Friday, April 20, 2007


The first time standing on top of Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in Malaysia, is simply unforgettable to me. The mountain’s beauty, the myth surrounding it, the plethora of flora and fauna as well as the challenge it poses are impressive memories to cherish. In May 2005, the KPTM Trekkers conquered the mountain through the Timpohon gate. Last March 2007, we went back to re-live the experience.

This time, we were looking for a greater challenge and adventure. The KPTM Trekkers, consisting of Poly-Tech MARA College’s staff, family and friends, decided to ascend through the lesser-known Mesilau summit trail. The trail, less commercialized if compared to the Timpohon Gate, is more natural and virgin and is said to be more challenging. To me, this trip is even more special as my 14 year-old son, Syahidi, tagged along.

Upon arrival at the Kota Kinabalu Airport, we headed to the Mesilau Nature Park, a three hours drive away. There, we checked in at the Bishop Head rest house, the first stop of our journey. We were greeted by a refreshingly beautiful weather and a wonderfully cozy rest house. The cool and misty air, ranging from 10-21 degrees Celsius, matched with the comfortable surrounding helped to revitalize our energy after the long journey.

Day 1

We woke up refreshed after a good night sleep. After Subuh prayers, we repacked our haversacks for a lighter load, had a light breakfast and made our way down to the Mesilau Gate. There, we were briefed by our mountain guides or “Malim Gunung” and started the second phase of our adventure at 0800 hrs.

The first leg of the journey is an uphill trek through well-laid steps cut into the earth. About 20 minutes later we reached the crest of the hill (2300 m). From that point onwards, our 25 members group, slowly starts to disintegrate into smaller ones based on the individual’s pace and fitness level.

The trail then descended for over an hour and subsequently we walked on flat ground where rattans and bamboo grew along the trail. There, wooden huts or “pondok” and toilets have been built along the trail for the convenience of trekkers. At the “pondok”, water runs straight off the mountain and is stored in metal tanks for the hikers’ convenience. Here, we stopped for a breather, savoring the beauty of wild orchids, being awed by the extraordinarily big pitcher plants and taking the opportunity to snap some photographs.

Then, the trail became more challenging. We experienced two river crossings and slogged up steep trail slopes. In short, the Mesilau climb involved a climb up, then a drop into the Mesilau valley, and then another climb to regain the lost height. We noticed that the route is generally less crowded, but more physically taxing and adventurous.

The Mesilau summit trail then joins up with the traditional Timpohon summit trail at Layang-Layang (2702 m). After a short rest, we continued our climb to Laban Rata, much to our gladness, the final destination for the day. The trail to Laban Rata was really tiring, since the air is getting thinner.

As we approached Laban Rata (3273 m), the weather was bright but cold and windy. There, we checked-in the Laban Rata guesthouse at about 1600 hrs. It is a very well equipped guesthouse with a mini restaurant, warm rooms with bunker beds.

This is the convergent point for all those attempting to scale Mount Kinabalu. Fellow climbers from all over the world could be seen at the guesthouse, this time, we befriended many Japan, Korea and the western countries. Interestingly, some of them were in their mid 50’s and early 60’s, “old timers”, who became an inspiration for us to go all out to reach the summit.

After washing up, I bought Syahidi and myself two nice hot plates of Chinese Fried Rice (at a whopping price of RM15.00 each), a pot of hot tea (RM6.00) and relaxed on the balcony enjoying the fantastic misty view over Kinabalu. That evening, we slept early, full of anticipation for the climb to the summit the next day.


The final phase of our adventure; our day started at 0130 hrs. The bathrooms and restaurant are already bustling with activities, as everyone gets ready for the ascent. We bundled up in as many level of clothes as possible with scarves, balaclavas and gloves and then gathered at the lobby for a short briefing by the guides. With torchlights switched on, we single-filed out of the guesthouse at about 0200 hrs. Stepping into the misty freezing cold of about 8 degree Celsius, we climbed our way up the summit trail through Gunting Lagadan.

Armed with heavy-duty gloves, we experienced a grueling one hour climb from Gunting Lagadan with the help of ropes embedded in to the rock face to the Sayat-Sayat hut (3668 m). It is the highest mountain shelter available on Mount Kinabalu. From here, the summit is only about 1 hour away (depending on one’s fitness level), but it is possibly the trickiest and challenging part of the trek. We have to walk across the slippery bare grey granite slabs, while hanging on to the fixed ropes and simultaneously pulling our selves up the rocks to the final summit ridge.

It is from this point onwards that most climbers would begin to feel dizzy and sleepy, as the oxygen level in the air gets even thinner. Normally, those with acute breathing problems will have to quit at this point. A few of our group members were affected by the condition and vomited. But after a short rest, they continued with the quest.

Finally at just after 0400 hrs, the first of our group reached the summit at Low’s Peak, 4095.2 m ASL. It was very windy at the summit with freezing cold fresh mountain misty breeze. The tip of the summit itself is rather small and can only fit about 4-5 persons comfortably at one time.

Since it was cloudy and very windy, we couldn’t see much of the sunrise. According to our guide, we would have been able to see the island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu and even as far as Kudat and Sandakan if the weather permits. Even then, the excitement and satisfaction of achievement was indescribable.

Unconsciously, my lips were uttering “Alhamdulillah” (Praise be to Allah) and “Allahu akbar” (Allah the Greatest), bearing witness to His might and power. At that very moment, all the pain and tiredness seem to drain away and the effort seems worthwhile.

I savored my victory for another few moments while taking photographs with Syahidi at the tip of the summit. Then, at 0700 hrs, we descended, as we couldn’t stand the cold windy weather any longer.

We trekked our way down to Laban Rata, and after a short rest, we repacked our belongings. At 1100 hrs we trekked down through the old summit trail to the Timpohon gate. Arriving at about 1430 hrs, we took the shuttle bus back to the Headquarters, collected our certificate of achievements and bid goodbye to our “Malim Gunung”. We then took a van to nearby Poring for a dip in the natural hot spring.

At Poring we did some reflections over our conquest. Based on statistics, thousands of local and foreign visitors attempted Mount Kinabalu annually. A respectable portion of them was never able to reach the actual summit at Low’s Peak due to miscalculations of fitness, ability, and of the side effects of high altitude. Many were forced to stop their trek at either Laban Rata (3273 m) or Sayat-Sayat (3668 m), and some even had to quit at Layang-Layang (2702 m).

For the KPTM Trekkers, having 20 trekkers (including four veterans in the group – yours truly as well !) reaching the summit is indeed an extraordinary achievement.

Personally, I feel that my competitive drive was finally satisfied. But I have a feeling that the satisfaction will not be for long, because as I am writing this article I am already starting to wonder if I can climb faster NEXT time! Hopefully in 2009 – when I reach 50 ... or earlier ? InsyaAllah.

For all those who have made it to the summit – CONGRATULATIONS.
3H (Heads-on, Hearts-on, Hands-on) really works. KPTM Hebat !
Kinabalu beckons …

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