20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

Why do I always look so grim?

First Light.

Summit packing.

Dawn over Borneo.

The route down.

"Donkey Ears".

Lows Peak.

From laban Rata.

Heading back to sea level.

That was a hard climb, I can still hardly walk as I write this 3 days later!

Having already booked my overnight accommodation, I took an early morning bus to Kinabalu National Park from KK to ensure that I arrived in time to register, pay and start walking before the parks' cut of time of 11am. Fortunately, there weren't many people about at the entrance but there wasn't much around in the way of information on where to pay, what to do, etc. I already knew that the Kinabalu Climbathon was going on this weekend, but had been assured by the parks' office in KK that it wouldn't affect my climb, they were wrong of course. The Climbathon is a 21km race up and back down Mt Kinabalu and as there is only one main track up they had closed the track to walkers until at least the leaders of the race had finished. Until that happened the office was closed and they wouldn't process any payments, they estimated that we would be allowed to go between 12 and 12:30 making a mockery of their "You must start by 11 rule". Eventually, at about midday we were allowed to pay - Entrance fee, climbing fee, insurance, guide fee and transportation fee, along with the accommodation which I'd already paid for that's six separate payments to climb one hill making it a fairly costly enterprise. Their fee structures are a little puzzling too, they obviously don't like individual trekkers - I had to pay the group fee of RM25 for the transport to the start point whereas a group of up to 5 people pay the same or RM 5 each, all to be sat on the same bus with one seat each! The (compulsory) guide fees are similar and most people join unofficial groups together to reduce the cost, but as they then insist that you stay with your group and guide for the whole climb, I elected to have my own guide so that I could walk at my own pace.

I have to say that after the entrance fiascos the park itself is really well set up for the climb with covered rest huts strategically placed along the track and frequent tanks of finest mountain drinking water. There are also distance markers every half kilometre with a map at the kilometre points. The best and worst thing about the walk is that it keeps going up and only up, after the first 100 metre downhill section at the start there are no more down-hills until the top and very few flat sections. The good thing about this is that no step is wasted, every effort gets you nearer to the top, the bad thing, that every step is an effort, some of the steps are huge.

The views started off quite nice but the weather soon closed in and most of the time I was walking in a fine mist although the rain held off until just after I got to Laban Rata, the overnight stop. I arrived there almost exactly 3 hours after setting off and just before I dropped through starvation and exhaustion. The timing was really poor though as I had to eat then so ordered from the restaurant's all day menu but then a couple of hours later when the evening buffet dinner was served I wasn't hungry enough to justify paying for it.

This is another one of those climbs where the world has gone mad and everyone thinks that it's sensible to get out of bed at some stupid time in the middle of the night and walk in the dark. My guide wanted to leave at 2:30am! The last section of the climb is 2.5km with a vertical climb of less than 700m, I knew that sunrise was at 6:03am (GPS) and that dawn would be around 5:30, if it took me 3 hours to do that section I would be amazed. I compromised with him on leaving at 3:30 and even then I wasn't too happy, I like to sleep. As usual in these situations with the number of people getting up and ready at these stupid times and generally thinking it acceptable to be noisy, sleeping in was impossible. I met my guide just outside the hut at 3am and he was ready to go but I walked down to the restaurant for breakfast first and left at exactly 3:30. The walk up was actually quite good fun, I think I was the last person to leave Laban Rata and quite quickly got into a good rhythm. It was 15 minutes before I caught up the tail of the walkers in front of me but from that point I was steadily overtaking people. From the last checkpost you can see most of the way to the top (except for the fact it was dark) and therefore the long trail of torch beams making their way up spread out in front of me. The climb from this point on is really steep and on sheer rockface with a rope all along the trail but the gradient is very consistent allowing a good steady climbing pace. By the time I got to the peak I think I was about the 5th person to get there and it was only 5am, pitch black and freezing cold, I knew I should have stayed in bed longer. Being there early did allow me to get a good spot for sunrise before the hoards started arriving. As soon as the sun broke the horizon and the requisite photographs had been taken that was it, time to get out of there and back to a warmer climate, we ran down back to Laban Rata where I packed up my gear grabbed a coffee and headed back down to park headquarters. I didn't give poor Dennis, my guide, a chance for a rest and did the trip in one hit to try to catch one of the early busses coming through from KK. I think the downhill was possibly harder going than the uphill and by the last 2km my knees were close to collapse and my legs muscles in pain. The views on the way down were great as still being very early the clouds hadn't closed in as they had the morning before.

I declined the option to buy a "First Class" certificate for having reached the summit.

I had done the climb up in a total of 4.5 hours and descended in 2.5 a total of 7 hours, although I was carrying my full pack until Laban Rata - The winner of the Climbathon on Sunday completed the whole course in just under 3 hours and the record is 2 hours 40 minutes! Those guys are absolutely unbelievable, however, the last runner I passed on my way up was still coming down just before Laban Rata so if I'd joined in the race I wouldn't have been last.

I didn't manage to catch the bus I had hoped to, but by a combination of various seemingly random busses I managed to get out and to my next destination

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