Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb - Part 1

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb (via Mesilau Route)
Part 1 - Getting there & Mesilau Gate to Laban Rata Climb

When A told me he was going to Singapore for a conference and wanted to extend his trip to pop over to Borneo afterwards to climb Mount Kinabalu as it has always been on his bucket-list and did I want to come along and join him? I thought he was a bit mad. Well actually he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and done the Inca Trail in Peru and done a few other adventurous things so I knew HE could do it, I thought ME contemplating it was a bit crazy...

From Wikipedia:
"Mount Kinabalu (MalayGunung Kinabalu) is a prominent mountain on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is located in the East Malaysian state of Sabah and is protected as Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site. Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo's Crocker Range and is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago.[1] Mount Kinabalu is also the 20th most prominent mountain in the world bytopographic prominence.[2]"

Anyhow somehow the decision was taken, it came together and I was signed up to do it! I bought a new pair of hiking boots (after trying out my old and very much abandoned boots and finding that they were falling apart after not being used for at least 5 years) with a voucher I got for my birthday. A bought me a suitable back-pack for my birthday and I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a proper rain/wind/snow resistant jacket. I love it. :)

To prepare myself physically I did some trail runs, and we did the one big long Table Mountain climb/run, and I also did the Lion's Head hike/picnic for my birthday (carrying loads of stuff in the back-pack). I also did my usual running. So I was pretty fit. Oh yes the night before we flew to Borneo I also climbed up and down the 14 floors of our hotel at 2am. Why? Because I chose that moment to decided I needed to cut off my laptop plug and 'borrow' the plug from the hairdryer. So I went to reception to get their scissors so I could cut off the plug and strip the wires! And walking there fro the 14th floor and back in the service stairway, in a cocktail dress after drinking too many Singapore Slings, seemed like a good idea at the time! I arrived back in our hotel room all out of breath at 2am. Really only I would do that!

So I decided I was pretty much ready. Or as ready as I'd ever be anyway. I was a bit concerned about altitude sickness fearing I'd be susceptible to it due to being a bit anaemic usually anyway and having both a naturally slow pulse and very low blood pressure. The combination made me feel I'd definitely be a likely candidate to struggle with altitude  I took some Solgar Gentle Iron for a week or 2 before though (excellent stuff it solved my anaemia issues in pregnancy within weeks!) and took some headache tablets along, and hoped that sheer strength and willpower would see me through. All the literature I read recommended a slow and steady ascent as the best (and only real) way to deal with altitude sickness, and if it is bad enough all you can really do to 'cure' it is to descend.

So after our Singapore trip (I will blog about that separately) where we actually very very nearly missed our flight, we flew off to the wilds of Borneo... 

We landed in the province of Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, which is a sea side town, on Wednesday night. After getting to our hotel and getting checked in and then heading out to have a very light dinner, have a look around the town and then getting back to prepare for the climb the next day, we got to bed close to 12am (another in a string of late nights, the rest much later than that)... so when we had to wake up at 6am to be collected for the big climb we were well rested - NOT!
We then had to endure a 2.5 hour drive to the Kinabalu National Park, where we ate a bun we'd bought the night before for breakfast. Which is at 1800m altitude  Then we had to register check-in and still drive around to the Mesilau Gate, as we had chosen to climb the longer, but more scenic and vegetation rich and terrain varied route. In the end we must have start the climb at about 10:15-10:30am. Not that most people stay overnight in the park to acclimatise to the already high altitudes and to be able to set off early in the morning - the gates open at 07:30am. So again, we had not slept much, drove from sea-level to 1800m just before starting the hike, and were starting 3 hours after the gates opened and everyone else (even those taking the shorter route) had set off. So the odds were totally in our favour. Oh yes and my legs were already tired from all the walking I'd done in Singapore. In fact my left knee was hurting the night before, so much so that I took and anti-inflammatory. Hahaha!

