UPWARDS THROUGH THE JUNGLE
If at the end of climbing up and then down Mount Kinabalu we could converse with full energy levels, our discourse most probably would have followed something along these lines: Kinabalu! Mount Kinabalu!! We climbed Mount Kinabalu. We climbed Mt KINABALU!!! We did it! Yeah baby!! MOUNT KINABALUUUUU!!! YEEEEAAAAHHHH!!! *insert shrieks of unbridled joy here but in reality it was primitive moans and grunts of pain*
Mt Kinabalu is a mountain in Borneo that was absolutely one of our favourite and most memorable travel experiences ever. Days on after the climb and we still may have mild levels of post traumatic stress disorder whenever we see a normal every day flight of stairs or a few rocks that one could potentially get a leg up on. The legs start shaking and the flashbacks occur.
PLANNING THE CLIMB
Basically, we didn’t plan. Jai’s planning involved taking a whistle to blow in case we got lost on the mountain so he could recreate that scene with Rose from Titanic (still adamant that there was enough room on that piece of furniture for the two of them). Kate’s planning involved a rigorous training schedule of a minimum of 100,000 flights of stairs per day, 40,000 burpees in a calendar month and trimming down her 3km time trial to under 2 minutes, all of which never actually happened. So basically our preparation involved stuffing some warm stuff into the bottom of our backpacks because we did a google image search and people were wearing beanies at the summit so we were like ‘ok lets take a beanie and some longjohns’. So there we were. All packed and prepared and trained and buff and looking sexy in our new matching Macpac waterproofs and ready to go.
In all seriousness we did do a bit of researching about what to take because Kinabalu IS one of those places in the world where you do need to be at least a little bit prepared in regards to what the average human (who couldn’t jog up Everest with no oxygen tank) should take with them. For comprehensive female and male pack lists, check out our upcoming blog on ‘Mt Kinabalu – what YOU need to take’. Do it.
In our ‘preparation’ for climbing Kinabalu, we did some reading about the fitness levels required. We read anything from “hey yeah sweetie, like totally anyone with like a really basic level of fitness and no training can float up in a breeze no probs at all hun” to “man… you defs need a solid block of crossfit training and well above average fitness levels if you’re even contemplating Kinabalu man, its hardcore bro”.
So we weren’t really sure what to think. Was it going to be brutally hard and we would have to wimp out and turn back after the first 45 minutes? Or was it going to be easy and we would be jogging and starjumping our way up like the stars of Glee? In answering that question we suppose it’s important to give a bit of context right?
Kate does yoga every single day and thrashes that ‘crazy fitness dude who screams at you as a form of encouragement’ DVDs on a regular basis, whereas Jai’s fitness levels, where going to the fridge to get another beer and changing gears is the car is genuinely about as strenuous as it gets, are not quite at the same level as Kate’s.
Some quotes might help here.
Question: “is climbing Mt Kinabalu hard?”
Kate: “Yes. It’s so high. Its hard.”
Jai: “Give me going up the mountain over going down it every single day of the bloody week”.
So contextually speaking, Kate (the fitter one) found it moderately hard going up due to the effects of altitude, whilst Jai found it certainly a bit taxing but very do-able on the way up. Contrastingly, on the way down, Kate was able to glide down like an olympic skier on the slopes, but Jai’s age digits seemed to have reversed and he would have been overtaken by an 82 year old getting out of the car in his walking frame going to his local pub for a cheeky spot of Bingo on a Tuesday night. Legs Eleven!
Its a hard question to answer; “is climbing Mt Kinabalu hard?”. To answer it the best we can, its definitely not easy but there will be more physically demanding things you’ll do in your life. Like a continuous 48 hour child birth. Or running a marathon naked on hot flowing lava. Just kidding. But not really. Prepare yourself mentally for it being tough but do-able and you might be surprised.
THE MORNING OF THE CLIMB
We were picked up from our hotel at 7:45am, rocked up in style to Kinabalu Park HQ at 8:00am with our boots and North Face pants that are sometimes shorts but sometimes pants and have those zips that convert them into either pants or shorts depending on how cool you want to look. You know the ones. So cool.
This is probably a good time to spruik our booking through local company Amazing Borneo. These guys were great with open transparency and fast communication. They do run a slightly ‘commuter’ based type tour, which isn’t the way we normally prefer to travel but the organization and efficiency of the company was awesome and we would definitely recommend them to anyone wanting to climb Kinabalu or visit other parts of Borneo. Check them out at www.amazingborneo.com
So its 8:00am and we are at Kinabalu HQ, our tour guide did our permit registration for us (legend), we hired some trekking poles for MR10 each, stored our big backpacks at HQ for MR12 each, went to the ladies and gents and were at the official entry point at Timpohon Gate (1800m above sea level) and taking our first steps to mountain glory by 8:30am.
Our first steps were great! Down some beautifully crafted wooden steps, down a gentle track and past a flowing rainforest waterfall! “This is amazing, we are going to do this easy” we thought to ourselves. We were in good spirits, chatting and getting to know our guide, laughing and joking and fist-pumping him when we found out we had him all to ourselves! Life was good!
