Friday, 13 December 2013

Weds 27th Nov - Mt. Kinabalu Summit and return

Grumbled out of bed after everyone else at 3am, downstairs for a pretty tasty breakfast/supper, then donned all my warmest clothing and headed out into the chill mountain air. Charene and myself, full of confidence from our previous day's speedy ascent, had decided to leave a half an hour later than most others at close to 4am, so as to avoid being up on the cold summit too early before sunrise. We saw Team Sweden leave and then it was just us and a bunch of porters - had we left too late?
No we hadn't. Within minutes we were catching and overtaking puffing Chinese tourists, and as the trees gradually fell away we were jumping the queues for the wooden steps that carries us over the increasingly bare rock. It was still very dark, and my weedy head torch was no match for the huge gaping blackness that lay ahead. I was doing pretty well, feeling strong, but my climbing buddy Charene was getting a little lightheaded with the altitude up above 3000m. I paused every few minutes to try and photograph the incredible views above and below us.

Up above the clouds, the pre-dawn stars shone brightly against the black mountain.
Far below us the traces of head-torches marked the path where we had just been.
By now there was little in the way of vegetation left on the mountain. Just huge slabs of bare rock that we scrambled up. Unlike the Pinnacles, it was rarely steep enough to demand use of hands, but a thick rope marked our route and provided extra support when required.
Nearing the summit, it gradually gets light. Below us the procession of headlights follow.
The last hundred meters or so did involve scrambling over big boulders, the nearest we got to 'mountaineering'. We arrived at the summit ten minutes before sunrise and managed to find a spot right behind the marker. It was utterly freezing though and every photograph taken was paid for by increasingly numbed fingers.

We'd timed our ascent perfectly, and with obligatory selfies snapped, and socks over frozen fingers we began the bit that I'd really been dreading - the descent.

It was far too cold to linger at the summit for more than necessary, and by the time we left, it was getting pretty crowded up there.

By the time we got back down to Laban Rata for breakfast, I was absolutely shattered. I hadn't found the ascent too taxing, but on the return began to feel a subtle nausea which I guessed was the altitude rather than any dodgy food. The descent just seemed to go on forever, each step was a battle to avoid knees buckling. Having wolfed down a cooked breakfast with frozen fingers, I climbed back into my bunk for an irresistible hour's sleep before getting up for the second time that morning. 

We left Laban Rata at 9.30am and began the tortuous descent back to below the treeline, into the mist. With legs like jelly, and knees threatening to buckle with every pummelling step down, we nevertheless spared a thought for the porters on their way up with huge loads that would make a mule buckaroo and bugger off in search of better working conditions.

There was a lot of chat about which of north Borneo's two big ascents was the tougher, Mt Kinabalu or The Pinnacles. The consensus seems to be with the latter. Having done both, I'd certainly agree that the Pinnacles was tougher while it lasted, it was both steeper and riskier, and requires more climbing skill. However, climbing Mt Kinabalu is a much bigger ascent, to nearly double the altitude, with very exposed conditions at the top, and by the time I got back down, I was way more exhausted than I had been climbing the Pinnacles three days earlier.

Back at the gates of the park, Cherene and I took the last of our five pre-paid meals to go, and together with The Russian grew tired of waiting for the public mini-bus to reach the required eight passenger minimum and commissioned a taxi for twice the price to take us back to the relative civilisation of Kota Kinabalu, knees in agony, but smiles on faces. 

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