The final climb to the top..
Day two of the climb… It would be the most dramatic part of this trip even since the moment that I wake up. The alarm on my friends notepad was ringing furiously, he had placed it near my foot previously and I felt just like kicking that notepad from my double-deck bunker. Luckily I was too tucked in to move my legs and get up. It was 12:30 am in the morning, and I had 4 hours sleep that night.
As expected, the cold biting air that morning was even worse earlier on, with no internal heating what so ever, It was lucky that I had slept in a few layers of clothes, keeping warm and avoiding loss of body heat as much as possible. Try washing and brushing your teeth with ice-cold water. That was just what we had to endure. I’m not going to go up the mountains with stinking breath and soggy eyes already.
We had a cup of hot coffee, eaten some bread and jam that the rest house gave earlier on but even the bread was cold and stiff from the cold, there are 2 gas stoves available, but I didn’t think anyone would want to make toast bread at this time…
Planned to start the climb at 1:30am as we were worried that we would be slow, plus the possibility of raining, so we were the earliest group to wake up, the wooden floor plank didn’t help mask our foot steps when moving around, and I am guessing the other guest must have had the same feeling I had with the notepad alarm earlier… 😛
The guide promised to show up on time but didn’t, instead they came at 2:00am, so we had to wait a few minutes more. Gradually the other groups began waking up, there were Europeans, chinese, couples, company organised group, student groups and in total about 150 people that day planning to climb to the top..
We step out of the rest house into the open air, instantly it became colder and damp air just made our face wet. The temperature shown on the thermometer at the cabin was about 8 ºC. To some folks from a cooler climate, this might not be that much to them, and the outfit might seem a little bit exaggerated, but bear in mind this is something new to us that live in a tropical climate, the difference of 24 degrees takes great effect on the body. Everyone was fully dressed in their cold outfits, head caps, ski mask, jackets, whatever name that I can’t think of, a sight that is rarely seen between us. It was interesting. Then the guide gave a short briefing before we start the climb at the middle of the night, some advise about the climb and to check out our headlamps, the talk was short and informative, few minutes later after some encouragement words and exchange of good luck to each other, we begin climbing the ladders to the top. It was dark, and the only source of light was from our head lamps.
Climbing up steps after steps, lasted about 20 minutes, we just keep climbing the stairs going upwards, I didn’t want to keep track of time, but just plant my feet each step one by one. I keep on going and going at the same time worried that my cramps might come back.. It was more silent than talking between us, maybe they were worried as well on their own conditions, I don’t know. But for sure the sound of our feet stomping on the wooden stairs and rocks, is in tandem with our breathing.. I can hear those behind and in front of me exhaling and inhaling, The thin air was breathable, with some effort, It felt like that I needed to take two breath to accommodate one… for every step I took, I needed to inhale 2 times, something like that…
As I was going upwards, my body kind of perspired a little-bit, it was a good sign to me I think… this should be normal… I am walking up a mountain, lots of physical activity involved and the body is sweating, so it should be right, that means my insulation is working correctly here. However my hands was cold… the gloves were too thin and I had to constantly breathe through the hand trying to keep it warm as much as possible.. at one instance, I wrapped my hands in a plastic bag in an attempt to avoid exposing it too much to the cold, it didn’t really work though, better stick with blowing it with your breath. later on, it just became cooler until my body stopped sweating.
After the wooden steps, next came the white nylon ropes, clinging to the surface of the rocky mountains, some part bolted securely into the rock with fasteners. We followed the rope trail and continued walking on the steep mountain side, It looks dangerous but relatively easy enough as the rock surfaces are providing enough friction for us to climb and walk, for the entire climb, I remembered only relying on the rope for just about 10- 20 minutes and a portion of the climb about no more than a hundred meters or so. The only concern was maintaining your balance and watching our steps as the fall down the slopes is unforgiving.
Although it was all dark around us.. there was some moonlight that illuminated the surroundings. The landscape, terrain and contours of the mountains are visible but at the same time hiding in the shadows simultaneously creating an eerie unknown feeling and a sense of appreciation of nature’s beauty, it was as if displaying it’s majestic splendor in the dark. The sky displayed faint glimmer of stars scattered on top of us, an indication of an almost clear sky but with few thin clouds, signs that there might be no rain after all, the wind calm with an occasionally light breeze, helps to keep the cold temperature at bay for the moment. I had a chance to look around, and see in the horizon, lights from the towns surrounding us and the city of Kinabalu in the distance.
As I went on, and looking behind, the rest seems to be falling behind, me and a few of us got further upfront, we got separated from the rest of the team, and kept going on. It was a surprise to me as I expected to be last among the guys since in the first stage of the climb I was the last to arrive Laban Rata anyway. Maybe the clothing and insulation worked after all?
About 03:30am we reached the final check point some 1.5KM from the peak. The ranger at the check point was surprised to see us that early, but since we took off early we made good time. at this time and still another 1.5km to go we would be arriving the peak too early.! With no other option but to keep going on as taking too long a break and waiting in the cold would do more harm than good to us, we continued the walk. The slope is now at a constant incline all the way, slowly and inching every step we just went on and on. Ten steps before intervals became five then became two, with every interval takes about three to four breath to recover. Slowly but progressively, we continued and finally arrived 8.0 km.
04:20 am, 8.0 km, another 500 metres to go. I can see the peak, It gets bigger and yet seems so distant in the dark, but why does 500 metres, seems so far out, so distant..? was it an illusion.? or just my perspective.? I’ve gone through 7 km and will finish the remaining 500 meters, that was all in my mind at that time…
05:20 : Reached low’s peak. 4095metres. One hour to finish that last 0.5km. Can’t remember how many stops and sitting down I’ve made, an average of 8 metres per minute. Finally I was at the top! Two days climbing culminates to this point only. I didn’t say much but just took a good breath and looked around, it was still dark, adjusting the camera setting in the dark and my fingers numb with cold took some effort, but it was worth it.
We waited for the rest of the team to reach the peak. Waited for the sunrise and just enjoyed the scene. From the top we can see trails of lights walking to the peaks. Seems so distant I almost can’t believe that it is 500 metres.
The day is getting brighter and we are still waiting for the rest of the team. Also, there are still few climbers coming up, to reach the peak. As too many people are aiming for the same spot, it was time for us to get down and start descent.