Mount Kinabalu dominates the KK skyline and is situated a few kilometres out of town, or in our case a bumpy three hour minivan ride away, through twisty and steep mountain roads.
By the time we arrive at the park HQ we are already at altitude and it's considerably cooler, which is a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the city. Though we did wonder if we had the slightest chance of being warm enough when we climb to the summit at 3am!
Before we left KK we stocked up on mountain climbing gear: headtorches, gloves, thermals and snacks (spending a small fortune) but glad to be as prepared as possible without going the whole hog and wearing walking boots and carrying ski poles!
We spent a night at park HQ and got up bright and early the next morning to begin our climb. As with Mulu National Park, bureaucracy requires all walkers attempting the summit to have a guide, even though the path is well marked and the only way is up.
First stop was 6km from HQ at Laban Rata, where we would spend the night. Climbing was tough in that it was uphill and rocky all the way (a bit like the climb up from Pedney between the beach and the cliff path) but with plenty of time and rest breaks we made it up comfortably in time for lunch. Apparently most people complete this first stage in 4-6 hours so I was really chuffed when we arrived in 3 hours 45 minutes - I guess we must be fitter than we thought!
Shortly after arrival at Laban Rata hostel the weather closed in, bringing with it thick mist and heavy rain so we were glad to have
completed the climb in the dry.
At the hostel we were informed that there was a problem with the generator so there would be no heating or hot water, and electricity for just 3 hours a day. At first we thought we would just have a quick cold shower but after hearing someone attempt this - and hearing his shrieks at how icy the water was at over 3000m altitude - we decided to forego the morning shower and just wash when we get back to base!
Fortunately for us meals are included in our accommodation package as the price of refreshments half way up the mountain include the cost of a porter carrying the goods up the mountain. We passed some porters on our way up, one carrying a large sack of onions, others with huge gas cannisters, vats of cooking oil and crates of canned fizzy drinks. It's mad to even consider doing that as a job - needless to say their thigh and calf muscles are like steel! The mountain guides here also climb the mountain 300+ times a year, which is pretty amazing.
We all went to bed at 7pm as day two involved an early start, leaving at 3am if we were to be at the summit for sunrise - not that we got a great deal of sleep, a) going to bed so early, and b) in anticipaticion of what lay ahead.
The following morning it was still and starry - perfect climbing conditions. We joined the long line of climbers in our fleeces, hats and head torches all making our way towards the summit.
As we reach the half-way point of the summit trail, the rocky steps give way to rock faces and we have to haul ourselves up with ropes. In the pitch black all we can focus on are the ropes and rocks ahead. On the way down we got to see quite how close we came to sheer cliff edges!
With the summit suddenly in sight and the sunrise starting the glow orange in the far distance we push on, even though our legs are aching and oxygen is in short supply in the thin air. We reach the summit (4095.2m) just in time to have our photographs taken by the signpost and to get a few snaps of the sunrise before the biting cold wind and freezing temperatures force us back down the mountain again.
What we didn't anticipate was that the climb down would be much more taxing than the climb up. Our legs were like jelly after the summit climb, so to have to descend all 8.72 km of the mountain in one go was a killer! It took us as long to walk down as it did to climb up and by the end we could barely remember how to walk at all! Still, it was all worth it for the achievement.
At the bottom of the mountain is a large sign displaying the results of 'the world's toughest mountain race', an annual race up and down the mountain. The winner in 2009 completed it is 2.5 hours, which I just cannot get my head around as it took us 12 hours over 2 days!
So from here it's off to Sandakan, the base for our next couple of destinations: Sepilok orangutan rehabilitation centre and Semporna.
Sarah & Kev xx