A couple of hundred metres down the track and the gradient turned upwards slightly. We were now powering up a gentle upwards curve. Nothing to worry about – we can do this for the next 6 hours easy! We are at the 500m marker of a 6km journey, feeling great, feeling fit and we are still able to chat to each other in eager excitement for the journey ahead. Pfft, what were all those whingers on the internet complaining about?
Then we came to some steps. Upward steps. No worries… some steps never hurt anybody right? The steps got bigger. The steps became larger steps, each requiring one leg up and dragging the other leg up after it. The water in our backpacks became heavier. The sweat started forming on our body. All over. And we definitely mean ALL OVER, this is the Borneo jungle with extreme humidity remember? This was suddenly bit tougher. Our pace slowed and our talking ceased. Jai regretted bringing two large bottles of water in his backpack and Kate thought that perhaps two trekking poles instead of one might have been worth the extra MR10.
Past the 500m mark and we were going UP. When we say ‘up’, we don’t mean gradually meandering our way up a trail with smooth ground to pound our feet on, we mean gigantic stairs, some made from rocks, some made from wooden pylons, some made from tree roots, but all sharing that now brutally common theme of ‘UP’. “We aren’t even 1km in and THIS IS TOUGH” we hoarsely breathed to each other. Maybe some training up Mt Lofty would have been a good idea? Oh well, too late now. Just have to toughen up and plow on.
Surely this ‘vertical up’ theme will ease a bit further on and we can get some much needed leg muscle relief right? We were wrong. We just kept going UP. Mt Kinabalu is not a bushwalk, a walking trail or a trek. This joint goes in one direction and one direction only. UP. Its a climb.
We pushed on. The first of 7 huts on the initial 6km journey to our overnight stay at Laban Rata was just past the 1km mark. They all have toilets, rubbish bins and a place to sit which is great. We sat down, had a swig of fresh water, marvelled at the friendly mountain squirrels and had an encouraging and motivating pump up discussion about how well we were travelling.
Righto, up and onto the next stretch to the second hut. Initially we marvelled at the beautiful moss covered rocks, the imposing jungle trees and amazing array of flora and fauna but before long we were internally cursing the slippery water covered rocks, the inconveniently placed tree roots and the general sheer steepness of the hike. Such first world problems we have to deal with right?
As we ascended through the second kilometre and up through the jungle to the second and third huts, we were often quickly overtaken by Malaysian Formula 1 drivers/part time porters powering upwards and past us with the only difference being they were carrying 35 kilogram supply packs and steel pylons on their heads up to Laban Rata!! These guys were amazing to watch doing their thing and absolutely put us to shame! So much respect goes to them! What beasts!!
The rain set in at our lunch rest hut at the 4km point and past the 4.5km mark at a height of 2898m, we hit the clouds. We were literally in the clouds. We could touch them and feel them and Jai even tried to eat them. The terrain had changed from The Jungle Book to more of a rainy, rocky planet Mars type feel as the summit trail ascended.
Disclaimer to make ourselves feel better: for anyone reading this and thinking “Pfft 4.5km? That’s nothing – I do that before work every morning!”, after 4.5km and at 2900m above sea level, the altitude effects kick in, the breathing and heart rates increase as you suck in less oxygen per breath, you feel your pulse pumping in your temples, it’s raining, it’s slippery, the packs are bloody heavy and the steepness of the CLIMB makes each 500 metres crawled feel more like stretch of leg burning stairway going STRAIGHT UP and it NEVER ENDS. Come and try THAT before work mate!! Ok rant over. We feel better and more justified in our personal (un)fitness now.
The last 1.5km are a bit of a painful blur… hence why we didn’t take many photos. We were more focused on finding an appropriate foothold for our (well, in Jai’s case) chunky feet, in order to not fall back and go stumbling down to the bottom and have to subject ourselves to this brutal ordeal all over again.
Reaching that certain point of the climb where the beautiful, gorgeous, rewarding and life-saving wooden roof of Laban Rata came into view, we pushed on in anticipation of a bed to lay in and something tasty to eat. We gingerly made our way up to the Pendant Hut at 3289m, swapped our hiking boots for some wickedly fashionable crocs and piled onto a bed with a feeling of semi-accomplishment. We had completed over 6 hours of straight up but still had a further 3km summit climb in the wee hours of the morning.
The accommodation at Laban Rata is basic but more than enough for what climbers on an overnight stay would need. We stayed in a dorm with 16 people, who all smelled amazingly fresh after a day of climbing a tropical mountain and covered in insect spray with no shower! We heard that there were warm showers in the Pendant Hut but we couldn’t find any or they had run out. No big deal. We smashed some 2 minute noodles and went to bed at 6pm (TIP: remember earplugs!) with our alarms set at the delightful time of 1:30am.
Stay tuned for BORNEO – MT KINABALU (part 2): ASCENDING TO THE SUMMIT – coming soon!