Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is not the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, I always imagined it to be. Puncak Jaya, Indonesia topped it by around 700m, and then there’s the matter of prominence, which I don’t quite grasp its concept.

Mount Kinabalu (Mt. KK) is the highest point of Malaysia, and according to Wikipedia, the Malay Archipelago, or Nusantara. It’s the home of a very diversified range of flora and fauna, and despite suffering from its first earthquake in June 2015, it still stands unapologetically proud and high, looking over ranges or hills and mountains, uncountable valleys, and the whole of Kota Kinabalu.

Can’t really pinpoint when I decided to make this trip to KK, but I have (and never had) a single tinge of regret. The climb was difficult, straining, tiring, challenging, but oh it was worth every single drop of sweat and every groan and struggle.

This isn’t a guide, no to-bring-list, no detailed description of what you’ll have to do, no instructions of how to book your tour. This is merely my thoughts being recalled and put into words, and a little of what you might expect, if you’re a girl in her 20’s, fairly fit, and decided to challenge Mt KK with good company.

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This, is Mount Kinabalu, taken from Kota Belud.

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Featuring yours truly, taken at Kinabalu Pine Resort.

I swear the mountain looks different at different points of view and different angles, and boy, it is majestic.

We actually opted for a night stay in Kinabalu Pine Resort before the climb, and there’s nothing negative to complain about this place, and it has a spectacular view of Kundasang, so why not. And the entrance to the mountain is inside Kinabalu Heritage Park, which is a 5 minute drive from the resort.

Although pumped with adrenaline already, I slept well that night.

 

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Timpohon Gate, where it all started.

The climb started with a downhill flight of stairs. Which… means more uphill-steps coming up. But honestly, the view and the path changes after every turning, and they’re all so mesmerizing.

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Into the woods.

As we climbed, the steps eventually became steeper and higher, to the point where every lunge was painful on my thighs. Trees around us became progressively shorter, the leaves pointier, and the air became thinner, as our breathing got louder and faster.

The last 2km, out of 6, were the toughest. Although fueled by our packed lunch, every step felt heavy and draining, and all I wanted was to sit down, with a cup of tea/coffee, and put my legs up, for a long, long time. A comfy chair was all I could dream of at that point.

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Maybe it’s nature’s way of motivating us, the view just kept getting better and better. Once covered by a canopy of trees and branches, we were exposed to the bright blue sky of a sunny day. Rocks were bigger, but the sight of the peak became much clearer than it has ever been. It was rather chilly. My uncovered legs chilled from whispers of the wind.

We started at 8.30am, and we managed to reach Laban Rata at 1pm, fairly good timing.

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Laban Rata Resthouse (3,272m above sea level)

You cannot imagine the exhilaration when I stepped out from behind a bush of spiky leaves to see this view. Exactly this view.

In my opinion, I like the view from the resthouse more than the view from the peaks. Small, tiny, me, above the clouds, detached from life, but never felt so alive at the same time. I like how everything that has always matter didn’t matter then, and all that I cared for was the air that I breathed in and the view I had in front of me. It was like that throughout my stay in Laban Rata.

People there are of different nationalities, and different brought-up’s, but yet with one, similar goal. We were all desperate for motivation, generous to motivate.

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Look at all the chairs at my disposal lol…

This view that I dined to, earned through litres of sweat and a day worth of calorie intake. This was priceless, something you can’t buy with only money. I felt like I was in this huge plane with huge windows, or a floating room hovering above clouds.

We were shoo-ed to go to bed at like 8pm, and obviously it was quite impossible to fall asleep at 8, so I ended up spending hours just staring out the window, gazing at constellation of stars. The stars weren’t just individual sparkles, they were in clusters, shimmering glitter lighting up the sky. It was so beautiful I didn’t mind not sleeping.

At 2.30am, we started our journey to the summit.

The summit attack was painfully torturous. Legs already tired from the day before, a sleepness night, breathing shallow from the thin air, merciless wind slapping against my face, running nose, freezing cheeks, we made our way to the top, step by step.

Every step, my body wanted to stop. Strange how I can run 10km without breathing through my mouth at all, but I was panting every 5 steps I took up there. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just tried to make sure I keep up with the feet in front of me (my mom’s), and try to stay balanced so that I don’t roll off the mountain. The wind was so strong I literally feel rocked when it blows full-force. And I thought Australia was bad. Around me, was nothing to be seen, pitch black, nothing you would want and dare to explore.

It took us slightly more than 3 hours to reach the peak, just in time for the sunrise.

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Breaking dawn.

Low’s Peak (4096m) was the highest peak of the mountain, although not the prettiest, or the most photogenic.

True enough, the view from the highest point was amazing. I was standing higher than everyone I know (lol kiasu). Like seriously, nothing, at my eye level was higher, except for bundles of clouds. I suppose this is what that drives mountaineers to conquer the impossible. The satisfaction, the adrenaline pumping through my veins, taking in a view that might just be once-in-a-lifetime.

I felt big and capable, but at the same time extremely humbled by the giant rock I was standing on. Tiny me made it up this world-ranked mountain, but my fate and my entire life depended on that mountain itself. Kind of a commensalism based relationship?

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South Peak, and its shades of blue.

South Peak, the signature peak. The picture that’s printed on our Malaysian notes. I swear it’s more beautiful in person.

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Route to the top.

Going up was ‘oh my god’, but coming down was just ‘zzzzz’. I DID NOT understand how I got my ass up at the first place. Maybe it was a good thing that I couldn’t see anything because I would’ve been too scared to depend my life on a rope held on my hundreds every morning if I’ve seen the degree of elevation. I could literally roll off the mountain if I slipped or missed a step.

The descend to Laban Rata took 2 hours, and then another 3 hours to return to flat ground after breakfast.

Going down was just… long… and painful on my knees. And half of the time I was trying to figure out how I managed to drag myself, and a 7kg backpack up such steep steps.

This trip was definitely worth the planning and all the fussing we went through preparing for it. It was tough, no doubt, but it’s one that I will keep close to my heart, one that I will always be proud off, one that ticks off a bucket list item.

 

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