Mount Kinabalu

Sabah is the northern most municipality on the Island of Borneo. There lies a tall mountain, Mount Kinabalu. Its summit is 13,432 feet high. Traditionally, it was called “Aki Nabalu” or Home of the Spirits of the Dead. (Sabah is a Malaysian state with a National Mosque, but its primary religion is animist. Politics make for curious bedfellows.)

Drenching hot start at 8:30am. The first kilometer was a killer. The final kilometer to the overnight spot took me over an hour. I recall looking out into the mist and inspecting the orchids and pitcher plants and occasional cluster of orange mushrooms. In the rain, I donned my rain jacket in spite of the heat. I’m usually a power house going uphill but the sauna conditions felt overwhelming. So glad I had a walking stick. The porter would periodically wait for me with a smile. 

A little over seven hours later, I arrived at the overnight point, Laban Rata, eight kilometers up from where I had started. I looked about for a place to sit and take in the scene but I was on steeply inclined rock so I went inside to find a horizontal surface. After depositing my bag at my bunk bed for the night, I set out to find the showers. I paid 5 ringgit for soap and a towel. After a warm shower, I put my filthy clothes on again and truly noticed their stench.

I sat at a table in the loud cafeteria, feeling exhausted and starting to feel chilled. I noticed my disposable camera that was buttoned in my shirt pocket; its cardboard casing was soggy, drenched from my perspiration. That clammy object confirmed that I must be  dreaming in the science fiction section of my brain; eight kilometers couldn’t do this to me in the real world. Right?

Ever a glutton for punishment, I arose to depart at 2:30 a.m. to get to the summit for sunrise. I recalled this sensation. It was like I was back in Girl Scout camp and heading off for a 4:30 a.m. swim to qualify for the Polar Bear Club. Were my clothes on inside out like I would often find my bathing suit upon my walk home from those early morning swims? No. I had gotten that part right.

I walked in a line of people. It all seemed civilized with the many other people on the route. Then we arrived at a rock wall where we needed to hold a rope to vertically ascend. I was wishing there had been a more round about option. I felt pressure to focus and not slow down the crowd. But I was surrounded by senior citizens from Japan and they were a super gracious and encouraging lot. The sun arose.

By mid morning, I was back in the cafeteria for breakfast and then began the climb back down. I recall going down that mountain at the rate of a tortoise. My knees every so often would start to feel like jelly so I would pull over and sit. Down at the bottom, I had some tea. A chipper local gave me a certificate on my accomplishment. 

The next day, the masseuse said I must be in good shape because she couldn’t tell I had climbed the mountain. (My preparatory exercises at the gym must have helped.) She said others had many “knots” in their legs after the climb. Perhaps I did well after all. (This site has photos that look real to my memory of my 2007 climb except their climb looks like it was dry.) Here is another post about Sabah.

“I do detest the term ‘conquer.’ Be aware that mountains allow you to climb them.” —Sir Christian Bonington (as reported in New Straits Times, April 19, 2007)

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