And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. It was a long one in the office today, and the Bull didn't get to make his 9-10 mile run. However, it's now on the docket for Thursday, and that one will be carved in stone. But hey, it's the 3rd AFD in a row, so I've been at least a wee bit healthy this evening. Well, minus that half bag of Doritos...details...Okay, back to Borneo, for 2 days that were, without a doubt, the TOUGHEST of my entire life physically - tackling the summit of Mount Kinabalu.
Standing 13, 455 feet, Mount Kinabalu is the roof of Southeast Asia and the highest point between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Nestled in Kinabalu National Park, it completely DOMINATES the horizon and area around it. No other mountain (of which there are many) even comes CLOSE to its size (height or width), and the drive up to this puppy is QUITE imposing. The four of us were picked up at 7 AM by a guy named Rafael Nudel (Because, as he said, "Rafael Nadal was taken"), at which point we were driven 2 hours to the Park Headquarters entrance. We'd paused for a brief photo on the way in, but the van was getting silent as we approached the trailhead. For the lone dude and instigator of this hike, that meant only one thing - there were three very nervous, and potentially VERY pissed off girls about to tackle that mountain.
We showed up at HQ around 9 AM to find that it was quite chilly. We were already at about 4000 feet, and there was a breeze cutting through the valley. We met our guide and were told that we had to make the Laban Rata checkpoint by 3:30 PM for the safety briefing of the summit. By my calculation, that gave us 6.5 hours to go 6 KM (3.7 miles). I felt confident, and I even paid $1 USD to buy a bamboo walking stick (Gandalf style - I said, "Youuuuuu shall noooooot paaaaaaaass!" about 10,000 times on the climb), thinking it would make for some cute photos. As fate would have it, buying that stick might have saved my life (not literally, mom - don't worry).
Now I'm going to warn you - I'm going to put WAAAAAY more photos up on this one than I normally do because, well, pictures are worth a thousand words, and these pictures are worth a thousand tears of the suffering we endured. That's right, sports fans - there wasn't a level step THE ENTIRE WAY UP. The path (if you can call it that) doesn't have switchbacks - it's just 2500 (yep, that's right - TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED) steps on the side of a mountain. Let me try and give you some highlights:
1 KM - took about 33 minutes, we were strong. The team was panting a bit, but spirits were high, as we felt we'd made good progress getting up the mountain. Thick forest all around us, and no sign of the summit.
1.5 KM - a bit slower, steep and getting steeper. The group is still more or less together. Breathing is heavier. Heart is definitely pumping. Guide is nowhere to be seen. Luckily, it's hard to lose the path - just keep walking STRAIGHT UP.
2 KM - Conversations start to vanish. Photos (aka "rest periods") start to become more frequent. Group starts to spread. The Bull is dragging.
2.5 KM - First signs of altitude - tough to get air into the lungs. Conversations are non-existent. Team is stopping at every half click to rest a bit (there are huts with toilets and seats every half KM, complete with tasty "untreated mountain water" - ShanTan, I had your "magic pills" at the ready). Jenny hasn't said a word to me in 20 minutes - that's never a good thing.
3 KM - Legs are burning. Path gets steeper. The steps, if you can call them that, are almost 2 feet high in places. Shiva is basically having to climb and jump these (she's under 5 feet). Jenny has now been silent to her husband for about an hour. He tries to make small talk. This fails miserably. Less oxygen. More of a realization this was a bad idea.
3.5 KM - Bamboo pole is an inch shorter from the way I'm slamming it into the ground. Everything hurts. Calves ache, quads burn. Every step is a little worse than the one before it. We are just on pace to make the hut. The other girls are silent. Then all 3 girls pass me.
4. KM - Heartbeat is uncontrollable. Air is getting thinner, and the sun breaks through the sparse vegetation. Heat becomes a factor as well as the pain. Going more than 50 feet at a time takes real effort.