Anyway we met with our guide Linus (you HAVE to hire a guide for the climb), and set off in good spirits none-the-less. Due to the huge cost of everything in Singapore I had decided against buying many snacks to take. I did end up buying a jar of Nutella which had cost about 3x what it would in SA - but we decided not to take it in the end as our backpacks were already full and quite heavy and besides we were getting a packed lunch. In my experience there is never a shortage of food and on these package things you end up carrying more food than you need. So we set off with about 2x energy bars and a few sucking sweets between us, oh and I had an energy GU too. So after about 1km we ask Linus where our lunch was. Figuring he had it in his bag. His response was,'erm what lunch..?'. So after a few tiny satay kebabs the night before and a small bun that morning, we had to climb a mountain and had NO LUNCH! Oh great! Instead of letting it bother us though we decided we'd survive and could get buy with the few things we had and so we pressed on.

The Mesilau trail is very beautiful and although it is a work-out all the way - you are climbing a mountain of course - it winds through some beautiful lush forests which are a lot like Kirstenbosch. At one point you descend into a valley and then have to climb up the other side. While the main Summit Trail (Timpahon) is basically like a never ending staircase (much like a never-ending Lion's Head or Skeleton Gorge hike) Mesilau is more like the slopes above Table mountain with board walks, river crossings, exposed roots, slopes and then of course steps too. Oh the steps, they are many and varied, and many, and steep, and many, and more, and then they stop, and you turn the corner and there are more. Seriously if you have an issue with stairs, this is not for you. This climb is one big stair master workout!
The route is designed so that there are rest points every so often - generally every 700-1200m or so - called Pondoks. At each stop there is a toilet, tap and place to rest. It's a great way to pace yourself and most people aim to reach the next and then take a rest, have a drink, and something to eat at each. Due to all the climbing you get out of breath quite fast and even traversing 1km is quite an effort, made more so because you are ascending quite fast and are already at quite an altitude. In fact I found that first section of the climb to be the toughest. I was wearing my heart rate monitor and it was reaching 155 at times, which is very high for me!  So we stopped at the first and second pondoks, to catch our breaths, but after a couple of minutes each time we were ready to carry on. Poor Linus barely had time to light up his cigarette before we were ready to go! (Apparently over 70% of the mountain guides and porters smoke and it doesn't appear to affect their ability to climb as they do the climb 3x a week! We didn't get a porter and were carrying all our own gear.) we assured him it was fine for him to finish his cigarette but we didn't need to rest and without food anyway had no real reason to. So we pressed on and climbed and climbed.

We reached the spot where the 2 trails join at Layang-Layang and were feeling good. We had an energy bar each and pressed on. The vegetation thins out and starts to become more sparse up there with the change in rocks and higher altitude. Once on the main (much more popular) trail we started encountering other people. We started passing other groups and people stopped to rest at the Pondoks or just passing and panting on the side of the trail. We were still doing well.

At Pondok Villarosa at close to 3000m, A started looking a bit pale and saying he was feeling the altitude. By then I was doing fine and seemed to have acclimatised  My heart rate was doing fine and when I stopped it would drop below 100bpm almost immediately and then go right down to 55 if I rested a few minutes.
We stopped and had another snack, as he was most likely also suffering a bit from low-blood sugar as much as altitude (which he has previously struggled with anyway). By then we had put some warmer clothes on as it was getting colder and was also raining, so our back-packs had their rain jackets on and we had ours on too. The rain started coming down a bit harder so I decided we should just push on for the last km to the overnight rest camp at Laban Rata as fast as we could, so we could stay warm and dry and rather rest there. So on we went, past another 2 Pondoks and then finally at last at around 3200m altitude we arrived at Laban Rata just as the rain really set in. We arrived before 15:30, so it took us just over 5 hours to climb up. Which is apparently pretty fast - especially since we had taken the longer route.

Next... PART 2

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