Standing at 4,220 metres above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is, indeed, a sight to behold. It was an entirely different world up there but somehow, the air of unfamiliarity had an inexplicable beauty. At 3,220 metres, as the sun began to set, Laban Rata soon began to tell a different story.
Mount Kinabalu’s Marmalade Skies
I found myself tossing and turning on bed, attempting to get some rest. The thought of catching the sunset had slipped my mind. Luckily, a team mate opened the door and exclaimed with delight. I turned around and caught sight of the orange hue sky as the sun began to set. It was 6 pm and against the silhouette of the summit, I was walking amidst the clouds, watching one of the most beautiful sunsets from an enviable vantage point.
Starry Starry Night At Mount Kinabalu
While everyone else was asleep, my alarm blared at 8.30 pm. Nightfall was one of the most exciting times up in Mount Kinabalu. On a clear day, the entire cosmos would be visible and surprisingly today, lady luck was on our side. The whole evening had been misty but come nightfall not a single speck of cloud could be seen. Star gazing came naturally, so much so it would have been a sin not to do so. Without a doubt, it was the most peaceful feeling ever.
The Awaited Summit Push
It wasn’t my best sleep as I only managed to get 2 hours of solid shut-eye. At 1.30 am, I stepped out of the hostel, all equipped for the summit push. To my astonishment, there wasn’t a single speck of cloud above us and the brilliantly decked out stars indicated a good start for all of us. Before the ascent, we ate up our mandatory pre-hike buffet style breakfast in the common dining area. In my mind, I was already counting the number of climbers competing for the summit, based on the number of diners there, and that too after limiting the climb permits!
“Alright, let’s begin the final push,” exclaimed our guide. After a short briefing, I looked up at the seemingly infinite stairs and shook my head in disbelief. Here we go, there was no turning back. High on adrenaline, I paced every step with my breath as the air became thinner. The first kilometre was composed of steep and rugged steps before transitioning to ropes and boulders. Along the way, there were faces that showed anguish and fatigue as climbers pushed to reach the final check-point, Sayat-Sayat before the 5 am cut-off time. At 4.30 am, after manoeuvring a fair share of steps and some steep rocks, we were at our final check-point.
The Pinnacle Of Malaysia
“Steady on the feet and take your time. You are almost there.” It was a mantra that I kept repeating in my head. We had another 1.6 kilometre to go and the terrain before us with its conspicuous white rope trail began to tease our endurance. At one glance, this gradual incline at lowland would be a walk in the park to avid hikers but when coupled with the high altitude, every step becomes challenging. I supposed it was only usual to feel the weight of each step but the summit fever kept us going.
Across the horizon, dawn began to break, casting a golden hue in the sky. We were down to our final 50 metres of ascent to the highest point to catch the sunrise. As a team, we pulled and heaved each other up the rocks, shouting words of encouragement as we clambered to the tip of Low’s Peak.
Some things you have to see for yourself to believe. At 4,092 metres, after 3 hours of laborious climbing, I was standing at the pinnacle of my country. As dawn broke, I could now see the terrain that was hidden in darkness. There were peaks of all shapes, each with its characteristic names and scattered alpine shrubs here and there. As the queue towards the summit sign post relented, we humbly touched the signage and took our obligatory summit sign shot.
The Summit Terrain Of Mount Kinabalu
It took us 3 hours to reach the top, only to spend a fleeting moment at Low’s Peak. We could see the climbers beginning to grow in numbers and that was our cue to descend, making way for others towards the peak. Our guide pointed out the Gorilla Face Peak right next to Low’s Peak, otherwise known as St John’s Peak. Further down, is Donkey Ears Peak where one of its ears was partly destroyed by the recent earthquake, and South Peak, commonly mistaken for Low’s Peak. Another peak was peculiarly named Ugly Sister though it looks nothing like its implied name.
Going downwards, it was easy to spot the stunted plants against the granite summit slopes. Amazingly, they could flourish under such weather, giving life to an otherwise barren ground. Following the ropes, I could see the debris on both sides from the earthquake which was an eerie reminder of the mountain’s unpredictability. From a distance, Laban Rata became visible, perched on the edge of the mountain. I took one last glance of the summit and smiled in disbelief, after all, for a very brief moment, I stood on the roof of Malaysia.
The Final Glance Of Mount Kinabalu
The descent is always the most tiring part as the adrenaline began to wane and the summit fervour has ended. After a 4 hour descent, the final uphill stretch was the last test of endurance. I walked past the first check point where it all began with a cathartic feeling. And so when someone asked why put yourself to such strain for a mountain, I smiled for I knew the answer.
“Stop to catch your breath. Soon, a jagged mountain will rise before you, so steep it will make you want to turn back around. Don’t despair; the first foothold is always the most difficult and every inch you claim of that cold hard precipice will make you stronger. Before you know it, the ground will level beneath you, and you will look back to see you had conquered what you once thought impossible.”Lang Leav, Novelist and Poet.
Special credits to Sabah Tourism, Amazing Borneo Tours, Mount Kinabalu Information & Booking Centre, and Hellosabahmy for their efforts in boosting the beautiful travel destinations in Sabah. Visit Sabah Tourism FB or their official website for more information on hiking Mount Kinabalu and other places of interests in Sabah. Visit Hellosabahmy FB for more information about cultural events and travel destinations in Sabah.
Check out Amazing Borneo Tours facebook page or their official website for more information on Mount Kinabalu packages and other beautiful destinations in Sabah. Mount Kinabalu Information & Booking Centre offers climb permits and full range of climb packages, including Ferrata and Non-Ferrata. Visit their official website and FB page for detailed information.
I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr Eric Goh, owner of Photo & Consumer Products Sdn Bhd, for providing the Voigtländer lens and Rodenstock filter that have allowed me to capture some of the amazing shots in Mount Kinabalu. Visit PCP website and Facebook page for more information.
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- Len Geiger, 2016, ‘Summiting Mount Kinabalu On The Island Of Borneo’, viewed 03 August 2019: http://www.marriedtoplants.com/tours/summiting-mount-kinabalu-island-borneo/