Friday, September 16, 2005
To recap ... After the half day walk on NZ's Franz Josef Glacier, I had decided to climb Aconcagua in Argentina, South America's highest mountain.
But first, one had to get some climbing experience ... which mountain?
As Australia doesn't have any high mountains, Malaysia's Kinabalu and Tanzania's Kilimanjaro come to mind immediately. Friends from Sabah had suggested climbing Kinabalu as a challenge ages ago, but I had never listened till now. So now it is decided ... Kinabalu first, then Kilimanjaro, then Aconcagua.
Kinabalu is Malaysia's highest mountain. At 4095 meters, it is also South East Asia's highest. (Although Indonesians like to call their Puncak Jaya at 4884 meters, also known as Carstenz, as South East Asia's highest mountain.)
World Expedition organized the climb. A car picked me up from the hotel to the Kinabalu Park entrance.
There, I was paired off with a mountain guide. To my surprise, I was the only one with him. I learned later on that an Australian couple and I were supposed to be together in one group. However the car which picked me up was late, hence the couple had already started their walk with the designated guide sometime ago. Thus my guide was arranged on-the-spot, which also explained why he couldn't speak any English, even though the tour brochure said an English mountain guide would be provided.
Not to worry, we managed to communicate by hand signals. But I missed any commentaries on the mountain which an English guide would be able to give.
From the start at Timpohon Gate, the guide led and walked in a slow even pace. It was too slow for me, so I overtook him - which was a hint to him that I was capable of walking much faster. It didn't last long though. The path was like a staircase, every single step was going upwards. Soon, I was tired, soaking wet in sweat, and decided it was better for him to lead and walk in a slow pace. You can see I was new to climbing mountains and committed the cardinal sin ... never overtake a mountain guide.
During the climb, I met a young American couple who were married only few days ago and were there for their honeymoon ... amazing!!! Even more amazing was that the idea of climbing Kinabalu was hers - to test his manhood!!! It was easy for her as she didn't carry any backpack. She got her husband to do the donkey work. Smart girl!!! When the honeymoon is over, he won't be so willing to be a slave.
Five hours later, we reached Laban Rata, the halfway lodge where all climbers would spend the night. I was very tired. Because I didn't do much exercise prior to the climb ... because I had a flu then which was good enough an excuse for not doing anything. But the reality was I thought I was still young and strong, hence I thought a run around the block once in a while was good enough.
At dinner time, I was seated with the Australian couple with whom we were supposed to be together in one group. The wife didn't seem enthusiastic. Her look told everyone she had rather be in a 5-star hotel than halfway up a mountain. In fact, she didn't even bothered to hike to the peak the next day.
In terms of sleeping, the bunker style dormitory in Laban Rata was a horror. People snored, coughed, flushed toilets. I couldn't sleep the whole night and was glad to be up at 2am, had breakfast and off to the summit with the guide at 2:30am.
It was a good day ... ummm ... I mean good night ... no clouds. The stars and the Milkyway not only lit up the sky brilliantly, they also lit up the path. You could see your way through just by star light alone.
We reached the peak at 5:30am. It was still dark. I gave the guide 30 Ringgits as tips, then sat down and waited for the sunrise due at 6am.
After the sun came up, one could start to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding landscape. It was fantastic. The rock formation looked as if they were sculptured by the gods. No wonder the local Chinese named Kinabalu "Mountain of the Gods".
Not long after the sun was up, the guide wanted to leave. I said ... ummm ... I hand signalled that I wanted another 10 minutes to soak up the beauty of the place. I think I knew why he wanted to go ... he was scantily dressed, on shorts and a flimsy jacket. Whereas I was all properly wrapped up ... down jacket, beanie, gloves etc and the chill still seeped through.
Going down the mountain turned out to be harder than going up - because my muscle were all melted into jelly. I could hardly stand let alone walk. The guide sensed I was in trouble. He found a tree branch for me as a walking stick. Ah, the tips I gave him earlier was money well spent. Without the walking stick, I swear I wouldn't be able to get down the mountain.
In the next two days, my muscles were so sore I could hardly walk. But I was triumphantly happy; I had Kilimanjaro in sight now. The sore muscles were simply due to lack of exercise prior to the trip. I won't be making the same mistake again.
Some pictures: (To enlarge a photo, click on it.)
1: I don't have a good view of Kinabalu from a distance as it was shrouded in clouds all the time. Here, you can just make out the "Donkeys Ear" peak.
2: Me in a typical resting hut along the way
3: A typical scene along the trail. You can see the "Donkeys Ear". The guy in this photo is my guide.
4: Laban Rata, the halfway lodge where everyone spend the night.
5: The next day is the summit day. The Donkeys Ear is here.
6: Scenery around the summit. (The peak here is not the one we are going to climb.)
7: This is the peak. Isn't it magnificent!!! It is called Lows Peak. Kinabalu has a few peaks. Lows Peak is the highest - 4095 meters.
8: Here is the summit. It is crowed at the top. If you wish, you can use the white rope to assist you in the climb.
9: I made it!!!