Monday, June 11, 2007

Kinabalu Thru Timpohon

Standing majestically at 4,095 m (13,455 ft) above sea level, Mount Kinabalu is known to be the highest mountain in South East Asia. Some guidebooks may say that one doesn’t need special climbing skills or apparatus to trek up Mount Kinabalu, but I would suggest that they must at least have the basic fitness level, plus a strong mental and fighting spirit, as some parts of the trail can be really challenging.

There are two main trails to the summit. The first one starts at Timpohon Gate, about 4.5 km from the Kinabalu Park Headquarters, while the other starts at Mesilau. The whole trek from Timpohon Gate to Low’s Peak is about 8.5 km, while the trek through Mesilau is longer by 2 km. This time we decided to go up through Timpohon.

Our expedition was led by Tubik Tuapit, a Kadazan Dusun local guide. There were 9 climbers from Kolej Poly-Tech MARA (Rose, Liza, Wani, Liana, Sham, Atoi, Fendi, Zul, myself), 3 ex-KPTM students (Iskandar, Yusran, Yob), and ex-KPTM lecturer Datin Zainah with daughter Aishah tagging along.

Less than half of our group members had some prior experience in adventure trekking and climbing; while the rest were first timers. Rose brought along her teenager daughter Azza while Wani was accompanied by her hubby Shah.

We began our ascent through Timpohon Gate on 2nd May 2005 at 1140 hours along with trekkers from other groups. As we trekked up the mountain, the big group gradually splits into smaller groups depending on one’s own speed and fitness level.

The weather was good and we had never seen such a wonderful view of Mount Kinabalu. Here we can actually feel and experience the fresh mountain air and the real challenge of mountain climbing.

Later on the climb at 1500 m the weather became a bit misty, making the trek wet and slippery. We managed to negotiate several difficult and dangerous points where we had to climb steep slopes and cross some slippery rocks covered with muds.

Along the way up we encounter many huts with very basic toilet facilities available at intervals of about 500 m each, for climbers to rest or take a break.

We stopped at Layang-Layang hut at about 2500 m to take a breather or two as it has the best rest area facility since Timpohon Gate. It is a good place to stop and have lunch (chocolate bars and biscuits) and relax in the cool mountain air. The water we brought in the haversack turned icy cold. Felt like it just came out from the refrigerator !

Tree ferns and mosses are common at this altitude. For those who were observant, this is also the zone for Pitcher-plant or “pokok periuk kera”. A couple of friendly tiny but furry squirrels can be seen hopping around waiting to be fed by visitors.

We were advised not to rest too long as it might make us feel lazy to continue. A short stop once in a while can help reduce the pain and ache already developing at the lower abdomen area, especially the thigh, knee and ankle. After about 15 minutes break, we continue our trek up the mountain.

Finally as we were about to approach Laban Rata at 3300 m (6 km from Timpohon Gate), it rained very heavily. The cold mountain rain caused everyone to shiver. Most members found the cold weather challenging. The night temperature was very cold around 15 degrees Celcius, turning everything especially water into icy cold.

At Laban Rata resthouse and cafeteria we had good food (RM 11.30 for a plate of fried rice Chinese style). Shortly after dinner we took another short trek of about 100 m to reach Gunting Lagadan resthouse where we stayed overnight for a rest, as well as to acclimatize with the high altitude. Unfortunately, there was no hot showers here. But it has a nice cooking area for us to boil water and prepare simple meals.

At Gunting Lagadan we grabbed some much-needed sleep and food to refuel our energy supplies before rising very early the next day in the hope of reaching Low’s Peak (at 4095 m), in time for the sunrise.

Most climbers rose at 0200 hours to get prepared for the early morning climb. After a short briefing by our chief guide, at 0250 hours we’re off again for another 3-hour trek to the summit, depending on their individual fitness level.

In the darkness, we can only see the beam of torchlight as the procession of climbers trudge higher and higher.

About an hour from Gunting Lagadan, we saw the Sayat-Sayat Hut at 3668 m (7 km from Timpohon Gate). This is the highest shelter available on the mountain, and it only provides very basic facilities.

Back on the climb, we walked across the bare grey granite slabs. The vegetation comprises of stunted shrubs and tough grasses in the rock crevices. From this point onwards, most climbers began to feel dizzy and sleepy as the oxygen level in the air gets thinner and thinner. A couple of our group members vomited. Those with acute breathing problems will normally has to quit at this point.

At last, our group reached the final destination at Low’s Peak, the summit at 4095.2 m above sea level (8.5 km from Timpohon Gate). As we waited in the cold, dawn gradually creeps over the horizon, bringing light of a new day. Almost all of Sabah can be seen. At around 0900 hours, clouds already begin to form. These swirling clouds obstructed our visibility, so we began our descent by then.

It was a normal descent to Timpohon Gate and we spent a night at the Magellan Resthouse at Kinabalu Park to enjoy the rest of the day - breathing fresh air and listening to the soothing sounds made by the flora and fauna of the jungle.

The climb was indeed challenging. It is definitely NOT for just anyone who thinks he wants to do it. One needs to be physically, mentally and spiritually fit.

Mount Kinabalu offered breathtaking views and a great sense of achievement. It is a good way to be close to nature and appreciate God’s creation. It is an ideal spot for those who simply want to get away from it all and enjoy the cool mountain air while exploring the forest trails.

Here, one can recharge for strength and force, to face the day-to-day challenges and succeed in life. The climb was done in the spirit of esprit-de-corp and camaraderie among our group members.

One may ask, was it worth the pain, slog and sweat of climbing and descending the mountain ? The answer is a definite YES, feeling 100% worth it and well rewarded.

We have developed not just trekking and climbing skills, but shared amusing and interesting memories for the years to come.

“Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints."

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