Buses in this part of the world don't leave until they're full - that is the extent of the timetable. After I'd arrived, we had to wait another thirty minutes before another couple arrived to make up the magic number of ten that the driver found sufficient to allow our departure. Inevitably we were going to be late, but soon found ourselves in a convoy of other minibuses heading towards the enormous looming granite monolith that dominated the view.
Approaching the tallest mountain in SE Asia and beginning to get butterflies.
Permits and paperwork done, guide appointed, we grabbed a packed lunch and launched ourselves through the welcoming gates summit-wards. It didn't seem to matter that we'd missed the 10am departure cut-off by nearly an hour. I'd booked on my own, so had effectively hired a private guide, three of my fellow climbers were without so, by joining with me, we kept the cost down and I got a rebait. Just as well really, because it was here at the entrance that I last saw my guide before arriving at Laban Rata. He'd stuck with the slower members while myself and the rest of keen club headed up and away.
These cheeky little squirrel types were not easily dissuaded from rummaging in bags for food.
Halfway up I met the Hungarians from the Pinnacles who were on their way down, 24hrs ahead of me. They looked shattered and were moving quite gingerly.
Climbing up through the clouds as the flora changed and the trees began to thin.
We made it to Laban Rata after three hours of hiking. Me and Chareen and one half of Team Sweden. On the right is the big (and only) hotel on the mountain where everyone is compelled to stay. Behind it are affiliated huts which mop up any overspill. This is where we would have our evening meal, going to bed in mixed bunked rooms of eight, at about 9pm or before. Then we'd rise about 2.30am grab a 'supper', summit the mountain for dawn, and return for breakfast.
Before all that though, I celebrated our successful afternoon by drinking a small can of Heineken at a cost of £5. Extortionate! until you remember that everything including drinking water is carried up the mountain by local porters for a fee of about £1 per kilogram. Still the most expensive beer I've had outside of Cannes though.