The Conquest to Mount Kinabalu

I know this post is extremely late & outdated. But better late than never, right? 😉

Below is my account of the trip. I will also include some first-hand tips along the way, which is highlighted in red.

The preparation started when we booked the flight tickets to Kota Kinabalu…sometime in Aug 2010…though in actual fact I was already training in the hills before that when we decided to go for it. So let’s just say that it was 9 months of training for me – 2 to 3 times a week at Bukit Gasing & some weekends at Ah Pek Hill, plus tennis once a week. I think the worse was the last 2 months…because I started to get all stressed up over it. Then, it didn’t help too when everybody kept asking me when I was going to climb Mt K…and blah blah blah. Then, I got loads of advises from people who have been there before…and even those who haven’t. Sigh. Too much info can sometimes make you feel even more confused. Then, I was also stressing myself up because I was worried that I couldn’t reach the peak…and I kept feeling that I wasn’t fit enough or hadn’t trained enough…etc. Oh I just couldn’t wait for it to be over soon!

So finally, the day came. We flew into KK on Mon, 18 Apr 2011. Our driver met us at the airport, took us to KK town for lunch, then we went to pick up Tze Ching & her friends. In total, there were 7 of us – 5 girls & 2 guys. Then, we went to Kinabalu Park where we stayed a night before we started our climb the next day. We stayed at Rock Hostel, which was very clean & quite nice, much to our surprise.

Our beds in the dorm room. We paid RM100 for each bed – pretty expensive for dorm beds. Good thing we managed to get 2 rooms completely to ourselves. Each room had 4 beds. They were clean & nice but the blankets were too thin…I woke up freezing in the middle of the night & had to put on a jacket & socks.

This is the hallway to the rooms & common toilet. They provide towels for every bed but no toiletries. So remember to bring your own shower gel & shampoo.

This is the common rest area. It was really cozy & looked like some foreign hostels. When we were there, it was very quiet as there were not many other guests, so we had the whole rest area for ourselves. 🙂

Then, the next morning came. We woke up at 6am, hoping to be able to start ascending by 7.30am. But by the time our driver came to pick us up to have our breakfast & get our tags & etc, we only started our climb at 8.45am. We went via Timpohon route, which was 6km from the gate to Laban Rata.

The Timpohon trail started with descending steps, which led to a nice waterfall. After that, it was all staircase to heaven! 😛

At 3km, it is recommended to pop in 2 tablets of Panadol. I was told that most people start to develop headache after the 3rd KM.

We stopped at Pondok Layang-Layang (at 4km) for lunch. 4 of them in our group had already finished their lunch & was about to start off again when Tze Ching & I reached…that was 11.30am. The lunch pack was pretty huge…sandwiches + apple + banana + 2 hard boiled eggs. At that time, I was too tired to eat, so I think I only managed 2 pieces of sandwiches & the apple. I carried the banana & threw away the rest. I was just glad to get rid of the lunch pack which I had to carry all the way with me. Then we continued our climb at 12pm. OK, 2km more to go.

After Layang-Layang, the air became thinner and you’ll know it because you’ll feel more tired now & your steps become much slower. The weather became cooler too, so I had to put on a thin jacket along the way. The vegetation changed as we climbed higher…with more shrubs & ferns. I felt that the last 2km was quite difficult…maybe because I was already tired…plus the air was thinner…I stopped more often now…and every step was an effort. I just couldn’t wait to reach Laban Rata.

Finally, we reached Laban Rata at 3pm.

Shaaron & Steph had already reached at 1.30pm and May at 2pm. So I felt I was pretty slow. Most people take about 5-6 hours by Timpohon, I took 6 hours & 15 mins. But I was just glad to reach in one piece. Right after we reached, it started to rain. Phew.

Then came the most challenging part. Shower.

It was probably like 15 deg C, and they DIDN’T have water heater! And the water was icy cold! Imagine climbing for 6 hours & we were expected to sleep with all our dried sweat?!?!?! OMG. I couldn’t do it. So, I had the quickest shower in my life! Haha. Not only that, I even managed to wash my hair!!!! Woohoo! It was terrible. I wish I don’t have to do it ever again in my life! 😛

Oh btw, they don’t have any electrical power point there, so forget bringing anything there to charge…or a hair dryer (which I brought!)…make sure you have extra batteries for your camera.

Then we had our early dinner at 5pm, walked around Laban Rata, took some photos with the awesome view. Then I was so tired that I slept at 6pm! The rest couldn’t sleep but I just dozed off like a pig….until 1.30am! Haha.

Before sleeping, you should pop in another 2 tablets of Panadol. I didn’t, so when I woke up, my head felt kinda heavy. Don’t worry about overdose, the max dosage for an adult is 8 tablets in 24 hours.

So at 1.30am, we woke up, dolled up for the next big challenge, had our supper….and started off to the peak at 2.30am.

It was cold. I was told the temperature can drop to 3 deg C at the peak. I wore a quick-dry sleeveless inside, with a long-sleeved t-shirt on top, followed by a winter sports jacket (fleece-laced inside). You can replace the long-sleeved t-shirt with a fleece jacket if you’re just wearing a wind-breaker on the outside. The point is not to wear 100% cotton as the first layer or a long johns because you will be perspiring as you climb…a 100% cotton will dry very slowly, making it wet & cold…wherease the long johns will trap the heat as you perspire…making you feel very hot & uncomfortable inside. So it wasn’t an easy solution to know what to wear best for the 2nd part of the climb…I had to read & talk to experienced hikers to finally decide on what I was going to wear. Gee. The point is to wear a few layers so that you can quickly remove each layer as you descend because it will get hotter when the sun rises…and trust me, you will be stripping off one by one in the morning!

