climb for 2 1/ 2 hours walking on steep sheer
granite keeping our balance while holding on to rope bolted into the
rock. I cannot not see the sheer drops below or the daunting summit
above. I am simply forced to focus on my climb putting one foot in
front of another following the line of people up to the summit.
By 5:15 am we have made it safely. The excitement and emotion is
overwhelming and we joyously celebrate, until we realize that we have
to wait in the freezing cold for another hour until sunrise. It is the
longest 60 minutes of my life. I am wet, cold and soon my fingers and
toes go numb. I want to sleep, and I want to be down the mountain,
relaxing in a comfortable bed.
Instead, we perch ourselves on the edge of a rock facing the
sunrise where we wait. And wait. The first few rays finally burst into
the sky and as it rises, our bodies warm and we take in the magnificent
view. The sight is worth the wait as we overlook the vast jungle and
into the surrounding mountains feeling emotional and proud of our