Sabah – land below the wind

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Climbing up Low’s Peak, May 2016, Photo Credits: L

We spent a short holiday in Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, otherwise known as the Land beneath the Wind. This is our itinerary with Beyond Adventures.

DAY 1 – KOTA KINABALU / KINABALU PARK HQ / RESORT
Nepenthes Lodge

We took SilkAir and arrived just about lunch. It was a pleasant day, the guide told us that this is a dry season. Not a peak period for the climb. Usually months of Feb to April are more popular, with July-August the peak period, because of European tourists.

Got a WIFI sim card at RM27 for 7 days. Went to Tung Fung for lunch. Bill was $166RM noodles for about 7 pax and some fish. Very good ko lo noodles.

Saw Giant megastore. We were told by the guide to buy our drinks at Nabalun which was 2 hrs away. We bought our water for the climb here. But since it was a Sunday, most stalls were closed. I’m surprised that the local guide was not aware. (He usually leads dives at Sapi and not climbs.) Suggestion is to use the toilet at the airport and buy your snacks and medication in your home county or KK town and not here.

Buy your 2 litres of water per pax in the city and have your lunch in the city.

We headed straight to the Kinabalu Park and spend a night at the foothills. Shopping can come later. Its a 2 hours drive from airport to Kinabalu Park HQ, winding road of the valleys of the Crocker Range.

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We make a brief stop at Nabalu. Good pit stop for toilets. 30ct per pax. Nabalu is a place where the local natives gather to sell local produce, fruits, home grown vegetables and handicraft souvenirs. As its a Sunday, most of the stalls are closed as the Kadazan Dusu natives are mostly Catholics and they’re in church.

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Different types of rice.

Check into Kinabalu Park – Nepenthes Lodge. The mountain air is cool and pleasant. There’s heated water in the toilet.

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When we arrived at the Base camp, the air was so refreshing. Our guide registered us and sent us to Nepenthes lodge (8 units ) where we stayed for the night.

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Flowers in front of our unit.

Cozy lodge with big rooms. Each unit has 1 master bedroom with queen size bed and a room with 2 single beds.There were five of us so we had 2 interconnecting units. There’s heated water for bathing and a lounge area with TV, hot water. We watched CNN and ate our own snacks.

Then it rained heavily at 530pm.

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Dinner at Balsam restaurant and we went to bed at 9pm. A light sweater with a beanie was sufficient. The bed comfortable.

DAY 2 – PARK HQ / TIMPOHON GATE / ASCEND MOUNT KINABALU / LABAN RATA

Laban Rata Rest House (Non-Heated Dormitory)
Breakfast at Balsam Park Restaurant. I did my carbo loading. Collect packed lunch, I left the apple and oily chicken wings and box behind. Kept the sandwich, hard boiled egg and oat biscuits.

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Proceed to the Park HQ to register for the climb.
Our mountain guides were changed 3 times, from Frederick, to Willie to Bill. We later learned that the mountain guide is not assigned by your tour agency but by the Park administration. Of course, if you are aligned with a major tour agency, you get the first pick of the mountain guides.

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We waited from 8am to 9am for our guide to show up. In the meantime, we had our bags weighed as we’d asked for 2 porters in addition to our guide. All’s well that ends well. Bill is a very pleasant young man.

Remember to wear your ID TAG at all times.
Our minivan transferred us downhill to the starting point – Timpohon Gate – where our journey and quest to the summit of Borneo’s highest mountain begins! I took 6 hrs to climb uphill, 2hrs longer than the estimated time by the tour agency.

We were told that the trek will pass by different vegetation zones from Oak and Chestnut to mossy and eventually to alpine type of vegetations.

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Arrived at 3pm and checked into Laban Rata Rest House @ 3272m
for a buffet Dinner at Laban Rata restaurant and overnight.

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Our tiny room had 6 bunk beds, but because there were 5 of us, we had another person join us. He’s a young Taiwanese doctor who joined Amazing Borneo and signed upon his own. He joined us for dinner and we had a smashing time.
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In the ladies toilet, I had a hot shower. Towel and toilet paper was provided but not slippers. Whether you get hot water is dependent on the number of guests and on the sun since heating is by solar panel. So don’t wash your long hair, leave some hot water for others. (I didnt tell the guys so as not to gloat over their icy cold shower.)

I slept in the clothes meant for tomorrow’s climb. We slept at 7pm, some with the help of sleeping pills. We were blessed with a quiet crowd, no wild parties, no one talking beyond bed-time, just some snoring and some tossing.

DAY 3 – LOW’S PEAK / DESCEND MOUNT KINABALU / KOTA KINABALU

(02:00hrs) Wake up for early supper and depart for continuation of journey towards the summit of Mount Kinabalu.

