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Monday, September 15, 2008

Mt. Kinabalu - Part 3 (The Summit Climb & The Descent)

Although I went to bed early the evening before, I didn't quite sleep well. Our room was next to the kitchen, and right next to the foyer, so noise was inevitable. I was awaken several times during the night by footsteps and voice of (inconsiderate) climbers who couldn't keep their excitement to themselves. I am not a light sleeper, but I guess the over-exhaustion from the previous day climb also made it hard to even catch a wink. I was glad I took 2 panadols before bedtime, which soothed that minor headache I was getting, allowing me to have at least an hour or two of quality sleep (before I was awaken unnecessarily).

After glancing at my watch for the umpteenth time, I decided to climb out of bed. It was a quarter to 2am. The rest were still asleep, so I struggled in the dark to find my 3-in-1 hot chocolate drink. In the background I thought I heard the heavy rain outside; perhaps we won't get to climb to the peak after all. I found out later that it was actually the sound of water gushing down the hillside, as a result of continuous downpour the night before. It was only drizzling lightly and we were allowed to continue our climb.

Last night Lyne wanted to opt out, but I managed to talk her out of it. I convinced her that if she really didn't feel that she was up to it halfway through the climb, she could stop anytime. Since we had 2 guides, one of them would be able to bring her down to Laban Rata. It would be a complete waste to stop right there before even giving it a try to the summit. She finally agreed to join us.

I wore a sleeveless-T under a long sleeve shirt and a windbreaker. To protect my ears from the cold I wore a beanie and I put on a headlamp to see in the dark. I also wore a pair of gloves (which was not waterproof nor colourfast - at the end of the day my hands were purple). Instead of carrying the entire backpack with me, I left it in the room and only brought my waist pouch along with a camera and a water bottle. And DON'T EVER FORGET to bring your climb permit, it must be presented at the Sayat-sayat Checkpoint. We also put on our poncho since it may rain again later.

Dark rocky mountain slope

We set off at about 2:45am, and it was really dark outside. The first 500m was a steady climb on clearly defined steps with handrails, but as we progressed, the climb got more interesting. Soon we were holding on tightly to ropes and no longer surrounded by any vegetation. There were only plain ascending rocks. The air also got thinner, and I had to stop every 20-30 steps to catch my breath. It continued to rain, and that made the climb even more difficult especially when I was wearing my glasses. We also had to be very careful with each step as it was quite slippery.

Lyne gave up after only 500m from Laban Rata, but Cornelius didn't think she was serious, held her hand and continued to pull her up for another 1km. In fact, both of them went ahead of us at some point. Just as both TW and I passed the 7.2km mark, we saw them coming down again. Her Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) apparently worsened and she had to descend as soon as possible. Cornelius brought her to the Sayat-sayat checkpoint to rest while to went up to look for the rest of us.

Although we continued our climb, we saw small crowds slowly descending from the top. I was sure they couldn't have reached the peak already. The sun was not even up yet! Then we heard shouts telling us to turnaround and make our way down. It was too dangerous to continue as water was already gushing down the slopes. Both of us looked lost, but we abided anyway and followed the group down slowly.

Water cascading from the top

So near yet so far. We were only less than 1km from Low's Peak but were forced to descend prematurely. The guides told us, it is better to be safe than sorry. We can always return in future - perhaps not during a rainy season. March and April is said to be a better time to climb.

Descending a rocky slope with water flowing at your feet was not an easy task. We had to be very careful not to be washed away by the strong current. We heard that the day before, a man slipped and broke his crown. :O Whenever possible I tried to hold on tight to the ropes. My gloves were completely soaked and my fingers were freezing (the next time I must remember to get a pair that is waterproofed). I had to remove it several times to squeeze out excess water, but that was not helping much. My hands, fingers and nails all turned purple, not because of the cold but because the black gloves I had just weren't colourfast.

Curious, I asked Cornelius if it was common to have people coming down in such a bad weather and bad condition. He casually answered no, and said that I should grab this opportunity to take more photos! How could I have forgotten about my camera? And so both of us took the opportunity to pose in front of the waterfalls :P

Say cheesseeeee!

We continued our descent slowly and waiting at the checkpoint for few other members of our group. TC was nowhere to be seen. He was well ahead of us during the climb, and we found out later that he was one of the very few that managed to reach the peak but unable to see anything because it was raining and the wind was very strong.

Anyway, to cut a super long story short, all of us managed to reach Laban Rata safely. TC was the only one from our group who successfully conquered the peak. The rest of us were just wet and tired. Lyne's condition improved after taking a supplement for colds and after a short qi gong session with Kuan.

The weather also improved as soon as the sun was up, which made our descent to the starting point much easier. In fact, after the breakfast I was a fully-recharged Duracell bunny and hopped my way down. I just couldn't wait to get back to KK. We arrived the Timpohon Gate at about 3pm.

All's well, ends well

And yes, for the next few days all of us walked like we've got piles. But I still returned to my dance class just 2 days after...itchy feet :P

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