Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Once a year, our company organizes a company trip. This is a really good way to bond with people in the company with whom you normally don't interact much. This year we went to Kota Kinabalu at the eastern end of Malaysia and 17 of us opted to climb Gunung Kinabalu, with 4095m the highest peak in the country.

Our climb was planned to take 2 days. On the first day, ascend to the base camp at 3272m. Next morning, get up really early, reach the summit, come back to base camp, grab all the stuff left there and make the way back to where we started – easy peasy. Well, it's much easier on paper.

Day 1

After staying in Kota Kinabalu for one night at sea level we were driven by bus to the trail head at about 1866m. The temperature at this point had dropped from a sweaty 30+ degrees in KK to a very comfortable 20.

At the very beginning the trail starts slowly. Soon you find this nice waterfall. This is also the first place where you find a sign asking to move quickly through this area. Obviously, the maintenance crew are expecting landslides or something similar. Later on you will hate or better ignore these signs.

Soon the path becomes steeper and stairs are built in.

As you are entering the cloud layer it gets wet and it keeps getting colder.

But some just don't care.

The path to the base camp is about 6km of relentless steep stairs or stair-like terrain. I don't remember how long it took me to get there but you can't expect anything even close to normal walking speed of 4-6km per hour. Instead, what we bottom dwellers should be expecting is altitude sickness. For many people this means headache, sometimes dizziness or vomiting. I developed a good headache, serious dizziness and visual distortions so that I was blind in the center of my vision.

There is a porter service running all the way up to the base camp and if you really want even up to the summit. For a very moderate fee you can offload most of your luggage onto somebody else's shoulders. These guys are amazing. You fight for every step. And every now and again comes a porter or sometimes a group of them happily chatting away and take over. The weight they carry looks really intimidating. Some of the porters are women.

When I had reached Laban Rata, the place to spend the night at 3272m I didn't want to go a single step further.

The rock face behind the house was our plan for the next morning.

Here is our fittest group. They reached the base camp first and also made it to the summit on the next day before sunrise.

Accommodation in the guest house is decent. The ladies' bathroom had even warm water.

Day 2

Breakfast was served from 2am and by 2:30am you were supposed to be on the way. The thermometer was showing 9 degrees. For Malaysia this is really cold. Later on the summit it felt close to freezing.

So we started climbing again with only the light of our torches. And it was, what else could it be, more stairs. Only a little steeper. The Sayat Sayat checkpoint had to be reached by 5am. Those who couldn't make it had to turn back without reaching the summit.

The good thing, however, if you are a little slower than these guys, is that you don't have to wait on the freezing summit for the sunrise. Best if you time it so that the summit is reached just before the sun rises. I was a little too slow, though. The sun met me still on the way up.

Then came the long way back...

Just follow the rope.

If you are afraid of heights, this hike is not for you. Good that we started in the middle of the night.

Even as a group, we have surprisingly few pictures from the way back from Laban Rata to the trail head. I guess everybody was just tired, I for sure was.

Back in office 2 nights later on Tuesday, we head 2 people on sick leave. Walking was really hard in these first days, downstairs in particular. Only the next Saturday I could move around without any hint of pain.

But I would do it again. Most of us would, I believe.