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We were told that the journey up to the Low’s peak @4,095m will test your fitness and determination. Weather was perfect for us. But only 2 of the team made the climb. I was part of the cheerleading team and went back to sleep soundly.

More photos of Low’s Peak on my next post.

Our two team mates who made it for the climb plus the Taiwanese doctor made their descent back to Laban Rata for late breakfast and check out. My achievement was to eat 2 breakfasts in one day.

Trek down to Timpohon Gate for transfer back to the Kinabalu Park Headquarter (est. arrival 13:00hrs to 15:00hrs). I made it at 4pm. During the climb down, I wondered why I decided to leave the comfort of my home and torture my knees. A young JB boy commented to himself, no one tricked you to the climb. You tricked yourself by not doing sufficient research. Misery makes philosophers of us.

Buffet Lunch served at the Balsam restaurant in Kinabalu Park. But since I arrived at 4.10pm, no lunch for me. Thanks to quick witted friends, I got a delicious curry fish packed lunch.

Transfer back to Kota Kinabalu City to check into Promenade Hotel.

Climbing Mt Kinabalu

Photo credits: L

Said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

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It’s 4 days after our Mount Kinabalu climb and my knees are regaining their flexibility. I appreciate the complexity of bending my legs and standing up or climbing stairs.

I’ve mixed feelings about the climb and himself is thinking of another climb regardless of how he felt during the descent. Another friend KW remarked that a sightseeing holiday without incorporating an element of overcoming personal limitations seem so meaningless. The endorphin high, a sense of achievement, an appreciation of being alone with nature.

This is what Mount Kinabalu does to you. You have not overcome the mountain. The mountain is still there but you are changed in the process.

History and legend:
http://www.mountkinabalu.com/mount-kinabalu

The climb up was enjoyable and you see different vegetation. The UNESCO world heritage site boasts an impressive 5,000 to 6,000 plant species (excluding mosses and liverworts but including ferns)

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The weather cool and the walk serene and pleasant – the mountain majestic, magical and otherworldly with hanging lichens, swirling mists and puffy clouds. No insects bother you because the ecosystem is quite well balanced.

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Gold nepenthes cup

And safe. With mountain guides ensuring you don’t veer off the track. And men in orange fatigue patrolling the area. Blending with the climbers.

Dos
Stay close to the white rope and you’re unlikely to get lost even if it gets misty.
Respect the mountain. The Kadazan Dusu people consider the place sacred.
Respect the guides. We are guests in their land.
Do bring your own drinking water (2litres). No more refillable water at the rest huts.
Bring energy bars or snacks, a light raincoat for the occasional shower.

Don’t
Don’t leave anything behind especially rubbish. At each pit-stop, there’s a rubbish bin.
Don’t take any plant specimen. You’re a guest.
Don’t talk loudly.
Don’t stop too long at the rest huts or you won’t feel like moving. Just take one step at a time.

Why climb?
1. Test of physical endurance – fastest time
2. Enjoy the flora and fauna of Borneo
3. Build comraderie with your friends especially when they offer to carry your bag

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The climb
138 permits are issued a day. You may want to book early to get a bunk and a permit. We booked about 4 months ahead and the 1 May holidays were already fully booked, so were the weekends. We climbed on a Monday.

I took 6 hrs to climb the 6km up to Laban Rata where we spent the night. Enjoyed the scenery and slow climb. I didn’t feel tired at all. Others zip through. There are a few pit stops along the way.  The climb up from Laban Rata to Low’s Peak on the 2nd day is steeper and much tougher. Add to that, another 6km downhill. But the view is quite surreal.

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Some TripAdvisor reviewers brought young children for the climb. I’m not sure how they do it as the steps at 4km onwards are huge. My legs are aching after 4 days because of the descent. Others skip through the descent, sure footed as a deer. But not me. I went down 2hrs slower than my friends and during practice I was faster than them when the ground was even. I reached the Timpohon gate at 410pm. I’m comforted that there were others who reached at 7pm. That’s 6hrs for 6km for descent. Not much cardio exertion at all. More on quad muscles and because I didn’t know where to place my steps on the rocks.

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Mountain guides
The mountain guides and porters are deft footed and though small in size can carry up heavy loads.

 

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We saw many porters carry gypsum boards (31kg), gas cylinders and even huge blue containers. Looks like they’re constructing a new hostel.

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This is when you know why the mountain guides are called unsung heroes. My porter guided me and held my hand and told me where to step. She’s qualified as a guide. A 50 year old carrying 20kg of our bags. It’s important to engage your guides and respect them.

How does one qualify as a mountain
Mountain guides have to make at least 100 climbs before they qualify. They are employed by the Parks and assigned to the various tour groups.

Most are aware of the flora and fauna. If I were to return, I’ll read up prior and ask them questions. Our friends who raced ahead didn’t see the nepenthes hiding just behind a big leaf.

