Saturday, May 12, 2012

Borneo: Mount Kinabalu

Amber:  We got up early the next morning (5:45am!) to hike up to the park head quarters.  Fingers crossed that the land slide had forced someone with a reservation to decide to collect their travelers insurance and cancel their reservation at Laban Rata.  We had tried weeks before to get a booking, but the lodging was full and without a reservation, you either had to climb Mt Kinabalu in one day, or not go at all.  Considering we have not been keeping up on our mountain climbing while in SE Asia, we really wanted to spend the night at Labn Rata. We got to the park head quarters at 6:30am and asked if there was any news of a cancellation.  They said not yet, but check back at seven when the more senior staff arrived.  We waited.  At seven, they had not heard of any cancellations, but advised us to come back at eight.  We went to a small restaurant and had breakfast, then rushed back. 
The mountain notoriously gets cloaked with rain and fog in the afternoon this time of year.  As we waited for news, we watched as the first wispy clouds of the morning turn into thick fog that soon obscured the mountain top.  By nine am, half the mountain was hidden in clouds.  We decided to wait until eleven for news of a spot opening up.  If one did, great, if one didn't we'd hike the trails around the base of the mountain and get up bright and early the next morning to attempt the one day summit. 
While we waited, I went to the restroom.  Someone was being violently ill in the stall.  Feeling bad for them, I went back to where Tim and I had been waiting.  A few minutes passed, and we got news that a group had attempted to climb at seven am, but had begun to experience altitude sickness, so turned back.  Four spots were available!!  We happily booked two of the bunks and arranged for a guide to take us up the mountain.  A third member was joined to our party; a man that had just run the marathon in KK the morning prior!  So much for it being a leisurely hike up the mountain, we needed to keep up with this guy!
Tim:  Everyone who climbs mountain must have a guide. It is not really necessary to have a guide as the trail is very well marked. Anyway the guide always follows behind the group. Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain in SE Asia at 13,435 feet, less than 1000 feet shorter than Mount Rainier. The mountain is usually climbed over two days. It is possible to make a one day ascent, but the mountain is almost always covered in clouds and fog by mid morning. The hike to camp at Laban Rata goes from the starting point of 1892 meters to 3272 meters. The hike up to Laban Rata generally takes 4-6 hours. Amber and I did it in 3 hours and 40 minutes. It had rained on us earlier in the hike, and we were hiking in shorts and tshirts. When we were within 200 meters of Laban Rata it started to rain torrentially. The temperature had also started falling because of the higher elevation. By the time we reached Laban Rata we were freezing cold and completely soaked. When we checked in the reception handed us a towel to dry off. It took the whole afternoon into the evening to finally warm up again. We arrived at Laban Rata at 2:30 in the afternoon.
The main building has a buffet dining hall on the first floor and a host of dorm room that include 4 beds each. We napped an lounged around for the whole afternoon. We ate the buffet dinner at 5:00 o'clock and we were in bed by 7 PM. Most people begin their final ascent of the mountain at 2:30 am. This is to ensure that you get to see the sunrise when you are at the top of the mountain. It takes another 2 and a half to four hours to reach the summit.
As we were waking up we were waking up at 2 in the morning we could here a man retching in the men's bathroom next to our room. The night before we had spoken with a group of three Austrians, one man and two women. We saw the man during early morning supper. His two companions had been suffering from altitude sickness all night and had been vomiting and were not going to be able to finish the climb. Amber and I felt fine except that I had a light headache.
We started hiking at 2:45 am. Obviously, it was still completely dark. The second half of the climb was much steeper than the first. In many places there was a thick rope used for hauling yourself up the steep granite. We were noticeable more out of breath. After an hour of hiking we had passed most of the hikers and were in the front of the pack with exception of about 8 other people who had started hiking much earlier. It was almost a full moon so once we reached the granite slopes we were able to shut off our headlamps and hike by moon light. The last kilometer or so went very slow as we needed to stop every few minutes or so to catch our breath.
We reached the peak at 5:10 am. The sunrise was not for another 30 minutes. We huddled together to try to keep warm. We were wearing all of the warm clothing that we had, which wasn't much. We waited for the sunrise and hastily took a few pictures. At this point we were very cold and had to leave the summit before we got hypothermia. After speedy hiking down we were able to warm up as the sun was quickly warming the air and our elevation declined. It took us a hour and a half to reach Laban Rata again. We took a short nap, had some breakfast then headed down the mountain. By the end of the hike our legs were sore from all of the down hill. It took us another 3 hours to make it down to the starting gate. In total it had taken us 6 hours of climbing to reach the summit and four and a half hours to come down.

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