OK, the 2nd part of the climb is the most important & exciting part of all. It was pitch dark, so everybody had to wear a headlamp. In the beginning, it was all climbing stairs again. Then it became rocks & there’ll be a rope to guide you the right direction to the peak. For most parts, don’t bother holding on to the ropes because you’ll feel more tired holding on to it. Only at times when it’s very steep that you’ll need the rope. Make sure you wear proper hiking shoes…not the RM6 ones you get from the market…but you don’t exactly need a Timberland either. Any mediocre ones, like Axel or Admiral or Bata hiking shoes will be fine. The reason is you’ll need to have a good grip on the rocks.

There’s a final checkpoint at Sayat Sayat, which is slightly before 7km, where you’ll have your last toilet break before ascending to the peak. We reached at about 4.30am. At that point, it was so cold that I couldn’t feel my nose & lips anymore. When I talked, I felt like I was just mumbling because my lips were totally numb. I was wearing ski gloves & even then I could feel my fingers were stinging cold. So you can imagine how cold it is up there.

Going further to the peak, the air gets even thinner. Some people couldn’t go any further from Sayat Sayat due to altitude sickness. I was still OK. But I was just going quite slowly…breathing slowly.

Take deep breaths…and breathe slowly. This will help you avoid altitude sickness. 

I must say, the weather was perfect on that day. It didn’t rain. It was a full moon & clear sky. I was told that the sun rises at 5.45am. Looking at my watch, I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the peak on time for it. True enough, as I was still struggling on the rocks, I already saw the sky becoming brighter. I stopped to watch the sunrise. It was simply awesome. As it became brighter, the view of all below & beyond became clearer…and you’ll just marvel at the scenery in front of your eyes.

I could see the peak already. It didn’t look that far but I struggled…with each step I took…it felt like forever. That’s when you’ll be challenged by your mental strength. Imagine…the sun is already up. You’ve missed the sunrise on the peak. It seems like there’s still a long way to the peak & you’re feeling out of breath. Then you start seeing people who have already reached the peak coming down, passing you by. Are you able to tell yourself that you can still do it?

Having come this far, you have no choice but to continue the journey & keep psycho-ing yourself that you can do it. Actually, for me, there wasn’t even once that I thought of giving up. I just kept going & going & going…coz I knew I must reach the peak…no matter what. Shaaron & Steph were already way ahead of us. May had also gone ahead. I was with Tze Ching, Jonathan & the guide. The last 500 meters was the worst. Every 2 steps, I had to stop to catch my breath. Felt like an old woman. Hehe. Then you can see the peak just right above you right now…so near yet so far. Everybody we met on the way up (who were coming down) were going like, “Yeah, you can do it! Just a little bit more…!” Haha.

Finally, we reached the peak at 7am. Woohoo!

Then, the next challenge was coming down. Tze Ching started to vomit shortly after we reached the peak. The guide was with her & the sun was blazing by then. So I quickly ran down, literally, to avoid sun burns. But much later when we were back in KK, Tze Ching told me that she was already having altitude sickness way before reaching the peak…and if I had not been with her & continued on & on & on, she would have given up long time ago. Wow, I was so proud to have motivated someone. Hehe. 😛 Anyway, descending was a totally different challenge than ascending. It was scarier because I could see what’s below me now and how steep the cliffs really were. Anyway, after another long hike which felt like forever, I reached back at Laban Rata at 9.45am.

After breakfast, we packed our bags & started descending again at 11.30am.

If you’ve heard some people telling you to wear sandals to descend from Laban Rata to the ground because your toe nails might injure if you wear hiking shoes, well, DON’T listen to them. Seriously. I bought a new pair of Teva sandals for this purpose & right after I got out from Laban Rata, before anything, I already fell down. Even though my Teva is a hiking sandal, it’s not suitable for Mt Kinabalu…ascending or descending. The trails are just too rocky-ish. A hiking shoe is still the ideal.

Descending to the ground was quite a nightmare for me because my left knee became painful quite early. So I had to go very slowly, with my left foot down first…at every step…for the whole way! Gosh…good thing my right knee was still able to withstand the pressure.

Finally, May & I reached back at Timpohon Gate at 3.45pm. And that marks the completion of our conquest to Mt Kinabalu! Phewwwwww.

Some additional tips from me:

  • You’ll need to train for it. No shortcuts. But I can tell you, no matter how much you have trained, either by jogging or hiking or doing any other cardio workouts, you’ll never really be able to prepare for what you’ll encounter in the actual climb. Nothing comes even close to what you will experience here. But still, you’ll need to train up your stamina…that’ll take you through at least 60% of the challenge. The other 20% is your mental strength, 10% your physiological ability to withstand the altitude & 10% luck (i.e. the weather, etc.). Basically, just be prepared for the unknown. 🙂
  • If this is your first time & your main objective is to reach the peak, take the Timpohon trail…because the Mersilau is 2km longer, and trust me, 2km ascending is no joke. Even with Timpohon, every 0.5km seems like forever. And you’d want to reach Laban Rata as early as possible so that you have enough time to rest before ascending to the peak again. With Mersilau, you could reach Laban Rata at 6pm. By then you’ll be damn exhausted. So go Timpohon.
  • Take your time. Go at your own pace. Don’t hurry coz you’ll panic easily…and then there’s higher chance of you giving up halfway. Just relax & enjoy the journey. 🙂
* You can find the full set of our Mount Kinabalu climb photos in the album. Click here.

One Response

  1. […] the highlight of 2011 was of course conquering Mount Kinabalu. Now I can say, yeah, been there done that. […]

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