We met some climbers from Amazing Borneo who too never saw their guides. (Although this company usually gets the pick. ) Like most Gen Z, a number of guides are on their handphone.
If you signed up late, you may get an inexperienced guide. (All guides grew up in the mountain and know their terrain but may be inexperienced on how to engage tourists.)

Our guide Bill carried with him some medication which came in useful when our friend had cramps. He stuck himself close to the weakest link which we appreciated much.

Your mountain guide can help carry your bag for a small fee. $10RM per kg – there’s a standard fee which you can check with the Park. Rest of your luggage can be stored at the Base camp for $16RM per day per bag.

Our itinerary for the climb:
URL: http://wp.me/p1FT3u-1kl

Preparing to Climb Kinabalu

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4 months before I signed up, I was told his friends had said “it was easy – you don’t need to train for it” to “I only brought a towel. And wear shorts for the climb”.

The reason I blog is out of gratitude to bloggers before me who post much helpful advice for my trips. This climb is no exception.

You must train for this climb if you have been sedentary. Your muscle and will must be conditioned to endure 8hrs of walking.
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But you don’t need technique or cardio. I think that’s what they mean by “even children can do it”. Children who cannot stand the idea of walking 1hr, this is not the holiday for them.

Sure, you’ll see the mountain guides do this effortlessly in one day so it depends on body type.

On our descent we saw a mountain porter piggy-back a young, tired Asian climber down the slope. I lost my senses and mistook this amazing husband demonstrating his love. On closer look – it was a mountain guide. It costs $350RM per km said my guide. We just passed the 1km descent and 5km more to go. I wished for both of them, it will not rain as none of us could afford to slip on the steep and uneven rocky steps.

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On the walls of the dormitory, I saw someone strapped on a stretcher and carried by 4 porters. Our guide explained that only when the climber was injured will you use a stretcher.

What to bring for the climb (compiled from other bloggers and my experience):
– 2 litres of water in a water camel (no more free refills)
– Raincoat or waterproof jacket
– A small / lightweight towel
– Comfortable covered hiking shoes
– Energy snacks e.g. chocolate, nuts, biscuits, sweets, energy bars
– Sun protection – Sunglass, sun screen lotion, SPF lip balm (beware of the strong UV rays)
– Hiking sticks
– A small backpack to hold your things
– A rain cover for your backpack
– Shower cap for my long hair
– pills for headache (didn’t need it)

Gave to porter:
– Personal toiletries
– Head torch
– Warm clothing like fleece jacket, hiking pants
– Change of socks, clothes and underwear
– Cap / beanie / head scarf (helps prevent heat loss, especially at night and in the early morning)
– Gloves
– Slippers for bathroom

Important
Cut your nails – you’ll feel it at the descent when your toes push against the shoes.

Altitude sickness
No mountain sickness for our whole group; we took altitude sickness pill starting one day before the climb. Half tablet in morning and half in evening, 2.5 tablets in total.

In Singapore, you need a doctor’s prescription to buy the pills. You can try Guardian pharmacy (Vivocity) if your doctor doesn’t stock.

I scared everyone in my group to taking the medication because of the blogs I read. None of us had headache. But our team think its their bod and not the drug. I’m not about to prove anything. In Tibet, I saw a young lady suffer from altitude sickness so bad.

2 friends took sleeping pills to get some sleep before the descent. I did not. Pills are light, bring them just in case.

A young JB marathon runner who climbed up and down effortlessly told me he had a bad headache. It didn’t seem to affect his performance. But at the descent he seemed to age by 10 years.
http://www.climbingmtkinabalu.com/2012/06/altitude-sickness-health.html?m=1

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How to exercise before the climb
(Thanks to DB who advised me – don’t rush)
Endurance training of 4hrs
Squats
Climb stairs up and down at least 25 storeys
Shoulder muscles
Calves

Why train for downhill?
Running downhill requires the muscles to lengthen, or make eccentric muscle contractions, which can cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers and generate more force than when you’re running uphill or on flat ground. To make matters worse: It’s easy to hit top speed on a steep descent—and the faster you move, the harder each foot strikes the ground, and the more pounding the muscles endure.
http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/6-tips-to-improve-your-downhill-runs

My favourite blogs on Mt Kinabalu
http://www.climbingmtkinabalu.com/p/preparation.html?m=1
(He has climbed this so many times, he gives a snap shot of the terrain)

Good post on climbing Low’s peak:
http://theplanetd.com/mount-kinabalu-2-tough-days-in-borneo/

http://nomadisbeautiful.com/travel-blogs/mount-kinabalu-borneo-climb-or-not-to-climb/

http://www.climbingmtkinabalu.com/2010/09/timpohon-trail-35km-to-40km.html?m=1

http://chrispytinetoo.blogspot.my/2012/09/guide-to-climbing-mt-kinabalu.html?m=1