4.5 KM - Someone please shoot me in the face with an elephant gun.
5 KM - 1 KM to go, but there is NOOOOOO celebrating. In fact, there is no noise at all on the trail. I am afraid to look at Jenny for fear she'll stab me with her bamboo pole. The same is true of Lily and Shiva. I am a wanted man.
5.5 KM - When you think it can't get any worse, it does. Now there is no path - just boulders that you're trying to paw through over and over and over. It is straight up, and there is no air. Water is low, heartrate is high, sun is baking, storm is rolling in. I've pretty much decided that Jenny's going to have the divorce papers waiting for me at the top...and maybe and ice pick.
6 KM - we make it to Laban Rata with about an hour to spare. However, our guide then drops the bomb on us - WE HAVE TO WALK UPHILL ANOTHER 5 MINUTES TO GET TO OUR HUT. I almost killed him. My knee was THROBBING at this point, and I really wasn't sure how I was going to get up or back down.
We then checked into our huts, where Jenny, Lily, and I were all assigned top bunks in a room with four CRAZY women from Singapore. Dont' ask me how these women got up there, but they all had at least 2 bags - they were like pack mules! But hey - to each his own...
After the safety presentation, we went down to the Laban Rata hut in a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR for supper at....4:30. That's right - it was supposed to be lights out at 7:30 for a 1:30 AM wake-up call. We ate for 2 hours, and the food was actually REALLY good. However, after the great meal, the evening took a turn for the worse.
The storm outside grew stronger, and it was cold as HELL at 11,000 feet. I'd never slept at altitude before, and my heart was definitely beating harder than normal. I'd pumped in 4 Advil to knock out the pain in my knee, and JT took down 4 Advil for her headache (common due to the thin air for a lot of folks). We might have been able to sleep, but those damn Singapore women proceeded to REPACK EVERYTHING FOR AN HOUR, LAH with all the lights on. They packed until 8:15, at which point they turned the light out but opened the door (they were afraid of the dark apparently), letting a crack of light in that hit RIGHT ON MY FACE. And when you throw in the fact that I have to pee EVERY HOUR and climb down that ladder, well, let's just say I was not in a good place and only got 1 hour of sleep (but it was an hour more than Lily). However, the sign in the bathroom, which still makes me laugh, TOTALLY made up for it.
The Sing bitches (seriously, I can't be nice about them any more - and all that Bengay they rubbed on themselves - UGH!) got a 1 AM wakeup call, at which point they needed to PACK AGAIN. It's a good thing I didn't have a knife or matches - just sayin'...regardless, by 1:30 we were all up and dressing. We'd been FREEZING during the night, so we were pretty much already covered. I tested out my knee, found that it hurt like hell, popped 4 more Advil, suited up (in a rented jacket), and had a quick brekkie of coffee and toast. Luckily it had stopped raining, but it's fair to say that we were NOT too optimistic about the climb. However, I am happy to report that this particular hike turned out to be one of the coolest things that I've ever done.
We started out very slowly, which probably really did save my life, as we could barely advance in the line of 100+ climbers, meaning that we conserved our strength. However, as I was afraid I'd miss sunrise at the summit, I soon started moving around folks and heading for the hill. Finally, after about 30 minutes, we broke free of the treeline and were on a wall of granite. It was at this point, that the summit assault went from hiking to climbing.
Let's be real clear - it was PITCH BLACK on that mountain. All you had was your head lamp, which showed you the world about 30-40 feet in front of you. Well, what it showed me was a wet rope attached to the side of a mountain with nothing but blackness on the other side. It's really a good thing I did this in the dark, because that rope is attached to an almost SHEER ROCK FACE, and falling would not have been pleasant. All the same, I cleared the mountain checkpoint at 3:45 AM and was surprised to find that I was the 8th person through the 7 KM checkpoint. Then, something clicked on inside of me, and I found a second wind.
About 30 minutes later, something incredible happened - I was the lead climber on the mountain. There were no head lamps in front of me - it was just a white rope, a slope of granite, and my own breathing for company. Readers, it was AMAZING - I can't describe it. It was total silence, it was total isolation - it was total peace. Yes, it hurt. But at that point I was DETERMINED to reach the summit first. It should be noted that, toward the end, people were gaining on my and my spirits were low. But I had to see that sign first - I HAD to be the guy who stopped walking uphill first. And so I attacked the last .25 KM, which was, well, nothing short of going straight up the mountain.
It was truly surreal, as I rounded a corner and could see no lights in any direction except what I was emitting. The rope ended, but the boulders continued upward. I then ran smack into a fence (which was a good thing, as the 1,000 drop of Low's Valley was below me (don't worry, mom - it's a BIG fence), and then I looked to my left. There it was - Low's Peak, the roof of Southeast Asia. 4,095.2 meters. The second highest point I'd ever reached, but definitely the toughest climb of my life.
And so, at 4:52 AM, I hunkered down between 2 rocks and waited for the sunrise. About 15 minutes later Shiva rolled up, and then Muffin Puffin and Lily followed shortly thereafter. The sunrise was good not great, but the walk back down was truly breathtaking. Our guide took Lily's SLR camera and just went on a CRAZY photo shoot - the dude took over 200 photos! That being said, it was just spectacular to have a photographer snapping action shots the entire time, as it meant that we could just focus on the view and think about what we'd just done. I can truly say that, whatever misery and misgivings I had on the way up were completely superceded and obliterated on the way down. That morning really was one of the coolest of my entire life, as being alone up on MK was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. But as the photo tells you - we asks too much of Muffin Puffin, who just wanted to sleep...
We then rolled back down to the checkpoint hut at 7 KM, where we embarked on the next adventure of the day - the Via Ferratta. The Via Ferratta, which is Italian for "the iron road," is basically an beginning climber's way of tackling a rock face. There is a series of steps, clips, and ropes on the side of a mountain, and you go straight down them, seeing AMAZING vistas of the surrounding countryside as you descend. It was really cool, and I'm very glad we did it (for the pictures if nothing else!), however our group was MEGA SLOW because of this one Singapore girl who was TERRIFIED of heights. Seriously, she could barely move and basically tried to slide all the way down the mountain clinging to the robe with a death grip. Jenny said it best at one point when we were stuck hanging (and burning our energy) - "Why did she sign up for this?" Redonkulous. All the same, it was really cool, and I'm really glad we did it.
We got back to the hut for a second breakfast (hot dogs, hard boiled eggs, more toast, and baked beans....mmmmmmm), and then it was time to descend. We were a little worried about Lily, as she seemed a bit shaky and VERY reluctant to start down the mountain. However, we had to shove off, as Shiva had a flight to catch, and we needed to make decent time.
At the 3 KM-to-go mark, the issue was in doubt: Lily was barely moving, Jenny had fallen and busted her tail, and we were making 46 minutes a click DOWNHILL. Jenny then whipped out the magic bottle of Advil (THANK YOU HITMAN), and Lily did something she hasn't done in years - take 3 ibuprofen. In a word - WOW.
Shiva and I had been leading the charge, carrying extra stuff in our packs, and trying to set the pace. 10 minutes after the Advil, Lily was bounding down that mountain like someone in "Born to Run." Seriously - I couldn't keep up with her. and then Jenny takes off! Suddenly Shiva and I are suckin' the hind tit and gasping for air, at which point I decide to try and catch them (we can't even see them by this point). No joke - I have to run for TEN MINUTES before the finally come into view, and I finally catch them with about .2 to go before the end. At that point, the energy runs out of Lily (it was like watching a toy wind down), and suddenly she's nearly sessile again. However, we got to the van, got our certificates, and rolled to town, where Shiva made her flight,the three of us showered, and then we rolled over to Little Italy to put some of those carbs back in. Needless to say that was among THE BEST night's sleeps of my entire life.
So there you have it - Mount Kinabalu in a nutshell. I am so proud of us, and I'm so glad that we did it. That being said, I will NEVER do that ever again, and more to the point, if I knew before the hike what I knew afterwards, I might not have done it. Regardless - T - Bone - Long's Peak awaits still - I know this...
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny